How my photo became a 48’ wide billboard – ArtPop Street Gallery

I would like to take you behind the scenes of this bold blue beauty shot and show you how it wound up on a 48 foot wide by 14 foot tall ArtPop Street Gallery billboard.  

So let’s start with today and then work backwards.  Today and for the next 12 months, this photo is residing on a billboard that is just off Rt. 309 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Yeah, a micro four thirds image  – tack sharp – on a 48 foot wide by 14ft tall billboard. Pretty cool eh?

ArtPop Street Gallery

ArtPop Street Gallery

ArtPop Street Gallery Logo

How did this happen?  I am honored to have been selected as the People’s Choice Award Winner in the ArtPop Street Gallery 2019 Billboard Competition in my area.  So what does that mean?  Well – there is this awesome organization called ArtPop Street Gallery whose mission is to promote local artists’ work and make art accessible to communities through available media space.

ArtPop was founded by a woman named Wendy Hickey in Charlotte, NC back in 2014.  In the years since she has grown the program to include competitions in 14 cities across the United States. Wendy partners with billboard advertising companies like Adams Outdoor – that is the advertising company who is hosting my billboard – and these companies graciously donate unsold advertising space to host the winning billboards, turning roads, highways and thoroughfares into opportunities for artistic appreciation.  The winning artwork can be seen on billboards, buses, news racks and at airports.

ArtPop Street Gallery is a non-profit organization which partners with local art organizations to organize and promote the annual contests.
Click here so that you can learn more about ArtPop Street Gallery and maybe even have your artwork featured on a billboard!

The Billboard

People very falsely assume that you need extremely large files and tons of megapixels to print a photo on a billboard, and they very falsely assume that once the photo is printed on the billboard that it looks really blurry up close and then really sharp when you are a hundred of yards away. BOTH assumptions are VERY wrong.  Printing technology has come a long way and, as you have heard me say MANY times, megapixels are highly over-rated.  I had images printed on billboards 16 years ago taken with a 2.7mp Nikon D1 that produced an image that was only 2,000 pixels wide.

The file that was required to print this billboard was only 7,300 pixels wide at 300dpi.  That is only 24 inches wide.  The color profile was also set to CMYK to facilitate the printing process that is used to print the images on vinyl.

It was actually quite impressive to watch the billboard being installed. The total time start to finish – including removing the previous billboard – was just 27 minutes with a three man crew from Adams Outdoor Advertising.

Adams Outdoor Advertising

After the vinyl billboard is stretched across the backing, it’s held in place with PVC pipes that are slid through the sleeves on the edge of the vinyl and then tension strapped to the back of the billboard.

The Concept

I routinely scour Amazon.com looking for costume retailers, Chinese fashion retailers – just about anyone who sells interesting, unusual, colorful things that I can use for a photo. In this case I found this bright blue set of Cosplay wigs and that is what I decided to build my shot idea around.  I always look for ways to reuse props as long as it’s not too obvious that they are showing up in several images.

I knew from the beginning that I was going to do a composite background on this shot and I was originally thinking along the lines of a Japanese anime type of feel. While I was in the studio I remembered that I had these blue plastic balls and realized I could use them to create another one of my calm-in-the-middle-of-chaos types of shots.

The Setup

I wanted this to have a bright and commercial kind of vibe to it, so I went with a 28 in. beauty dish mounted directly in front of and above my subject.

The white walmart reflector just underneath and out of frame serves two purposes in this shot. It provides some fill from below to create the faux clamshell effect and it is the reflection that you see in the bottom half of her glasses.  The purple tint is from the sunglasses – that was not added in post – but I did add saturation to it in post.

The real challenge was maintaining the symmetry in the glasses with the reflection of the beauty dish and foam core – it required very slow and deliberate communication with my model.  It was important to keep her calm and focused and to reminder her not to move.  I told her that breathing was completely optional – just don’t move!

I did this shot in front of an Ocean Blue Savage Seamless paper background and used two lights one on either side to light the background evenly and then another two lights – one on either side – aimed back at the model to create the rim highlights on her wig and shoulders.

This was a total of 5 Interfit Honey Badgers – but you could easily do it with speedlights or pocket flashes. 

When I was done photographing my model, I photographed the blue playground balls separately so that I had several variations to be able to composite in later.

The Gear

The shot was made with my Olympus E-M1 Mark II and the M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens which is a 90mm full frame equivalent.  The ISO was 200 which is the base ISO for the Mark II and the shutter speed 1/250th of a second and the aperture was set at f/8.

I was shooting tethered with the TetherPro cables from Tether Tools and using the Olympus Capture software to manage the camera and downloads.  In camera my images were saved to Delkin Devices V90 Power Cards

Post

The final image of the model required very little post production beyond the usual color, contrast and sharpening and of course removing of blemishes – I say this just as reminder of the importance of great hair and makeup.

My next step was to remove her from the background in photoshop and then extend the image sides to a 16 in. x 9 in. format. Then in photoshop I added the blue balls in one at a time, added some motion blur, and then a radial blur to achieve the final result.

Summary

Inexpensive props + costumes + bright colors = fun photographs. So have fun – I sure do.

Also PLEASE – don’t overlook the importance of organizations like the ArtPop Street Gallery.  Art is important and even though we are all creators, we also need to support organizations that support us. I hope to see your work on a billboard soon.

 And last but not least….  please – worry less about gear and how big and how much and who says what…  instead enjoy the art of creating with a camera.

I hope this gives you some ideas, so please – take this idea and run with it – go create and show me what you come up with. Don’t keep all this cool stuff to yourself – please share it with your photography friends. Remember: photography is not a competition – it’s a passion to be shared.  

Now go pick up that camera and shoot something, because your BEST shot – is your NEXT shot! So keep learning, keep thinking, and keep shooting.

Adios!