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Photographing Neon Signs

Updated on July 8, 2014
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Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0 | Source

Most business have signs and some even have signs made from neon tubing which can be seen from quite a distance away. Some of these neon signs are words used to send a message to the public such as "open', advertise the business's ware and some are made in the shapes of various recognizable subjects such as animals and people.

"Neon signs are made using electrified, luminous tube lights that contain rarefied neon or other gases. They are the most common use for neon lighting, which was first demonstrated in a modern form in December, 1910 by Georges Claude at the Paris Motor Show.[1"..."The neon sign is an evolution of the earlier Geissler tube, which is an electrified glass tube containing a "rarefied" gas (the gas pressure in the tube is well below atmospheric pressure). When a voltage is applied to electrodes inserted through the glass, an electrical glow discharge results."Wikipedia

It is these signs made in the shapes of recognizable subjects that this photographic project is meant to record. The title of this article,curiously, is a neon woman, and it was chosen because one of the most recognizable shapes used by some establishments that cater to adults, mostly a male clientele, is that of a woman.

But with some patience one can find many other neon signs with various shapes such as 'pigs' or "cows", usually found in butcher shops. Beer bottles or wine cups, usually found in bars. Sport articles such as a bat and ball, usually found in sport stores, "shoes", "coffee' and so many more.

You goal is to record many such images and to do so you will off course need to conduct this project during the night hours when these neon signs are most visible and you will need to use a support for your camera gear such as a tripod. you must also be familiar with night photography techniques.

Try to avoid everything but the sign itself. Adding other elements from the surrounding area may be a distraction to your viewer.

There are a few variations to the technique. One would be to focus on signs that represent one type of establishment such as a bar. Another is to focus on signs that feature only animals, even "fantasy' animals such as dragons. Maybe only shapes of people and so on.

A much easier method is to record images of any neon sign that you find appealing and its images can be recorded without much interference from other parts of the locale such as protruding electrical cables, windows or other displays.

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Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0 | Source
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Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0You are free: to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work to Remix — to adapt the work to make commercial use of the work | Source

The best images are those that do not feature large writing or words or any other messages within the body of the sign itself.

Better yet, no words at all should be visible in your final images. Let me sign itself represent the message.

But this is often easier said than done because the main purpose of these signs is to serve as advertisements and words are very much a part of their makeup. Yet with some leg work you can still find some.

Be very mindful of never actually touching any of these commercially designed signs.

Not only are they fragile since they are made from rather thin glass tubing but the electrical current needed to electrify or rather charge the gas contained within can be dangerous and fatal.

Use a zoom lens to isolate fringe details and get in close to record the sign's details that may show unusual characteristics.

Do not use any lighting source since the light from the sign itself is enough to produce the image.

Signs that have the night sky as their background usually come out better but any dark surface will do just as well.

If the sign is set against a window try to find an angle that will limit the amount of reflection from it.

Keep in mind that some businesses may be potential clients for your images. Approaching them with this in mind may be a good idea.

Although you do not really need permission from the business owner to photograph a sign that faces the public arena it is always good and the proper thing to do to use some common courtesy and ask before taking your photographs.

Once you describe your purpose you will often find a helpful ally in completing the project plus they may suggest other locations where other interesting signs may be found.

Remember that business owners always pay attention to their competition and are keenly aware of anything that may benefit their establishment.

© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Interesting topic - voted as such. I now have a better perspective on this topic.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I agree with Lynn. Great topic for a hub!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Lynn: Hope not...thanks

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

      Very cool. I don't think neons will ever go out of vogue.