Monday, 23 June 2014

Summer Time Balloons

You would of thought that summer is a great time for photography, but it's not necessarily so. Generally the best time of the day for outdoor photographs is a period termed the golden hour. This is normally an hour after the sun has come up or an hour before the sun goes down. At this time the shadows of the setting sun bring out the structure of the landscape, highlighting scale and distance. Also the young suns rays turn the world to a rich orange.

Unfortunately in the UK at high summer, this means either getting up very early or staying up very late. When the sun is high in the sky (yes we do get sun in the UK) it dramatically shortens the shadows and generates a huge amount of glare making photos look washed out. But beggars can't be choosers and it feels wrong to waste all that light without getting the camera out on such a day. 

The question is then what to take? 

Things low to the ground like flowers are good. Also portraits where you can use the sum to get a nice halo effect through the hair are excellent. But they are a bit done that, bought the t-shirt.

This weekend I was watching my daughter and her friends take advantage of the hot conditions to break into water fights and it gave me an idea. One of the things they had started doing was throwing water balloons at each other. This gave an opportunity too good to miss to try my hand at  high speed photography. 

Basically the challenge was to photo a water balloon at the moment of bursting

Now the normal way to do this sort of photography is to go in a dark room, open the camera shutter up and set off a short flash burst, when the event you want to photograph occurs. However apart from the mess it would make of the carpet, I wanted to provide some context by including my 10 year daughter in the photo.

One of the modes that my Sony camera comes with is one for high frame photography called continuous priority AE mode. This can take frames up to 7 frames per second (with some caveats such as the pictures are JPEG's not in RAW). I had never used this mode in any of my photography. One of the problems is that the manual that came with the camera is in fact pants. It describes the functions in purely technical terms leaving you to work out the rest. Until I had bought David Bush's SLT-A37  excellent book I hadn't realised how little I knew about all camera modes. 

Some of the modes seem to in fact have very little function and you wonder why they are wasting space on the dial. The Sony camera includes a 3D mode which in theory takes photos that gives a 3D effect when used with special goggles. I can only assume this was through special request of the Sony marketing men, who read that 3D was going to be the technology wave of the future, in the same way as people bought TV's capable of 3D then after 2 hours of sitting around wearing silly goggles never used them again.

Anyway I decided to give it a go and first co-opted my daughter as a willing volunteer. We got one of her friends to position the balloon next to her head and I set up the camera up on a tripod. I counted down to 1 and pressed the shutter. Unfortunately at this point we found out that bursting balloons, even armed with a pin, was actually quite hard. so my wife had to take over as the tormentor in chief 

After a few attempts we finally managed to get the balloon to burst on cue and got a couple of decent shots in the process

The results I think are pretty good. Even with a good frame rate, timing is crucial and I was lucky to get 2 decent shots. Of course to a 10 year old, getting wet without returning the favor to someone else quickly gets boring, so I only managed a couple attempts. Maybe next time I will have to resort bribery (or restraints). I also had to use Photoshop a bit to reduce the brightness of the water and increase it's transparency.

Two things I would of changed however. I had been shooting indoors previously and had forgot I had the camera at quite a high ISO(3200) setting on. Because I was using quite a fast shutter speed this may of not made much of a difference, but I would of liked to try again at a lower ISO. 

Also with hindsight a picture with the balloon above her head would of been even more dramatic. All I need to do now is to persuade my willing victim to partake again. One thing is for sure. Once a balloon full of cold water drops on her head, I'm pretty sure I won't get a 2nd attempt.

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