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posted: 12/15/2013 5:00 AM

How we captured Elburn million-light holiday display

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So, here's the back story to the gorgeous photo that ran on Saturday's front page.

Although the work for the TV show was done in October, which was cold and rainy enough, we asked Brian and Angela Larsen to pose in front of their spectacularly decorated house in Elburn on Monday night. Wind chill about minus 20.

The Larsens are wearing wide grins, but photographer Rick West reports that they "about froze" during the shoot. Staff writer Harry Hitzeman, who normally covers the Kane and McHenry counties court systems, was there, too, holding Rick's light stand.

He also shot video of the display, which caught the attention of a new reality TV show, "The Great Christmas Light Fight." It airs at 8 p.m. Monday on ABC 7. In the episode, Brian and Angela, their three kids and the friends who helped them put up the million-light display are among eight families competing for $50,000 to whomever builds the most impressive Christmas lights display. All combatants were given three weeks to finish.

The Larsens' display eschews the gaudy, Harry reports. Instead, their lights flash and jump across the eaves, turrets and roof of the house. Lights-only trees and lighted arches and poles were constructed -- all of it set to music.

To capture that key component in his video, Rick set up his camera tripod, opened his car door and "blasted the stereo" to record the accompanying music, which is broadcast on 88.5 FM.

"It was so cold that every time I tried to look at the LCD screen on my camera, it fogged up," he said. "The combination of the wind, cold and frozen viewfinder made all my 'B roll' (generic footage) shots shaky or out of focus, so I went back the next night and shot the cars and such again."

That Page 1 photo was no flash, either, he says. "The portrait was tough because the flashes would only fire every third time or so and I didn't want the Larsens to stay out there any longer than necessary. I got my exposure and flash settings set up before they came out and then they ran into position and I ripped off about 20 frames in about two minutes so they could go back inside."

See what we go through to bring you a terrific story/photo/video package, gentle reader?

Harry spent no small amount of time on the project, too. He interviewed Brian last Friday, talked to Angela and a key friend who helped with the project on Monday, and accompanied Rick to the shoot Monday night. He also used the occasion to interview some visitors to the spectacle. "Captive audience," he said.

Another key to good reporting in sub-zeros? "I made sure to bring a pencil because when it gets really cold, pen ink freezes."

That brings us to the Holiday Lights Contest. On our website, click on the icon for the contest on our home page. Be sure to register, then log in to vote as often as you want. However, note that voting ends Monday.

And, no, the Larsens' Elburn lights extravaganza was not nominated. But I think you'll be entertained by the variety of entries. At least one is full of lighted character. One looks as though it could be seen from space. Another, though, boasts of its understated elegance. Titled, "All dressed in white," it's a stately -- white -- older house in Elgin. The description, from "Bucky," simply says, "All white ... only white ... all the time. Boring? Maybe ... classic. I'll take it, Mr. Griswald! Lol"

I'm thinking Brian and Angela Larsen would approve.

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