Last week I had the opportunity to create a portrait of engineer Dan King, designer of laser calibration standards at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Corona Division located in Norco, CA. King holds patents for two such laser calibration units. Think of them as the reference measurement device against which measurement devices used every day in the field are checked for accuracy.

To make this portrait work, A little “Smoke and mirrors,” generally intended to deceive, was needed.

In a room with walls painted black the arrangement of green, blue and red lasers of varying intensities was already set up. All I had to do was figure out how to light the stage so that both the subject and the lasers would register. I placed¬†one speedlight with a “Tupperware” diffuser on the keyboard of a laptop in the background, near King’s right hand, to serve as the key light. A second speedlight was placed on a light stand high at camera right to illuminate the components on the stage and provide fill on the subject. Both flashes were triggered with Pocket Wizards.

After the initial flash exposure, I left the shutter open for the balance of an eight-second exposure, during which time we blasted the stage with a theatrical smoke machine to burn in the lasers. The remote for the smoke machine is visible in the subject’s left hand, the red power switch adding a little extra glow to the image.¬† Between several exposures we had to let the smoke clear so it wouldn’t register in subsequent exposures.

The resulting photo has seen considerable use on a variety of websites, including Navy.mil and Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA) Facebook page, as well as being included in a collection of the Navy’s top photos for the week, providing considerable exposure for the client.

While the phrase, “Smoke and mirrors,” often considered a metaphor for a deceptive or fraudulent explanation, in this case served to bring a portrait to life.

UPDATE: Pocket Wizard, manufacturer of the radio devices I used to trigger the flashes in making this portrait, featured this photo and how it was made on their blog.


    1. Richard Goodwin
      April 8, 2013

      What a great photo, Greg! You make something so sophisticated seem so simple with your description. This is an excellent example why we need “professional photographers” to make such photos.

    2. Chris Okula
      June 9, 2013

      Spell-binding image, Greg.

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