Back Story: Lightbulb Liquidators

Making a one-in-a-million shot with a pellet gun, a dainty drill, and 150 lightbulbs

Photo: Randi Silberman Klett

june 2010 coverSo how do you fill a lightbulb with water and blast it to smithereens? That was the question on Dan Saelinger’s mind when we asked him to produce this month’s cover image.

At the photo shoot, Saelinger [center] and his assistants, Greg Krauss [left] and Jeff Elkins, propped up black foam boards to build a set for the lightbulb, which was perched on a thin Plexiglas pedestal. Saelinger mounted a high-caliber pellet gun on a stand and pointed the barrel through a hole in the foam wall.

Goggles went on. “All right, we’re loaded,” said Krauss, who was manning the gun. Elkins squatted down to flip on the sound trigger, a timer they’d set up to activate the lights. He silently gave a thumbs-up to Saelinger, who turned to his camera, the lens of which also poked through the foam, and propped open the lens’s shutter.

Krauss fired, and the sharp “pop” triggered the timer. Five milliseconds later, the studio filled with light just long enough to show glass and water splaying outward at lightning speed. The room went black, and Saelinger walked over to his laptop to examine the result. “We had to work out a very exact way to do this,” Saelinger later explains. “We’re talking a millisecond’s difference to catch it, and every explosion is different.”

In a separate room, two stylists were drilling tiny holes into lightbulb after lightbulb. Using a pipette, they squirted water into the glass before plugging the hole with a mix of wax and glue. By the end of the afternoon, glass shards and pellets covered the studio floor, slick from all the water that had been flying around.

Weeks later, Saelinger was still discovering slivers of the 150 lightbulbs they’d shattered in odd corners of his studio. But no regrets here. “Every time we’d shoot and fire one through, we’d smile or laugh—it never got old.”

To Probe Further

Check out the rest of the special report: Water vs Energy.

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