Sunday, 24 October 2010

Brave New (Bubble) World

I've had a massive amount of fun this afternoon working on my Macro module. Inspired by pro-photographer Steve Hermitage's "Bubble Worlds" I set about creating my own....

Bubble World

The setup is really simple: a dish with very soapy water with black food dye added to it to get good colour contrast, a straw to blow bubbles in it, a flashgun and a macro lens.

The lighting was the hardest part, and it took me a few hours before I started getting the sort of thing I was looking for. The rainbow reflections are created by diffuse light, and Steve fired his flash through a soft box. I ran into difficulty with this because my Nikon SB600 can't be triggered off-camera without being slaved to the on-camera flash. The full frontal flash from the on-camera totally kills the rainbow reflections, so I had to use the SB600 on camera and angled to bounce off a diffuser. The problem this caused was that my bubbles were only lit from one side. The next time I do this I might try to rig up some reflectors. In addition to this I had to figure out the right combination of flash power/underexposure/aperture to get vibrant colours. It was frustrating because I could see it through the lens, I just couldn't capture it!

In the end I found a combination that worked with the setup. I blew hundreds of bubbles and had a whale of a time. I finally figured out the the most exciting bubble colour combinations come just when the bubble is getting ready to burst; the oil slides off the bubble surface into the liquid and then it pops. If you blow on the bubble with a straw it mixes the remaining oil with the black water and you get some gorgeous mixtures. The final image here was taken when there was virtually no oil left, just milliseconds before it popped.

A Bubble Moon perhaps?... Just before the bubble popped

In the end the battery ran out on my camera, if it wasn't for that I'd probably still be at it now. Grab some soapy water and a straw and give it a go! Although beware, huffing on bubbles with a straw does make you pretty light-headed.....

Sunday, 10 October 2010


I've finally moved onto a new module (I submitted the Race for Life pictures in the end and actually got quite reasonable feedback so was well chuffed). In fact I'm working on two simultaneously in the hopes of catching up...

The first I'm tackling covers building, structures and architecture. As part of the recommended reading I came across the work of husband and wife team Bernd and Hilla Becher (examples here, right & left).

I absolutely loved their photographic treatment of industrial subjects. These sorts of subject are the ones I am usually trying to exclude from my pictures; framing the shot to get rid of the pylon in my landscape shot for example.

How many times have you visited a new town or city, and only taken pictures of the 'nice bits'? I'm intrigued to what extent this warps our memories of the places we've seen, where we've (unconsciously or otherwise) edited out the ugly bits from our photographs. The Becher's show that beauty and intrigue can be found in 'ugly' industrial objects.

Living in Leven, I've got a lot of access to ugly objects.

Newsagent, Leven: my first attempt at mixing colour with black & white

I set out to capture some pictures inspired by the Becher's work. I also wanted to take some shots that intentionally take a no-holds-barred approach to the sights of Leven. I'm intentionally making it look as grim as possible.

Methil Power Station: this is the view that greets walkers on Leven's 'Promenade'. The power station is destined for demolition and a modern windfarm may be its replacement.

Later I might do a study where I try to make Leven look more like the tourist office would like you to believe. For now though, these photographs represent the exact opposite of the pictures I would usually take. It was a lot of fun.

All of these pictures were taken with our point-and-shoot compact and were part of a reconaissance mission to find cool locations to revisit with my SLR. I really like how some of these have turned out though. Just goes to show what a decent compact can do (with a little bit of tweaking post-processing).

Junkyard, Leven: I have no idea what they make here, but the wreckage in their yard makes for some interesting subjects.....

These pictures are heavily influenced by the Becher's work. I have no idea what this is (left), but it looks like some sort of Martian spaceship. It's one of the few images I tinted with Sepia instead of making it Black and White, again as a nod to the Bechers.

The close-up of the pipework (right) was taken through the fencing of the paint factory in Leven. It's definately a location I'll revisit. The junkyard shots however were taken in a very dodgy part of town, I don't think I'll be heading back there without backup...

There was a fantastic arched bridge over the river that bisects the industrial estate. It used to be white, and now it's more rust than anything else. I gave this a Sepia tint too for a nostalgic feel. Bridges Over Madison County this ain't...but it sure was interesting to look at.

The industrial estate in Leven is a deeply creepy place when you're all alone. Not the sort of place I really should have been on my own to be perfectly honest, but I get very distracted when I've got a camera in my hand. By the time I was starting to get creeped out I noticed this abandoned glove on a spiked fencepost and it reminded me of that classic horror movie shot of a hand reaching out from a freshly dug wasn't a very comforting thought to have at the time...

Abandoned; Leven.

And finally, it wasn't all creepy and dirty looking. I found some items that I thought, in their own way, were really quite beautiful....or at least I thought so....

Thanks to the Bechers, and a productive afternoon wandering around with a compact, I'm now really fired up about this module and can't wait to get my teeth stuck in....

