The Camera Flash Experiment


See it larger on flickr

For our latest mission, 700 agents lined the length of the Brooklyn Bridge a week before its 125th birthday. In the rain and cold we created a wave of camera flashes across the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Enjoy the video below and then read on for the report and tons of photos.


(Available on YouTube)
edited by Jamey Shafer / song by Tyler Walker

Digital Video: Agents Adams, Cacy, Caruth, Joseff, Martin, Savage, Schackman, Shafer, Slocum, Winckler
Digital Photography: Agents Fountain, Nicholson, Scott, Sokoler, Brypace, Clgregor, Eppink, Fawnandfauna, Mirka
Waveleaders: Agents Fountain, Spear, Todd
Mission inspired by: Agents Gee, Taliaferrow

We get lots of mission ideas emailed in to the site. Sometimes they’re great, and we end up making them happen. Sometimes they inspire us to think of a new idea along the same lines. In this case, we had two ideas sent to us in one week that seemed to work perfectly together. Agent Taliaferrow suggested that we do “the wave” across the Brooklyn Bridge, and Agent Gee suggested that we create a wave of camera flashes on a Manhattan street. We put the two together and The Camera Flash Experiment was born.

For the mission, we would have agents line the length of the Brooklyn Bridge and then film and photograph the mission from the Manhattan Bridge, about 500 yards to the north. We weren’t sure how the flashes would look from that distance, so a small crew conducted a test run about a month before the mission. Agents Shafer, Adams, and I set up on the Manhattan Bridge pedestrian walkway and shot video of Agents Fountain, Walker, Gallagher, and Sokoler creating camera flashes on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway.

We were impressed with how four flashes looked, and were excited to find out how it would look with hundreds more. Still, capturing the flashes on video was going to be a challenge. They looked much more impressive to the naked eye than they did on the camera’s view screen. Capturing the mission via photography was going to be even more challenging, as our photographers would have to use long exposures to show the wave of light.

The biggest challenge of all in this mission was the weather. As Friday neared, the forecast looked worse and worse. We had over 700 RSVPs for the mission, and a few agents had made travel plans. Agent Nicholson, our longtime photographer, had already bought a plane ticket to fly back from a trip to Los Angeles to shoot the mission. We decided to move forward rain or shine and hope for the best. The mission would still work in the rain and promised to be a crazy adventure either way.


The crowd gathers


Mission briefing

Despite the awful rain and the unseasonably cold weather, 700 participants showed up at our meeting point ready to go. I explained the mission idea and our plan of attack and instructed everyone to set their cameras to “force flash,” (so they would have the most control over timing.) We figured each camera would have a different lag on its shutter button, so we took some practice shots with everyone trying to take a photo at exactly the same time, first holding the shutter down halfway to pre-focus.


1… 2… 3!

The plan was simple (and as it turned out to be, too simple!) We would walk over to the bridge in a single file line with me in the lead. We would line up on the bridge from the tower on the Brooklyn side to the tower on the Manhattan side, single file facing the Manhattan Bridge. I would start the wave by taking a photo and yelling, “1!” Whoever was next to me would then yell “2!” and take his shot, and so on down the line until it got to Manhattan. Just like a wave at a football game, participants would wait for the person next to them to cue them to go. We’d send the wave back and forth a couple of times and then finish with a finale of everyone flashing.


The crowd heads toward the bridge enterance


Agent Nicholson’s pre-mission shot from Brooklyn Bridge Park

When planning this mission, it was difficult to know how many people we would need to span the length between the two towers. It’s also tough to know how many people are going to show up to our missions these days. In many ways, we were lucky the weather was so bad, because had it been beautiful out we could have had 2,000 people show up to participate. Believe me, managing 700 people on a bridge is more than enough to handle. After the front of the line made it to the Brooklyn side, I walked back along the line to see if everyone was in place. Once I got to the other side I realized there were some people who weren’t even on the bridge yet. We had way more people than we needed. With the help of Agent Terracio, I started directing the people at the back of the line to walk forward and create a second line, filling in the gaps.

