Last summer (do you remember summer?), I had a unique opportunity to create a 1955 Chevy Bel Air light painting. The location for the light painting was pretty nice too. Beautiful downtown Stillwater, MN, with the famous Stillwater Lift Bridge in the background.
This was just a few weeks before the historic bridge was permanently closed to automobile traffic and the new Stillwater Bridge spanning the St. Croix River between Stillwater, Minnesota, and Houlton, Wisconsin opened.
1955 Chevy Bel Air Light Painting – Some Facts and History About This Classic Car
I saw this car for the first time at the Minnesota Street Rod Association event at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in June. The car’s owner, Gene and I talked about the possibility of light painting his beautiful car. A few days later he contacted me and we set a date for the light painting photograph. The location was to be in Stillwater, MN, we would decide the exact location when we got there.
The first time I met Gene at the Minnesota Street Rod Association event at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in June.
This awesome car is a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop. It has a 265 V8 engine and a Powerglide transmission. The car originated in Arizona, went to California, then on to Minnesota, where it has been garaged and well taken care of by its owner Gene.
It was restored in 1980 by Harold Louisana and Palmer Welcome who are also the authors of “How to restore your tri-five Chevrolets”. The car’s colors are Gypsy Red and Shoreline Beige. The 1955 Chevy has taken two national awards and also been a cover car in an automobile magazine.
There’s even an identical “mini”- 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air model in the back window. And yes, I light painted that too!
Light Painting a 1955 Chevy Bel Air in Stillwater, Minnesota – The Rest Of The Story
If you have ever been to historic Stillwater, MN, you probably know the exact spot where this 1955 Chevy Bel Air light painting occurred. We were right on the frontage road, named after Civil War hero Sam Bloomer.
Sam Bloomer is a short, narrow street, just a few blocks long, that actually goes underneath the Stillwater Lift Bridge. Cars can slowly drive on it, and it’s just a few feet from the St. Croix River. In fact, we were in Stillwater in the fall and most of the street was under water from all of the summer rain storms!
Light Painting In A No Parking Zone
The street is basically all no parking, so Gene and I made a stop at the Stillwater Police Department Headquarters to see if we could be “excused” and allowed to park there for a few hours. The officer we talked to said that it would be ok. I wish I could remember the name of the police officer, as I would love to show him the finished light painting photo.
Gene’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air before light painting.
So, we placed the car where we wanted the light painting to happen. I set up the tripod, camera, and my laptop computer. Then I took the establishing image in daylight, shut off autofocus on the camera, put tape on the lens so it couldn’t fall out of focus. Then Gene and I waited for it to get dark enough to light paint the 1955 Chevy Bel Air.
The Sheriff Water Patrol
While we were waiting for it to get dark, a Sheriff Water Patrol boat approached us on the St. Croix River. My first thought was that we were about to get a ticket for parking there, or asked to move. As the boat got closer, one of the deputies called out, “What year is it?” Gene called out “1955”! He chatted with them for a few minutes and then they drove off. Gene and I both had a good chuckle as they floated away.
As dusk arrived, I got to work on the light painting Gene’s awesome car. His wife dropped by to watch for a while too. Gene was kind and triggered the camera for me using my iPhone to open and close the shutter.
Long-Exposure Light Painting
We were doing long-exposure light painting, anywhere from a few seconds to over 30 seconds. I even light painted parts of the Stillwater Lift Bridge with my hand-held-spot light! It took us about 3 hours or so to complete the 1955 Chevy Bel Air light painting.
The biggest problem we encountered was that mayflies kept landing on the car! So I had to pick them off one-by-one and then keep going.
It was a weeknight, so there wasn’t too much traffic on Sam Bloomer. Anytime a car did approach, we just paused to them pass and then kept light painting. Many of the people driving by, and walking by for that matter, would comment on how cool that car is.
A beautiful light painting of Gene’s 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air in Stillwater, MN.
The Stillwater Police
We were nearly finished when a Stillwater Police squad car pulled up. I’m thinking to myself that we’re now in some sort of trouble for being there. Getting out of the squad car was the same officer that we had talked to earlier in the evening at the police station! He just dropped by to see how we were doing.
I showed him some of the images on my laptop, we talked for a few minutes, and then he went back on patrol. All part of a nights work as a light painting photographer I guess.
Below is a short video of the whole 1955 Chevy Bel Air light painting process from beginning to end. It’s about a minute long, but fun to watch.
If you or anyone you know has an awesome car, motorcycle or another cool toy that would look great in a light painting photo, please have them give us a call. I would love to create a cool light painting photograph for them too! – Michael