Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Smash and Grab

 This is an update on the fun I have smashing glass. I blogged here about my attempts to photograph light bulbs being destroyed.

Since then I have refined my techniques a little.

The diagram below is the basic setup

 Basically it is a swinging arm, with a hammer attached, directed towards a unsuspecting light bulb. The camera is opened before the swing and at the opportune moment the flash fires taking the image.

When we left it last time I was having problems attaching the hammer, keeping the bulb still on impact and getting only one flash.

These problems have largely been solved. The hammer is now attached using a couple of metal strips with bolts through them. I added extra bracing behind the bulb to stop it going back on impact.

The multiple flash took a bit of working out. The problem was the hinge which formed 1 part of the switch did not move out the way enough when hit by the bolt, This caused the bolt to scrape against the hinge edge, so causing the multiple flash. This was solved by making the bolt hit the center of the hinge, and putting insulating tape on the edge.

I also put black cloth at the end of the garage so we have a cleaner backdrop.

The original intention was to fine tune the contact point by moving the bolt in and out. However it worked out easier to move the work bench.

Below is the setup in all it's glory. Note the pristine work conditions.

The way it works is that I hold the pendulum to one side, activate the camera in bulb mode using a remote trigger. Let go of the arm and hopefully once the flash has gone, let go of the camera remote. It is then a process of picking through the broken glass in order to setup the next shot.

Here is a closeup of the trigger. I was tempted to build a electronic delay  trigger and certainly a sound triggered system may of been easier, but the low tech approach worked too.

So what are the results? Certainly getting there. One thing I learned was the duration of the flash is based on the power. The lower the power the shorter the flash. So I have moved the flash closer and set the camera ISO higher

As I mentioned before, my original intention was to break bottles, but they proved rather resilient for that. Because of size constraints I am limited to the maximum swing of the pendulum. Still now I have perfected the technique I may give it another  go at some time.

Where do I go now?

I have probably taken more photos, of more subjects, in more different genre's this summer than ever before (as evidenced by my straining hard drive). It could be said that for the first time I have tried to take my photography seriously.

I hoped that by now I would have a clear direction as to what I want to achieve as a photographer.
However despite all this activity I am still pondering the question of where I want to go.

I realised sometime ago that a scatter gun approach will only get me so far, but at some point I would need to concentrate on a fewer number of genre's. I hoped by now I would know which ones.

My first choice would be to concentrate on landscape photography.

However this summer has shown the challenges in that (at least in the short term).

Partly the issue is down to  my equipment. Quality landscape shots require high quality lenses and cameras with high mega pixel counts. The truth is my camera is always going to struggle to get the quality needed.

The 2nd issue is that every man and his dog has a go at landscape photography. The result is there is a lot of landscape photos out there, many of them very high quality. Don't get me wrong, extra competition should never stop you trying to be the best, but it does make it more difficult to stand out from the crowd. After all as photographers we all want to be noticed. In a crowded market place this is all the more difficult

However neither of those problems are insurmountable. The first just requires money (Hah!)  and the second talent and application (Double hah!).

The most difficult obstacle however, is time. I am sure there are some photographers who can role up to an area, get a stunning shot, and move off, but most great photos take time and patience. It is only because we only see the end result without the seeing bloodshed and tears that went before it that we think it is easy. Great photos take time to scout the view, setup the camera and wait for the right conditions. Even the best photographers cannot control the elements and the seasons.

To increase the chances of getting a great photo, you need the time to experiment and the opportunity to fail and learn. You also need the time to be patient.

Yes, with a bit of luck you can that great photo with one visit, but it you are more likely to succeed if it is a landscape you know well and you have the time to visit often, so that the changing seasons and weather can bring new elements to your photo. Also it is likely that once you have reviewed your photo you want to return and try again. As a photographer you should always be looking to improve that image. The opportunity to continually revisit and refine an image is an important part of getting that great photo

However if, like me,  you have to balance work and family with your photography, you will always be at a disadvantage. Landscape photography is probably the most time consuming genre, requiring extensive travel, and always being at the whim of weather and conditions . To do this well I would need to reduce my time spent on either my family or my the work  that pays for my hobby.