We were excited to see what kind of reactions we would get from the regular people on the bridge who encountered our giant single file line, but very few people saw us. The weather was just too awful for any sane person to be outside. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing. We didn’t need anyone else on this bridge, and we certainly didn’t need any bikers whizzing by us.

There were at least a couple of non-participants who walked by. Agent Garrison writes:

I just wanted to share with you that 3 people stopped and asked questions in our area. They decided to join us even though they had no idea what was going on, except that someone told them that we were doing a “flash experiment”, so one guy thought that we were going to actually flash people!They just stood there in the line. And then he kept asking “Are you all activists? Huh, tell me, are you activists?”

It took much longer than expected to get everyone in place, but most of the participants managed to have lots of fun despite the conditions. Many came alone and made friends with the people standing next to them. There were even a few “missed connections” posted on our site and on Craigslist the next day. Strangers and friends alike made the best of this ridiculous adventure.

It was fun to see what a diverse crowd showed up. People of all ages, races, and backgrounds came together for this mission. Agent Coffin writes:

You may be interested to know that not only were 700 people out there in the monsoon rain, but one of them was my 71 year old mother who stayed the whole time. :)


Some didn’t even have umbrellas!

Once everyone was in place, it was time to start the wave. I took out my camera, shouted “1!”, and grinned excitedly as I heard my neighbors taking their flashes, “2! 3! 4!” Then a few seconds later, looking down the line, I realized it had stopped. The wave only made it to 15 or so before ending. I’m not sure how it stopped, but I guess it was easy to get distracted. It was pouring, noisy cars were splashing in the rain below, and folks were trying to keep warm. I realized it stopped because it hadn’t traveled too far, but how would I know if it stopped 200 people down the line? We had to figure out a better plan.

I remembered that waves at football games are usually started by a cheerleader running in front of the crowd. It was time to be a cheerleader. Agent Spear, Agent Fountain, and I devised a plan to take turns running the length of the bridge, screaming “go!” at the top of our lungs down the line. At this point we wished we hadn’t given Agent Spear’s bike to the camera guys on the Manhattan Bridge.


Agent Spear and Agent Fountain take off running


I nearly lost my voice from yelling “Go!” about one thousand times


Agent Spear runs and ducks to avoid covering the flashes


Agent Spear ran so fast he wound up in this photo twice

We had two photographers in charge of documenting the mission from afar. Agent Sokoler was stationed on the Manhattan Bridge, and Agent Nicholson was at ground level in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Both were working with multiple cameras and tripods, in attempt to get as much coverage as possible. On one camera, Agent Sokoler took six 30 second exposures, capturing six sections of the wave as it crossed from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

I put together a small animated GIF of the wave crossing the bridge using these photos.


(this animation may not work in all browsers, get Firefox.)

Agent Sokoler got some beautiful longer exposure photos as well.


See it even larger on flickr


See it even larger on flickr


See it even larger on flickr


converted to B&W with blue enhanced. See it even larger on flickr


See it even larger on flickr

Agent Nicholson had a tougher time getting good shots from Brooklyn Bridge Park. Being at ground level made it tough to capture the flashes. Here are a few highlights.

Back on the bridge, things didn’t go exactly as planned for the finale. Everyone was so wet and cold that mob mentality took over after the wave had gone down and back twice. Some stuck around and kept firing for the finale, and others assumed it must be over when they saw a few people beginning to leave. In the end, it didn’t matter. We had done what we wanted to do– create a wave of light back and forth between the boroughs.


Agents looking at their photos as they leave

Some agents convened at a nearby bar for an afterparty. Others got on the train and headed home to dry off. This made for a very wet car of 6-train riders.

We learned a lot at this mission. We learned more about how crowds work together, especially under bad conditions, and how communication does and does not work in single file lines. Next time we try to pull something like this off, we’ll be much more prepared.

