Monday, 26 August 2013

Special Effects

by Kathy Roman

I’m sure that the term Special Effects conjures up different ideas to different people. I’m going to discuss several effects that I found on the internet and in photography magazines!

Water Drops: By Aperthetic _ Digital Photography Site

This is a photo of water drops frozen in mid-air.

You can check out the rest of the series here in this set

.To create this shot:

-Canon Powershot G9 (Don't underestimate the compact!)

-External Speedlite Flash*

-Bowl (Preferably with a nice pattern or colors)

-Water (I know, obvious eh?)




-LOTS of patience!

*The external flash is not necessary

The camera settings

Shutter Speed: 1/320

Aperture: f/4

Focal Length: 22mm

ISO: 200

A fast shutter speed is needed to capture the water, so a lot of light is necessary. This shots was taken in the morning when sunlight was streaming through the windows, but you need to position the bowl so there are no reflections on the water.

A colourful or patterned bowl is good because whatever is in or behind the bowl will be reflected within the water drops, so it's good to make it interesting.

The tripod was only slightly elevated above the surface of the bowl. Fill it with water, and get the camera ready. Switch the camera to manual focus. Stick a ruler in the bowl about where the water drops would be and focus the camera on it, locking the focus in place.

Begin by dropping the water using the dropper as close to the place where the ruler was as you can get it. Now's the hardest part, timing. It's takes lots of practice and MANY trials, so don't forget your patience for this. You will eventually get the hang of when to press the shutter in relation to dropping the water

Most of all, experiment! Try different shutter release timings and different angles.

No Flash; shutter 1 / 115; Aperture 2.8; ISO 400

No Flash; Aperture f/4; Shutter 1 / 320; ISO 100; Lit by LED torch

Aperture 2.8; Shutter 1 / 60; ISO 320 No Flash

Auto Flash; Aperture 2.8; Shutter 1 / 60

To Photograph Crystals:

Oil And Water; Who Says They Don’t Mix?

By Text and Photos by Jim Zuckerman • March, 2011

The fact that oil and water don’t mix is the basis for a wonderful photography project you can do in your kitchen. All you need to produce photos like you see here is a shallow glass bowl, preferably with a flat bottom, vegetable oil, and water. For the colour, you can use paint, fabric or even an abstract photographic print. To create the colourful effects in these pictures, smear several paint colours on an A4 piece of computer paper. Plain coloured paper torn in pieces works well too.

The camera gear you’ll need is a macro lens or a lens that is capable of getting fairly close, or a medium range zoom lens with an extension tube or a diopter lens and the ability to use your flash off-camera or, lacking that, a light source that you can place near the setup.

The Setup

The shallow glass bowl has to be positioned above the background at a distance that allows you to make the colours completely out of focus. In this project the paint abstract was about 60cm below the bowl, (figure A).

Figure A

All Photos © Jim Zuckerman, All Rights Reserved

Fill the bowl about halfway with water, and then I simply poured an ounce or two of vegetable oil into the water.

To illuminate the paint, you use a single off-camera flash. Trigger the flash with a Pocket Wizard (, but less expensive wireless units could also be used. In a pinch you could use any light source.

Periodically, add a few more drops of oil, and sometimes use your finger to stir the liquids together to create new pattern, waiting for the oil and water to stop moving. Search for intriguing graphic shapes that give graphically pleasing abstractions.

I found this setup to be quite difficult for me so I tried just putting the bowl on the coloured paper.

I then read another article and used the information there. Use a wide mouth glass and half fill it with water, putting a drop of dishwashing liquid in the glass. Mix and let it sit for 5 min. Add some vegetable oil drop by drop. I found the best photo was with oil over most of the surface. Use a torch or small desk lamp to light the glass (I put the torch in a vice we have set up in our garage). Set your camera on manual focus. Mine took the photo at 400 ISO, Aperture 2.8 and 1 / 30 shutter speed.

