Sunday, October 26, 2008

Low-key selfportrait

I just wanted to write a description of my latest selfportrait, from which I learned a few things. The latest dPS assignment was "Headshot" and I thought about photos of actors/actresses, trying to say something about their personality. When I shot this photo I was kind of moody because it was late at night and very tired. Thus I wanted a dark (and hopefully) dramatic low-key portrait.

Focusing and kicker
When shooting a low-key photo I feel it's important to separate the subject from the background, but not too much, since I at the same time want it to blend with the darkness. So I decided to use a kicker/backlight instead of lighting up the background.

I started by hanging a black piece of fabric on the wardrobe closet. On the  photo below you see a pair of scissors on the floor. This marks the position where I would stand. Previously I had placed a light stand on this point and locked the focus on the light stand on the position where my eyes would be. Since I would be using a pretty large aperture, I had some leeway regarding depth of field, and as long as I positioned myself overhead the scissors, the focusing wouldn't represent any problems.

The photo above shows the snooted kicker flash (Nikon SB-600) mounted as high as I could. I made sure that when I stood on the scissors I could see the enitre flash head through the snoot. This would provide lighting for the back of my head.

Main light
On the opposite side of the kicker I set up a light stand with a 45" reflective umbrella with a SB-600. Originally I wanted to try cross-lighting, by sending the the main light parallel with the focal plane, but the first test shot looked so bad. I got a large shadow covering almost 30% of my face, making the portrait a little too low-key'ish. Therefore moved the main light against the camera, so that the umbrella pointed about 20 degrees offset from the imaginary focal plane... Sorry for this complicated description. Thank you, Microsoft Word, who made this illustration possible:

Since I'm looking at the camera, this placement of the umbrella, in addition to emphasizing the shape of the face, also creates catchlights at an approx. two o'clock position.

As mentioned, I wanted to use a medium-large aperture to get all of me in focus. I also wanted to use the maximum sync shutter speed to block ambient light. Each flash's ouput was determined by trial and error.

Kicker: 1/128 power, 85mm zoom
Main light: 1/16 power, 24 mm zoom
Exposure: 1/250 sec @ f/8, ISO 200
Lens: Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF
Camera: Nikon D300

Shooting and processing
I tried a couple of different poses using a 10 sec timer on the camera. I didn't have a plan in particular, I just kept on shooting until I got a picture with some kind of "drama" in it. After about 10 shots I got this one (untouched RAW file):

After I imported it to Adobe Camera Raw I realized it was under-exposed. It didn't look that way on the LCD-screen on the camera. I had to bump up the exposure to about 1 stop, but luckily no noise was detected.

In Photoshop I increased the contrast in Levels and converted it to black and white with B&W Filter. Cropped it a little. I felt that it needed a little more treatment, so I did something I've never done before: Duotone. I converted it to greyscale mode and then Duotone. I chose a light blue color in addition to black. I probably could have done the same using a color layer or Gradient Maps. Here's the result:


I should have gotten the right exposure in-camera. I was probably fooled by the dark areas, leaving me to believe that my face was correctly exposed. The next time I'm shooting a low-key portrait I'll use my greycard and histogram again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Great news!

One of my articles are featured on the dPS blog! You can read it here. It's describes the setup for this photo, called Leaf Diet:

Leaf Diet

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Color Peaks

This was a photoshoot had been looking forward to for a long time. Experimenting with water and colors was the reason I bought my strobes to begin with. To justify this expensive purchase to my wife, I really had to nail this shot.

The idea
As the time went by, I forgot about this idea. Partially because I didn't know how to do it and because I have been caught up in shooting bubbles and leaves. Yesterday, while I was at the grocery shop I discovered a rack of confectioner's coloring. Red, blue, green, yellow... Perfect! And they were cheap too. I bought one bottle of each, thinking that should be enough. Little did I know...

