Painting a Large College Dormitory with Light for a Nighttime Photograph


I had the opportunity to photograph the newest dormitory on the Florida International University campus a couple of nights ago and I thought I would share a little insight on the process of lighting such a large structure.

Here are the tools I used:

  1. 5D Mark III with 16-35mm lens
  2. Two Lumopro LP160 flashes
  3. Red and blue filters
  4. Tripod
  5. Wireless flash transmitter
  6. A friend

Just after the sun went down, I started finding my shot and exposure. Once my shot was framed I never moved the tripod. I wanted to have slow shutter speed to catch passing car lights and also light up the building with the available light.

The additional flashes were mainly for color, not really illumination. Once we started to photograph I held the two flashes side by side and sharing the same filter.

I opted for blue and red (pink) for two reasons. First, they seem to be the strongest filter colors. They always come out vivid and cast a pleasing color. Colors like green, purple, orange don’t seem to have the same strength in my experience. The other reason is that I wanted to make this building look very “Miami Vice” and these are the two most popular neon colors of the 80s.

I walked around the building illuminating different segments while my assistant pushed the shutter button. Because the shutter was set to 0.3 second, the flash did not appear to be very strong. To compensate I used two flashes at the same time and set them on maximum power.

After taking about 70 photos I picked about 40 images and imported them into Photoshop. Each image with its individual flash was cut out and simply pasted onto the background image.

For the final touch I changed the sky from black to an earlier image where the sun had set and there was still a little light coming over the horizon. I also added in a few stars and a bright orange Miami moon to add some interest to the sky.

I am not a Photoshop wizard by any means but I was able to create this photograph using some very basic methods.

Here is what the scene looked like with a single exposure:


And here’s what the final image looked like with all the extra lighting composited in:


Here’s a time-lapse video showing how the image was created in Photoshop:

About the author: Douglas Garland is a Miami-based photographer and videographer, and the Senior Multimedia Producer at Florida International University. Visit his website here. This article originally appeared here.

  • Sean Curran

    you would think, be architectural photography, you would adjust the perspective. Or is this not for a client?

  • gf spooner

    Nice resulting image, but all that work with no perspective correction in camera or in post to keep the verticals of the building vertical? I wonder why he chose the keystoning effect.

  • Adam Cross

    I think it would work a whole lot better without the Moon, the Moon just doesn’t look quite right to me, mainly because it’s just obvious that the foreground and the Moon were shot at different speeds – I know you’re making it clear that this is a composite, but it just looks so obviously pasted in and there’s a clear difference in white balance. (also, seeing the original single-exposure image, it looks better without the moon). But this is just my silly opinion about the moon, everything else is great =D

  • Antony

    In the beginning i thought that is a student’s work.
    But “Senior Multimedia Producer at Florida International University”??????

  • MarvinB7

    Given the way this shot is set up and framed, I don’t think he was going for the traditional ‘architectural’ shot. It seems more of an environmental perspective given the wide angle and position in the middle of the street. Personally, I like it.

  • Alex Minkin

    nobody is going to composite the moon into a shot at the ‘same speed’, because a slow, bright, 30 second blurry moon adds no value to a photo.

  • Martin Haro

    Doug Garland rocks it time and time again.

  • AndyFuglsang

    Definately looks better without the moon… Also due to the fact, that You would never have a full moon with light on that part on the horizon!
    But hey – even Wired f**ked that up on their Richard Branson cover shot :-)