Part 3

Exercise 3.3

For part 1 of this exercise, I used my Nikon FM2n. This was a revolutionary camera at the time it came out in the early 1980s, at it had a fully mechanical shutter capable of speeds of 1/4000s, similar to the top speed of many DSLRs of these days (over 30 after the FM2 was first launched).

I removed the lens and set the camera on the table, looking through the back of the camera as I cycled through all the available shutter speeds. Only the shutter blades were visible at the highest speed setting, with the movement being imperceptible at 1/4000s, and only slightly so at 1/2000s and 1/1000s, At 1/500s it was already possible to perceive the light at the other side of the camera, but no clear form. It was only when the speed dropped considerably, to 1/15th of a second, that you could start to define the shapes of what was in front of the camera, with it being clearly visible at 1/4s or less. I was surprised when I did this exercise, as I was expecting an image to be clearly visible at a higher shutter speed (I was hoping for something like 1/125s or 1/60s), as recent studies indicate that the human vision can recognise shapes seen for as little as 13 milliseconds (1), which is equivalent to about 1/60s in camera speed rates. A video of this exercise can be seen here 

—————— 000 ——————

For the next part of the exercise, I took pictures at various locations. The first one was in Canvey Island, in Essex. I was standing high on the sea defences looking towards the river Thames, about 6 meters above the sea level. The first thing you see in the foreground is the promenade immediately below the defence wall (which is about 2 ~ 3 meters tall). This is followed by a rock levee of about 2 meters and the beach. In the middle ground, you have the river and then on the background you have the south bank in Kent, with some of the villages and industrial parks in the isle of Grain visible, and the clear blue sky with some clouds on top. I looked at the whole scene, which was tranquil, and decided to focus on the waves breaking on the beach. To capture their movement I decided to set the camera at its top speed of 1/8000s. To achieve a mid aperture, I set the ISO speed at 800 (this gave me f/5). I waited until something else moved in the frame, and when a bird approached to the right, I took the shot.

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27mm (equiv. 42mm in full frame). 1/8000s at f/5. ISO 800

I repeated the exercise some days later in a different setting. I was standing on one of the high walkways of the Barbican estate in the City of London, overlooking the artificial lake and the dining area next to it, just outside the cultural centre. The walkway is some 10 meters above the shore of the lake. I set the camera at 1/160s to avoid camera shake and to freeze subjects moving at reasonable speed. ISO is set at 800 to ensure mid-aperture (f/5.6 in this case). Just below me is a clear area of pavement, followed by some tables and chairs, and some more of this into the background, where you have some of the estate low-rise buildings and two of its three towers of flats. My attention goes to a person on the foreground looking at his smart phone while he talks to somebody else on the phone, probably from a hands-free device. Then I notice another person in the mid-distance who at first seems to be having lunch, but quickly starts using her phone or tablet. I wait to see if either of these two characters starts to do something interesting when a third person approaches the scene on the left, almost at the same level of the first person I noticed in the foreground. This new person first sits, uneasily, but after a few seconds she stands again, takes out her mobile phone and starts walking while looking at the phone. At this moment, with the three characters looking at their phones, I take the picture.

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27mm (equiv. 42mm in full frame). 1/160s at f5.6. ISO 800

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(1)  http://helldesign.net. 2016. The brain can process images seen for just 13 milliseconds | KurzweilAI. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-brain-can-process-images-seen-for-just-13-milliseconds. [Accessed 27 November 2016].

Exercise 3.2

Going into this exercise, I was particularly curious about Michael Wesely‘s work and wanted to do something that would capture the essence of movement over time. His technique of opening the shutter for several days at the time is not easy to reproduce with a digital camera, so I decided to experiment instead with multiple exposures over several hours.

I tried several sequences at different lengths. The camera was set on a tripod with a 90mm lens pre-focused on my cat, who would take long naps every morning. The first sequence was for a total of 20 frames, at a rate of 1 frame per 10 minutes (3 hours 10 minutes in total). Shutter speed was set at 1/200s for each frame and the aperture fluctuated in mid values of f/5.6 ~ f/7.1 for most of the frames. ISO was fixed at 800. The camera was set to add every picture and average the exposure, so that movement is built progressively. In that set-up, the final photograph, shown below, is an average of itself and all the previous 19 photographs:

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Cat taking a nap – 23/10/2016 10:37 ~ 13:47 (3:10) – Average of 20 exposures.

The camera is able to store all the intermediate photographs, so you can see the build-up process leading to the final image. In this case, “build-up” is not perhaps the most appropriate term, as the cat starts perfectly defined in the first image and is progressively blurred until it becomes unrecognisable. I have prepared a short video to show the construction of the sequence, which can be found here.

My next sequence was for approximately the same length of time, but at a faster frame rate: 100 pictures were taken at a rate of one image every 2 minutes, for a total of 3:18 minutes. The camera was set just like in the first sequence. In the first sequence, the cat continued present in the frame for the entire shot-out, but he got up and left about 1/3 into the second sequence, and as a result the final frame, averaged with the previous 99, shows very faint traces of the cat, reminiscent of the more subtle photographs from Wesely, where there is almost no movement.

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Cat disappearing – 30/10/2016 11:38 ~ 14:56 (3:18) – Average of 100 exposures.

The build-up video, which shows the cat vanishing through time, can be found here.

