Using fast shutter speeds, try to isolate a frozen moment of time in a moving subject. Depending on the available light you may have to select a high ISO to avoid visible blur in the photograph. Try to find the beauty in a fragment of time that fascinated John Szarkowski. Add a selection of shots, together with relevant shooting data and a description of your process (how you captured the images), to your learning log.
The exercise asks for a frozen moment in time in a moving subject. I decided that for me the beauty of bees is something that I find truly fascinating and natural. How can bees reveal that moment in time? What is it about their lifecycle and behaviour that captures the essence of this exercise?
I have been beekeeping for over a decade and at one time managed 24 hives over a season that is almost halfway to a commerical beefarmer. It is fair to say that I have had my ups and downs in this branch of animal husbandry; when you are dealing with nature everything is unpredictable.
I can relate to the fragililty of bees; one thing I learnt very quickly is we are a keeper of bees rather than a ‘beekeeper’.
Now sadly life is somewhat different and not how I planned it. My condition just stops me dead in my tracks, I am so vulnerable although I look fine I am far from it. This reflects the form of the bee itself with its minute wings, small body parts but being able to carry large loads of pollen for miles. I view myself as being outwardly strong, independant and determined to carry on life as normal, but inwardly my body is not as strong, constantly coping with change. A beehive can appear to be very strong and yet house a weak diseased colony.
The lifecycle of bees reflect a dying off by their very nature; the lifespan is so short that the bees I am looking at this very moment will be gone in a matter of weeks to be replaced by their sisters. The Queen will keep laying and suppress the workers, who are all female, from laying infertile eggs, whilst the males (Drones) will be ejected from the hive in September. They serve one purpose: to mate with new queens early in Spring.
Workers have such a short life span lasting only a mere six weeks in Summer and so what I see today at that moment will not necessarily be there in a few weeks, days or hours in time. So that is why I chose bees as the subject of freezing time.
In considering my access to subject matter, the proximity of my beehives offer me control. I can collect my equipment I do not have the headache of having to organise help, transportation and taking all of my equipment. I am not forced to adapt to circumstances surrounding my disabilities to such an extent as exercises that take me into the world. Again this relates to the bees that they have their world in a wooden box that I can observe.
I can now sit at eyelevel and perform my inspections with the help of a new beekeeper who I am passing my skills on to; beekeeping is not without risk and the most obvious is being stung. So how am I limited when photographing bees in flight?
This beehive is located in a shady part of the garden. This exercise uses shutter mode priority during daylight hours on a particularly sunny afternoon. This avoided using high ISO settings, which reduces noise and blur in a photograph. However, due to the shade, lack of direct sunlight and speed of the shutter this inceased the ISO, which was set to automatic taking this to an ISO of 1,000. This produces quite a grainy image.
An average hive can hold 80,000 bees. Imagine you are standing at the end of the runway to Heathrow if you stand there long enough something will hit you! This is equivalent to the same as the entrance to a busy hive about two foot long with several hundred bees waiting and departing. Therefore the best and safest way to photograph them is side on and slightly away due to dark shapes registering within their perception as a bear.
With regard to protection from being stung the issue is to suit or not to suit and how does this relate to this exercise?
It is possible to observe bees with experience without being stung. If I am bothered by a bee I move away slowly, no hands waving and flapping and return once the bee has lost interest in me and I will do this whether I am wearing a beesuit or not. I decided not to wear a beesuit because it is almost impossible to balance and hold the camera, view the screen or the viewfinder easily, and compose the shot.
That raised the next question what lens? Do I opt for a Macro or zoom lens? I considered both options but I was not going to get the results I wanted using a zoom lens as I would be losing detail and it would affect the acuity of the focus.
Bees are fairly predictable in this situation and once you have observed them for long enough you can judge where they will take off and land from, and which side of the entrance they will use. Therefore, it is then the case of focusing manually and watching patiently with a little luck, using a fast shutter speed, tripod and quick shutter release.
The results were as I expected and after thirty-three exposures the final three images captured that ‘frozen moment’ with a soft focus backgroud.
I feel that it would have served little point in taking a photograph straight on as one bee in flight would have been lost against a background of all the other bees at the entrance. The perspective would not have necessarily shown the wings, as opposed to a side view. However, the bees I captured in that split second would have been either returning or going on forage flights, how long would they live or die for before being replaced? I have recorded a moment in time that has no past or future.
The frozen moment
However, I was not entirely satisfied because the bees flight was so unpredictable that it affected the foreground and background focus leading to a slight soft focus of the subject. I continued to reflect on the set of images; I began to research Harold Edgerton’s technique and photograph ‘milk coronet’; this made me rethink my idea of freezing time.
I made the connection to the ‘milk coronet’ and my own ‘milk coronet’ in the form of water droplets in my hand basin. Whilst not an original idea (freezing a dripping tap) what makes this composition different is my perspective as I sit at eye level to the tap. My wall hung basin has been designed to allow me to sit in my wheelchair and shave, wash etc.
If I was standing above the hand basin and looked down onto it, I would not have necessarily taken much notice of how the splashes form over the chrome domed plug and the effect it created. In the website we read that ‘Edgerton synchronized his electronic stroboscope with a special high-speed motion-picture-camera so that with each flash, exactly one frame of film was exposed. The number of flashes per second determined the number of pictures taken.’ (‘High Speed Camera’, Harold “Doc” Edgerton’, no date) This reading gave me insight how to approach this problem.
Therefore, I thought about using a tripod and added flash with a soft box to difuse the light and placed it to the side of the sink. I reduced the daylight, closed the blind and shut the door. I then manually focused before reducing the ambient light, and placed my camera about two feet from the chrome domeshaped push plug. The most difficult part was to set the right amount of water dripping from the tap. Therefore, I experimented with shutter settings and by slowing the shutter speed with the flash and co-ordinating them I was able to freeze the waterdroplet.
Initially I was not overly impressed with the white porcelain background as I could not see the waterdroplets due to the reflection from the flash. When I was sitting infront of the basin myself, I did not have the amount of bright light reflecting and could clearly see each drop of water. I tried to remedy this by using a black piece of mount board but this made little difference other than getting a very soggy wet piece of card.
I re-evaluated and changed the shutter speed to syncronise with the flash, as the fast shutter speeds were leaving a black band at the top or bottom of the image. The two shutter blinds travelling from top to bottom opened to reveal the sensor; however, due to the flash firing out of synchronisation with the shutter, I was left with a black bar at the top or the bottom. This could have been corrected using HyperSync flash settings.
However, by slowing down my shutter speed and setting my flash at 1/250th second I was able to produce a splash of water and the droplets coming from the plug.
I think at times I am critical and seek perfection in every task and this gets in the way of my creativity. I get frustrated with myself and my inability to get to a position because of my mobility problems. I now view the world with different eyes and adapt to my ever changing condition, which is something I do not necessarily do consiously but nevertheless it is forcing me to slow down, stop and observe.
I like to experiement and try new things even if it goes wrong; some of these photographs did, but overall I think I have captured a ‘frozen moment’.
‘Drops & Splashes « Harold “Doc” Edgerton’ (no date). Available at: http://edgerton-digital-collections.org/stories/features/drop-of-water (Accessed: 2 September 2016).
‘High Speed Camera « Harold “Doc” Edgerton’ (no date). Available at: http://edgerton-digital-collections.org/techniques/high-speed-photography
(Accessed: 1 September 2016).