The setup
I filled a rectangular vase with water and placed it on the kitchen bench. On the wall behind it I taped a white sheet of paper as background. I put a SB-600 on the left side of the vase, pointing it on the paper. Mounted the camera on a tripod as close I could get (about 1 meter), with the 70-200mm f/2.8 macro lens attached. Filled the vase half full with water.

I wanted to drop three colors in the water at the same time so I had to arrange the color bottles in a rack with tape.

I had to find a way to lock the focus inside the vase. I planned to use a narrow aperture, but getting so close with a long focal length doesn't give much playroom in the depth of field (DOF). So focusing on the vase itself wouldn't work. I took two drinking straws and made a T out of them. I hung this T on the vase, which gave me a focus point  in the middle of the vase. I auto-focused on the vertical straw and switched to manual focus. This way, I didn't have to care about focusing while the colors unfolded their beauty.

As mentioned, I wanted a narrow aperture to get as much as possible in focus, since I couldn't foresee the movement of the colors. I needed a relatively high shutter speed to freeze the motion. My plan was to shoot in burst mode, which means 6 frames per second on the D300. In order for this to work I had to use the smallest flash output usable for the camera settings, which would ensure fast charging times and at the same time getting a completely white background. Prior to this photoshoot I thought over-exposing the background would work well, since I've done that several times before. I discovered quickly that I could do that in this shot since the colors are exposed by that very same light. Over-exposing the background would also over-expose the colors, resulting in blown-out colors. Using the histogram on the camera I quickly found some appropriate settings with a low flash output:

Speedlight: 1/64 power at 24mm zoom
Exposure: 1/160 sec, f/10, ISO 200
Lens: Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 macro
Camera: Nikon D300

I held the color containers on the edge of the vase while pressing my other finger on the shutter and poured the liquid in the water. This was much harder than expected. The movement of the colors was pretty random and most importantly, because of the nozzle on the bottle and density it was pretty diffucult to pour the color fluid out of all three containers at exactly the same time, which the following montage clearly shows (these shots were shot before I zoomed in closer on the vase)

I wanted three more or less identical flow of colors and this lead to a lot of work. Every time I had shot a series of photos, I had to empty the vase for contaminated water, wipe it completely dry, fill it with excacly the same amount of water and lock the focus with the drinking straws. I shot about 10 series, so I spent about two hours at the kitchen bench, doing mostly this:

The reason I had to quit was that two of the bottles got empty and the grocery store had closed.

After I had uploaded the photos (1,8 GB of RAW files) I found one - 1 - shot that looked pretty interesting. This is the straight-out-of-camera RAW file, obviously turned upside down:

If you look closely on the white background there is a gradient going from white on the right side to almost 50% grey on the left side. I had no idea why this had happened, since I was exposing the entire visible background. Looking at the vase answered my question: the vase was rectanguar, but the glass itself had a slight planoconvex shape seen from above (I know, I have never heard that word before either, but thanks to wikipedia, I know now). The picture below shows an exaggerated illustration of the vase.

Have you seen this shape before? Do you know what a lens is? Exactly, the vase was a lens. I suspect that was the reason why I got the gradient background. I also got some chromatic aberration which I haven't seen on the Sigma lens before. The planoconvex shape on the vase was also a good reason for not focusing on the vase itself, but on the drinking straw.

Enough ranting, moving on: I didn't do any adjustments in Camera Raw except for WB. I imported it to Photoshop and used the Curve tool to fix the background which I wanted to be completely white. I sat the white point on the darkest area on the background, which made the colors look blown-out. Then I adjusted the red, yellow and blue sliders in Selective Colors to bring back the colors again. Adjusted the contrast and crop a little. Sadly, I had to do some cloning to the left of the blues because of the reflections in the glass. 