This is not going to happen, at least in the foreseeable future.

My photography will always be squeezed between work and family commitments, meaning my images will be more dependent on luck that patience.

The same goes for the other area which I would like to improve, bird and wildlife photography. Yes, you can get good bird photos with average equipment and in your back garden, but without the right equipment, patience, location and opportunity, you will always suffer in comparison with others.

So what to do?

I think the answer is I need to cut my cloth to my situation and talents. I need to concentrate in areas I have the best opportunity, but also areas that I can bring something unique to the genre

I recently realized what genre this might be.

One of most fun projects is playing with my DIY IR camera. I think I have enjoyed the challenge of getting the camera to work as much as the photography. Other projects I have taken on such as my glass smashing work I have had similar enjoyment from.

These have common elements. Firstly the work can be largely at home. Secondly it requires problem solving. Now in my day job is as a computer programmer (posh title - Software Engineer), problem solving is what I do, and I'm quite good at it (if I do say so myself). Also it means I am not scared of getting my hands dirty with computer hardware and software.

Without being too smug, it is an area where I have skill outside the scope of many photographers. It is also work I can largely can do at home.So I feel this is an area I can concentrate on and make an impact.

Of course I still want to improve my photography in other areas, but special projects (as I like to call it) is an area which I feel I can excel at.

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Head Slap Moment

Just when you think you are getting the hang of this photography lark, I recently had another brain melt down moment.

I seem to have taken on the mantle recently of official family event photographer. This weekend was a big event where my niece and her family had come over from Japan and would have a blessing followed by a family party. It would therefore be, perhaps, a once in a lifetime chance to get a photo of my daughters and all their cousins in one location.

So it goes without saying that I was pretty keen to get a great shot and record a unique moment for posterity

Now generally I leave my camera on aperture priority mode. While auto can be a safer option, my camera has a limitation in that mode. Generally when it has an option of slowing the shutter speed or increasing the ISO in poor light conditions, it tends to increase the ISO.

Generally this is unnecessary. Unless  you are say at sport events, you rarely need a shutter speed of say over 1/160th. Also I find that at any ISO over 400, noise tends to creep in. Some cameras, including the latest Sony's, allow you to set a maximum speed limit and this would be really welcome.

However to overcome this  I work in aperture priority, so it gives me greater control of ISO and aperture. Generally I try and work in ISO 100 as much as possible, however it does mean I need to work harder and be more aware of the camera settings at all times.

However this being a family event, it was very easy to get carried away with the social side and lose concentration (and I must admit alcohol may of been involved). During the day I was moving in and out of the house taking photos. Inside I needed to push the ISO to 1600 to get shots(I don't really like using flashes). Unfortunately  when i went outside I left the camera at 1600 ISO where it stayed for most of the rest of the day, including for the important shot.


As a result a lot of my shots came over-exposed, and  to me even worse,  with a lot of noise. Fortunately because I work in RAW, they could be rescued by the  use of the exposure compensation control and very aggressive noise reduction(being slightly over-exposed is a lesser sin than under-exposure since details can be extracted). Heavy noise reduction can however result in loss of detail so it is not a get out of jail free card, which is why I try and avoid it.

To me the results are not that pleasing, but fortunately my family seem to like them.

One of the side-effects of the heavy noise reduction is that to me, skin tends to look waxy and plastic. Strangely however, this is the same effect you get on some portrait manipulation packages. This is because it tends to blur spots and other skin blemishes making skin look more uniform. So to the vain the effect can be quite pleasing, though to me it is just unrealistic.

It also made me realise the pressures of professional photography. Fortunately this was just a family event, but if I was being paid for it, it would of been a reputation disaster. The important lesson sto me are :-

  • Practice switching between social and professional modes. 
  • Learn to check the basics, even when under pressure to get the shot. 
  • Detach yourself from the situation and concentrate 100% on getting the best photo you can

If you don't there, you will end up with a big red patch on your forehead where your hand smacks your head.