The abacus theme

The abacus theme

Regular readers of the monthly project updates will know that I set new themes each month using Rory’s story cubes. The abacus has come up a couple of times and so far I have not done an image. It isn’t for lack of ideas.

My ideal image is a portrait of a traditional Chinese herbalist. I would use a long shutter speed to blur the hands as they move across the abacus. Lighting is predominately from the right hand side plus some backlight, with smoke from incense burning in the background. I can see this perfectly in my mind.

What I lack to achieve this vision right now is;

  • Access to an elderly Chinese herbalist with an abacus.
  • Alternatives to recreate this scene.

What I do have are small red plastic beads and some wire. My initial thought was to make a tiny abacus, which I may still look at doing but for now I chose to go close in, playing with scale to give the illusion that I had cropped into part of a full-sized abacus.

To do this I threaded the beads onto the wire and used a soldering workstation to hold it all. If you have not come across one of these before it is basically a set of articulated arms tipped with small alligator clips fixed to a solid base. They are used  to hold small parts in place when soldering. The background is a plain white card.

I used window light initially, then introduced a small off camera flash. The horizontal image was fairly plain and so I placed the wire at an angle. That’s when I noticed the beads slide down and that got me thinking of ways to catch that motion. I began with just the window light and long shutter speeds, followed by adding the flash but using rear curtain synch similar to what I did with the dice a while back.  I’m still not satisfied  with these as I want to see more of a streak as the bead moves into frame.

While this was nothing like what I was originally aiming for, it did provide an opportunity to play around and playing is always good…

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