When this article was written, I didn't have the JPG file of the final image. Only the PSD file which I couldn't convert due to strict policy rules on the computer at work. Thankfully, two members on the dPS forum were more than happy to help me to convert this PSD file to JPG so that I could upload it to Flickr. I promised to credit them in this blog:

JimnyClickit started helping me at first with a head start, but Fletch quickly took the lead since JC was using a dial-up connection with about one hour download time on the 13 MB PSD file, while Fletch used a whopping 3 minutes:) Anyways, thank you both!

The final image

Color Peaks

Color Peaks

Well, I got to finally take pictures of colors in water, but I'm not sure I'm very pleased with this attempt. I was hoping I could get a "cleaner" looking photo. Instead I got a grungy look that almost looks like painting on a piece of paper. I will definitely try this again, may be experimenting with only one color. But in the end, it was funny to have tried it, and some lessons are learned. Getting a vase that's not a lens, trying different ways to light the subject and other backgrounds.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wet leaf

"Leaves" was the assignment theme this week at dPS. Generally, I don't like shooting flowers, but rules are to be broken. It's autumn, but up here most of the leaves are already rotten by now, so I had to find a subject inside. I wanted go for a minimalistic approach and trying do do something different (as usual...). Obviously, I wanted to use my strobes.

Getting the idea
While watching TV I noticed that the leaf of an orchid on the TV set was sort of bending downwards while looking straight at it. It looked pretty cool, so I decided to shoot it that way.

Trial and error
I took it to the kitchen table and wiped of the dust with a damp cloth. I placed a white sheet of paper to hide the distracting branches while at the same time creating a background. I mounted a snooted SB-600 overhead and took a photo with a 35mm lens at f/2.8:

The exposure and WB was pretty bad in this first shot, but regardless it looked extremely boring, so removed the paper instantly. Another problem was the ugly glare on the leaf.

I took a black T-shirt and wrapped it around the plant for a low-key approach. I also mounted a translucent umbrella overhead to diffuse the light while changing to a 70-200mm lens to compress the field of view to get a more vertical look on the leaf.

The umbrella didn't work any better. The glare got worse. I recalled the thirsty rose setup and placed the snooted flash on camera left to see if the light would enhance the texture and shape of the leaf.

I thought it got much better. But the background was too bright, so I placed a cardboard box between the flash and the leaf to block the light on the background.

This is one of the advantages with working with strobes instead of natural light. You can shoot at high shutter speeds forcing the camera to only record nothing but flash light. At the same time this light is so concentrated that the edge of the cardboard box is enough to achieved a completely black background without any processing.

I got my strobe light as I wanted. To make it a little more interesting I sprayed some water on the leaf and took a couple of shots to determine the exposure. I wanted a pretty narrow DoF.

Exposure settings
Strobe: 1/8 power, 24 mm zoom
Exposure: 1/125th sec @ f/5.6, ISO 200
Lens: Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 macro @ 160mm
Camera: Nikon D300

I took six shoots with different crops and ended up with this photo (processed RAW file):

Post-processing in Photoshop
I know that it's advisable trying to get the final crop in-camera, but sometimes you just got to change your plans when looking at the photo on the monitor. I thought too much of the leaf was visble so I cropped about 30% of the lower part. I enhanced the green color with Selective Color and increased the contrast on the green channel in Curves. Used levels to brighten it up a little.

The result

Wet leaf

I regrett using a quite narrow aperture. I think it would look better with the entire leaf in focus. I did a test shot with one f-stop higher , but it looks like I had focused on the background, causing the subject to be blurry. I should also have experienced with cross-lighting (lighting from both sides) but that sounds like something to test in another post.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The bubble resurrection

I've been literally living in a bubble the last week. All I can think about it getting a bubble shot that I'm at least satisfied with. This is the third blog entry about me shooting a bubble, almost like the You suck at Photoshop series. I think the videos are hilarious, and I love how the main character is slowly loosing his mind. Just like me with the bubbles.

