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.


Project:52, splash photography (week 2)

(subtitle:  Timing is EVERYTHING)

So much of photography does depend on timing.  Ansel Adams is quoted as saying:  “Sometimes I do get to places just when God is ready to have somebody click the shutter.”  This is abundantly clear for landscape photography – imagine finding the perfect place to capture a brilliant sunrise only to show up early the next morning to find a cloudy, uninspiring sky – but equally true for most other genres of photography as well.  One of the most important aspects of portrait photography is the subject’s expression, and that perfect, honest expression may only last a fraction of a second.  Being a photographer is all about capturing that perfect moment, and this week’s Project:52 challenge definitely reinforced that concept.

This week Erin and I had planned to go out and do some night photography.  I was quite excited to see snow in the forecast for our chosen evening, imagining that it would be a perfect opportunity to capture some magical white flakes …  But perhaps I should have read that forecast a little bit more carefully, because with that snow came rather biting wind and temperatures that left the fingers rather frozen and us poor photographers feeling sadly uninspired.  Adventurous northern explorers we are not.  So, the evening was spent huddled around hot and tasty beverages in a nice warm coffee shop, planning ways to do INDOOR projects until the weather becomes slightly more inviting.

Our comfy substitute for night photography was some experimentation with splash photography.  I’ve seen so many amazing splash photos lately that I knew it was something I wanted to try.  So this morning we set up our studio strobes and started dropping things into a clear bowl filled with water.  (Apologies, I completely forgot to photograph our wonderful little makeshift set-up … I’ll remember for next time – we are quite innovative when trying to stay away from the cold outside!)  We quickly learnt several things, including a bunch of things that did not work, a list of things we were missing in order to achieve the perfect results, and that timing really is everything when you’re trying to catch a splash.

Attempting to do splash photography using little more than supplies found in your kitchen can be tricky.  We experimented with several styles of clear glass bowls before settling on a tall(ish) one that we could fill halfway and shoot straight through.  (Filling a bowl straight to the rim mostly eliminated the annoying rim-in-the-shot effect, but it got rather messy really quickly!)  This glass-is-half-full technique allowed us to get capture both the splash, and the object as it sunk beneath the surface.

And that, right there is the key:  attempting to catch the splash at the moment when it is at its peak, or the object just as it breaks the surface.  Without fancier and more expensive lighting gear with a much faster recycle time, our options were limited to cooperation, counting, and lots of missed shots to wade through.  It takes patience, and practice, but it’s really worth it when you finally catch that great shot.  Really excited to make another go of it and see what we can come up with next time!

splash photo, no edit

straight out of the camera. the edges of the container distract from the energy of the splash

splash photo

by cropping in and removing some of the distracting elements of the container, the image gets a lot stronger. A bit of tweaking to the hue, saturation and contrast, and bam!