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.
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.
Last Sunday was not a day most photographers would have considered as good for outdoors photography but here are some images I managed to make between the showers. I will be working on some more black and white renditions for some of these to put in a future post.
I’m pleased that I haven’t broken the chain just because of bad weather or other circumstances. I’m regularly making images, perhaps not every day but at least weekly and much more than I have in the last ten years. I am getting the old skills back and trying new things.
Since unearthing my old light-meter recently. I took a look at what else was still in the old case I keep my film cameras in. I found a couple of flashes and it occurred to me I could use one to test the flash-meter capabilities. I still haven’t put those adjustable wrenches away… They were sitting on a piece of timber left over from building my standing desk and I liked the arrangement, so I decided to use it.
So I had a recycled subject and the image was being made using recycled equipment. In hindsight I should have picked something green…
The lighting setup was simple. Main light is a tiny sunpak manual flash mounted on a stand with a white shoot through umbrella and connected by a cable. I also had a white reflector to manage any contrast issues from light falling off on the right hand side. Flash and Camera were all set to manual, then I set up the composition, angled the light down at 45 degrees, then popped the flash and took a reading.
The result was not quite right as I was getting what I thought was overexposure on the left but the readings were consistent so I made a series of adjustments to the aperture and got on with it, dropping the light lower so it eventually grazed the surface. After 3 images the penny dropped…
The light direction was actually causing the overexposure problem. At 45 degrees it was reflecting off the jaws causing them to blowout. In hindsight I should have worked that out based on the wood being evenly lit in that first image.
The image below was the final with the light placed at surface level. There is still some light fall off on the top left but it is not objectionable and moving the reflector closer would have dealt with it.
So in terms of testing the flash meter, I would say this was a limited success. I found the meter was more accurate in reflected mode than incident. This surprised me and I may try some other tests to see if the incident meter has an issue. There was one last surprise in that I used my iPhone to make an image of the spanners using the umbrella to diffuse the natural light in the room. This came out quite well so I used it for the featured image for this post.
I feel better now that I have admitted I have a problem though
So how did I end up being the guy that posts photographs of crescent wrenches? I think it comes down to opportunity and abundance.
The opportunity to get out a look at other things has been limited by weather and free time for exploration will be further curtailed as second semester begins but I will push the photography as a reward for study and see if that works as a motivator.
I also own more than one crescent wrench. I had reason to pull another one out of the shed and instead of putting both tools back I lazily left them laying around. Seeing them together prompted me to make some more images and experiment with lighting.
The lighting proved more challenging this time because the smaller wrench is in better condition and quite shiny, so lots more reflections and hot spots. I have a light tent and using that would have worked well but I opted for a small diffuser/reflector and played with softening the light source or bouncing light into the shadow areas.
Here are some images from the session straight from the camera.
There is some purpose to this repetition. That being an image in my head which requires several compositional elements to work. I have a redgum sleeper wall I could use as a background but I will be on the look out for something more industrial. Then there is the larger wrench which you are all too familiar with. What I need to find is someone with hands that have some real character to hold it. If you know someone, drop a line in the comments box…
I kind of see it as an homage to this image by Lewis Hine but cropped much closer to the hands and wrench. I want to focus on the anatomy as well at the tool, show the strain in the muscle and get all the textures. When all this comes together, I hope to have something special.
Since seeing the Monet exhibition yesterday, I have been thinking about how Claude Monet revisited and reworked subjects in an environment he created.
I think the spanner is taking on that role for me as it keep cropping up in posts and in my photo library. I found it by the window this morning and noticed the difference the large diffused light made, so I made some more images of it including this one.
Compare it to one of the images using the two light set up from last week.
See the difference? Softer shadows and fewer highlight blowouts. There is also more detail in the shadows. The lighting direction and distance make a difference. In this case, the light was above and only 10 to 20 centimetres away. Being able to adjust the light direction and distance will produce harder shadows but not as pronounced as the images I made last week because the light source was much larger.
I also made some bracketed exposures that were blended and adjusted in Photomatix and Lightroom to arrive at this monochrome version.
At some point I shall put the spanner back in the shed or use it for it’s intended purpose. If you are getting tired of seeing it let me know!