In my previous post I promised I would never shoot another bubble shot again. But that was yesterday. Today I felt I was in a better mood and I didn't have to worry about smoking or thinking about the bubble assignment at dPS, which had closed by the time of shooting. I had carte blanche and no time pressure. I wanted to do a silhouette shot of the soap bubbles. I hadn't succeeded with this in an earlier photo shoot, but I suspected it had to do with the background being a little to dark and poor lighting.

This time I wasn't going to shoot it at home, which lead to a fantastic  discovery. In a locker room I found a 100cm x 70cm cardboard with an intense green color. Ordinary people apparently regard this as "trash", since it was ready for the waste bin. Photographers however, see a background! I brought it the "studio" and hung it on the wall with tape. I also put a Speedlight SB-600 on a tripod and put it in front of the cardboard.

In the photo above you can see how I have twisted the flash head so that it points on the background but still the optical trigger sensor is pointing at the camera.

I sat the camera in portrait orientation on a tripod and locked the focus by focusing on a floorlamp that I had placed about 50 cm in front of the camera lens. Then I sat the lamp so that that it wasn't in the field of view. By doing this I could see where the point of focus was, by dragging an imaginary line from the lamp parallel with the camera's focus plane. On the photo below you can see the floorlamp on the left side, the camera tripod and the backlight strobe.

The setup was finished. I did a couple of test shots to adjust the exposure. I wanted a pretty fast shutter to freeze the bubbles and a medium aperture to have a little bit of playroom in the DOF. These are the settings I ended up with:

Backlight strobe: 1/64 power, 24mm zoom
Camera exposure: 1/125 @ f/5.6 ISO 200
Lens: Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF
Camera: Nikon D300

Instead of using that time consuming interval timer shot mode on the D300, I thought a five second self-timer would be sufficient since I wasn't going to be in the photo, but instead stand next to the camera while blowing the bubbles.

I brought up my new bottle of soap bubbles and stood right next to the camera on the right side. I pressed the shutter button and prepared myself for the blowing. I wanted most of the bubbles to be in the imaginary zone created by the floor lamp when the camera took the picture. That was easier than I thought. When two seconds remained I started blowing a calm and steady flow of small bubbles. For most of the shots, there were hardly any bubbles in the frame. I shot about ten shots in total and the photo below is the one I'm most happy with. This is the straight-out-of-the-camera version (RAW) turned back to landscape orientation:

I realized I had to crop it a little to remove the black area in the lower right corner. In Photoshop I didn't do much. I only duplicated the layer and added a gaussian blur by 6 px and changed the layer's opacity to 12%. That gave me a little more greens without destroying the gradients. Using the saturation slider caused just that.

The result is called:

Amobeas going into the light

Amoebas going into the light

Finally I'm happy with a bubble shot! I think the main problem in the previous bubble shots was that I was too caught up in shooting it as a selfportrait. A selfportrait is hard enough to do exactly the way you want, and doing activities in addition makes it very challenging.

But tonight I can go to bed and just let my dreams take away my bubble thoughts. Tomorrow will be a new day, and I can start thinking about other photo projects that do not include soapy water filled with air....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bubbles - my Nemesis

Sometimes you just got to realize the facts. You'll not always reach your goal, even how many times or how good you try. My attempt on shooting a simple bubble is an example on just that.

My previous bubble shot was a so-so shot, I think. I'm pleased with the lighting, but the shot itself was a little boring, even though I felt that I caught the bubble in the right moment. So, while I was waiting for my wife to get back home this evening, I wanted to kick it up a notch by blowing smoke into a same-looking bubble. "That's gonna be a killer shot!", I thought.

The reason I had to shoot it while my wife was out, was because she can't stand cigarette smoke. Therefore I had some time pressure, since I had to be finished within one hour. Also, I hadn't smoked in eight years, so I was a little anxious on how I would react. I was determined to only fill my mouth with smoke; without any exeption would I inhale.

