Thursday, March 19, 2009

Abstract Ink Blots in Water

Camera:Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
Exposure: Bulb Mode
Aperture: f/22.0
Focal Length: 50 mm
ISO Speed: 100

Lighting: Vivitar 283 Flash set to 1/16th power.

Materials Needed:
1. Fish Tank - 10 Gallon works well
2. Soft Box large enough to fill the back of the fish tank.
3. Ink (I used old ink jet ink for this) I hear color dye works as well.
4. An external flash
5. Tripod
6. Shutter Release Cable

1. Clean all surfaces of the tank that will be shown in the image. It's easier to take 5 minutes and clean the windows with Windex instead of having to clone out a bunch of water spots and dirt.

2. Setup your tripod and attach your camera. Place something inside the fish tank in the middle to manually compose and focus on. Ensure you have enabled manual focus on your lens.

3. Fill the tank use cold water if possible. This will slow the ink down as it falls to the bottom of the tank. This will allow you to snap more images while saving your ink. You will probably want to use a bucket to fill the tank so you don't have to move your tripod and refocus. You can go ahead and fill it in a bathtub and then place something inside the water to focus on if this works better for your particular environment.

4. Place the soft box behind the fish tank. Make sure placement creates a nice white background for the entire fish tank. You may have to custom make a soft box for these images if your box is not large enough. You can also use a white wall behind the fish tank. If you choose to use a white wall you will need to do more test shots to figure out the proper angle to place your flash at so the light will reflect back from the wall through the fish tank to the lens. Using the wall will require more power since your flash will be further from the wall creating more distance between the lens and the light that is reflected back from the flash. I recommend building a soft box instead if you have the time and materials. There are lots of resources online on soft box designs. I suggest searching google and finding a design that works for your situation.

The Shot
Here comes the tricky part if you have not worked with flashes past your max sync speed. We want to stop the motion of the ink falling. Since a flash generally creates a strong pulse of light that last only 1,000th of a second or fast most cameras can not sync at these high speeds. If you neglect to take this into consideration you will get a black bar across your image from the shutter. To work around this problem you will need to work in the dark; hence the reason for prefocusing your camera.

1. Set your camera to manual mode.
2. Set your aperture to control the amount of light the lens will allow to strike the sensor for that brief period of time the flash is fired. My setup actually could have been improved by using a large soft box and moving the box further from the fish tank. Unfortunately at F22 the flash was still too bright at 1/16th power by a stop. This was acceptable however and due to the fact that I was shooting in raw this can easily be corrected post processing. (Less time spent post processing then designing a new soft box).
3. Set your shutter to bulb mode
4. Use the lowest possible ISO for proper exposer while not driving your flash to hard. I would increase my ISO to compensate if I was using more then 1/2 power on the flash. We want to be able to have fast recycle times on the flash to the less flash you need the better. A battery pack would be of great help but not required.

Now you have everything setup and ready to roll here is the procedure on how to take the pictures. It works easy if you can find a helper but not necessary. I will explain the procedure using two people.

People Setup
1. One person (#1) needs to control the ink going into the tank and triggering the camera. The other person (#2) will trigger the flash manually by hand.

Taking your first image.
1. #1 squirt a small amount of ink into the tank in the middle then open the shutter to the camera.
2. #2 As soon as you hear the shutter open trigger the flash manually.
3. #1 once the flash has been triggered release the shutter cable to close the shutter.
4. #1 check the camera to ensure the image is coming out as expected and make adjustments if necessary.

Once you know you have everything setup correctly you can then proceed to take images in quick secession.

#1 Trigger Shutter
#2 Fire Flash
#1 Close Shutter
#1 Open Shutter
#3 Fire Flash
#1 Close Shutter

Watch the ink as it's falling so you know where to add more ink. Experiment with different amounts of ink and color. This is really a fun project to do and each image will be unique and unrepeatable.

Tip: After you fill the tank with enough ink it will look black. Don't! dump the water yet and start over. Increase your flash power a few stops or two and take some more test shots. Just because it's black doesn't mean crazy stuff isn't happening that you can't see. Try string the black water and firring the flash. YOU WILL BE SURPRISED.

Tip: You probably won't want to use a focal length longer then 50mm on a crop body. Your shutter release cable may not be long enough for your to be able to squirt ink into the tank at the same time unless you have a wireless shutter cable.

