Jun 24, 2010

Things I did wrong on my last shoot, Vol. 3

Mission: take some punchy shots of a fuse. (Not the "honey, why is it so dark in here" kind, but the "won't that coyote ever learn" kind.)

In the course of shooting "photo booth" type images at parties, I like to go all out. I mean, why offer just formal shots, when you can throw in props and wigs?

(Okay, sometimes this goes a little overboard. )

But why use a plastic scimitar, when you can use that samurai sword that's been collecting dust in the garage since you were nineteen.

And, for that matter, why have someone holding just a samurai sword, when they could be holding... a lit bomb? I get like Bruce Willis when he's gearing up to exact his revenge on Zed.

For my next shoot, I got it into my head that I'd like someone holding a classic "bowling ball" bomb—without all the fuss something like that could cause on location. Lit bomb fuses? These days,  you can't even smoke in the parking lot at Phillip Morris.

It's not that I don't like to bend the rules sometimes, but when you're already juggling camera settings, strobes and tipsy party guests, you hardly need to throw a smoky, sparking TNT fuse into the mix.

The solution, of course, is to do it in post, and what could be easier than a slapping on a generic layer of sparks in screen mode? So, I take a trip to iStockphoto, and quickly realize that nobody has the image I'm picturing. Everything says "sparkler ". I want something that says "Acme".

DIY time. I mean, I'd much rather pay five bucks for a JPEG, but any chance to play with incendiaries and a camera? Done deal.

So, I buy a bunch of cheap fireworks from the local sleazebag (note: you can buy a "Flamebomber Nightstorm" no problem, but you can't buy fuse on its own. Umm... okay.) then hang a black velvet backdrop from some light stands in my kitchen.

Rule #1: Don't forget to remove the fuse from the ordinance.

The plan:
  • Bracket like mad, with various apertures, to see what combo works best.
  • Use battery grip and high-speed CF card to maximize shots per burn.
  • Use a tripod, macro lens, and wireless shutter-release.
  • Go manual focus.
  • Put something wide and fire-resistant on the floor.
  • Open the windows, and pray that Lysol will kill the smell.
  • Don't do this right before the G20. Whoops .

[crappy photo of set-up, taken with D700 something else]

What went right:

  1. Bracketing exposures produced some dragged shutter that emphasized smoke cloud. Neat.
  2. The always-pleasing "fuh-tsh-tsh-tsh-tsh-tsh-tsh" sound of Continuous High mode.
  3. Fire. Love it.
  4. Got exactly what I envisioned and then some.
What went wrong? Well, there's those small burn marks on the soon-to-be-reno'd kitchen floor. No sweat this time, but the only thing getting shot in our kitchen after August will be me, if I try this stunt again.

One thing I would do differently... that I should probably consider will absolutely do on every future shoot, time permitting?

Take a ten minute break to consider a totally new line of attack (i.e. before all the fuses are burnt). Had I done that on this shoot, I might have tried something different, namely... burn the fuse upside down.

Dang. Never got a chance to try it, but the possibilities are intriguing. The sparks would shoot in a more vertical, blowtorch manner and, as a bonus, the fuse would burn faster, as would the linoleum!

Maybe next time.

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