What does it look like when a light bulb explodes from the inside? And how on earth do you go about capturing that image?! Joe Giacomet has found a way to capture explosions like this - and the finished product is absolutely stunning.

Joe Giacomet's work is a mixture of advertising, portraiture and fine art, all built around great ideas with an underlying skeptical world view. This must be why he was the perfect photographer to capture Spring Offensive's recent surreal and edgy promo photo. Spring Offensive are a five-piece band from the UK, and Joe has been mixing his creativity with theirs for some time now. But this exploding lightbulb is definitely the best result of their collaborations so far. When Joe told us he used Triggertrap Mobile to capture the photo, we just had find out how it was done!

So Joe, tell us about the kind of photography work you do...

I would describe my photography as ideas based. I’m happy to work in a variety of fields as long as there is a strong idea, whether it be people or still life. Commercially my work is advertising as well as portraits for bands and musicians. My main passion though is my own art based work. This is where I can really let my imagination run wild.

How did you end up working with Spring Offensive?

This is the third time I’ve shot Spring Offensive. A friend of mine was doing their PR about 4 years ago and he recommended me to them. I’ve always enjoyed working with them. The band are extremely creative and love experimenting with unusual ideas.

What was the inspiration behind the exploding lightbulb photo?

When we had the initial meeting about this shoot the band presented me with a few rough ideas to develop from, one of which was them using their minds to make an object explode. Both myself and the band really liked this one. I could see it being a really strong visual image. We developed this further through a few different incarnations and then came out with the idea of the band crowding tightly around a lightbulb.

What made you choose Triggertrap Mobile for the job?

After deciding on the idea I was looking for a solution for how to capture the lightbulb exploding; the Sound Sensor on Triggertrap Mobile seemed to be the best option without spending crazy money. There were special FX companies who could come in and set it all up for me but this was going to blow the budget. Triggertrap Mobile with its Sound Sensor seemed like the best and most affordable option.

What equipment did you use?

  • Mamiya RZ / Leaf Aptus for the main camera
  • Canon 600d for the lightbulb explosion
  • Broncolor Scoro 3200 running 2 heads
  • Small Chimera gelled blue, skirted with cine foil and boomed over the top
  • Poly boards, Frost Frame and flags
  • Windup Stands, Superboom and C-Stands
  • 200w tungsten lightbulb

Walk us through how you took the photo

Photographing the band

The first job was to get a great shot of the band. Unlike previous images we’d done together this was going to be a much tighter portrait with no props. With the lighting I wanted to create a strong colour temperature shift between the warm exploding lightbulb and the cooler top light for a cinematic look. I started off by giving the band a 250w tungsten lightbulb to hold. I then boomed a top light that was gelled twice, a 1/2 CTB (Colour Temperature Blue) and 1/2 moonlight blue. This gave me a strong colour temperature shift and a deep blue. I then set up a front fill. This light was quite high to minimise the interaction between the light bulb and the fill. For the band, staring straight into the lightbulb was pretty intense and we could only work in short stints. Because we were pulling ambient light in for light bulb exposure we couldn't have any other constant light sources in the room - just a single bare bulb!

Bridging the gap between them and the explosion

We got some really great images of the band, with a variety of different reactions from subtle to the more extreme. I then shot a few plates of Matt holding the base of a lightbulb. This was for comping in with the exploded lightbulb. Then we started on capturing the explosion.

So, how do you explode a bulb from the inside out?

Research

The previous week i’d spent the day working out the best method for exploding a light bulb outwards. The best method I found was to drill out the base of the bulb, insert an gunpowder charge and reseal with white tack. The charge was then triggered by a circuit wired into the mains.

Main set up

I changed the camera over to my Canon, as it was much quicker to fire than my RZ. I set the flash duration to the fastest possible with Broncolor, which is 1/10,000 sec. I then rigged my lightbulb in the right place with a clamp, wired in Triggertrap to the camera and set it to Sound Sensor. With the Triggertrap I set the sound trigger point quite high. The explosion was deafening.

Exploding the bulb

Once I was all set up and ready and hiding in a safe spot I triggered the charge, blew the lightbulb and a few fuses as well. Upon checking the screen I’d completely missed the explosion. All I had was a photo full of tiny shards of reassuringly sharp pieces of glass. At least the flash duration was freezing the explosion.

Practicing perfect timing

The explosion was so fast, that the Triggertrap and camera just weren’t fast enough to capture it. I’m not sure of the speed of the explosion but i’d imagine it’s micro seconds. The next time rather than use the sound of the explosion to trigger the Triggertrap, I decided to use the sound from the plug to trigger it. I set up the shot and connected the circuit with a stamp of my foot on the plug. This sound triggered the Triggertrap followed closely by a reassuringly loud bang. After reviewing the monitor the stamping significantly reduced the latency in the system, although the explosion was still too big for what I had envisioned. I needed to add more latency into the system in order to allow the camera to capture it.

We decided to wire an old relay into the circuit. Without going into the mechanics of how it works it introduced a moving element into the circuit that slowed down the time between me stamping in the plug and triggering the camera and the explosion. We set up again and I stamped on the plug and those few micro seconds of delay from the relay slowed it down to just before the explosion, which believe it or not was ideal! Handily with Broncolor Flash you can program a delay into the flash, I put in a 100ms delay in and next time round I caught the explosion perfectly.

Trial and error

I would add, this all sounds perfect but there were quite a few failed explosions in between this. It was quite a frustrating process with each shot taking around 20 minutes to set up. Also gunpowder gives off quite a lot of smoke. I was trying to use the smallest amount of gunpowder possible to minimise the smoke from the explosion which added to the problem of some shots not working.

Additional elements

After nailing the explosions I wanted to get a shot of the tungsten filament burning to drop into the middle of the final explosion. I did this by carefully removing the glass from around the light bulb and then plugging it in. It would burn for around 3 seconds before burning out. I then grabbed a few plates of pieces of glass in case I needed to drop a few bits in here and there. The way the charge detonated blew more glass out on one side than it did on the other so I needed to equalise this a bit in post.

Any advice for others attempting a similar set up?

My advice would be not to do this. A: it’s dangerous playing with gunpowder and mains electricity. I was constantly paranoid about blowing myself up, and B: it’s incredibly difficult to capture an explosion…. this text is a condensed version of 2 days worth of work trying to figure out how to blow up a light bulb from the inside and then how to capture it with a still. Technically this is one of the hardest things i’ve ever photographed, and i’ve shot some pretty tricky items in the past!

You can find the photo on Spring Offensive's website and their music on Spotify and iTunes. Check out more of Joe's photography work at www.giacomet.co.uk/

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