I set up the lighting almost the same way I as did in the last bubble shot. Three second intervals, reflective umbrella on camera left, same lens and settings. The only difference was the backlighting. I reduced the power by two stops to get a low-key effect to emphasize the fantastic smoke bubble I was about to create....

I lit up a cigarette out on the porch, ran inside with smoke in my mouth, started the camera, assumed the position, counting the seconds for perfect timing and started blowing. These are the problems I ran into:

  1. I had to keep my breath for about 30-40 seconds after I "inhaled". It doesn't sound like much, but doing the things above at the same time in addition to the time pressure was a big challenge for me.
  2. It felt like the smoke was sort of pushing down my throat, which almost made me vomit every time. Remember, it was eight years since last time, and I was not used to this at all anymore.
  3. It looked like the hot smoke made the bubble break up much faster than without making it almost impossible to fill a bubble in the same size as the last bubble shot.
  4. Performing a nice and calm expiration of the smoke was very hard, since I was both out of breath, almost vomiting and trying to blow at just the right time.
  5. While blowing, a lot of smoke did not enter the bubble, but insted wrapping around both my face and bubble which literally contaminated the photos.
  6. The interval timer menu always turned off by the time I came running from the porch. I had to 15 keyclicks on the camera to start the timer with the smoke in my mouth.
  7. I only got one shot for each smoke expiration (That caused me to do a lot of running and lighting up a total of six cigarettes)
All these challenges came in addition to the pose and positioning, which alone was hard enough in the last bubble shot. So I just dropped the idea of getting the correct crop in camera and continued.

Here's a screen dump from Bridge, showing all the photos that were taken until my wife got back home:

Of all these 90 shots, I got ONE shot where the bubble actually shows filled with smoke. The straight-out-of-the-camara RAW file:

Problem is that it looks like I'm blowing into a condom... How charming is that? And look at that awful background. I wanted a red backdrop and that lousy brown-red blanket was the best I could find. My hand is so distracting behind that condom bubble that it takes the attention away from the bubble.

This meant only one thing: "TO THE PHOTOSHOP MOBILE!"

I played with a lot of effects in Photoshop: a lot of different crops, duotone, Orton, gaussian blur with overlay blending, BW conversion and grungy hard-contrast look. I ended up with a mix between the BW conversion and the hard-contrast look which is pretty much the same as the Contre-Jour Amour shot. It's even the same composition. Very imaginative, no?:)

The final version:

Bubbles are my Nemesis

The image is too dark, I think, but leaving it any brighter made it look dull. And the bubble looks even more like a condom. I guess the image has a certain feel to it, but that messed-up bubble ruins it for me.

This shot was a disaster, and I'm just fed up shooting bubbles for now. During previous photo shoots I've discovered that if you just shoot and never quit you'll get that perfect shot in the end. Unfortunately, that end never came. I really should have had an assistant that could operate the camera, eliminating a major challenge. Anyway, it's going to be a long time until I'm shooting bubbles again.

They are my Nemesis.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Creation of a bubble

The only time I really experiment with different strobe setups and themes is during an assignment shoot. This weeks assignment at dPS was "Bubbles". As we speak, I've posted my previous Marble Drops shot for this assignment since the drops look very much like bubbles, but I felt that it's the definition of laziness, so I tried to make a new shot.

Ok, so the theme was "bubbles". The first thing I did was to buy a soap bubble dispenser at the local toy store. I ended up with a Hello Kitty model:

The store clerk asked if he should wrap it in gift paper, but I said: "No, it's for me". First time he's seen a 30 year old man buying soap bubbles for himself?:)

I wanted a fresh background for the bubbles, so I hung a blue fabric bought from Ikea over my microphone stand. (This mic stand is probably one of my most helpful props during these strope shots. I've used it almost everytime, holding umbrellas, flashes, fabric and of course a microphone...)

