“The long exposure does something that our eyes cannot do, it can accumulate time,” says photographer Michael Kenna. I love his dreamy black-and-white landscapes, in which waters and skies appear smooth as silk. And I love the idea of capturing moments of consecutive time, stacked together in one image.
Well, I’ll need some more practice before I can create any ethereal landscapes, but in the meantime, these photos are the results of a little experimentation closer to home (at my dining room table), requiring only a decorative trinket, a slowed shutter speed, and some patience.
We’re often so concerned about sharpness in images – the crispness and clarity of frozen time – but I think there’s something so pretty and painterly about motion being rendered as soft streaks of woven light.
Until I learn how to paint an abstract autumn forest, I’ll have to settle for wiggling my camera while it’s pointed at some colourful trees.
My year-long daily photo project is soon coming to a close. Naturally, I couldn’t let the year slip by without attempting a photograph involving glycerin, a drinking straw, and rainbow spirals.
To make this image, I used a piece of colourful paper, propped up vertically, as the background. In front of it, I balanced a drinking straw across the tops of two cups (off-camera) so it would lie horizontally. Earlier, I had purchased glycerin at the drugstore for a few bucks (there had been no small size on the shelf, so I was stuck with a giant bottle). I placed a few drops onto the middle of the straw and let gravity pull them downward.
Being more viscous than water, the glycerin dangled from the straw long enough for even a slowpoke like me to mess around with my camera settings and make several pictures. I don’t have a macro lens, so I used a screw-on close-up filter on my regular lens, with a narrow aperture (f/22 in this shot) to try to get as much of each droplet in focus as possible.
Refraction – not reflection, I learned – is at play here. As the light passes through the glycerin droplet, it bends and renders the image in the droplet upside-down, though it’s not obvious in my example because the background is a circular pattern. Had I used a background image of a recognizable object, I would’ve propped it upside-down so that it would’ve appeared right-side-up in the droplet.
The fun thing about experimenting is that it nearly always provokes the maker into asking, “What if…?” What if I used a photograph, a landscape, or a manuscript as the backdrop? What if the composition included only one droplet, or a hundred droplets? What if the medium wasn’t a droplet at all but a wine glass or a crystal ball?
Wait. What if I needed another year to tackle a refraction photography project alone?!
Well, in that case, at least I’d have plenty of glycerin.
When you’re tired of making the same old photos of your garden blooms, try this: manually zoom your lens during a long exposure (shutter speed here was one second) to capture your flower more unconventionally. In this shot of a coreopsis, the blooms surrounding the main one are rendered as ghostly streaks of colour.
I had some help from Lightroom to crop the image and darken sections to minimize distractions like the leaves and the detail in the soil.
Making this radiating effect in a photo was pretty fun. I think I’ll try it on some other kinds of subjects – food, toys, vehicles… maybe even a face, if I can get one of my cats/kids to hold still long enough (the exposure time was one whole second, so I may have to wait until they’re asleep).
One of the fun things about photography is that when you’re in an abstract and painterly mood, you can make just about anything into a sweeping blend of lines and colours.
The subject here is Japanese Blood Grass, a pretty ornamental in my garden that’s green at the base and crimson at the tips. I got in close and tilted the camera vertically during a two-second exposure time.
No paint required.
On the side of the highway near Hamilton sits a little shop called Grasshopper Imports. They sell imported pottery and garden ornaments, clothing and trinkets that appeal to the bohemians in the crowd.
Most people in the area know the place, even if they haven’t visited, because the owners made one stand-out choice when they set up shop.
They painted rainbow spirals on the exterior walls.
Naturally, this photogenic wall has been on my must-visit list, and early in the spring I finally stopped by for a few clicks. I had the kids with me at the time, so we made some fun portraits with the wall as a backdrop.
I also took the opportunity to try a couple of slow-shutter techniques. In the top image I moved the camera in a circle during the exposure time, and below, I zoomed instead. I liked the dreamy, painterly images that came out of it. I thought they could work as an interpretation of this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge of Focus (in this case, just the opposite).
Though my daughter would’ve loved to bring home a giant clay pot shaped like a frog or several pairs of dangly mineral stone earrings, we didn’t buy anything that day. But now I know where to find authentic Mexican Baja jackets and handblown glass swizzle sticks, should the need arise.
We’ll be back, Grasshopper. And thanks for the memories.
The Mr. and I have a long-running joke about my obliviousness. Apparently, at least in certain situations, I’m known for my lack of observational skill.
He teases that I’d fail to notice even obvious occurrences taking place around me, such as, for example, an exploding building or an approaching mob of evil clowns.
I agree that I may be slightly challenged in this regard. Sometimes I accidentally ignore people I know when I unexpectedly encounter them in public places. More than once I’ve had to apologize after the fact to friends and neighbours who have waved to me from afar, only to have me return their greeting with nothing but a vacant, unintentionally grouchy expression.
In my defence: I (usually) have no ill will against these people I’m supposed to recognize. I’m simply lost in my own little world. Evidently, when I’m busy doing something, such as walking or thinking – especially walking and thinking – my brain is only capable of a limited amount of sensory input. Friends and acquaintances, I assure you: my failure to notice you is nothing personal. I apologize for being rude.
(Strangely, though, I’m very observant when it comes to, say, the whereabouts of my library books, which household bills are due when, and whether the bird-feeder needs refilling. Make of that what you will.)
Through my dabbling in photography, I’m learning that the skill of observation can be improved. (Thankfully, because those evil clowns are super creepy and I’d like to notice them in enough time to get far, far away.)
Do you ever notice something for the first time and then begin see it everywhere?
Lines, for example. I’ve never, ever noticed lines as much as I do now, because I want to record them with the camera. Lines in the roads, lines in the trees, lines in the clouds. The grid of windows on a building, the curl of my daughter’s hair, the sweeping curves of hosta leaves emerging from the earth. (A-ha! The accompanying photo to this post! You knew I’d get there. Eventually.)
Being observant is being present. And I’m sure I’m not alone in the challenge of being present – really and truly aware – more often. If photography is helping me slow down and sharpen some of my senses – at least the art of seeing, of noticing – perhaps there’s hope for me.
If I smile and wave back next time you see me at the mall, you’ll know it’s working.
(I’m pleased to contribute this ribbed hosta to Tuesdays of Texture, a weekly feature over at De Monte y Mar.)