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I wanted to share an art project that has taken over much of my free time during the last 3 months. If you have a look around this site, you will notice a lot of milky way and deep space photography (Here are some examples). It’s my hobby and passion, and something I have been slowly learning for the past 7 years or so.
I recently found a high quality photographic printing service (shout out to www.perfectposters.com) and was able to order my largest print yet of this image.
I took this photo in the mountains above Santa Barbara, California during the new moon (the best time for night sky photography). The Milky Way arches from the city to the back of the mountains, with a stream of fog cascading over the saddle of the ridge. The image is actually a mosaic of 24 photos, stitched at the edges in order to capture the widest swathe of sky possible. Since the image is such a large resolution, I was able to print it very large. I ordered it at 72 x 30 inches, 6 foot by 2 and a half. Initially, I simply wanted a large print to decorate my place, but once it arrived I was suddenly struck by inspiration and began formulating a plan. I would later find that this plan was going to be extremely painstaking, and take many more hours than I imagined.
I had a vision to pierce tiny holes through the thick matte paper, and backlight it using LED lights which I use in my lightpainting photography (which you can see here). I wanted to create an indoor representation of the night sky that so few of us get to see anymore due to light pollution in populated areas. Bear in mind that there are probably at least ten thousand stars in this photo, and on the printed matte paper, the number was completely overwhelming. I began to experiment with the best way to pierce the paper, while trying not to damage it.
So began the process that I came to find both meditative and loathsome. I really didn’t come to realize how long this would take until the end of the first 3 hour session of hole-poking. In three hours I had gotten perhaps 1/10th of the sky pierced through. I began to seriously consider if this was going to be a worthwhile undertaking. I didn’t want a huge print with some holes in the corner, so I trudged on with the hole poking.
Another part of the plan required the building of a large, hollow-backed lightbox frame, in which the LED lights would be placed to illuminate the print. Luckily my housemate is a skilled carpenter, and I got him to begrudgingly agree to build this complicated and completely custom piece. I paid him for his time of course!
I was very grateful that my housemate agreed to do this, as I would have sawed off a limb, or at least several digits trying to make something like this. So as the design of the frame came together, I continued poking holes in the paper, either listening to audiobooks, or watching movies to lessen the monotony. Slowly I was able to see what the final product would look like. I fired up the lights and placed them behind the print.
It really was looking like stars in the sky! This got me very motivated, and I began to pick up the pace while I was house-sitting for a family member, and I had a larger space to work. Many nights of sore handed repetition later, and the holes had all been poked. The process took roughly 26 hours, and I was so relieved that it was finally over. I also noticed a very interesting and unintended side effect of the lighting I had chosen. Due to the layout of LED lights, in which there are one red, one blue, and one green diode, certain colored diodes would be isolated through the tiny holes, making the stars shimmer different colors as you moved your point of vision across the print. I believe this is what is referred to as a “Happy Accident”
You can see this cool phenomena in the video below
Now that the print had been punctured by a plethora of pinpricks, it was time to figure out how the frame would actually work. I had no plans to go off of, only a skilled carpenter to aid in the construction. In order to create the most light, I wanted to have a reflective backing inside the lightbox frame. I also purchased two pieces of plexiglass, cut to size. The print would be suspended on the top of the lightbox frame between the two pieces of plexiglass.
The last detail was how to mount the LED strip to give the best effect, and highlight the Milky Way. This was done by a process of trial, error, and hot glue.
The end was in sight, and the results were starting to look very promising. We needed to make a top-frame to hold down the plexiglass to the lightbox frame. Once this was done, the piece which now weighed 40 or 50 pounds was ready to hang! We made sure to screw into the studs in the wall, as this thing needed some serious support in order to not succumb to the pesky rules of gravity.
To give some perspective, that is a 29 inch widescreen monitor on the desk. The picture is a bit distorted due to the extreme wide angle lens used to take the shot. The lighting can be changed to virtually any color of the spectrum from the comfort of my bed, and dimmed or brightened. I am very happy with how this came out, and may do more in the future, especially if I find that people are interested! If not, I have a very unique piece of artwork that will be a centerpiece in my home(s) for years to come!
Thanks for reading, and leave a comment if you enjoyed this!