Although the weather was miserable to deal with, in many ways the night we picked was destined to be the night for this mission. The next night, which was to be our rain date if we had decided to cancel, it ended up thunder storming at the exact time of the mission. Had we moved it to then, an unexpected storm would have hurt us even more, as people would have been unprepared. We also found out that Manhattan Bridge walkway was closed for construction on Saturday and Sunday nights, meaning we wouldn’t have had access for our photographers and cameramen.

Despite the glitches in the plan, we had a blast pulling this off and it seems most of the participants did as well. We never know exactly how our missions are going to work out, but we do know that they will always be an adventure. This mission was different for us in many ways. Most noticeably was the fact that we did not have much direct interaction with our audience. In fact, we can’t even be sure that anyone even saw the flashes. But we can hope that at least a few folks driving or taking the train across the Manhattan Bridge, living in a downtown apartment, or walking home in the rain looked up at the right time and saw something spectacular.

Mission Accomplished


OTHER RESOURCES:

Agent Sokoler’s Flickr Set
Agent Nicholson’s Flickr Set
Agent Scott’s Flickr Set
Agent Fountain’s Flickr Set
All photos from all participants

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Comments

comments

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81 Responses to The Camera Flash Experiment

  1. Zorba says:

    Very cool idea! Glad it worked out despite the rain.

  2. andrew says:

    AWESOME!

  3. Alex B. says:

    I came from Atlanta. It could’ve been better organized, but I had a blast! http://www.flickr.com/photos/26686748@N03/

  4. Agent Hunter says:

    Glad to see that we came out of that with at least a successful animated gif!

    It was cold, but not as cold as it was during the Cell Phone Symphony, so it’s really hard to complain.

    I had fun and I hope most others did, as well! Thanks as always, IE.

  5. Charlie Yo-Yo says:

    Capturing this entire mission on video and photos would have been a daunting task even under the best of conditions, so, seeing how it came out so magically beautiful even with the wind and rain . . . well, it just goes to show the kind of incredible scenes that Improveverywhere can make happen under any circumstances.
    It was a great adventure, and I was happy to be a part of it.
    Thanks Charlie, and everyone behind the scenes, and all of the agents on the bridge – IT WAS A WONDERFUL!

  6. Dale says:

    Interesting, and yet surprisingly lame.

  7. JAson says:

    Heyyy, How come I wasn’t notified about this mission?!

  8. Jim says:

    That was such a blast! Can’t wait to join the next mission :)

  9. Umandsf says:

    Although definitely not what I was expecting, and sad that there was no active audience, this results in one of the most beautiful things you guys have done. I’m going to have to take one of those panoramic pictures and frame it.

  10. William Selmi says:

    I found that a bit boring as the fun for me is seeing the reaction of the non-agent spectators.

  11. Very interesting mission. I was up there from Atlanta for the National Stationery Show and signed up… then couldn’t get the details because I couldn’t access my computer. Bummer. So close and yet so very far. I do know first hand it was a really miserable night. Even though you had plenty of bodies, it would still have been cool though to be in it. Good show!

  12. Cronnor says:

    Most of your others are far more interesting, but very neat idea. I guess it is the quality of the pictures, but all the flashes look photo shopped. Great job with all those people and the weather.

  13. Mehl says:

    That is AWSOME!!!
    Great Work and thx for a lot of entertainement…

  14. Charlie Todd says:

    @Cronner,

    The flashes are not photoshopped. We used photoshop and other software to stitch photos together in some cases, and to saturate the colors (most obviously in the black and white one), but the flashes are very real.

  15. Spencer says:

    This is beautiful and for some strange reason it feels patriotic to me. Improv Everywhere is making this world a better place.

  16. Vivek says:

    This was awesome. Managing to do this with a crowd of over 700.. impressive to say the least.

  17. Danielle says:

    I really liked the video for this one. Everyone looked so happy and the music was very well suited.

  18. Rome says:

    As two people put it…

    1> Heyyy, How come I wasn’t notified about this mission?!

    2> Interesting, and yet surprisingly lame.