Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Camera Tossing Demystified

First of all you read it right. I am talking about throwing the camera into the air and letting go with reckless abandon. Watching my expensive gear do somersaults whilst capturing an image of the resulting chaos. Why would anyone do this? Maybe you are the shake tester at a camera manufacturer. Maybe you just want to check on that warrantee to see if they really do take the camera back no questions asked. Maybe you've totally lost it and this is proof positive that you need to have your head examined.

A little group was born on Flickr (almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world) circa 2005 that presented beautiful flowing abstracts that were different from anything I had ever encountered before. They weren't simply blurs or bokeh, zoom pulls, or camera waves. These were highly defined geometrical streaks, Spirograph-esque forms, and lush shapes that resulted from the process of applying kinetic motion to the camera as it exposed the frame.

I was a lurker (someone who watches without participating) for some time just enjoying the show thinking "yeah, that's cool stuff but I'm not going to do it!" Then when my Olympus point and shoot started to develop some problems out of warrantee I thought that maybe I'd give it a go. If I break this I thought, no worries it's on its way out anyway.

Most of my initial attempts were not very pleasing, you could tell where I had released the shutter making the first part of the spin irregular as seen in "Seven Flags Amusement Park."
 Seven Flags Amusement Park

Still, it was more interesting than any blur or wave I had tried.

Then I started achieving some nice smooth spins and experimenting with various light sources and I became hooked. The mantra had now become: But I'll never toss my DSLR! The more I tossed the more I noticed some limitations in the dynamics and balance of my point and shoot, and the lack of noise reduction that could be achieved. I had always practiced "safe tossing" meaning avoiding a chance of a drop on hard ground. So slowly but surely I worked up the nerve to toss my DSLR. Tentatively at first and now with reckless abandon. I am in no way condoning that you do this yourself without evaluating the risks. But the rewards are ample and yes I've even dropped the Mark II a couple times without adverse affect. Your mileage may will vary. It is a pretty tough little tank but there is a still a very good chance something could get knocked ajar. I'm probably approaching half life on the shutter activation count ~250,000 and if the camera died tomorrow it would have done its job.

String Toss #10
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let's get down to techniques. First, unless you use a timer and are good at judging the exact moment of release, you will no doubt have irregular shapes that lead in to the frame. This is not desirable and can be rectified a couple of ways. One way to achieve this is just practice. If your hands can start the motion before clicking the shutter, the motion can become seamless. You can also get better at timing the release if using the timer. The best method I've found is to use a bead bag chair for the landing pad and also to block the starting point of the spin. Stairs work well for this set-up. Position your light source(s) at some point possibly 2nd or 3rd rigger up, then yourself behind the bag at the landing. With the camera behind the bag, start the exposure and toss. Once the camera clears the bag it should be in stable flight, and as a bonus it will also land in comfort.

So you've got your flight path down, now you need to play with exposure times. Generally, I like .5 to 1 second. You will be able to judge from a few tests whether you like the length of the trails or not and adjust accordingly. Since you know about the golden triangle of exposure, you will know how much aperture you need and if that's not enough how much more ISO to boost.

Seaform #1
Next is your light source/sources. The sky is the limit. I find choosing fixtures with relatively equal luminosity is best, but it depends on what you are after. Then go for different textures. How do you get a texture from a light you might ask? Well, LEDs tend to generate defined streaks and neon bulbs are softer. Experiment with whatever you use to light paint with, it's all good.

After that you can go for perfectly circular spins to chaotic flips that resemble something an olympic diver might get high scores for. The possibilities are endless.

I have dedicated a store to these abstract light forms over at Zazzle. Postcards to stretched canvas, the collection includes all of the techniques I have noted here. Enjoy!
Check out the official Camera Toss Blog for more info, pointers and examples.

And I would be remiss in not mentioning some of the pioneers of tossing that you should visit to get a true taste of what the cutting edge of this crazy technique can result in. I owe many thanks to them for the support, encouragement, and continued inspiration: Ryan Gallagher, David Hull, and Jens Ludwig.

Harris Shutter

This technique was invented by Bob Harris, of Kodak. You may recognize it from ads and posters from the seventies. The idea is to shoot three separate exposures using red, blue, and green filters. This effect is only effective is parts of the scene are in movement, otherwise all the channels will overlap and cancel out.  Everything in movement will produce bright colors of different hues depending on the combination of RGB exposed in less than all 3 combined. 

More adventures in Harris Shutter
In the days of film this could be achieved by either using a different filter for each shot or employing a "drop through filter" of three gels and two opaque sections that could be slid through a holder during one exposure. Nowadays this can be achieved similarly with a digital camera. But it has been made easier still with software. 

The fall colors are great this year

I found a rich subject in aspen leaves, but any scene that has some static and moving features can be used. I've seen some great shots of people and cars moving around so it doesn't have to be a landscape.

