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Today’s post comes from Jimmy Bui, a professional wedding and conceptual portrait photographer based in the Riverside area of Southern California. Check out his previous image, “Long Nights,” in this post. This image is from his Music to Life series and if you’re curious about checking out his series, please visit his website and look out for him on Facebook and Instagram!

Music to Life


I’ve been wanting to interpret Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” for a long time, but conceptualizing the idea was a little tough. I came up with a few ideas, but each and every one of them required a large budget. As an artist, it can be difficult figuring out new ideas to try out, especially when you have no money to fund it. It’s hard, but it’s all part of the creative process and definitely worthwhile when the results meet or exceed your expectations.

“Lights” is a song about Ellie Goulding’s difficulty sleeping in the dark, and she could only be comfortable when she’s bathed in light. The pop production mixed with her ethereal vocals make the song really great, and I wanted to produce an image that reflected the idea of light being a comforting friend and a surreal entity. I wanted a modern, contemporary look for the picture, so I chose the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, California as the backdrop. For the surreal light look, I used paper lanterns to simulate a glowing, floating orbs.

How I Shot It

As a professional photographer, whenever I’m shooting on location, I always ask for permission in advance. A lot of places require you to purchase a permit to shoot on their property, but sometimes, if you ask nicely, you can get those fees waived. In the case of the Segerstrom Center, I worked out a trade for services with them. They gave me permission to shoot there in exchange for some pictures from me that they can use for their own promotional purposes. They were really nice, and the security guards made sure we were safe since we shot at night.

I bought a pack of paper lanterns from a local party supply store, and tested out the lighting at my home. I stuck a Canon 580 ex II flash in one of them, with a Yongnuo trigger and a Stofen diffuser, and snapped away. I was really pleased with how it looked, and it gave me the “floating orb” look I was hoping for. For the picture, I wanted to have several orbs floating in the scene, but I didn’t want to buy a bunch of lanterns and rent the flashes to accommodate each one. My Music to Life series is shot on virtually no budget, so renting flashes and buying a ton of props was out of the question. To make it look like there were a bunch of glowing orbs, even though we only used one, I used the multiple exposure setting in my camera.

music to life

Multiple exposure is a technique where you expose the same frame at least twice, and those frames are combined to create one image. The Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 1DX,  Canon 6D and many Nikon cameras have this ability to do this in camera. So, I basically took a bunch of pictures using the multiple exposure mode (set to additive) while having my assistant move the lantern in a new position after each shutter click.

When using this method, a problem that may present itself is “ghosting.” To solve this, I set my camera on a sturdy tripod to make sure that the background stayed sharp, and as long as nothing moves while the shutter goes off, the final picture should be almost void of all ghostly, transparent effects. This all sounds great, but there’s one thing that would be impossible to keep still for multiple frames being taken and it’s the model. This is where Photoshop comes in handy. In the first frame of the multiple exposure sequence, I shot the model in the scene and then had her step out for the remaining frames. This way, I would have one clean image of her which I can then composite her back into the final picture. I lit her using a Profoto 3′ octo box plus the light from the lantern to fill for shadows. I also did a little light painting using a cheap video light and made a couple of waves in the background.

Lighting Diagram

How I Processed It

Editing the picture was a pretty straight forward, but long process. The multiple exposure function works great in my 5D Mark III, and the cool thing about it is it saves each individual frame it takes before combining into one picture. This is handy for any “fine-tuning” work you want to do in Photoshop.  I used Adobe Bridge to bring the final combined image as well as all the individual frames as stacked layers into Photoshop. Here, I fixed any ghosting that appeared, weird light inconsistencies, and cleaned up the picture.

music to life


Music to Life

I love using Lightroom to color grade my images, so after I was done in Photoshop, I exported the image as a tiff image into Lightroom. I used the SLR Lounge Preset System to help me get the image to where I want it to look, and I used the following settings:

Mixology ->16 SP HDR Light
Cool Curves -> 42 Azure Vintage Punch

After that I made adjustments in color, hue, saturation, luminance, contrast, and the picture was more or less finished. I was really happy with the results, but I wanted to add a couple more effects, so I brought the image back into Photoshop and added these cool light fractals.

Music to Life

Gear and Settings Used

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III

Lens: Canon 16-35mm f2.8 II (focal length 16mm)

Light source for model: (2) Canon 580 EX II’s mounted on a Profoto Speedring

Light source for orbs: (1) Canon 580 EX II placed in a paper lantern

Trigger: Yongnuo Yn-622

Light Modifier: 3′ Profoto Octo Softbox

Camera Settings: f9.0; 0.6 sec; iso 100


From the time I did my tests to the end of the shoot, it took about 3 hours. We wouldn’t have been able to get this image without the people of the Segerstrom Center, whom of which I’m entirely grateful for. Also special thanks to Sonya Teymourian for being my model. She has been following my work for a few months, and have been wanting to participate in my Music to Life series for awhile. Last, but not least, I’d like to thank Jermaine Lightburn and Sean Rohani for helping me with lighting. The entire process was incredibly amazing, and the “Lights” image came out better than I hoped for.

This Sunday, June 22, I’ll be at the Raw Artist event in Costa Mesa, California, and if you’re in the area and would like to talk photography, come and visit. For more information visit