Field of lights: If you build it, they will come

Recently, my family and I took in a spectacular visual experience in Paso Robles. It’s an art installation called the “Field of Light at Sensorio” by British artist Bruce Munro known for his large light-based work. The Paso Robles work consists of more than 58,000 small LED globular lights on stalks about 2-1/2 feet tall connected to fiber optic cables and fed by solar-powered batteries.

(8/3/19)
As twilight starts to fall, the lights of the art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, begin to glow. The installation consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. . [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

I had heard about it on social media when it opened in May and was curious. Paso Robles is about a 3 to 4 hour drive south of Stockton and I wasn’t able to find the time to go until the beginning of August.

A few miles outside of the small town of about 30,000, the installation is just off Highway 46, though you can’t see it from the road. Even after parking in the large lot made for the event, the installation is still unseen nor is it viewable from the 50-yard walk to the gate. Once on the grounds you see the scale of it. We got there around 8:00 p.m when it was still daylight and the lights weren’t on yet. If you’ve ever seen a field of onions with their long thin stalks and small puffballs of flowers on top, that’s what the unactivated lights looked like but bleached of all color They filled a gently sloping ravine dotted with a few large oak trees.

(8/3/19)
The art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

It was almost imperceptible at first, but as the night grew slowly darker, the lights began to color the bulbs. It wasn’t until the sun has fully set that they reached their full intensity. The ravine had become a galaxy of tightly packed and brightly colored stars that covered the ground. Not only were they every color of the rainbow but they changed as well, so slowly that you almost didn’t realize that they were morphing into a different color. Some places there would be large swaths of the same color which converted into another hue. Sometimes there would be several different colors in the same area.

(8/3/19)
The art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Temperatures were in the triple digits during the day but when the sun went down the ocean breeze wafted in and things cooled down comfortably. The same breeze would gently stir the lights giving them slight wave motion at times.

(8/3/19)
The art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Although there were several hundred people in attendance, there are wide, well-groomed dirt paths that go around and through the installation and it was fairly easy to get a decent vantage point from which to take a picture.

Speaking of picture taking, which is not only allowed but encouraged, there are a couple of restrictions. The use of flash is discouraged, which for me, isn’t an issue. A flash would just wash out the beauty of the light so just leave it in your camera bag. Secondly, tripods are forbidden, which poses a bigger issue. I can understand the reasoning behind the rule. It gets pretty dark and it can be difficult to see where you’re walking on the paths. Towards the end I was stepping pretty gingerly in order not to step on someone’s toes or stumbling over something. I can see how a tripod in the dark can be come a trip hazard, especially with hundreds of people walking around. Still, getting a good night shot usually requires the use of a good tripod. They help to hold the camera steady during long exposures. During the early part of the evening there’s just enough ambient light to shoot with a fast enough shutter speed to hold the camera still. As it gets darker is when it becomes problematic. Having a camera/lens that has some sort of stabilization system that compensates for some camera shake can help. Also having a camera that does well a high ISOs (light sensitivity) is an advantage too.

Some of my photos were shot at a very slow shutter speed, in the 1-second range. I’m very practiced at holding the camera still, but even I can’t hand-hold it at those slow speeds. There are benches spaced out periodically along the path for those wanting to rest tired feet or just to sit and take in the lights. I placed my camera on one of them and held it down securely to take those long shutter exposures.

(8/3/19)
The art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

If you want to see the Field of Light it’s open in the evenings Wednesdays through Sundays (closed Monday and Tuesdays) through January 5 in Paso Robles. There’s food drink available for purchase and, when we went, live music. Hours vary on the the time of year (check their website https://www.sensoriopaso.com/). There is a fee: $27 to $30 per person depending on the day (There are VIP tickets available which gets you a free meal and seating in an exclusive spot overlooking the installation for about $95).

(8/3/19)
A visitors take in the sights at the art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, which consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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