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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm book marking this for when I can get a hold of a fish tank.