The basics – equipment needs for night photography -- Darlene Hildebrandt

You do not need a lot of fancy stuff to do night photography, in fact you can even use small point and shoot cameras. As long as your camera has the ability to shoot in Manual mode and do long exposures (up to 30 or 60 seconds) you can do this. Here’s a list of the essentials and a few optional items that are really handy to have as well:

a camera that can shoot in manual exposure mode (and manual focus as well) and do exposures of 30 seconds

a sturdy tripod to hold it still during the long exposures

a remote to trigger the shutter release (you can use the self timer if your camera doesn’t accept one)

a fire extinguisher or bucket of water (if you are doing fire spinning or anything with fire)

something for doing the lighting: some options include flashlights, coloured glow sticks, gloves with glowing fingertips, sparklers, steel wool for fire spinning.

something for spinning the light if you want to make orbs or spin fire, a chain style dog leash or a piece of rope.

Optional items but really handy to have:

a headlamp (the kind you get for camping that slips over your head)

a timing remote to count exposures over 30 seconds, or you can use your Smart phone

a friend to help you (this is essential with doing some of the techniques)

an external speedlight or flash (you can get one for your brand of camera or one that’s inexpensive such as a Vivitar or a Yongnuo, as it won’t be on the camera anyway (***note: do not attach an older model Vivitar 283 or 285 to your camera it will fry the electronics!***) 

Camera settings for night photography

Night photography requires a few different settings on your camera to get optimal results. Follow these basic guidelines:

set up your tripod and anchor the camera onto it securely, hang your camera bag or a sand bag under the tripod if it has a hook. That will add extra stability.

set your camera’s ISO as low as possible, ISO 100 or 200. This will help keep the noise (graininess) of the final image to a minimum

set your camera exposure mode to Manual

set your aperture to f8 (this is just a starting point you’ll have to test your exposure and adjust accordingly if you want more or less depth of field as well)

set your shutter speed to expose for the sky (keep it dark but not pitch black, you want only a small amount of detail in your background)

set your white balance accordingly meaning if you are using a flashlight that’s tungsten set it to that for neutral color; if you’re using flash chose flash or daylight; if you’re using fire or sparklers try daylight or tungsten. Ideally if you can shoot in RAW format you can adjust it later if the color isn’t quite to your liking turn on your autofocus, focus in the right spot, and then turn it off as follows

Focusing your camera at night
Focus is tricky at night because your camera can’t see to focus, so this is where a having a friend along comes in handy. Ask them to stand in the spot where you want to do the lighting affect with a headlamp. Have them turn it on and face the light directly toward the camera, this will allow your camera’s autofocus to “see” it and focus on that spot. Once you’ve got it focused, turn OFF your autofocus so it stays locked on that spot, and get your friend to mark the spot so they can find it again later (use a branch or rock that they’ll recognize). Each time you recompose or move to a new spot you’ll have to run through this procedure again.

Let’s look at traffic trails first!
Text and Photos by Jim Zuckerman • March, 2011

Long exposures at night enable you to blur traffic lights. It’s impressive to see artful streaks of light superimposed over an urban environment. You never know exactly what the resulting images will look like, and that’s part of the fun. When the background happens to striking, like the Walt Disney Theater in Los Angeles, California (#1), the combination of abstract lights and architecture makes a winning photograph.

 All Photos © Jim Zuckerman, All Rights Reserved

One of the advantages we have now is seeing the images we take immediately in the LCD monitor on the back of the camera. Instead of waiting until the film is developed to make any changes in our technique, we can correct problems like poor exposure, the need for a longer or shorter shutter speed, a change in white balance, and a change in depth of field while we are out shooting. This helps you take the kinds of images you want without having to come back and do it a second time.

If you don’t use a tripod when photographing at night you’ll be disappointed with your images if you want them to be sharp and of the highest quality. Even though you are essentially creating abstracts, the various elements in the scene—including the lights—must be sharp. If you are only interested in complete abstractions, like the shot in Paris (#2), then no tripod is necessary at all. (#3). It is interesting to note that our eyes never see streaks of light as vehicles pass in front of us. Only a camera can reveal this abstraction in colour and form because it records the movement over time, something that our brain can’t do.

