Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Aqueduct, Aqueduct, Goose

Ever since I visited Roanoke Rapids, NC, last year, I’ve wanted to make a picture of the old aqueduct used during the heyday of the canal that ran parallel to the Roanoke River.

The section of the Roanoke River at Roanoke Rapids was known as Moratuc or “river of death” to the Native Americans living in the area. The canal was constructed in 1823 as a way to bypass the treacherous rapids, including construction of a stone aqueduct over Chockoyotte Creek.

The canal was later sold and renovated for hydro-electric power, adding an additional four feet in depth.

I was really interested in using light-painting to photograph the aqueduct. So on one of my first days in Roanoke Rapids I scouted the location to see if I could actually pull it off.

(The aqueduct during the day)

To get to what I thought would be the best place to set up my camera and tripod involved navigating my way down a steep bank of what appeared to be leftover rocks used to build the aqueduct.

(No big deal I thought, except when it came time to climb back up in the dark.)

One of the coolest apps I have on my iPhone is a program called PhotoCalc. It gives a wealth of information about exposures, depth of field and even guide numbers for your flash. One of the features that I find handy is the Solar Calculator. This feature gives you times for sunrise and sunset, along with telling you when twilight begins and ends, all customized to your exact location.

With this info I was able to plan my shot.

I got to the aqueduct about an hour before sunset and climbed down to the creek below, getting ready for nightfall.

To light-paint the aqueduct, I had planned to use a mixture of flashes and a spot light I had bought at Walmart.

Rule number one for planning a shoot with a rechargeable spot light: make sure it is fully charged. Rule number two: bring a backup.

Not long into my light-painting, the battery died and I didn’t have a backup.

I was now stuck at the bottom of the aqueduct in the dark and quickly trying to come up with a Plan B.

My plans were rapidly falling apart.

The spot light had died and the flashes I had distributed around the aqueduct to give me accent lights were creating more problems than solutions.

I really didn’t want to call it a night though.

My really only other option was to do the light-painting with one of my flashes.

By now the sun had set and twilight was long since over. If I didn’t start making pictures soon, I was going to be out of luck.

To cheat a little bit, I set my camera to balance for tungsten light, put a double CTO gel on flash and went to work. This gave me a blue cast to the sky but pretty much negated the warming effects of the gel.

(The aqueduct light-painted with a flash and the camera balanced for tungsten)

At this point I wasn’t picky.

My results were decent but could be better.

After leaving the aqueduct, I drove straight to Walmart and bought another spot light. As soon as I got back to my bed and breakfast, I put both of them on a charger.

Not one to give up, or perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment, the next night I made another trip to the aqueduct; this time with two spot lights and a clearer idea of how I was going to do this.

What a way to spend the night.

(The aqueduct light-painted with the spot light and the camera balanced for daylight)

(The aqueduct light-painted with the spot light and the camera balanced for tungsten)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mother Hubbard, Your Cupboard is Bare!

There’s nothing more welcoming than coming home from a trip and sleeping in your own bed.

For the first time in a week, you finally get a decent night’s sleep. There’s nothing like sleeping nine or ten hours without being roused by a knock at the door, “Housekeeping.” You wake at your own leisure and slowly make your way to the refrigerator to start the most important meal of the day. And then it dongs on you. Mother Hubbard, your cupboard is bare!

Luckily, I had a product shoot from a recent trip that I needed to do.

Malt O Meal just opened a facility in Asheboro, NC. They make a plethora of hot and cold cereals and my task was to shoot a product shot of one of them. My choice.

I opted for the Honey Buzzers. They’re just like Honey Combs but come in this ginormous two pound bag that could feed an army. Or one hungry photographer.

Most of our product shots are just that; simple product shots on a white background in all its packaging glory.

Of course with food, we have to do a little more work.

I made a quick run to the store for a few props: OJ and some milk.

So I got the two pound bag and shot it.

Then, I poured some Honey Buzzers in a bowl with a spoon and set glasses of milk and orange juice behind. (Hey, it’s part of a complete breakfast.) All the while I’m munching on handfuls of cereal. Shot that from a few different angles. (Designers have to have choices you know. Of course they always choose the wrong one, but that’s a different story.)

I finished those off and now it’s time to eat.

Got down to the bottom of the bowl with just a little milk left. Instead of going for another bowl, just dropped a fresh buzzer in the bottom and shot an almost finished bowl of cereal. (Great for stock.)

Then I helped myself to another bowl.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Let the Spinning Wheel Spin

Just got home from a week in Asheboro, NC, shooting for the 2010 Images of Asheboro/Randolph County, North Carolina magazine.

After managing to criss-cross the county numerous times, I racked up over 700 miles on my Honda Element and shot over 1200 pictures. Which I now have to caption and ship before I leave for my next trip on Tuesday.

Randolph County is known for a lot of things: It is home to NASCAR Legend Richard Petty and the North Carolina Zoo. But probably is best know for its pottery.

