Sunday, April 6, 2014

Freezing Time With Flash


What you see above is the result of a lot of spare time. Almost every year, me, my brother, my cousin and my cousin's cousin gather in a deserted flat in the countryside for two days, for no other purpose but to spend some "male" time together, and do a lot of photography. Let me take you behind the scenes.

What plant do you think these seeds belong to? It is called Carob or Locus, it also has a more complicated scientific name over at wikipedia. My relatives were eating it, and they had a lot of seeds scattered everywhere. My cousin (which you see part of his face below) had the idea to make the opening picture, he wanted to throw some seeds in the air and capture them mid flight. Now it was my turn to figure out how to do it.

First, we needed a completely white background, and a neat way to be able to throw the beans while having them close to each other. So we used the brilliant multi-purpose diffuser that ships with most 5-in-1 reflector kits, you've seen me use it many times before as a large softbox when taking product shots. We put the round diffuser horizontally, held be three chairs at the edges. This way we can put the beans in the center of the diffuser, and by gently giving it a sharp tap from beneath, the seeds jumped around.

As for lighting, initially I pointed a flash from beneath to render the diffuser (my subject's background) completely white, I put the camera on a tripod slightly higher than the diffuser level, and pointed downwards at the middle of the diffuser where the seeds and the light from beneath are. I was using my EM-5 and 45 1.8, I can't remember the exact settings, but I had the flash power as low as possible (by opening up the lens to f/2.8 if I remember correctly) and increasing the ISO, in order to have fast flash recycle time, which enabled me to shoot at 9 frames per second, with flash. :-D

But the images didn't look as good as I had in mind, and whether the seeds were in the air or stationary on the diffuser, the background was white, and they didn't look much different, there was just no sense of what was happening in the picture.



So in the next iteration, I held another flash in my hand, just above the beans, with the head zoomed all the way in, and pointed it towards the seeds at an angle. I wanted to get hard shadows on the diffuser to give the feeling of the seeds being air borne. And I also like how there are some seeds in focus and others that are not, it gives more depth to the picture than just the beans jumping in the air. Focus was fixed before taking the pictures at the middle of the seeds.

The main difficulty was tapping the beans so that they looked nice in the picture, we had to do lots of trial and error, and in the end we got a crease in the diffuser in our best picture. I which it wasn't there, but never mind, I am happy with the way it turned out.

You can see the color version below, but personally I prefer the creamtone version shown at the top.