The Project

Light Project

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Light Project #13

I get bored on car rides. Very bored. I don't so much mind if I'm driving, because at least my brain is engaged in one way or another, but to ride along for any length of time is like slow torture for me. During daylight hours, I can usually keep myself amused in the passenger seat with books and magazines, and my iPhone can keep me entertained for at least an hour after sunset, but there is only so much internet out there, and after a few hours in a dark car, my mind starts wandering for other things to keep it busy. One day this boredom occurred while I happened to have a camera with me. And so the Light Project was born!

In an attempt to amuse myself, I broke out the camera, and started playing around with long exposures, trying to see what cool road scenes I could end up with. These images were interesting, but a little chaotic, and it didn't seem like I had much control over the final product. Then on one frame, I decided to try something a little different. Rather than having my ISO, aperture and shutter speed set to maximize the amount of light that was being let in, I turned everything (except the shutter speed) down several notches. This way, the background disappeared into a canvas of black on which I discovered I was able to create shapes with the lights. At first each result was a happy accident, as I had little understanding or control over how to affect the final image to look the way I wanted. But as I played around more and more, I began to realize that the possibilities for what I could intentionally create were virtually endless.

I began experimenting with what sorts of shapes and scenes could be drawn with just the ordinary, minimal lighting of a road trip at night. Every image in this series was taken from the passenger seat of a moving car. I discovered that in downtown areas, there were so many lights to play with, that I could create exotic rainbow waterfalls of color. From oncoming headlights bloom bursts of golden beauty, and from taillights come twisting licorice whips of red. But before long, I learned that I did not even have to depend on exterior lights to create something beautiful.

While on a long stretch of empty highway, I was getting antsy to have a subject with which to create another image for my project. I found that even just the dashboard and radio lights in our car were ripe for experimentation. If you look closely in a couple of the images below, you can even make out the face of the clock that created part of the image.

By just working with the available light in the car, I soon learned to manipulate and move the camera to shape the lights into bold scenes, glowing with color. I learned to picture in my head what could be done with any given light, and I began playing around with what was possible. I made hearts, stars, squares, circles and primitive attempts at words with the lights. I created canvases of lines and intricate swirls that teased my eyes and challenged my brain to see what else was possible.

The techniques I picked up while playing with the night photography have also bled over into other areas of my photography, allowing me to better understand the complex interaction of my camera settings with my subjects and the available light in any given situation. By allowing my brain to step out of its usual zone of awareness and explore this world of hidden light, I have broadened my ability to photograph subjects in all lighting situations. It is an ongoing challenge for me now to create images in all situations that my subjects would never have imagined possible.

For weeks, I played around with this technique every time we were in the car at night, and it is still a fun past-time of mine whenever I find myself stranded in the passenger seat. And what started out as idle boredom blossomed into one of my favorite photography projects to date. Plus I don't get as bored on car rides!

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—The JPG team

1 response

  • Robin Smith

    Robin Smith gave props (19 Nov 2008):

    great idea! very cool

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