Wednesday, May 19, 2010



You're looking at photograph number 155 out of more than 200 that I took while trying to catch a maple seed pod in flight.

The seed pod, called a samara, is designed to carry the seed away from the parent tree so as not to compete for resources necessary for survival. I had the idea in my head for a few days to get a photograph of a falling samara while showing the path of its fall, and to do it all in-camera. Much easier thought than done.

The trick is to set the camera for a long exposure, then have a flash fire at the very end of the shot (this is called rear curtain synch). You then need just enough ambient light in the room to expose the fall of the object before the flash goes off. This is also easier thought than done.

I experimented with a range of exposures from 1/4 second to 2 full seconds, and settled on 1/2 second as sufficient to catch a blurry fall. I set the aperture at f/8 to increase depth of field and improve my chances of getting the samara in focus -- those babies are hard to steer.

Locked the focus on a target area on the tabletop, composed the shot against a black background, set the camera on auto timer, had a flash unit off to the side with a grid to direct a beam of light to where I wanted to catch the samara, had another flash with a grid and green gel to add some color to the backdrop. Did a few test shots using my hand to simulate a falling object. Once happy with the results, I started dropping seeds that I had gathered from my front yard.

At that point, the timing of the drop is everything. A lot of shots had nothing in them but a trail. Some had the samara at the very top of the frame, some had it going off the bottom. I got pretty good at hitting the target with the seeds. Over the course of dozens of seed drops, I discovered that you have to hold them in a certain way to make them twirl straight down. Only six shots out of more than two hundred were close enough to keep. The shot above was the best of those.

Hmmm. Wonder what else I can drop and photograph?

Photograph © 2010 James Jordan.


Mr. Harmless said...

Cats. Cats would be fun to drop and photograph. (Though, not from great distances...)


James said...

Nothing would make me smile more than making a whirling falling cat picture, but my wife might not be too happy about it.

Murph said...

Several small feathers might be fun. Like the down that leaks out of a torn comforter. You could superimpose a cat licking his/her chops at the bottom of the frame. :-)

James said...

Now, I like that idea! Gotta find a cat ...