I wanted a strobe to light up the backround so I set up a bare flash pointing at the fabric from a about 45 degrees from the right side (camera right). And while I did that, I discovered something that I've never thought about before:

I use CLS for triggering the external flashes. That means that the flashes are controlled with optical signals from the commanded flash on the camera. About a millisecond before the shutter is opening, the commander flash sends out a trigger signal that is received by every flash in the setup. They have a little "window" on one side where the signal is recieved. In this picture it's located on the lower left side of the flash:

One problem I have come over during previous photo shoots is that the flash's window is pointing away from the camera, so that it does not detect the commander's signal, causing it to not fire at all. In situations like this I've instead used the radio controlled Cactus triggers, loosing the ability to control each flash's output from the camera.

I have also known that the flash head can be rotated 180 degrees in the horizonal plane. I feel so stupid... I have NEVER realized that this could be used to make the little "window" turn against the camera! In the photo above, the flash is rotated. I think it will be much easier to set up the strobes just the way I want from now on:) 

Moving on... With the flash pointing on the background a put up a reflective umbrella on camera left, pointing parallel with the focal plane.

I originally planned to use my wife as model on this photo shoot, but she didn't feel too well, so I had to use myself insted. This made the shot very tricky. I don't have remote control and using a self-timer would be hopeless. Trying to catch the perfect bubble shot with a self-timer in a self-portrait would take ages! So I had to figure out another way of doing it.

I must admit that the Nikon D300 has a lot of functions that I haven't studied yet, but while searching trough the menus I found a function called "Interval timer shooting". That sounded too good to be true! At first it looked a little complicated, but it's pretty logical. I wanted to shoot several shots with a 3 second interval (to avoid flash misfire). Here's how that's done on the D300:

From the Shooting Menu (the camera symbol), choose INTERVAL TIMER SHOOTING:

To start shooting right away, choose NOW and press the the RIGHT arrow:

Enter the time between each shot, in this case 3 seconds and press the arrow:

This screen made me a little confused, but here you enter how many intervals the camera should run AND how many shots to be taken for each interval. I wanted a total of 9 intervals (and only one shot for each interval. Then press the arrow:

If you want to just save these settings, press NO. When you press YES the camera starts shooting automatically. You don't have to use the shutter button at all:

Now I could finally take several pictures of myself without a remote. Now I just had to figure how to fit myself in the frame. One thing I should mention is that nowdays I'm trying to get the crop I want in-camera instead of doing that in PP. The reason is that I want to use the full resolution that my CMOS sensor can provide. I planning to shoot stock photos later and it seems that bigger is better.

I took out another light stand and placed the top of it at the height and distance from the camera that I wanted my mouth to be at during the shoot. I autofocused on this and turned the knob to MANUAL FOCUS. This way the camera won't focus for every interval, making it easier to time the bubble blowing.

Now that I've found the Y-axis an Z-axis for the position of my mouth, I put another stand next to the camera, indicating the X-axis for my mouth. I could now walk in front of the camera and just make sure that my mouth is positioned in the intersection between those two stands. There's nothing wrong about utilizing triangulation in a photo shoot:) In the photo below you see the first stand is placed in front of umbrella stand and the other stand is to the right of the camera:

Finally I could start making bubbles! I thought.... I hadn't adjusted the exposure at all. I was so caught up in the setup that I completely forgot that...

I wanted a wide aperture to blur the backround so that only me and the bubble would be in focus. I didn't want any motion blur in the bubbles so I chose the maxiumum sync speed. These are the final settings:

Background flash: 1/64th power @24mm zoom
Umbrella flash: 1/16th power @24mm zoom
Exposure: 1/250 @ f4 ISO 400
Lens: Nikkor 50mm f1.8D AF

Now I could start shooting, and shooting I did! I got so many poor shots in the beginning. I realized that I haven't blown soap bubbles in years and figuring the right amount of "pressure" took about 30 pictures.

