One challenge of having kids with winter birthdays is that we can never go outside during their parties. This year, we were facing the daunting prospect of having fourteen kids armed with foam lightsabers trapped inside our house for two hours. Thus, I felt some structured activity was called for.

Fortunately, I have very good friends, one of whom happens to be a martial arts enthusiast, Star Wars fan, and all-around softy when it comes to kids. I probably didn’t even have to play the “Wouldn’t you have loved to have someone do this for you when you were this age” card, but I did anyway. Motherhood sometimes makes you play hard ball. So I enlisted him to play the Jedi Master who was sent to train our padawans to use their lightsabers in battle. He taught them a simple routine before he was required to exit the party to save the universe.


Then the sneaky Jedi Master reentered the house through the garage and slipped down into the basement to transform himself into a Sith lord of darkness. His wife donned the Jedi cloak and assumed the identity of transcendent Jedi sage. She won the role based on the ethereal voice I had heard her use when she was practicing to lead yoga at family camp. I knew she would pull it off much better than I could.


One by one we led our padawan guests down to the “Dark Side Cave,” where they would rid themselves of fear, anger, and rash impulses. (“I don’t know how to do that!” was the frequent response.) Our Jedi sage would greet them, help them on with a Jedi cloak, present them with a glowing light saber, and instruct them in meditation as they reviewed their lightsaber routine. Most of them were very earnest in following her instructions.



There were, of course, some exceptions.


Not that I could blame her, of course. It’s hard to take your parents seriously when they are wearing Star Wars costumes. She was undoubtedly having a good time, though.

When the Jedi sage deemed the padawan ready, she cued the Imperial March music, and Darth Vader emerged from the shadows.



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The key to these photos was to balance the flashes with the lightsabers to get both good images of the kids’ faces and the dramatic swaths of light. Since the lightsaber output isn’t adjustable (except for perhaps determined by remaining battery power), I adjusted my camera’s aperture so that it would let in the right amount of light to get good lightsaber streaks. A smaller aperture will let in less light to make the color deeper and more saturated, while a larger aperture lets in more light to make the streaks brighter. I liked the balance between saturation and brightness at f/5.6. Shutter speed doesn’t really come into play much, assuming that the light saber is moving more or less constantly.

Once the aperture is set, then I adjusted the flash power to give me the desired light on the faces. I had three flashes on light stands surrounding the three meter square arena. There was one camera left at the front of the arena, one at the left in the back, and one to the right in the middle. The light at the back had a red gel on it for drama, and it would make it look like the light was coming from the red lightsaber. I used bare flash, because the hard light looked edgier, keeping with the subject material.

I ended up using flash power around 1/4 on all three flashes, although 1/2 would have been better in some of them. It really depended on how far the subjects were from the flash. If they stepped back when Darth approached so that the battle was in the middle of the arena, I got fairly good lighting, but some of them wouldn’t give up any ground, and one little boy was nervous about even entering the arena. So the lighting was difficult to fine tune, but we got good enough results in each case that we could get satisfactory adjustments with post processing.

Darth was instructed not to block the light at the right from reaching his opponent’s face. I tried to get him to do a drop stance because it would let the light shoot over him, and then I would be assured of good lighting on the padawan’s face, but he informed me that it wouldn’t be authentic, as Darth doesn’t really stoop for anyone. So he just made sure he didn’t stand in front of the light. Isn’t it great to have an arch villain who is so accomodating to my lighting concerns?

I have more images to share in a future post, and some tips on focusing and timing.