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A Day at the Races

In a last ditch attempt to get an 'interesting' photo for my module 5 submission ('motion') I headed to my local Race For Life event in the hopes of capturing the action. Sadly, it seems like the trip was a bust, and this is something I could have figured out ahead of time if only I'd stopped to think about it a bit first...

The main challenge of this module assessment is to take a good 'panning' shot, where a moving subject is seen as sharply focussed against a motion streaked background. You do this by moving the camera in the same direction as the subject's motion and at the same speed.

So here's the reason (or at least one of them) that I'm a total dumbass....people running aren't moving smoothly in one direction.

It's obvious when you stop to think about it. Even if I could correctly compensate for their horizontal motion they are also jiggling up and down in the vertical axis (and not all body parts are jiggling at the same rate...ahem). Another problem is that at no time are all body parts travelling in the same direction. A backwards travelling elbow for example will end up twice as blurred when panning in the forwards direction. Also, their back leg (from the knee down) is mainly travelling upwards. When looking through my pictures afterwards these problems meant that in a lot of pictures there was just a single body part that had been 'panned'. For example, this womans elbow and ipod...
The best panning shot that I managed to capture is seen below, and is only (roughly) in focus in the upper body. It doesn't stand up to close scrutiny though, especially in the face, where vertical motion has given the poor woman a ghostly face slightly above her 'real' one.

To add to my woes weather conditions were ideal for running, but not for photography. With bright harsh midday sunlight flattening everything. Getting down to a 1/15th of a second for the panning shots took the lowest ISO setting I had and f22+. I decided to try out the 'D-Lighting' setting on my Nikon D300 which is supposed to produce a more balanced result on bright sunny days (high contrast conditions). It supposedly does this through some in-camera voodoo which looked very impressive in the manual, but my images are all really noisy and I think D-Lighting is to blame. They all look like they were taken on ISO800 or more. I might experiment with this setting a bit more thoroughly, but it was stupid of me to try it out for the first time while out photographing a one-off event.

So I gained lot's more "dont's" to add to my list from today's experience but very little else. It looks like Johnson the dog on his roundabout adventure will be my assessment submission after all.

I did get a couple of cool abstract images from today that I thought were quite fun...One woman who has come out looking like an impressionist manga princess...

and another poor woman who looks like a jogging Nosferatu....

The moral of the story? Think harder when planning a shot like this to make sure you're not setting off on a fool's errand.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Panning for gold

I'm really struggling to be inspired by the Module 5 brief. It asks you to capture 3 images of the same moving subject - one which freezes the motion, one which shows motion blur, and one where the image is 'panned'. I can think of really cool shots to take of subject that would satisfy one or maybe two of these required shots, but being able to take a good panning shot of the same subject is proving to be the sticking point. Panning is when the camera is moved at the same speed as the subject in focus throughout the exposure. By maintaining the position of the subject in the frame, as the subject moves, the result will be an in focus subject and a motion blurred background. Sounds cool, but turns out to be a real bitch to do (or perhaps it's just me).

The first time I tried this it was at the Edinburgh Christmas market, using the camera hand held and in the dark. So it's no surprise that it didn't turn out very well, but you get the rough idea...

I really enjoyed taking the water droplet pictures I blogged earlier, but found it impossible to vertically pan a falling water droplet to get that third shot I need for the assessment. I tried all sorts of crazy setups involving hoses and perforated drinks cartons, but all I managed to do was get really really wet.

So I gave up trying to take an 'interesting' picture and just tried to take a panning picture of any kind. In desperation I headed to the playpark with my trusty stuffed dog Johnson and spent an hour spinning him on the roundabout, sprinting to the camera to take some shots, then running back to spin him again.....all the while hoping not to get arrested. My activities certainly raised a few eyebrows. One young boy asked what I was doing, then demanded I take his picture. I didn't get a good panning shot, but I like the ghostly appearence of this one. I'm sure I'm breaking all sorts of laws by posting photos of a minor, but I won't tell if you don't.

So here's Johnson, on his playpark adventure. Horrible composition, terrible exposure, but finally a panning shot that works. I think I'm going to just submit this one and get this module over with.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Making a splash

My latest assignment for my distance learning course is to capture 'Motion'. The brief has left me pretty uninspired - I have to take three shots of the same subject, one with motion blur, one where the action is frozen, and a panning shot. I can think of plenty of subjects that could produce an interesting picture for the first two shots, but don't lend themselves to panning. So for now I've decided to ignore the assignment and just take some motion pictures that I like....and that's what these shots are.

Armed with a bowl of water, a desklamp, and a dripping tap I took these shots with my Macro lens and my spiffy new flash. Using the flash and the desklamp I had enough light to push the exposure to 1/250, which was fast enough to freeze the action. After that it was just a case of taking enough shots to get lucky.....

I love the sharpness of this lens, and the results are some of my favourite shots in a long time. Is it just me or does this last one look a bit like an alien? It's like the Abyss but in my own kitchen... :o)

I'm no closer to finishing my assessment, but I am starting to really enjoy this topic. It's the most success I've had in the kitchen too!