Here's the photo I ended up with, showing the bubble the moment before it lets go. This is the RAW file with exposure adjusted in Camera Raw:

Observant readers have probably noticed that I didn't iron the background fabric prior to shooting. It's not a slip, just laziness. I was hoping that I could blur out the background with a wide aperture to smooth the wrinkles. But as wise people say: "A wide aperture is no substitute for ironing". This caused some unnecessary work in Photoshop. I had to isolate the background and Gaussian blur it like there was no tomorrow. Still there are some wrinkles left, appearing like darker areas on the fabric. But anyway, lesson learned! Other PP I did:

  • Smoothing the skin by selecting highlights and blur them a little
  • Removed some dark spots on my skin
  • Increasing the blues a little
  • Added vignette
  • Sharpening
So this is what the result looks like:

Creation of  a bubble

Creation of a bubble

I don't think it's worth using in the bubbles assignment, but if I'm not getting a better shot withing Tuesday, I'll probably use this or the marbles shot.

What I could have done differently:

  • Used another model to get it just perfect. I could have experienced more with different angles and persectives and the model would maybe have a smoother skin:)
  • I should have shaved... Those stubbles doesn't look too good!
  • As mentioned I should have ironed the background to avoid too much PP work.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Marble Drops

This week's assignment on dPS was "Texture". I have been shooting a lot of photos with texture lately. These mostly involves wooden surfaces. But this time I wanted to do something different.

A friend of my told me about a shot he had seen some years ago, with water drops on a glass plate. Under this plate some pencils were spread out in a star shape. I thought that sounded really cool and wanted to do something similar.

I didn't have a glass plate but after some searching in our kitchen drawers I found a large bowl with a flat base. I thought that the pencils had to be outside the depth of field so I put this bowl on top of some DVD covers so that I got some space between the bowl and pencils.

I didn't have all the pencil colors so the color wheel wasn't complete, but to drive to the store to buy more pencils would be insane...

I thought I was on a roll. The setup was almost too easy. Of course I bumped into a big problem: the water drops. I didn't have any equipment to make water drops. A pipette would be perfect, but we didn't have any. I searched every corner of the house to find something, but no. The closest thing I found was a soap dispenser in the trash. I had to wash it for 30 minutes just to get all the soap out of it. Still that wasn't enough. But I was impatient so I thought I just had to deal with it.

I filled it with water and tried to make small water drops. It was an awful tool to work with. It wasn't completely watertight so it poured water everywhere. That's not a good thing when you want to control the flow of water.

Caution: Nudity in the photo below:

I didn't count the time, but two episodes of King of Queens ran in the background before I finally got a pleasing arrangement of water drops. Easy math:) A tip: It was easier to use cold water than hot water. The water seemed less liquid in a cold state so that they didn't mix very easy.

OK, now with everything set up it was time for the fun part: The lighting. I didn't have any plan for that, but I wanted to try soft lighting first. I mounted an umbrella close to the pencils and did a manual test shot.

Suprisingly it looked good and I hadn't done any adjustments to the camera nor the flash... I was afraid that the top of the umbrella would ruin the whole scene but no glare was visible:) Still I wanted to tweak the settings and ended up with the following:

Flash: 1/16 power @ 24mm zoom
Camera: 1/250 @ f/4 ISO 200
Lens: Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF

Finding the right aperture was tricky. I wanted as much of the drops in focus but still I wanted the pencils to be as blurry as possible. f/4 was a good compromise.

I did a couple of shots with different angles and heights and ended up with this shot ("straight out of the camera" RAW file)

After adding some blacks in Adobe Camera Raw I imported it to Photoshop and did the following:

  • Increased the brightness a bit in Levels
  • Increased the contrast in Curves
  • Added a vignette with the Lens distortion tool

The result:

Marble Drops

Marble Drops

What I could have done differently:
  • Bought a pipette. I would have had much more control of the water drops and the shape so that they would have been more or less circular and uniform. I think the "pencil star" would be more visible in each drop that way.
  • Increased the height between the pencils and the glass bowl so that the pencil would become more blurry.