Tip: Practice a little with your helper to get timing down good.

Monday, March 2, 2009

How to take pictures of cats & kittens

Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
Exposure: 0.002 sec (1/640)
Aperture: f/4.5
Focal Length: 48 mm
ISO Speed: 800
Exposure Bias:-2/3 EV

Lens: Canon 24-70 F2.8 L

Lighting Setup: 1 Medium sized collasable soft box with a Navy Blue replacement backdrop inserted. 1 500watt hot light about 3 feet from the soft box on the left slightly above pointing down. Be conscious of the background you choose. Shooting a white cat on a white background will be much more diffucult then a black background. It's not impossible but you will have to be aware of this and use a diff rent lighting method unless you are going for a high key shot.

Keep your shutter speeds as fast as possible, sacrifice ISO first, nose will be less obvious in a lighting situation like this. Noise can always be reduced in post processing. Keeping the shutter fast allows you to freeze the movement of the cat. The cat will likely be moving around a lot, you probably won't find yourself using a tripod for work like this. Recomposing is required almost frame by frame and lots of camera movements are needed.

Shoot wide open or a few stops from wide open this will help blur the background and reduce any annoying crinkles in the background fabric. It will make it much easier to clone out mistakes and defects if the background is soft and fuzzy. I find F2.8 - F 4 to be a good range to work in.

Your mileage will vary depending on the temperament of the cat you are working with. Treats work well for holding the cats attention for that split second. An assistant is very useful, they can keep the cat from escaping the softbox, lunging at the camera or clawing at the soft box.

If you chose to use a strobe for lighting be careful. Some animals do not like strobes and find them annoying especially after being placed in a box with a big lens in front of them. I find hot lights work well and allow for easy focusing which is critical. Only work with the cat for a few minutes at a time and reward them often. Don't over heat your cat or stress them out, they will be less likely to cooperate in the future.

Try setting up your lights and softbox and let your cat walk in under it's own power to explore the box. If your cat is really hesitant about getting in the softbox try placing the cats food dish inside the softbox and feed them there for a few days.

I like to shoot in continuous mode for brief bursts. Many times you will catch the cat with the tongue or cross eyed after eating or looking at a treat. This can give the photograph of your cat more excitement and playfulness.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Long Exposure in Day Light

lillie park blowing wind 3

Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
Exposure: 0.3 sec (3/10)
Aperture: f/22
Focal Length: 18 mm
ISO Speed: 100

To convey the windy day outside I wanted to show these reeds moving in the wind. This can be a difficult subject to photograph when the sky is completely clear on a Sunny day. Here are some things that have to be put in place for an image like this to work.
  • Reduce Distracting Elements - This is very important, but more so with an image that shows movement like this. Had I shot this directly head on instead of shooting up toward the sky; movement would have been much harder to separate from the background. The distracting elements could be reduced by opening the lens up to F1.8 or 2.8 however, this is not possible when showing movement in direct sunlight.
  • Slow Shutter Speed - Stopping the lens down to it's almost maximum will more then likely be required depending on the amount of wind present outside. You will also want to shoot at your lowest ISO possible 100 or 50 if available. If I was to shoot head on everything in the background would be in focus and sharp since the lens is stopped down so much. Since objects further away move a smaller distance on the film plane due to the Parallax effect they would be sharper then the foreground reeds which are moving. The eye would naturally want to look at the background since it is sharper then the foreground and the moving reeds would just turn into a distraction at this point.
  • Neutral Density Filters - Even with your lens stopped down your shutter speed may still be to fast to show movement. In this image I had to use my neutral density filter ND2 which stops the available light reaching the lens by 2 stop. I would have liked a ND4 in this situation since it was very bright outside but ND2 was acceptable. You can also use a polarizing filter stack with your ND filters or alone to further reduce the amount of light available.

Post Processing

Since I had to take this image during the day time due to the local terrain where these reeds were located this image taken during the sunset would not have worked. The reason behind this is the sun sets behind a hill located behind the camera. It would have cast a deep shadow over the reeds. Some external lighting would be required to show movement and a flash is to fast in this situation. A continuous lighting source would be require which is to cumbersome to carry in the field.

