Category Archives: strobist

Monkeying Around

Jailhouse Ken poses in front of the camera
Jailhouse Ken poses in front of the camera
The Kens have the remote control!
The Kens have the remote control!
Kens line up for their turn
Kens line up for their turn

Today I had an idea for making an Andy Warhol-style image of my King Kens. The first job was to photograph nine of them in the same way, each in front of an appropriately-coloured background. This was more difficult than it sounds – you try wrangling nine monkeys, each with their own very strong opinions… it can get messy!

The Initial Montage

Having taken all nine pictures, I was able to montage them together to give the initial layout:

The Un-Warholed version
The Un-Warholed version

The Final Effect

Applying the “Cutout” filter in Photoshop, with levels slider set to 8, Edge Simplicity to 1 and Edge Fidelity set to 3, I finally got the effect I was after:

The Warholizer At Work
The Warholizer At Work

Voilà!

Forever Blowing Bubbles

I thought I would have a go at taking a different sort of bubble picture this week, having done the airbourne variety recently. This time, it was the floating sort, and I chose a nice Merlot for the liquid. It had the advantage that, if the shots didn’t work out, at least it would be nice to drink!

Bubbles in Liquid setup
Bubbles in Liquid setup

I filled a wine glass to the brim with Merlot, lit from the left side with a YN560 speedlight set to 1/8 power, shooting through a Stofen diffuser. The background was lit with another YN560 this time set to 1/32, shooting through a piece of opaque plastic and  coloured gel (blue, yellow, green etc). I did have to alter the power to about 1/8 in some cases to allow for the density of the gel.

The camera was again set to ISO 100, 1/250 at f/14, which gave a black frame with no flash. I was using the 60mm EF-S f/2.8 USM macro lens and all shots were hand held. I found this was the easiest way of quickly framing the shots as the bubbles moved about on the surface (bear in mind that the “real” exposure time is much less than 1/250 shutter speed – it actually equates to the much shorter flash duration – so hand holding the shots wasn’t going to cause any camera shake).

The hardest thing was focus – in the end, I set the lens to manual at the shortest focussing distance, and then moved myself to get the bubbles sharp. It worked pretty well. I was shooting almost horizontally across the top of the liquid (to get some good reflections of the coloured background) and focussing on the the rear edge of the glass where I blew the bubbles with a tiny pipette:

Bubbles blown with a glass pipette
Bubbles blown with a glass pipette
Mum, Dad and 3 Kids
Mum, Dad and 3 Kids
Orange Lineup
Orange Lineup
Little Lenses
Little Lenses
Ruby Red And Green
Ruby Red And Green
In The Queue
In The Queue

There was a little bit of post-production required, mainly levels tweaks and some spotting where tiny bubbles made the compositions look a bit messy, plus a bit of unsharp mask.

My favourite from the shoot was this one, which I’m going to use for a competition called “inner landscape”:

Encapsulation
Encapsulation

I’ve learned that perhaps the Merlot wasn’t the ideal liquid for this kind of thing, as it was pretty dense and it was difficult to light. Perhaps I’ll use a lighter red or rosé in future!

Zen And The Art Of Smoking

Today I wanted to have a go at photographing smoke again. I have not done it since 2008, and have since read Rob Webb’s excellent tutorial which gave me some great pointers for my setup. Here’s how I started off:

First setup - white card at 90° to background
First setup - white card at 90° to background
Too much spill on background
Too much spill on background

The joss stick was taped on top of a heavy little glass jar (the sort which is used for jam in hotels!). One YN560 Speedlight with DIY snoot @ 1/8 placed at camera right, mounted on my Gorillapod. Background was a large A2 sheet of black foamcore board, and a similar sheet of white as a reflector on LHS of camera.

Unfortunately, after taking a few shots, I realised that although my snoot was doing a good job of concentrating the light from the right, because the white board was at right angles to the backing, it was bouncing back rather a lot of light which spilled onto the black card. The results were disappointing – as you can see from the shot on the right – although the patterns were interesting, I could not get the background dark enough even after a bit of post production.

The solution was to angle the white board away from 90° to about 110°:

Reflector board angled at 110°
Reflector board angled at 110°

This proved to be a lot better, with minimal spill onto the background.

In Rob’s blog post, he mentions using a flood light which is on permanently to aid AF on the smoke. Well I don’t have one of those, so I decided to improvise.

My camera settings were ISO 100, 1/200s @ f/14. This gave a completely black frame exposure if the flash was not fired. With the flash set to 1/8 power, the smoke was sufficiently illuminated to get good definition to freeze the billowing smoke, and the recycle time was quite short (about 1.5s with NiMH batteries).

I was using the 7D with 24-105mm EF f/4 L IS USM in manual focus mode, not on a tripod. You have to react to the smoke’s movement to get the best shots, and I think it would be hopeless if you were static. As I had set up on the cooker in the kitchen with the extractor hood running, the smoke eddied about quite a lot to give some good patterns. I pre-focussed on the burning end of the joss stick, then made sure I was moving the camera up to be level with the snoot before taking some shots. It was pretty dark through the viewfinder, so a lot of shots were guesses. However, that’s half the fun!

Rinse and repeat… I took over 300 images, here are the best 10 or so:

Abstract Swirls
Abstract Swirls
The Lily
The Lily
Alien Head
Alien Head
Three Scrolls
Three Scrolls
Jumping Jack
Jumping Jack
X-Ray Cranium
X-Ray Cranium
Eddy Trio
Eddy Trio
Peacock Feather
Peacock Feather
Smokey Bouquet
Smokey Bouquet
Rib cage
Rib cage

Pick Of The Crop

The best shot of the day was hard to choose, but in the end I went with Smoke Signals. I had a lot of fun, and it’s good to know I can get reproducible results, at least in terms of exposure. You never know what you’re going to get as far as composition goes – that’s the nature of chaos!

