I stumbled over this shot I took ages ago while on holiday at Mt Maunganui . It’s a little sad that the shadow was much more interesting than the floral arrangement itself.
My explorations into photographing bubbles moving through water continue. This time introducing a mirror and other objects into the composition to disrupt the bubble trails and dramatically increase the graphic composition.
These are very high resolution images with beautiful detail when seen large. This week I will be exploring printing these very large onto aluminium sheets.
A new set of raw shots from #projectweed studio.
Once again I am working with Pterocladiella – the only seaweed found in both the Kermadecs and Wellington.
I have taken these shots with the forthcoming Kermadec: Discoveries and Connections Exhibition in Wellington in mind. They are a slight departure from the rest of the “Weed” project because they are not shot underwater. Instead the algae is suspended in a small vial of seawater – A reference to scientific investigation of the region and the protection afforded the Kermedecs by the recently announced Kermadec Marine Sanctuary.
I love the the direct connection between the Kermadecs and Wellington it creates, as well as the reframing of seaweed into a fresh context.
The Kermadec: Discoveries and Connections Exhibition and science symposium will be at the Academy of Fine Arts Gallery in Wellington in April.
For some reason I have a fascination with bones and ruins. I guess it ties into my interest in our place within the continuum of life and the traces left by those that have been before us.
Whatever it is, people know I have this interest and keep giving me skeletons etc they find. In this case a colleague at Massey came across this mummified bird in a wall cavity and I leapt at the opportunity to add it to the small collection of bird skeletons I have acquired.
It seems these birds find the potential for a easy nesting location just too seductive and end up getting trapped inside the walls – not a nice thought I know.
The name “Sirenuse” comes from the island off the coast of Italy which, according to Greek mythology, was the home of the Sirens. These dangerous yet beautiful creatures, lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast.
There have been three main setups for the ‘Weed’ project to date. Each with very different pros and cons so I would not say anyone was the most successful.
The big tank:
A 900 litre monster tank weighing close to one tonne when full. It’s size and location (at Massey University) makes it impractical to regularly use salt water which mean only the most robust seaweed can go in it. Fantastic for large algae like Kelp – see earlier post. The seaweed I shoot in this tank is usually taken off the beach so I am not killing any coming fresh from the sea.
In the setup shown in this photo it was “crazy upside-down day” in the studio as I tried hanging the seaweed, and therefore the entire set, upside down in an effort to get the weed to hang as I wanted. Mixed success – I am not happy with this shot at all but lots of learnings. The tank is setup so I can light directly from below. I also installed a modified garden irrigation hose in the base of the tank to create movement in the tank.
The small tank:
Relocated to my garden shed for summer this was the tank I originally used for proof-of-concept but now is perfect for macro shots of smaller seaweed.
It’s size and being at the ‘home studio’ by the sea allows it to be filled with fresh seawater which is much better for the algae and allows me to include small animals in the shot. After shooting the seaweed is returned back to the sea asap.
As you can see in this shot the sets may be small (those white bottles are only about 70mm high) but the can also be quite complex with textured/painted backgrounds diffusers, masks, and multiple flash units usually fitted with home-made snoots, barn-doors and other gobos. The average shoot in the project uses 3 or 4 flashes.
This is a typical example of the complexity of the lighting rigs. A snooted flash above, a very low-power diffused keylight to the side and a barn-doored rear flash behind shooting directly behind the bottle through a large diffuser. You can see that the set can be made of pretty humble materials – in this case the bottle is sitting on a cheap baking dish from The Warehouse.
The copy-camera rig:
The latest experiments have used a modified copy-camera stand to allow me to shoot straight down through layers of clear acrylic trays. I made a base (looks a bit like a Mondrian chair) to hold layer of trays and allow me to light things from all angles.
This rig allows the use of seawater and lets me arrange the algae relatively precisely but reflections are the enemy in this setup so I use black fabric all over the place.
I haven’t been focussing on composition at this stage – just learning how various weeds behave and what different moods I can create with the lighting.
On the whole this have been pretty successful … well even failure is just discovering was not to do it I guess.
I can definitely overcome the 15mm glass to make the subject look like it isn’t underwater if I want. Some weeds float and some don’t. I suspect I am getting more sinking because I am using fresh water. The large tank is at the university so it is impractical to fill it with 900 litres of seawater regularly. Some of the weeds cloud the water quite quickly so I need to change it regularly. I suspect some of the weed is behaving differently because of the difference of buoyancy between fresh and salt water.
It is amazing, but not surprising, how differently the weed behaves underwater. The humble Sea Lettuce (Ulva pertusa) goes from being like a clump of snot out of the water to being a delicate and translucent element in the photos (it’s the bright green one in these photos).
Low environmental impact approach
I am trying to maintain a low environmental impact approach on this project. Gathering most seaweed off the beach directly after large swells and only taking what I need. Where possible all materials are returned to the source. Most will be collected in Breaker Bay Wellington and obviously nothing from the nearby Taputeranga Marine Reserve.
I hope to shoot some incidental marine subjects (e.g. anemones) and these will be shot in a small marine tank in my home studio (within 50m of the point of collection. These will be collected with great care and returned asap.
I am using a set of Nikon Speedlights (flashes) to light everything. They give me complete control and help to keep reflections to a minimum. They have the added bonus of reducing the amount of mains electricity on what is a times a wet set. From previous projects (Lilly was a nice girl) I have developed a set of light modifiers and techniques that work very well on this project too. I have made a set of gobos and barn doors for the speedlights using card and straws. I get the best results if I avoid any lights hitting the front glass of the tank – if all the light hitting the lens is coming to it through the front glass there will be no reflections (he said crossing his fingers)
Remember I am not working on composition yet. Nice to see the ability to get dark a moody or white and contemporary. I have tested using my home-made lens with a glass from a camera that is 100 years old which give a wonderful softness to the shot.
Having successfully borrowed a small fish tank (many thanks to Oliver Townend at Massey CoCA) I have been able to create a make-shift studio to do some quick ‘proof of concept’ tests.
The goal: To learn the behaviour of seaweed in a tank and determine if I can make the tank/water ‘disappear’ and for the arrangement look like it is not underwater.
The outcome: Not bad. See the results below.
- By using flashes located to the side/top/behind the tank I am able to have great lighting control with minimal reflections and no heat.
- Left for a few minutes the seawater (collected from across the road from the house) clears nicely – but left too long condensation forms on the glass.
- Lots of crap floats off the weed etc – rinsing and cleanliness will be important if I am to avoid hours in Photoshop.
- Bubbles do form on the inside of the glass and objects over time but are pretty easy to wipe off.
- The seaweed seems pretty much neutrally buoyant as expected
- The small tank (600 x 300 x 300) is very limiting. Only suitable for small seaweed. Certainly no good for anything like kelp.
- I think this is going to work but “we’re going to need a bigger tank”.
- I have shot colour but envisage that the final prints will be black and white.
See more on Project Weed