I was able to replicate a sunset using a simple gradient, some masking and a hue adjustment. Viloa! This is a situation where post processing was the only option to get what I envisioned in my minds eye.

Here is another image taken the same considerations in place without a sunset sky added using photoshop.

lillie park blowing wind 2

Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
Exposure: 0.5 sec (1/2)
Aperture: f/22
Focal Length: 18 mm
ISO Speed: 100

Abstract - Light Painting

Abstract Light Painting
Camera: Canon PowerShot S3 IS
Exposure: 2 sec (2)
Aperture: f/8
Focal Length: 21.3 mm

Abstract Light Painting
Camera: Canon PowerShot S3 IS
Exposure: 2 sec (2)
Aperture: f/8
Focal Length: 41.6 mm

Abstract Light Painting
Camera: Canon PowerShot S3 IS
Exposure: 2 sec (2)
Aperture: f/8
Focal Length: 21.3 mm

Painting with light can be a fun experience. Each image will surprise you as it's almost impossible to predict exactly what will happen with long shutter times at night. Having a friend drive a car while you operate your camera at night is the ideal situation for light painting I have found. I find what creates the most striking images is the use of negative space. I have seen the lots of light painting photographs taken from moving cars so other people have discovered this as well.

I generally don't like light painting within cars using short focal lengths. When shorter lengths are used lights tend to stay in the same position relative on the plane of the film. Most people tend to shoot out the windshield with short focal lengths. When you do this cars coming towards you or cars that are moving with the flow of traffic tend to stay in the same place on the film plane. Understanding the parallax effect will help you understand why this is the case when photographing moving objects. Don't forget if the object is not moving but you are the parallax effect is still present.

If you would like to experiment with short focal lengths and long shutter times I find pointing the camera out the passenger side window works really well. This allows lights in the distance to move a a diffrent speed relative to lights closer to the lens. The first two shots where taken using this method.

If you wish to shoot out the windshield which can work very well and want to use a short focal length I recommend setting up a tripod to get nice sharp steaks of lights unless of course you want a bunch of streaks going all over the place. Using a longer focal length works good when shooting outside the windshield. The parallax effect is enhanced when using longer focal lengths so you can get away with shooting out the front of the windshield.

Sometimes the pictures can come out pretty dull because traffic coming towards you is always going to be white and usually very bright compared to everything else. Depending on your location stop lights, street lamps, neon lights can give you some really interesting color combinations. Traffic however tens to be pretty dull it's going to be red or white for the most part. Going for details with longer focal lengths and shorter shutter speeds will give some interesting results as well.

Take everything I just said and throw it all out. Experiment and see what works for you. Everyone likes different methods of light painting. I have found these methods tend to give me the best images but, your situation and mileage will vary. Try experimenting with focal lengths and shutter speeds this is key.

Of course do this in digital unless you want to just burn through rolls of film.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Balanced Egg

Balanced Egg
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
Exposure: 0.05 sec (1/20)
Aperture: f/9.0
Focal Length: 50 mm
ISO Speed: 100
Exposure Bias: +1 EV

If it's possible it's probable, anything that is probable will happen given enough time. Throw these eggs into the air; eventually you will arrive to divine composition.

Lighting & Setup:

I used an Acculite Viewing Box which contains a fluorescent tube inside with a piece of frosted plastic on top to create diffuse lighting. This viewing box is used to view film negatives.

Eggs were placed at the edge of viewing box and taped in place. Camera and tripod were adjusted to photograph the eggs from above to create the illusion of them being stacked on top of each other.

I metered the scene then adjusted my ex poser compensation to over exposed by one stop from what the Meter was telling me. I decided to over expose because I knew my meter was giving me an incorrect reading. Since these light meters want to make the scene render out to about 18% gray it was making the light coming from the box much to gray instead of white.

Looking back I could have probably even over exposed the image by two stops to gain even more contrast between the eggs and the viewing box.

Post Processing:
Minimal post processing was needed. I used the healing brush to clean up a few spots on the viewing box and a slight curve adjustment to get more contrast. Looking back I could have probably made the contrast stronger but a better option would be to do it correctly in camera first.

I also should have been more careful taping the eggs to the viewing box to ensure they are precisely placed. I would like to revisit this image at a later date and perhaps experiment with different stacking.