Monday, December 13, 2010

A Photographer Gets Bored what does he do?

Here´s my impress-your-friends-ten-minute-setup® for today.

You need:
- a camera
- a manual focus lens, preferably a macro lens
- a tripod
- a high water container (I used a plastic mug, a real sin. Use one with a thin wall. Aquariums do fine)
- Water
- a heavy box
- a black coat (any black fabric will do)
- a flash on a extension cord
- something beautiful to throw into the water
- subdued light (a dim lamp at night so you can see what you are doing)
- a buddy
- a folder (preferably black and preferably with tax documents in it that you don´t like very much; they might get wet)
- cable shutter release, if possible

Fill the water in the container and place it on a table. Level the camera so that it shows the water level in the upper third of the frame, portrait orientation.
Put the box behind the container and put the black coat over it, so that the whole frame behind the water shows black. (the box needs to be heavy so that everything won´t come tumbling down with the coat over it)
Have your buddy hold the item to-be-thrown-into-the-water in the position it will hit the surface and focus on that. You can autofocus, but then you will need to switch to manual focus, so that your setting will remain the same.
Set the camera to its fastest flash-sync speed. Usually today, that is 1/250th second. Thus, your dim working light will not register on the sensor or film. If you´re going digital (which I recommend here, since you´ll be shooting a lot of crap pictures until you get somewhere), use ISO 100.
If possible, zoom your flash to maximum. Tell your buddy to hold the flash almost straight down on the water surface. Don´t flash from behind or through the container´s glass/plastic anyway! You will see all the dirt, scratches and chalk in the container and get your shot milked up by it!
Expose some test shots with the "throw-thing" held in place. Adjust flash power and f-stop until things look good. Check on your display for exposure. If possible, set for mirror-lock-up and use a remote release, so you don´t shake your camera unnecessarily.
You will most likely have to block flash light from hitting the black backdrop. Therefore, use the tax folder (or any flat piece of black anything, a french flag or whatev), lay it flat on the box and the container. Use a tripod if you like to go fancy and clamp it there, but it does the job just resting between the two.

Let your buddy drop whatever he has (not the flash!) into the water and practice your timing. After some ten or twelve shots, you´ll get the hang of it and things start looking nice. It´s fun and you won´t ever get the same shot twice. The flash is short enough to freeze all action and if you were patient enough to wait until night, no other light should register in the shot.

Some people even sell pictures like this! But it takes you ten minutes to set-up and shoot away.
Okay, they spend more time cleaning the container after each shot. I didn´t do that. See all the old splash drops on top and the little bubbles down there? Let them have the money ;-)

I´ve seen sharper pictures of this!
As I mentioned, I used the next best plastic container. Plastic (even more rounded plastic) will always add more diffraction to your shot than any nice thin aquarium glass will do. I just took out my camera, set this up and shot away in order to show my sister-in-law how it is done. Also, I could have eliminated all the working lights and dialed down the flash even more under more controlled circumstances. Then it would have fired even shorter, in terms of 1/20,000 sec, resulting in a sharper picture. But this was made in a living room and it was made for fun.

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