January 22, 2007

Burning bulbs

Yesterday I happened across a rather cool photo gallery from Lightroom engineer Kevin Tieskoetter, in which he captures the moments just after shattering lightbulbs.  Kevin writes,

I was inspired by a similar image I saw on photo.net and thought it would be fun to give it a try. I went through probably 50-100 bulbs, and discovered I had the most luck with the candle-flame-shaped frosted bulbs, mostly because they have a more interesting design to their elements, they’re dirt cheap, and I can break the bulb with a pair of pliers. If I break just the tip off, I can then use a needle-nose pliers to break off additional chunks until I have just the amount of glass remaining that I want (although I found it was usually more interesting without any glass showing). Traditional lightbulbs turn out to actually be very hard to break, especially without destroying the filament in the process. Also, the filament is so simple that the flame pattern isn’t as interesting.

I borrowed a Nikon D2hs and a Canon 1D Mk II to do the shots: high pixel count wasn’t particularly important, but a high frames per second was critical. Once I lit the bulb, it would burn for 1-2 seconds, but the only interesting shots were generally at the very start of the process as the mushroom cloud was rising. An 8fps camera makes a big difference here.

The images were backlit using a standard flash on an extension cord. I set it to manual mode at 1/64 power (I think; I did a lot of experimenting here to find the right settings). Lenses used were a 50mm macro (at 1.5x magnification) and 150mm macro (at no magnification).

Kevin took additional photos of the process & hopes to do a how-to page at some point.  First, though, there’s the small matter of shipping Lightroom. :-)

Posted by John Nack at 9:33 AM on January 22, 2007


  • Trevor Morris — 9:59 AM on January 22, 2007

    Here are another couple of similar shots that I particularly like:
    [Cool! –J.

  • Mathias Vejerslev — 6:29 AM on January 23, 2007

    These are somewhat interesting photos, but what especially caught my attention was the really bad banding in the background??

  • Mathias Vejerslev — 5:00 PM on January 23, 2007

    Because banding doesnt usually appear in coninous tone JPGs, I tracked the banding to my own system. For those interested, it seems to be linked to an installation of the latest DirectX. Even though my settings report 32 bit color, under certain circumstances, such the gradual tones in these images, reveal that its closer to 16 bit. So much for the diagnose… Now for the cure.
    [Thanks for sharing these details. Prior to seeing this update I went back to the images & was struggling to see the banding. I concluded that I must have lower visual acuity than you! –J.]

  • ian — 6:21 AM on November 13, 2007

    the Bulb Fotos r amazing,great work,hopefully additional photos of the process will be on here soon…

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