A team of BYU Computer Science students recently won a computer hacking contest against some prestigious competition. When we were assigned to create a photo illustration to accompany the news release, I was stumped. Shooting photos of guys sitting in front of a computer is one the the hardest things that we have to do as University Photographers. The morning of the shoot I came up with the idea of shooting the photo from the perspective of the computer screen in order to show the team working together trying to hack into a computer. I also thought it would look cool if we did a really long exposure, and used some blurred colored lights in the background to separate the hackers from the dark background.

First off, we cut out a computer screen sized to match one of our Apple Cinema Displays and set up a conference room with the screen cutout, lights, keyboard, mouse and speakers. I wasn't a big fan of the wall in the conference room, so we set up a black background that wouldn't show the shadows of the screen or the models on it. Then I set up my Canon 1D Mark IV on a tripod with a 14mm lens on it. I wanted it to look like the hackers were being lit by the glow of the screen, so I put an Elinchrom Ranger right behind the camera to act as my main light source. Here is one of our first test shots with Elisa serving as our stand in model:

I liked how the photo was turning out, but it definately needed some more color to contrast with that dark background. We used a conference room without windows so that we could turn off the lights and do a very long exposure. The plan was to turn off the lights and trigger the flash at the beginning of the exposure to light the foreground elements and the hackers. After the flash triggered, Elisa and I would step into the background of the frame and wave some glowsticks in patterns to create some interesting color streaks in the background. I bought a couple of battery powered LED Glowsticks and after a few tests we ended up with some really fun looking shots. Elisa and I both wore black jackets so that we would not appear as ghosts in the background while we made the designs.

We decided to us a 14mm lens so that we could get all 5 guys in the frame. The exposure we settled on was for 15-seconds at f/6.3 at 400 ISO. When the hacking team arrived we showed them our test shots and they jumped right in and did a great job. The hard part of shooting 15-second exposures is that you have to stay as still as you can to minimize blurry edges, which is pretty hard for the guys who who have to hold that position while standing up over and over again for forty minutes. Here is the final photo that turned out to be my favorite:

Check out the news release at: http://news.byu.edu/archive11-nov-hacking.aspx

Jaren Wilkey has been the Manager of BYU’s University Photography Office since 2003. He lives in Orem, Utah with his wife Kara and their three children. You can see more of his work at photo.byu.edu and jarenwilkey.com