Today I’m going to start a little project about how I make some of my photos or build my light tools, usually using materials that can be found at home, because sometimes there’s no need to have an amazing studio to create decent photos. I won’t describe the details in each case, and the making of photos will probably be made with the smartphone, but feel free to ask if you have any doubts 😉
The idea was suggested by my friend and photographer Xavier Carol, check his blog if you want: lalquimista.com
For this first photo, I used a feather I found on the street. With a cutter, I carefully cutted the feather to the point I wanted, and then I placed a decoration sword I had at home inside the feather. I wanted a dark background but also emphasize the details of the sword and feather, so I used my computer screen and a polarizing filter in the lens, rotating the filter to a point where I saw a black background.
With some exposure time, I could illuminate the objects and also keeping a dark background. Also, although I knew the final capture would be vertical, it was much easier to make the photo horizontally due to the working area of my “soft box”.
One of the interesting techniques I hadn’t still tried until now was to capture an exploding water balloon just in the moment the plastic breaks, but the water still has the shape of a balloon. I didn’t want to invest any money in laser barriers or something similar, so I built a very simple mechanism that wouldn’t give me the perfect timing but maybe an acceptable approach.
Materials I used:
2 sewing needles
A pice of plastic of about 20cm of length to build the lever.
3 meter camera cable (for ease, depending on camera position)
A plastic washbowl
A small flash with wireless remote
A bag of small water balloons
A hot glue gun if possible (or just glue)
A tripod to hold the mechanism and water balloon, and another to hold the camera.
Camera and flash settings:
Shutter of 1/100 or similar is enough, because we’ll illuminate the water balloon with the small flash only.
I recommend using an apperture of f/8 or narrower, because sometimes water goes in many directions and this way we’ll get more dof.
For the tests the flash was at 0.5m approx, at 1/64 of power. I recommend using the lowest power if possible to get a more sharp result.
Camera focus must be set to manual and I also recommend to adjust the frame for each photo since the size of the water balloons is not always the same.
Shutter trigger construction:
About the shutter trigger, my Canon 5D MKII uses an N3 connector, so I cut an old shutter cable to build the new one. It has three wires (Ground, Shutter, Focus) that will allow us to make a photo by doing a short circuit between Shutter and Ground wires. I’ve marked with a green dot the two necessary pins in the photo of the N3 connector. It’s not necessary to use the Focus wire since the camera will be in manual focus.
To build the other side of the wire, I welded each wire (Shutter, Ground) to a needle. Then I used the hot glue gun to attach the needles to a long piece of plastic with a little inclination so that if the needles touch a rigid surface they will touch each other. My initial idea was that the water of the balloon would short circuit the two wires, but at practice it didn’t result in my case, so with a little inclination in the needles they also touched each other when breaking the water balloon.
To hold the lever I used the materials I had at home, but it’s possible to hold it in many other (and better) ways.
Once the setup is mounted, a water balloon is hold with a string in front of the lever so that when the lever is released it will break the balloon and the needles will also touch each other to activate the camera shutter and make the photo, so the only thing we have to do is hold the lever in a higher position and release it to make each photo.
Photos of the parts and results:
Video of the mechanism in action:
As you can see the results are quite different between each other, because the timing was a little unpredictable. There are a lot of ways to improve this first test, trying to anticipate the explosion by placing the shutter cables in another place in the lever or changing the way the wires touch each other.
Create a tool that projects a laser net to combine with the Light Painting photography technique, so that when projecting this net over a scene, it “seems” to be a wireframing view of a 3D modeled scene.
Using only one laser pointer, create a set of horizontal and vertical lines that combined with the photo long exposure will result in a laser net. The laser pointer is moved by two RC servos controlled with a PWM signal generated by a 16F876A PIC microcontroller.
Once the circuit is done, the program can be configured to change laser speed, offset between lines and net size.
For the video I used a 7.4V LiPo battery, the voltage is regulated by a 7805, and the laser pointer uses one of the PIC 5V outputs with a 25 Ohms resistor.
Flickr’s Explore is a ranking in which the best 500 photos of the day are selected by using an unkown algorithm.
