Images from the Biltmore Estate – Part 1


Photograph by Vera Ross

A few months ago, fellow photographer Jim Ryan and I were able to light paint at the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. Jim, who lives in Greenville, South Carolina, was able to garner access for us (no small feat!), and we were able to shoot at night (a good thing for light painting). We spent three nights shooting a dozen images, and although challenging, it was a very fun and memorable experience. To be in that amazing place with no visitors around, and in the dark, was incredible! I am so excited to finally be able to share these images with you!

I’ll be doing a series of posts about all 12 images, and I’ll discuss some of the behind-the-scenes details of the shoot. I’ll be doing a new post roughly once a week, each featuring one or two images, so stay tuned!

During the time leading up to the shoot, we had an arduous task; to narrow down just a few photographic subjects from an overwhelming number of choices. Since we only had three nights, and since light painting takes longer than other types of photography, this was certainly a challenge, but we both immediately decided that photographing in the Great Banquet Hall was a must. During a visit to the Biltmore many years ago, the Banquet Hall embedded itself into my memory… the 70 foot high ceiling, the huge dining table which sits 64 guests, the hand carved chairs upholstered in red velvet, and the beautiful tapestries which line the hall.

On one end of the room are three enormous fireplaces. On the other, a large three-sectioned wall with ornate hand carved details and arched niches display beautiful old European copper and brass vessels. An image of this wall will be in a future post.

Along the back wall of the Banquet Hall are two intricately carved thrones, flanked by the aforementioned 450 year-old Flemish tapestries.

The Grand Banquet Hall Throne.

Harold Ross Light Paints the Biltmore Dining Hall Throne

 Photograph by Harold Ross

The images shot at the Biltmore were quite challenging, and this one was no exception. The throne is very tall. I had to light paint a lot of it from the top of a 12 foot ladder, and in my way of lighting, the light must come from a particular direction and be moved in a certain way to create a look of softness and depth at the same time. This is no easy task, and it involves holding a large LED panel, powered by a belt mounted battery belt, while balancing on the ladder, in the dark. All of this while using light to “sculpt” the subject, enhancing its detail and depth. I certainly got a workout going up and down the ladder for each capture while using tethering software in order to check the image on the computer. At the end of the video clip, you can hear me asking Jim how the capture looks before I make yet another trip down the ladder.

This video clip gives the viewer a sense of just how large the throne is!  

A detail of the tapestries and carvings.

Harold Ross's light painted image of the Banquet Hall Throne (detail)

 Photograph by Harold Ross

Of course, sculpting with light allows me to bring out a great deal of detail, but one of the challenges of Biltmore House is that there is detail everywhere. Every square inch is filled with something interesting. It actually reminded me, although on a different scale, of the Dutch Painters’ genre “Pronkstilleven” which translates to “Ostentatious Still Life”. These were paintings that were filled to the brim with lavish man-made objects.

 A detail showing the hand painted silk inlays and intricate wood carvings.

Biltmore Dining Hall Throne detail

Photograph by Harold Ross

The Smoking Room, size-wise, is diametrically opposed to the Great Banquet Hall. It is a small room, with an intimate feeling, and this is where George Vanderbilt spent time with a book and a cigar or pipe. It is a masculine space, and it’s obvious that Mr. Vanderbilt probably spent quite a few hours here with friends, all wearing their elaborate smoking jackets. For me, the fireplace (one of 65 in the house), guarded by an ever-watchful owl, is the “centerpiece” of the room.

The Smoking Room.

Biltmore Smoking Room

Photograph by Harold Ross

Here is a video clip showing the lighting of the mantel. Although it may look easy, what isn’t apparent is that I’m “seeing” the buildup of light over time. This is a skill that requires practice!

Light painting brings out the exquisite details of the feathers.

Biltmore Smoking Room Detail

Photograph by Harold Ross

Detail of the carved stone mantel and bookcase.

Biltmore Smoking Room Detail

Photograph by Harold Ross

A huge THANK YOU! goes out to Jim Ryan who made this project possible, and who spent many late hours with me shooting and doing post production.

Vera and I are forever grateful for having had this opportunity, Jim!

And, for logistical help on the shoot, thanks to Laura Overbey, Collections Manager at the Biltmore, who helped us coordinate everything, and stayed late for us;

For the Banquet Hall images, Trip Hudgins of Engineering Services, who crawled into that teeny tiny spot in the attic to reach the fuse to turn off the chandeliers in the Banquet Hall; and Lenore Hardin of Museum Services, who also stayed late to assist us.

And, of course, thanks to my wife Vera for, as always, helping me every step of the way!

Stay tuned as we publish more images from the Biltmore House!

All material in this post © Harold Ross 2015

~ by Harold Ross on April 16, 2015.

18 Responses to “Images from the Biltmore Estate – Part 1”

  1. That’s wonderful (as always).

  2. Excellent as always Harold! Looking forward to more!

  3. Very enlightening, as always!

  4. Really great work at a great place!

  5. Beautiful!

  6. Beautiful, Harold—–enjoyed the video clips also.

  7. As I expected — SPECTACULAR! The video too!

  8. Harold: Absolutely stunning images! Many thanks for sharing these with me.Best regards, John     Dr. John Faber, Faber Consulting 610.357.7065 

  9. Watching my talented brother at work…Incredible… You are an amazing artist and as always, I am so proud of you!

  10. Harold and Vera, hello! Hope all is well. I must say, this was impressive. U guys had a great opportunity and obviously u took full advantage. Great stuff. Let me know when ur free so we can set up a workshop. Paulie Grugan


  11. Amazing as always, your work makes me more eager to learn light painting more. Well done.

  12. Beautiful work

  13. Большая и прекрасная работа

  14. Wow this is so exciting!! I’ve been looking forward to this since you announced it last year. I can imagine that all the images you captured are amazing. The mantel is so unique with the owl raised up, and the Grand Banquet Room Throne is gorgeous. Your lighting technique makes it look all the more interesting.

  15. just lovely, what a great opportunity to show off your considerable skills with some exquisite artworks.

  16. Thanks to everyone for the comments! I appreciate it so much. More about the Biltmore to come in the next few days:-)

  17. Just beautiful…even ethereal. What a lovely expression of the historical romanticism that is core to Biltmore!

  18. Wow! What a terrific series. Congrats on the great work. Really excellent!

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