Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Making of Moondance

Yet another entry in the Making Of series.

Moondance was my submission for the fourth (and last) semifinal of the Last Photographer Standing competition. I have admired high speed water photography for some time and had wanted to shoot some of my own. For the competition my initial idea was simple--high speed water mixed with creative light. Beyond that, I assembled a small army of DIY tools for the genre and started playing.
First of all, to create a splash. For that, I reached back in history to a medieval siege engine and modified it slightly for photography. I present to you the Martini Trebuchet. No photographer's kit is truely complete without it. The table top is 3 feet long, made of 1/4" black acrylic and reinforced with two ribs of square acrylic tubing. The base is cobbled together from scrap 3/4" ply, the hinge is a cheap but effective 8 inch long 1/4-20 bolt and the 10 pound counterweight provides sufficient range for a seige of loud party next door should the need arise.
Attaching the martini glass was a particular challenge. The bond had to be temporary, nearly invisible and strong enough to keep the glass firmly on the table under significant duress. The solution is four small holes drilled in the table top and two crossed loops of 65 pound test fishing line. Underneath, the loops are hooked over squeeze clamps attached to the support beams making them easy to tighten down and lock in place. This system performed exceptionally well; holding the glass solidly in place for several hundred shots while, when needed, letting me remove the glass in seconds.

There were three strobes: one on the left with a blue gel for the sky, one on the right with a grid and a yellow gel for the lemon, and the third shot through a hacked slide projector for the moon. Each take I would hold the table level and fill the glass. With the room lights off I opened the shutter for a 1.6s exposure and released table. As the table rose, the clamp on the left edge would break the beam on a HiViz Photogate/Delay kit and trigger the strobes (through Pocket Wizards) after a delay of about 3/4 second. Full power pops on the strobes were not fast enough to stop the motion; after some testing I concluded that 1/4 power was the highest power I could use with an acceptably sharp result.
I used fishing line to hang the lemon from a boom stand. To the right I placed a backstop and a catch tray for the water. Even with 30 pounds of weight holding it down, the trebuchet would move enough during the launch that I ended up using masking tape to mark the proper location and realigning it each shot.
Once I got the setup right, the shot only needed minor cloning and other cleanup in Photoshop to produce the final version.