Something found

Something found

It’s just seed cone I picked up walking the dog but it became an exercise in creativity and problem solving.

The details;

To start with I just wanted a clean simple image with limited sharpness, I used an A4 sketchpad as a background and an improvised light source using a big window with a diffuser blind plus an iPhone box that was laying around as a reflector to fill the shadows. My 30 year old Calcuflash incident meter read f4 at 1/60, 400 ISO so I went with that. It’s not too shabby.

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All up that was ten minutes effort but then I reworked the setup to get a sharper image. I could have gone with a longer exposure and smaller aperture but did not want to dig the tripod out so instead I went for flash. Using a ring flash diffuser I was able to use f11 at 1/160 sec, 400 ISO to get this;

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The sharpness is there but working so closely (within a hand width of the subject) the light is not getting to the top of the subject and a lot of detail is getting lost. The paper is also over exposed in the top left corner.

The ring flash diffuser is a recent eBay purchase best described as a cross between a donut, a folding soft-box light modifier and a small drum. It cost somewhere between 20-30 dollars and for that you get a small soft-box that is really portable.

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Solving this required a simple compromise using both the daylight and flash. Here is the result using f11 1/125 sec, 400 ISO. I also got a little further back to allow the ring flash to do it’s job better. The result is sharper and more evenly exposed. The only catch is the colour balance, which will always be an issue as the colour temp of daylight changes through the day.

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Finally, for completeness I got the tripod out of hiding and did this at f20 1/4 sec, 400 ISO

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Here is the set used.

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Two out of three

Two out of three

Important tips when photographing flowers if there is the slightest breeze…

Don’t do it!

Okay, sometimes that isn’t a choice so you can improve your chances with this advice.

  1. Try and secure the stem to save reframing the image every few seconds.
  2. Assume your depth of field is insufficient and increase it by at least two stops, especially as you get within an arm’s length of your subject. f5.6 won’t deliver the sharpness that f16 will at that distance.
  3. Keep your shutter speed high to avoid blur. More wind equals higher shutter speed.
  4. Assuming you do steps 2 and 3, raising the ISO on your camera is the only way to have both.
  5. Never assume the focal point you chose will be what you end up with. Try and wait for the breeze to back off then press the shutter button.

Here is the same plant on a calmer day…

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Phoneography

A lot of the images on this blog are from my phone. While it has not replaced my DSLR it has become my everyday carry but it does have limitations when it comes to lenses. When I saw this article on Boing Boing for a cheap set of clip on lenses it got me thinking about whether or not it was worth the trouble. Looking over to my left I noticed a similar but larger set of accessory lenses from one of my oldest digital cameras a Kodak DX3900 that I no longer use but have held onto since 2003.

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I figured these lenses were probably slightly better quality but I lacked a way to attach them. That said, I figured I could try freelensing using my phone instead of risking getting the sensor on my DSLR covered in dust. This way I could have some fun until I worked out how to attach them or gave in and a bought a cheap clip on set.

Enter my trusty studio assistant Edwood. A simple two light setup on my desk resulted in these images.

This was a quick and dirty test of different combinations. I tried stacking the macro lenses onto the wide and tele but had difficulty focussing. The macro was probably the standout for me but overall the lenses are too big to freehold and really impractical for use outdoors. The results are also a little soft but I could probably improve on that if had more control over aperture.

I’m now sold on the idea of getting some add-on lenses though and having something universal rather than for a specific phone makes sense.  I would also like to see if there are telephoto options so I think I will see what else is out there.

The 60 minute challenge – Old boots

The 60 minute challenge – Old boots

This weekend the light is weak and dull. I’m still recovering mentally from the paper I just submitted, so there is no energy to get out of the house. To stay motivated, I set myself a 60 minute time challenge to photograph something in my study.

It is good to occasionally give yourself restrictions and deadlines. They force you to make decisions under some pressure and strip out the unnecessary. For me, that equals simple subjects, plain backgrounds and compositional elements and basic lighting.

The subject is my favourite old pair of Blundstone boots placed on a card table and lit by a large window on the right and reflector on the left. Since the day was overcast, the window light is already diffused, otherwise I would have stuck a diffuser panel on the right or just hung a white sheet over the window. A harder light source could work if you wanted deeper shadow or wanted to emphasise textures.

These images were actually 40 minutes start to finish, including post process in Lightroom. I tried to show the age and distress in the leather by altering the orange, yellow and blue levels to increase the contrast.

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Rolling dice and cheating.

Rolling dice and cheating.

Oddly enough I don’t gamble very much. It has never appealed to me as a way to spend my time.

When I saw the dice in this month’s themes I initially thought of a “high roller” theme for a portrait but without the means to make that happen, I went for something that would let me play around.

The setup was very basic. A card table, small flash connected by cable with a small soft-box attached, larger white reflector a camera on a tripod and some dice. The process is equally basic.

  • Set the camera to manual exposure and focus to around your arm’s length.
  • If your camera and flash supports slow sync or rear-curtain sync flash* then set that. (If it doesn’t you may still be able to get a similar effect but it will be a harder).
  • Compose the image so the dice appear roughly at the size you want them to be.
  • Take a test shot of the dice to get the exposure roughly right.

Once that is sorted hold the dice just out of frame with one hand and then drop them into it. Timing when to press the shutter button is the tricky bit unless you have some kind of automatic trigger. Press too soon or too late and you will have nothing in the frame.

Here are some of the images I made showing a range of effects.

*If you never used rear curtain sync flash before, here is a good  explanation courtesy of the Digital Photography School . Basically you are delaying  the flash from going off until near the end of your exposure. If you have a moving subject you can get interesting effects by pairing rear shutter sync with longer exposures so the available light and flash are both recorded. The end result is a blurred and a sharp image of the subject in the same frame.   You could use this technique to record things like a nail being hammered into some wood, or a football being kicked. It can work indoors or out.

I did mention cheating in the title and what you would not immediately notice is the size of the dice I used. They are huge in comparison to normal dice and give the illusion that I was working much closer than I actually was. You could still use normal dice but I found these were easier to work with.

Working with Edwood

Working with Edwood

It was a case of “plan A” falling apart this weekend.

I had hoped to capture a dramatic sky at sunrise on my morning walk but it was dull and void of interest, the light was flat and perhaps I was too. The recent spate of hot days have sapped my focus and the strong North winds make the outdoors unpleasant.

Then there are the fires nearby today. I can see and smell the smoke from my window and I’m hoping that it gets no closer. One was headed directly towards us but a wind change turned it away.

I decided that I would do some lighting experiments with my assistant Edwood. (By experiments, I mean mucking around to keep my mind off things…)

The lighting is basic. Manual flash powered down to 1/16 power with small diffuser, about arms length from the subject. Camera less than a hand’s span away. 1/60 sec shutter with apertures between f16 and f22. Edwood was posed on a post that let me light from beneath for some drama.

These small scale lighting set-ups can be scaled up and are a good way to learn the limits of equipment and to understand the quality and direction of light.