Dark tunnels, bright lights, cold beer, and good friends. That is my kinda Saturday night!

I had the esteemed pleasure of having Kate and Chris join me for a little light painting action. We ventured down into a culvert below a road I drive on every day, but had never been inside before. I had a lot of inspiration and new ideas brewing in my mind so I was excited to get down there!

We packed up my light painting bags, tripods, and other assorted goodies, and drove about a mile away from our apartment. As we descended into the culvert, it seemed like an average corrugated culvert tunnel, but there were a few breaks and flaws in the upper portion of the tube which was not ideal for light painting!

As we continued walking in the tunnel we looked up in the large break and noticed a bird was sitting there, after a few seconds of holding still, it started flying all around us and then zoomed out the other end of the tunnel. Then Chris noticed another resident of the tunnel’s gaping hole.. This one was quite a bit more alarming than a bird, it was a damn serpent! We do believe we could see the head of a small snake peering down at us. I HATE snakes so this was terrifying, but luckily it was obviously pretty small.

We decided to carry on and try to ignore ‘Jake the Snake,’ but every time I had to walk below that break in the tunnel ceiling, I was always very nervous. But after a few minutes we noticed his head had vanished which we weren’t sure how to feel about.

Anyways! Let’s get to the good stuff. So we had cleared the tunnel of is inhabitants and cracked open our beers, so we were ready to get started! I set up my tripod and camera at one end of the tunnel, and set up a second tripod behind the first one. On the second tripod I mounted a video camera. I wasn’t using the camcorder to record anything, but rather utilizing its built-in projector capabilities! I had pre-loaded some cool images of patterns and was going to experiment with projecting these images onto the tunnel walls.


I turned on the projector, the tunnel walls transformed into a beautiful kaleidoscope of color and all fears of Jake the snake faded away. I started taking test shots of the tunnel walls with the projections, then I decided it was time to add some elements of light to the dark center.

We took a few more shots with the projector behind the camera, but soon decided that it might be cooler to have the projector pointing towards the camera. So I moved my camera down to the end of the tunnel pointing in towards the projections. It looked much cooler with the patterns filling the entire tunnel.

I decided it was time to bust out my trusty drill and add some circular light designs to the middle of the tunnel. I used some fountains and sparklers and a couple different pattern projections. It was a lot of fun.

At one point, I was making my way around the tripod with the camcorder on it and was worried about slipping on the wet corrugated tube, but I successfully made it. Then as I was standing there talking to Kate and Chris, I suddenly felt my feet go flying out from under me. I landed in the water and instantly was scrambling to get back up. I noticed my new flashlight was in the cold water and I scooped it out quickly. Luckily it still worked!


Chris did a great job with this fountain spin.

My favorite shot of the evening ended up being the one below. The patterns were exposed nicely, the circle of light was nearly centered and the colors were on point. I will definitely be using this technique more in the future. I must thank Kate for her help creating this shot, she stood by the camera and used a black piece of cardboard to cover the camera lens while I would turn off the projector, turn on my yellow LEDs, get my sparkler lit, and begin spinning the drill. Without her covering the lens during this portion of the shot, it would have been really difficult to get the circle looking crisp with no other light trails.


This technique was heavily inspired by the recent work of Twin Cities Brightest. He has been shooting a lot of tunnels with amazing shadows being cast. It was a great Saturday evening, even with Jake the snake and a comical failure resulting in a wet ass.


Written by Johnny A