Electromagnetic Warfare Is Here

Is It Real, or Is It Photoshop?

Nowadays, a striking image can provoke wonder—you wonder whether it was simply created in a computer. Take the opening illustration for the article “Fear of Frying,” in this issue, which explains how best to protect your computers from electromagnetic attack. It shows a bank of servers in a room clad in metal, to shield against a briefcase e-bomb pictured just outside the room.

That’s no shoe-box diorama. To make that image, photographer Dan Saelinger [above] and his assistants built a life-size set in his Portland, Ore., studio. It took three days to construct, using materials sourced by stylist Birte Von Kampen. And it was 3 meters high.

“I just felt it would have more authenticity,” Saelinger says.

Then came hours of shooting the room and the model, Paige Hendrix, followed by postproduction. All told, he and his troupe put in at least 120 person-hours of work to create that one image, Saelinger estimates.

“It was a lot about getting the lighting right,” he says. “We lit it from the back, to make it seem as if light is glowing through the room, and we had spotlights in front. Then we shot the model and the electromagnetic device, which the stylist built out of transparent plastic and a lot of electronic components.”

Only then, he says, did the digital fakery come in, beginning with a CGI rendering of a rack of servers and followed by hours of aligning light and shadow. “The goal is to make it look photographic,” says Saelinger, who is 35.

A day after the shoot, he had the room dismantled. “It’s torn down, then you move on to the next thing,” he says, wistfully.

What about the briefcase? Could we add it to Spectrum’s collection of curiosities? “Well, it’s built to last just for the shoot,” says Saelinger. “Put together with glue. Maybe too fragile to be shipped.” More wistfulness.

Fragile, yes, but a thing of beauty. And ready for a close-up, we suspect, if another of Saelinger’s shots needs an ominous-looking briefcase.