Basically if you don't have access to the drop through filter or multiple in-camera exposures or individual gels, you'll need to use software to create these. The idea is to get your images open and modify the channel of each so that one will contain red, one blue, and one green. You can then merge the layers using the difference method. Of course different programs may not use this exact terminology, but that is the idea.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Here is a waterfall with a nice mix of both elements:
That 70s Show - Fourmile Creek Falls
There are endless possibilities. I tried to capture smoke rising from a volcano but failed at that one. Next trip to Hawaii will have to give it another go.

There is a dedicated group for this method on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/groups/harrisshuttereffect/.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Zazzle Plug

Check out my photography stores at Zazzle:
  • Colorado scenes:
  • Abstract light paintings:
  • Travel souvenirs:
    View more cool stuff at Zazzle.
Print quality is excellent, and the e-commerce application saves me a lot of time. I have everything from less-than-a-dollar postcards to impressive stretched canvas, Keds® shoes to skateboards, dinner plates to aprons. Thanks for looking!

Lens Cap Trick

Many moons ago (literally) I was looking through the rift in the mountains that opens out onto a view of the plains from my mountain home, and noticed that the moon is always a few degrees out of the view. I never was able to capture a moonrise on the horizon from the comfort of my deck. There are only a few times a year that it gets even close but sadly it seems to avoid the spot that would give me a great 'huge moon illusion' right on the horizon or just above it. I guess that I only have about 5 or 10 degrees of horizon to work with.

Then one night sitting in the hot tub ruminating on the problem I had a duh moment and realized that I could place the moon anywhere in the frame that I wanted it using what I then dubbed a "blind pan" or "black zoom." I figured I could expose the moon, cover the lens, then re-frame the shot (thus pan and or zoom) and expose a different background. You don't have a view thru the finder while the mirror is locked up, and so the blind or black part. I tried a few times and in theory it worked, but the results were ugly. Moons superimposed on trees or mountains etc. But after more trial and error, I learned I could compose both parts of the shot individually to get each exposure and position correct, then go on to the actual double exposure.  My first useable post:

Passed over
Which obviously had many "pans."  You can see the curved tripod path that put the moon on an impossible trajectory. It also has flaws like the light that is supposed to be coming from behind the trees but isn't blotted out by them. In spite of this  I got pretty excited about it and kept trying. After a ton of bloopers, my first post to Flickr went stratospheric (still #1 in Explore for Nov 6, 2006 http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/2006/11/):

Alien Shore
Okay so now I was hooked. I later discovered that this was a fairly old trick using film and exposing the moon over a roll, then rewinding and double exposing the backgrounds later. My digital camera at the time did not have the double exposure function, so this was the only way for me to achieve it. I also learned that this technique had been used for firework displays to get more explosions on a frame. It helps to have a lens with a large range, so that the moon can be captured at maximum zoom, and then a low end wide enough to capture a decent background. The dream lens is of course a Sigma 50-500mm. Okay so I don't own one but I have owned 300m and 20mm lenses at the same time. Thus lens swapping was born (at least to me - I don't claim to have invented it). This entails using the long lens to snap the moon, then cloaking the camera (I use a dark towel) whilst removing the first lens and then attaching the wide angle. Making sure the direction and focus is set, snap the towel off the gear - just like a magician would pull a table cloth off a fully set and stocked table - just kidding, and then let the background expose. Here is an example of this:

Welcome to Vancouver, Ganymede
Blind pan and Black zoom are sort of clumsy phrases and never really stuck. I started playing around with other things that could be used besides the moon and got into light painting using various light sources.

This caught on and the term lens cap trick was adopted by the community. That is what I will be calling this technique from now on. Only a few that I know of have tried this with the moon but there are lots of great light painting examples. First one of mine (well it's not Explorer kind of great but I like it). This one incorporates a still of a Gumby model and then a camera toss which I will blog later about:  

Gumby Weeeee
Some of my favorite examples on Flickr include light paintings by ectro, Hyphy Hands Lincoln, and Hob. Or just do a search to find your own faves: lens+cap+trick search.

Check out the Light Junkies group for more information on light painting. Here is the official LCT tut from my profile on Flickr:

Zoom in on the moon and take as many shots as needed to understand where your exposure time needs to be to keep from "blowing it out" (losing the detail).
Then do the same for the second exposure and make sure you have some kind of reference so you can know where to aim.
Finally, point back at the moon and lock the shutter release. After the determined exposure time, cover the lens and then re-aim to the second spot. Zoom out and uncover the lens for the determined second exposure. Release the lock. Pray. Repeat as needed. Or just take 2 photos and layer them in Photoshop. But what's the fun in that?

I'd like to showcase some of the artists that have attempted this with the moon. All photos used here with the permission of their respective copyright owners.

Jon Steele (mccullin4): http://www.flickr.com/photos/mccullin4/6686986389/in/photostream/

Rohit Markande: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rohitmarkande/2282519270/

Eric Yeadon (The Capturer): http://www.flickr.com/photos/yeadon/406841816/ 

Mike Ross (TxPilot): http://www.flickr.com/photos/txross/7196438036/

Dusting off the old blog

The old blog still exists but it has mold all over it: jahdakinebrah.blogspot.com. Time to dust it off and serve up something current and useful.