Photographing a Racetrack at Night with the Help of 1,800 Light Painters


Since 1987, the School of Photographic Arts & Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has done an annual nighttime community photo project called RIT Big Shot. For the the 31st event held this past weekend on October 3rd, the school set out to create a photo of the Churchhill Downs that shows the iconic Kentucky Derby track at night.

How do you go about lighting a giant racetrack at night? Well, RIT enlisted the help of 1,800 volunteers to help light paint the scene. All external lighting was provided by the volunteers using flashlights, electronic flash units, and some high-end strobes.

“We captured the event with a DJI Inspire 1 drone,” RIT photography professor Frank Cost tells PetaPixel. Here’s what the event looked like from an aerial perspective (you can see the volunteers bathing the scene with their small individual lights while brighter flashes fire):

Here’s what the scene looked like with a single ordinary photograph before the light-painting began:


And here’s the resulting image that was illuminated with the help of 1,800 lights. It’s the composite of four Nikon D810 cameras fitted with 28mm lenses (and each shooting 30s exposures at ISO100 and f/11):


“In the foreground of the final composition, a group of young jockeys is posing for a photographer shooting with wet collodion plates in a view camera, the photographic technology in use in 1875, when the first Kentucky Derby race was run,” Cost says.

You can find more details of this event on the RIT Big Shot website, which also has pages documenting all the previous Big Shot events.

Image credits: Photographs by RIT and used with permission