a little experiment

oil and water

a simple set-up: a clear casserole dish raised above some colourful wrapping paper. Add water, and a bit of oil, and start snapping! It's truly addictive.

One of my favourite parts about teaching is how much I end up learning from the process.  In a recent class one of my students mentioned an intriguing idea for a macro shoot.  He shared this video with me, and it seemed too interesting an idea to pass up.  The beauty of this project is in the simplicity.  All you need is a clear glass bowl, some cooking oil, water, and some colourful paper or fabric.  The photographer in the video uses an old hawaiian shirt, but my closet is slightly less exciting, so I used some spaceship wrapping paper.  Simply raise the bowl above the floor using glasses or books or whatever else you have handy, add water and a bit of oil, place the colourful paper/fabric underneath, and start shooting!

Like so many of my projects, this probably would have been much easier with a tripod, but mine is on its last legs (pardon the pun) and could not be trusted to support my camera pointing straight down into a dish of oil and water.  So, hand-holding it was.  Because I was shooting inside instead of outdoors on a bright sunny day, I used a studio flash to give me the light I needed, which meant my shutter speed was nice and fast, even at 100 ISO.  The tricky thing was focus.  Autofocus was having a hard time finding the edges of the shapes, particularly after I stirred the water to break up the oil bubbles, so I switched to manual mode and tried to keep my camera on a level where I had focus just on the surface of the water and oil.  I ended up with a bunch of photos that weren’t quite sharp enough, but I do like the flexibility of being able to aim the camera on the fly instead of relying on whatever composition the camera is pointing at from the tripod.

The possibilities from this simple set-up are really endless, and I definitely plan to explore this in more depth in the future.  My next experiment will most likely involve trying to get nice and close up to those individual bubbles to see what sort of reflection/refraction I can get from the paper below.  Been having so much fun with this year’s experiments so far – can’t wait to try something else new and exciting!

oil and water

experimenting with depth of field to isolate just a few bubbles.

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I need some colour!

close-up, bird of paradise

It’s winter, so of course I’m feeling a little bit blah.  I often find it a real struggle to get inspired with so little colour around in my world this time of the year.  Luckily, the University just up the street has a fantastic greenhouse with all sorts of tropical plants.  It’s a great place to hide out from the winter and be creative.  Last week was one such opportunity, and I spent most of the time testing out my close-up filters.  I’ve had the filters for a couple of years now, but they don’t make it out of my kit nearly as much as I would have thought.  The greenhouse, however, is the perfect place for them.

On this most recent visit, my favourite flower, the hibiscus, was not in bloom, so I was forced to seek my colour fix in other places.  The brilliant orange of the bird of paradise drew my lens, and I spent most of my time trying to capture it in a unique and interesting way.  With a close-up filter on my 1.4 lens, my depth of field got razor thin – which can be absolutely magical…  except that even the slightest wobble with such a shallow depth of field would throw the focus completely out of whack.  It’s funny how wobbly you realize you are when you are trying to be perfectly still.  A smarter, more prepared photographer would have had a tripod along for cases such as this.  But not me!  I laugh in the face of preparation, and scoff at the mere … well, that’s not entirely true.  I do very much value being prepared, and my camera bag is constantly stocked with all of my other camera supplies…  I just never really think of that poor tripod until it’s too late.  So, again, this shoot was complicated by the fact that I had to focus on keeping myself as still as possible – not to avoid camera shake this time, but simply to keep the focus where I wanted it.

Despite my knack for providing extra challenges such as this for myself all the time, I’m quite happy with this shot.  It’s a lot more abstract than I usually shoot, but the vibrant colour is just what I need in the middle of this white winter, and I did eventually manage to get that petal curl perfectly in focus.  It will definitely fulfill my colour fix until my next trip to the greenhouse … or Mexico!