Part 3 Exercise 3.1

Very much with Szarkowski’s comment quoted in the course materials in mind I decided to try to capture a fragment of a movement that is not normally visible.  Inspired in part by the Egerton Milk Drop Coronet (and limited by the resources available to me!) I decided to have a go at isolating and dissecting a slow running stream of water, from the kitchen tap.

Getting the flow rate right was itself something of a challenge.  Too fast and the stream of water remained too coherent.  Too slow and I was more likely to be photographing fresh air as individual drops evaded the shutter.  What seemed to work best was a rate of flow at which it was easily visible that the stream was beginning to break up into drops and “lumps” of water and the stream was beginning to lose any sense of smoothness but was nevertheless continuous.

In order to create sufficient contrast so that the water would be visible I used a black background with a slight sheen so that some light would be bounced back to help give some sense of ’roundness’ and depth to the individual drops.

As the shoot took place indoors there was insufficient ambient light to capture anything so I used a fixed, constant LED light from one side (at least in order to enable the stream to be seen so that I had something to focus on) and a camera mounted flash gun.  The flash was directed not straight at the stream but to one side to give variety to the lighting of the background and to avoid light being kicked straight back at the camera by the water.

The camera was, as ever, my Canon EOS 70D and the lens an EF 100mm 1:2.8 Macro in order to get in close, focused to roughly 300mm.

ISO was set at 100.  The camera was in shutter priority mode and set at 1/250s, which is the fastest speed possible on this camera with a flash gun.  (I did try setting faster speeds but the camera defaulted to this maximum.  Faster speeds without the flash resulted in no discernible image.)  Aperture throughout, because of the choice of lens, was very shallow at f/2.8.

One set of images were taken with the camera handheld, the other with a tripod.  In both cases the hardest thing was to focus properly on a moving target, moving not just vertically but also both towards and away from the camera.  AF did not work so all focusing was done manually (one reason for trying the tripod was to avoid the need for regular refocusing).  To help I tried both using a solid object – a pencil – placed next to the flow to give a solid focusing point, and also a tape measure and the lens’s distance display.  Even so it did not always work.  What is more, because of the shallow depth of field most of the images caught only parts of the flow in reasonable focus.  Nevertheless I think the results are adequate and if anything more interesting because not everything is in sharp focus.  I expect though that with more experimentation, trial and error, it should be possible to achieve more consistently sharply focused images.

Funnily enough, although I took fewer shots hand-held, a greater proportion of them have good focus than do those shot on the tripod.

Contact sheet of handheld

Contact sheet of tripod mounted

Coming back to Szarkowski, what surprised me is how various the shapes of the water drops are, something that you would never otherwise see.  It is also striking how, caught in the brief moment, they bear no obvious relation to the apparently coherent and continuous flow visible to the naked eye.  Not least I was struck by how beautiful some of these shapes are and that despite the apparent monochrome nature of the view – transparent water against a black background – there is so much more variety and subtlety of tone and colour to be found.

The following are the images that please me most, in terms of focus, composition, colour and sheer beauty.  The first four are from the hand-held set, the latter four from the tripod set:

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