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Light in Dark Places: Tools of the trade

sean mcclelland

[15]  We've all been there. It's summer time, hotter that you-know-what outside, a week into your summer break, and dad "asks" you to help with a small project around the house. The next thing you know, you're hammering nails into 2x4's and fetching tools for hours on end, instead of riding your bike off sweet jumps with your friends. The stain-the-deck summer was my favorite. Torture or not, I did learn a valuable lesson, one that I follow to this day, and I even apply it to my creative work. And that lesson is, "Use the right tool for the job." 

When it comes to photography, I rarely skimp on equipment. It may take me 6 months to pay off a lens (thank you and, but I only like to buy something one time, and I only make purchases after weeks of research. When it came to the Light in Dark Places collection, I applied this rule… but that didn't always mean I had to spend a lot of money. Behold [enter over-the-top dramatic music], the main gear that was used to create the collection:

Light painting gear
Light painting gear

My camera and the 24-70mm lens were easily the most expensive tools that I used for this project (Canon and San Francisco apartment owners have a lot in common, it seems). The ironic thing, however, is that they are the least important tools of the whole lot, and could have easily been replaced by less expensive alternatives.

All of the glass objects were either found in my kitchen, or at a thrift store. I'm still working on a better solution for positioning and hanging glass objects, but I got by with a background stand crossbar and some fishing line for the hanging shots.

The key to making it all work is shooting in the dark, which means you have to pre-focus on the spot, and keeping things steady. That's why I used the cable release/intervalometer - I didn't want any camera shake. I even had to be careful about moving my own body, because even the slightest movement would cause the rig to shake, or the incense smoke to waver.

After a little experimentation, I discovered that it really didn't matter if I used a white background, or black… except when I was trying to actually shoot the reflections that were hitting the background, which meant white was the better choice because it reflected the light instead of absorbing it.

The raver gloves came into play, believe it or not, as the key ingredient in shooting the main piece of the Drones image. But I'm sorry to say that I have not worn them to a dub bass show, though I was tempted at the Bassnectar concert. I'm still trying hard to get those raver glasses into a shoot!

Can you guess what the two most important tools were (other than Photoshop, which doesn't count)? Well that's easy, duct tape and dirty socks. Yep. Without the duct tape, I would have had a helluva time positioning the laser pointers, and the dirty socks added bulk to the laser points so that I could put a clip over the button to keep them on. I'm sure there's a better way, maybe clean socks instead?… but it worked for me and I have plenty of socks and duct tape.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions, or questions, please drop them in the comments section below. I love talking about this stuff.

1 - announcement  |  2 - tools of the trade  |  3 - deconstruction  |  4 - why i do it
5 - passion and pain  |  6 - show recap  |  7 - creative process  |  8 - what's next


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