The ProShow Blog

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Getting the Shot: Magical Floating Lights

Today’s guest post comes from photographer Lindsay Helms. Watch one of Lindsay’s latest ProShow slideshows here.

A couple months back I came up with a concept for a final image: a glass jar releasing (or capturing) magic. I have a nostalgic memory of capturing fireflies as a kid and I wanted to show how that felt. To a child, fireflies are so much more than just little bugs trying to mate, they are these magical creatures, maybe even magic itself.

With this in mind, I took a mason jar and stuffed a bunch of white Christmas lights inside. I took a photo while the lights were being held up outside the jar, like they were flying away. My idea at first was to take a photo in focus and a photo out of focus and combine them. Next I put my lens in manual focus and unfocused to the point where the lights became generic balls of light. This is called bokeh. The shape of the bokeh depends on the shape of the blade of the lens used. Many lenses create a polygonal shape, mine happens to produce more of a circular shape, which was just perfect for what I wanted. I took a bunch of different photos of the bokeh so that I had many options while editing.

LEFT  70mm; 1/8sec; f/9; ISO 100  RIGHT 70mm, 1/30sec, f/4, ISO 100
LEFT: 70mm; 1/8sec; f/9; ISO 100     RIGHT: 70mm, 1/30sec, f/4, ISO 100

After reviewing the photos, however, I realized it would be easier to have a photo of just the hand and an empty jar that I could add the bokeh into. So I took a flash, taped an empty toilet paper roll to it to create a snoot. Snoots are designed to control and direct light. In portraiture they are often used as hair lights. I did not want the flash to spread light across the whole room and have it bouncing around and making everything evenly lit. I don’t have an actual snoot, but the toilet paper roll worked beautifully, and there’s something very satisfying about DIY projects. Sort of like you’re getting away with something.

I put the flash behind and to the left of the jar from the viewpoint of the camera. This meant that the light from the flash had to go through the jar to reach my hand. I wanted this because I wanted the light to look like it was coming from inside the jar.

In Photoshop I started with the final photo of the empty jar. I warmed it up quite a bit to match the color of the Christmas lights. Next I added the photo of the bokeh and changed the blending mode to screen. Blending modes in Photoshop describe how a layer interacts with other layers. Screen mode inverts the layers, multiplies them, and then inverts them again. But don’t think of it that way, unless that makes sense to you. It’s easier to think of it in terms of use. I wanted to get rid of the black in the photo with the bokeh so that the I jar in the original photo would be visible, while simultaneously preserving the bokeh. Screen mode gets rid of blacks of the layer it is applied to, and lets the light shines through.

And then, voilà we have magical balls of light being released (or captured).

Jar with bokeh lights

Jar with bokeh lights

A big thanks to photographer Lindsay Helms for this guest post! Watch one of Lindsay’s latest ProShow slideshows here.

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