The little town of Seagrove, about 15 minutes south of Asheboro, is the self-proclaimed “Pottery Capital of the World.” It has a history rich in pottery dating back over 200 years and about 100 potters now call Seagrove home.

One of those potters is Daniel Johnston.

Daniel works just outside of the Seagrove city limits, in a small log cabin that’s taken him about six years to build. He turns his large jugs on the dirt floor and moves them to his two kilns just outside. The larger kiln measures about 35 feet and can reach temperatures over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, with firings lasting about four days.

My first shot was the cabin. I wasn’t sure if it was going to look best at sunrise or sunset. Since I am definitely not a morning person, I headed out to Daniel’s about 6pm to try a sunset shot. The cabin is loaded with light. But just as a precaution, I busted out four Canon 580’s with Pocket Wizard Flex’s and placed them throughout the cabin. I split the four lights between the two floors of the cabin: two upstairs and two downstairs, with one of the downstair lights pointing straight out the door.

I waited patiently as the sun slowly set and shot a few test frames just to make sure the remote lights were firing.

One thing I started to notice was the outside of the cabin just appeared flat. And as the sun set further, the outside of the cabin fell deeper and deeper into the darkness.

As twilight approached, my exposures were getting longer and longer. I ended up shooting a 30 second exposure for the picture.

You can do a lot in 30 seconds.

In the back of my car, I happened to have a spotlight. I pulled it out and decided to give light painting a try. As I tripped the camera, the flashes fired and I went to work on the outside of the cabin for 30 seconds.

In the end, the pictures I light painted turned out to be the best. The cabin just popped with the twilight sky.

One picture down and now I didn’t have to get up in the wee hours of the morning to shoot the sunrise.

My next picture was a portrait of Daniel, but that was going to have to wait until morning. Maybe mid-morning after some caffeine.

I knew right away where I wanted to shoot Daniel. It had to be in front of the mammoth kiln that he uses to fire his large jugs.

In my mind, I went through the lighting scheme for the portrait. I’d put one light in the kiln with a full CTO gel, two lights positioned opposite each other on the sides of the kiln and illuminating the tin roof and one snooted light hitting Daniel. All of the lights would be on Pocket Wizard Flex’s.

In a perfect world, all would go right.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a perfect world. Lucky for me Daniel was very patient.

Before shooting, I noticed I needed more light in the kiln, so I placed the light I had earmarked for Daniel into the kiln, shooting back toward me and rim lighting the doorway.

Luckily I had my Dyna-Lite Uni 400’s in the car. I pulled one out, along with a grid spot, and aimed it toward Daniel.

Now, we’re cooking with gas!

Not quite. And this is where patience comes into play.

Of the 44 pictures I took of Daniel, I only managed to get six frames where all five lights fired. Most of the time it was four, sometimes just three, all the way down to one. The Dyna-Lite fired every time. Of course it was about five feet from me. The rest were 10-15 feet away.

It was a frustrating week for me and my Pocket Wizards. Sometimes they all worked. But most of the time they were just sporadic. There was no rhyme or reason. If the wind changed, it seemed like it affected whether or not they would work. After one frustrating shoot this week, I drove straight to my hotel room, got on my computer and ordered a set of Radio Poppers. Even had them shipped overnight I was that desperate.

They get here Monday, just in time for my next trip.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again

This month’s worth of posts are dedicated to my buddy Ian. He’s been nagging me, trying to get me to post more frequently. So for the entire month of October, I’m going to try and post as many times as I can. So here goes....

One thing I do when I’m in a city is try and find as much local art as I can and photograph it. Most of the time it makes an ok picture, nothing really to write home about.

When I came across this piece in Asheboro, NC, I was able to make a decent frame, using a low angle, looking up into a blue sky and cleaning up the background. Not bad, but it could be better.

I decided to make another attempt and stop back when the sun was behind the sculpture and try and work it into the picture.

Again I tried for a low angle, trying to get a clean background and work the sun into the picture. I wanted it just at the tip of the finger.

No dice.

The sun was too low in the sky and, when I tried to position it at the fingertip, I started to get trees and buildings in the background.

I decided to give it one more try.

I shot a little bit earlier than my previous attempt and, bingo, I was able to get the sun positioned just at the fingertip and not have a cluttered and distracting background.

Here’s a rundown of my shots:

For my first attempt, I shot the picture with the blue sky at 8:50am. The sun was over my left shoulder.

For my second attempt, I shot the picture with sun behind the sculpture at 5:40pm. The sun was already too low in the sky to give me the angle I wanted.

For my last attempt, I shot the picture earlier in the day than the previous photo, about 4:25pm. This time everything lined up perfectly and I was able to get that little starburst at the end of the fingertip. To give me a little more definitive starburst, I closed down my aperture to f11.

You can use a special filter to give your light sources that starburst effect or you can stop down your lens to about f11-f22. The number of points in the starburst will depend on the number of blades in your lens.