DIY Snoot For Speedlights

Having had my speedlights for a while now, I’ve been using the Sto-Fen diffusers on them quite a lot – it helps to soften the light for an even illumination. However, today I needed a snoot to make the beam more concentrated to eliminate excess light spill, as I wanted to photograph smoke trails from a joss stick.

Commercial light modifiers can be quite expensive – John Adkins has written an excellent post about what each type does, with links to buy most of them online. And Rob Webb’s excellent smoke tutorial gave me the idea of making my own snoot. Here’s how it was done:

What You Will Need

Materials you will need
Materials you will need
  • Short or long tube of Pringles (empty)
  • Black Duck tape or similar
  • Chopping board
  • Stanley Knife
  • Pair of Scissors

Step By Step

1. Take an empty tube of Pringles - remove the crumbs!
1. Take an empty tube of Pringles - remove the crumbs!
2. Cut off the metal bottom with the Stanley Knife
2. Cut off the metal bottom with the Stanley Knife
3. Wrap tube in Duck tape, leaving a 2-3mm overlap
3. Wrap tube in Duck tape, leaving a 2-3mm overlap
4. Leave about 10mm overhang at the cut end of the tube
4. Leave about 10mm overhang at the cut end of the tube
5. Cut around the top leaving approx 10mm tabs of tape
5. Cut around the top leaving approx 10mm tabs of tape
6. Fold the tabs over to complete the cut edge
6. Fold the tabs over to complete the cut edge

Why Pringles?

I like Pringles! And the inside of the tube is slightly silvered, which helps to bounce the light around. It actually concentrates the light a little bit – hold the tube up to a window and look at the light coming out of the other end – it’s slightly brighter than just having the ambient light!

Magic!

Why The Duck Tape?

The black tape gives the tube a little bit more external strength, as well as making it look a bit less Heath Robinson.

The Finished Article

The tube should fit snugly over the end of your Speedlight – it’s a tight fit on my YN560’s but this means I don’t need any other method of attachment – just squish the tube slightly to a rectangular cross-section and they happily stay put.

Looking down the barrel
Looking down the barrel
Long and short versions
Long and short versions

I made two of each type of snoot, long and short, so that both my speedlights have them if I require it. You can even keep the plastic lids for the tubes over the end, which would make attaching coloured gels quite easy if you wanted to.

Diving Deep Into Flash

Dual off-camera wireless setup
Dual off-camera wireless setup

I wanted to try a shot of a little Lego diver plunging into some water for my From The Toybox shot today. After my success last week with the grape, I thought I would give it another go.

Initially, I set up the scene much the same way as I had done last time [see right].

However, I chose a deeper vase as I didn’t want to get any of the water/air boundary in the image this time. After several attempts, I got a few shots which were OK, but they lacked a bit of atmosphere – I thought the plain white background made it look a bit stark, although the splashing and water movement did stand out well:

Diver Splash - Plain white background a bit boring?
Diver Splash - Plain white background a bit boring?
Strobist Flash Gels Collection - from flashgels.co.uk
Strobist Flash Gels Collection - from flashgels.co.uk

Thankfully, while I was taking these first few shots, the postman arrived with a package containing the Rosco Strobist Gel Filter collection [see right]. I was pretty impressed as I’d only ordered them from FlashGels.co.uk website at lunchtime yesterday!

They also came with the Gel Clip for attaching them to your flash head. I know I could have saved some dosh and stuck them on with masking tape, but it’s a bit of a clunky solution (and I suspect ultimately it will damage the gels after repeated use). So I removed the diffuser from the flash lighting the background and replaced it with the Gel Clip holding a piece of #3302 Blue:

Back Flip Dive - more interesting with the blue background
Back Flip Dive - more interesting with the blue background

I had realised by now that keeping your water scrupulously clean was also a good idea – the diver had been a bit dusty when first immersed, and after repeated dunkings, he had shed most of the dust into the liquid, so I had to clone out all sorts of little bits and bobs to get a clean image! It was better, but still not quite what I was after.

Next, I dug around in my props box and found a sheet of transparent blue acrylic with a wave pattern on it which I thought might make for a better background. Also, I wanted to try out the old manual ringflash I had lurking in the cupboard to see if that would work with the wireless triggers:

Head First - wavy backround lit rather too well with an old ringflash
Head First - wavy backround lit rather too well with an old ringflash
Final setup for the shot
Final setup for the shot

I decided to ditch the ring flash as it did not have adjustable power and it was rather too much for this particular job. It will make a great “flood” for pure white backgrounds in future, so I’m glad it does work with the wireless triggers (might have to buy an extra RF-602RX to fire it with though).

Eventually, I settled on the setup shown on the right – the camera was mounted on the tripod with remote release and RF-602TX wireless transmitter on the hot shoe. Background was lit by one of the YN560’s, bouncing off the white background and back through the transparent blue acrylic. The main subject was then lit via the other YN560 with the GelClip and #3302 blue filter. So, I’m happy with the setup… now I take lots of shots:

Diagonal Plunge
Diagonal Plunge
Scuba - carrying a little bubble!
Scuba - carrying a little bubble!

Many more shots later, and I found the one I like the best:

Deep Dive - Best of the day
Deep Dive - Best of the day

I’ve done a little bit of post production on this one, using the Soft Light blending mode at 50% opacity on a duplicate layer to enhance the colour saturation. I’ve cloned out a few stray bits in the water (nowhere near as many as earlier since I changed it for fresh!).

Mission accomplished. Oh, and of course I also had a little help