——————— ooo ———————

I was also intrigued by the work of Maarten Vanvolsem and how he tries to capture movement, rhythm and acceleration in his shots. My initial attempts at this were rather crude and primarily consisted in opening the shutter for a specified period of time while walking on an escalator, going through the ticket barriers of the Underground, or simply standing on a carriage while traveling between two stations. The results are attractive studies on light and motion, but they do not convey the rhythm that you can see in some of Vanvolsem dance shots.

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Floor of tube carriage between stations – Nikon Coolpix A. 18.5mm lens (equiv to 28mm in full frame) 30s at f22, ISO 100.

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Going up escalator – Nikon Coolpix A. 18.5mm (equiv. to 28mm in full frame) 30s at f22, ISO 100.

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Walking towards the ticket barriers – Nikon Coopix A. 18.5mm lens (equiv. to 28mm in full frame) 15s at f22, ISO 100.

I then experimented with several of the line scan apps that are available for mobile phones. Some of these are set just to give a distorted image and not really to capture rhythm or acceleration over time. The ones that worked the best for me were “Slit-Scan Maker” (link) and “Poloska” (link). Both offer a still slit-scan mode – where the line of pixels that is captured is fixed and the picture is made by moving the phone –  but the duration of the clips in Poloska can be extended for longer periods of time, resulting in long panoramic shots:

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Commuting to work. iPhone 6 with Poloska.

The Slit-Scan Maker app offers and additional mode, which is that of the moving slit. This operates like a regular document scanner, in as much as the row of pixels that is captured travels through the frame from top to bottom. When combined with movement from the person holding the phone, this mode has the effect of compressing movement vertically, like if the long panoramas from Poloska (see above) were squeezed down, as can be seen in the pictures below.

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Crossing the road – iPhone 6 with Slit-Scan Maker

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Walking over the yellow line – iPhone 6 wih Slit-Scan Maker

All the above images were taken while walking to work early in the morning. The images taken with the Slit-Scan Maker delineate rhythm  quite dramatically. In “Walking over the yellow like”, I was holding the phone just above the yellow line on a busy train terminal platform while I walked towards the exit alongside hundred other commuters. The pendular movement of walking is nicely captured as a zig-zag of the line. A similar, but perhaps more subtle effect can be seen in “Crossing the road”, where the different colours of the pavement tiles swirl in line with the movement of the photographer.

  ——————— ooo ———————

While researching the work of Dr Vanvolsem, I came across the so-called Marey-effect and from there I found about the work of Harold E. Edgerton with stroboscopes to capture the rapid movement of subjects in sequences within the same frame  (see link to some of these images here). I set to try to replicate this at home with the aid of three flashes mounted on three separate cameras set next to each other, all pointing directly at the subject. The flashes were set to manual mode and adjusted so that they all had the same intensity. The central camera was set to run in bulb and to open the shutter for 10 seconds. With the aid of three remote timers, I programmed the cameras to shoot one after the other with about 2 seconds difference between them. The end result, when all was in sync, was three short flashes within a 9 second exposure. The subject (myself) was placed about 1 meter in front of the camera and the lens was pre-focused and set to manual mode. ISO was set to 100 and the aperture to f/16 to ensure the subject was in sharp focus and as the background was darkened. To make sure that only the flash light was illuminating the scene the shots were taken in a dark room with no ambient light. The subject moved his head through the 9 second exposure and such movements were frozen by each of the three flashes. Here are some of the resulting images:

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43mm lens (full frame). 9.3s at f16, ISO 100.

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43mm (full frame). 9.2s at f16, ISO 100.

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43mm (full frame). 9.3s at f16, ISO 100.

While the results were close to what I expected, there were some issues that I would like to improve in future experiments if possible. The first one is that the room where I took the pictures was relatively small and I was constrained by the lowest manual setting of 1/4 power in one of the flashes I had on hand. Ideally, I would have chosen less flash power and a longer room, with more distance between the flash and the end wall so that the background wall was less illuminated or pitch black if possible. As it was, because the background was iluminated by the first flash, the image of the head moving sideways appears less defined (because is a mixture of the background and the head). One additional aspect I would want to try is more flashes in a longer shot. This could perhaps be achieved by using a small strobe light like the ones used in disco parties. The problem with this approach is that the intensity of these strobes is probably too strong and cannot be regulated like that of a manual flash.

Exercise 3.1

Ever since I accidentally made a rain shot at a high ISO rating (see below), I have been fascinated by how rain or snow are frozen in the sky by the camera’s high shutter speed. Naturally, my instinct when I looked at this exercise was to work around the concept of freezing water in mid-air.

 

Walking in the rain

1/1600s at f5.6, ISO 1600

The pictures below were taken in my bathroom under the shower. I wanted to replicate the effect of rainwater being frozen in mid-air, as in the picture above. To that effect, I selected the highest possible mechanical shutter speed in my camera (1/8000s).

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1/8000s at f2, ISO 6400

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1/8000s at f2, ISO 6400

I feel that the pictures above where a bit too cluttered, so I decided to experiment with more subtle effects, both indoors and outdoors:

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1/8000s at f2, ISO 6400

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1/2000s at f5, ISO 3200

The camera at these speeds allow us to capture what we only see briefly or even what we cannot see at all. In addition to experimenting with water, I also had a look at the effect of the wind on a piece of paper laying in the middle of the street, and stopped motion combines with light and colour to add interest

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1/2000s at f5.6, ISO 800

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1/2000s at f5, ISO 800