This algorithm (called “interestingness“) doesn’t really select the “best” photos of the day, but getting into explore is a good way to gain visibility on your photos, because when a photo is on explore some of the people which is seeing the explore page (or some other sites showing current photos on Explore) can see your photo (aka more views, comments, etc).
Once on explore, the photo will be moving up or down the ranking (from #1 to #500) during the day, depending on your photo comments, views and other, but also by other photos entering on explore.
To see which of your photos are on explore, there’s the Flickr Scout.
I’ve had 40 explores just this year, so I wanted to share some of the things I’ve noticed. Some may be very obvious but I wanted to share all the steps I usually do:
Use as many (useful) tags as you can to gain visibility, not just about the subject of the photo but also the technique and gear used.
Add the photo to some of your sets or collections (if it’s a b/w macro you can put the photo on two different sets).
Add the photo to a max of 5-6 groups. Not the kind of groups in which commenting is mandatory (like P1A50). Instead, add it to a more general groups (Canon/Nikon..) that aren’t about any specific subject so you can use the same groups for each photo you upload.
Getting favorites and notes is also helpful, especially if they aren’t contacts of yours. This is more complicated to control, but I think it influences too.
Once the photo is on flickr, you can share the link on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to gain some more visibility.
Upload time may be important too. I always upload my photos between 20:00h and 23:00h (GMT+1). If that same night I get about 50 views, 8 comments or so, sometimes the photo appears on Explore the next day.
One interesting trick I’ve seen, is that you can change the upload time of photos which already are uploaded, so you can “refresh” the upload when you want, and all the contacts seeing the last photos will see your photo again (maybe they didn’t see it the first time). If you didn’t get explore the first day, you have another chance using this trick. Using this, I’ve had the same photo two and even three times on explore on different days. It can also be boring for your contacts if you do this too much…
Of course, uploading a great photo will help too, or at least a subject that a lot of people likes (shallow dof, bokeh, colorful captures, beautiful portraits, cats, landscapes…).
As I said, appearing on Explore doesn’t mean having the best photos, but it helps to get more visibility.
How many times can you overcome the same challenge feeling the satisfaction you had the first time? Some people only need one or two times, others can keep repeating the same thing for a long time and still enjoying it. This number will depend on our degree of demand and perfectionism, which in practice is the time that takes us to need a more complicated challenge, and see what we’re capable of. That’s why I think artists or professionals learn and get results at different rhythms.
From my experience, the learning curve is based on what I’ve just mentioned and two more factors that I’ll explain now, but in a different perspective than the typical “learn, practice, learn, practice”. What I find more interesting is what do we think about the results we’re getting. Are they good, bad? Are we proud of them? Which aspect would have a better result?
The first and more important factor is what I call State of Your art. If you were asked to position your work in a “quality ranking” among everything you know about that subject, where do you think it would be? You’ll probably think there’s a lot of people already better than you at that, and still more if you’re just beginning, but knowing the State of Your art will allow you to have an imprecise but also global reference, and wou’ll not be disappointed when you find out somebody else had the same idea as you and executed it in a much better way, or with a slight difference that you wouldn’t have thought of. Knowing the State of Your art won’t give you so much satisfaction when creating something new, but neither you’ll be disappointed if you discover that your idea was already done, because you already knew that this could happen.
How do you know your position in the ranking? Suppose there’s still a lot to see, that there’s somebody better than you, and that you still have a lot to learn. Thinking this way won’t give you an exact position, but I believe it’s an appropiate attitude to have. I find interesting and useful to read and talk with other professionals, to see how they work and also to learn and inspire myself, but I also think it’s important to develop a personal style that, while being influenced by some others’ works, are the product of our vision as an artists and professionals.
The second factor which I find necessary to improve is self-criticism. Just before creating something, many times comes the initial euphoria of “This is amazing!”. It’s fine to feel this way at first, but then it’s necessary to place your new work in the ranking of what you know and settle down.
I think the previous factors allow us not only create better art, but also better products and services, as long as exists a continuity and passion in what is being done, without thinking about getting huge results, just to improve, do someting meaningful and setting personal goals, the rest will follow.