After my recent success making some DIY snoots, I thought I would try my hand at softbox manufacture today, since I need to be able to diffuse the light more than the Stofen plastic hoods will allow – as I discovered with the water droplets I was taking yesterday.
What You Will Need
1-2mm thick cardboard
Black duck tape
White plastic carrier bag (without logos or writing)
Double-sided sticky tape
Step By Step
The actual shapes required were a bit hit and miss – but I cut out some trials with old envelopes first to get a rough idea of what was needed.
My initial shapes made for a box with a very shallow angle, which would not have been very good at reflecting. At the “try it for fit” stage above, I soon realised this and was able to adjust accordingly:
Last week I was supposed to photograph some water splashes, but instead got side-tracked by blowing bubbles in a glass of wine. Well, you know how it is! So I thought it was time to have another go. Firstly, two setup shots:
The water filled a shallow baking tray (to the brim), which was sitting on top of my new mini studio setup (otherwise known as an upturned plastic garden table!). This provided a convenient drip tray for any water which found its way out of the baking tray.
I was using the Canon 60mm EF-S f/2.8 USM macro lens, looking directly along the surface of the water. Most of the shots below were lit from behind with a YN560 on 1/128-1/64 power, usually shooting through a coloured plastic bowl (I bough a set of pink, blue, green, yellow, orange and turquoise in the supermarket for a couple of quid), then through two layers of a plastic filing box.
It’s a poor substitute for proper perspex, as it isn’t really translucent enough, and the flash still shows hotspots. I’ve just ordered some acrylic sheet from eBay, hopefully this will diffuse the light much better. There was another piece of coloured film in front of the plastic sheet, to give a nice colour to reflect off the water.
The water was dropped from a glass pippette into roughly the right spot in the tray. Timing the shutter was by hand with a remote control. Although the camera was at ISO 100, around 1/250 at f/16 for most of the shots, it’s the short duration of flash which really gave the true exposure time, since the frame was completely black without any flash.
I tried some experiments with different colours of bowl/gels, and was just about getting the hang of timing the drops to catch ripples and the splash pool.
Some of the later shots also had another YN560 shooting at right angles from one side, and bouncing off white foamcore board, again at low power – 1/128 or 1/64.
So that’s it for today’s shoot. There were many shots which weren’t usable because they were out of focus or there wasn’t anything interesting happening! But considering I was having to time by hand, I’m pleased to have got anything as good as this.
In future, I’d like to make things a little bit more predictable, so need to be able to fix the pippette nozzle so it always shoots to the same spot – then focus will be more accurate. And I need to soften the rear flash a bit, perhaps I will have a go at making a softbox as well as using the new acrylic sheet when it arrives.
June has been a very satisfying month photographically. The weather has had its moments, mostly wet! However, on 3rd June I went for a quick walk around the Barbican Centre on my way to work. This shot of the Blue Ramp nearly made it as my image for Day #1250.
I have also been able to do some interesting experiments into High Speed flash in my home studio (otherwise known as the kitchen). My initial set involved dropping a grape into water, with some nice results. A few days later I had a play with my Lego diver. The final image evolved over several attempts, but it was a great learning experience. Then it was burning joss sticks which provided some very beautiful abstracts, both in reality and inverse. Dai also had me blowing bubbles for him to play with.
Mid-month, I spent a couple of days in Brighton for the Ampersand Conference and Typography walk in the town the day after. This provided some photo opportunities not just of a geek nature – this image of the famous Pavilion nearly made it for Day #1265:
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!
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:
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”:
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!
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:
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°:
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:
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!