The Technique

The best approach is to use a low ISO. Jim Zuckerman chooses ISO 100 because this gives him maximum picture quality and a minimum of digital noise. Noise shows up the most in shadows, and at night there are a lot of shadows. That’s why it’s very important to use a low ISO setting. If your camera doesn’t offer ISO 100 as an option, use the lowest setting possible. The only exception to using a low ISO is if the tripod might be impacted from ground movement, such as when shooting on a bridge. In Charleston, South Carolina,he shot the contrast between the superstructure on the Arthur Ravenal, Jr. Bridge and the headlights of cars (#4), but the bridge wasn’t a stable platform at all. It was important to raise the ISO to 400 to reduce the length of time the shutter was open. The shutter was open for 4 seconds instead of a usual 10-20 seconds.

He recommends using a Daylight White Balance when photographing traffic lights. Many people use AWB (Auto White Balance), but this makes the tungsten lights white as opposed to golden in color. To determine your own preferences, compare daylight with AWB and see what looks good to you. If you want deep blue pictures, like the urbanscape he shot in Bangkok (#5), try using a Tungsten White Balance.

D-SLR Owners: To minimize camera vibration when doing long exposures, it’s best to use the mirror lock-up feature. This can be found in one of the menus in your camera, and it positions the mirror up out of the way of the light path before the picture is taken. When the shutter opens and closes, the mirror doesn’t move until after the picture has been captured as opposed to flipping up and down when you push the shutter. The reduction in vibration helps ensure your pictures are tack sharp.

You should also use the self-timer, a cable release, or a wireless trigger to fire the camera and take the picture. This prevents the camera from being jarred as the shutter button is depressed, and this is one more thing you can do to guarantee your pictures are sharp. It is essential to turn off the image stabilization feature on the lens. When using most lenses on a tripod or on any stable platform (including bean bags), you will not get sharp images unless the image stabilization is turned off.


You would think night exposures are a serious challenge. Contrast is extreme and when there are a lot of brilliant highlights and black shadows in the same shot, camera meters don’t function well because there is virtually no middle gray from which to derive an accurate reading. The picture taken at the Los Angeles International Airport (#6), is a good example. However, the easiest approach is to set the camera on Program mode and take one picture. Study the results on the LCD monitor, and if it is too light or too dark, use the Exposure Compensation feature in the camera to make the adjustment until you like what you see. You can tweak the exposure in 1/3 f/stop increments plus or minus.

Remember to experiment!

Light Painting

An artist with a paintbrush applies colour to a canvas, and a photographer with a light source can apply light and colour to a digital image. The tools are different but the idea is the same. A lot can happen to a photograph when the shutter of the camera is open for a lengthy period of time.

Take for example, the row of first century B.C. megalithic heads on Mt. Nemrut in Turkey (#1). This is a 30 second exposure at dawn and during that time walk down the row of heads holding a Brinkmann ( Maxfire Dual Xenon Spotlight, shining the light on the ancient sculptures as you move toward the camera. This particular high intensity light was chosen because it’s very light for traveling and it’s inexpensive. During the long exposure, the heads were painted with light, moving from the farthest head to the camera position lighting them from behind and from the side (from the camera’s point of view) to create interest, artistry, texture and dimension. If they had been lit from the front, they would appear much flatter and they wouldn’t look as good.

Photo © Jim Zuckerman

Choose the lens aperture based on test shots. Jim says that this was a situation where a meter was useless because the exact amount of time he painted the heads with light varied every time he made a shot. The best he could do was to take a few initial exposures to see what f/stop offered him the best exposure. He wanted a decent amount of depth of field so all of the sculptures were sharp, so he raised the ISO to 640 and that enabled him to use a lens aperture of f/9.

You don’t have to go to exotic locations to use this technique. In this photo I used flowers in the house and painted with a LED torch. Close the door and turn off the light for a dark environment and I used Aperture of 8, 2.5 seconds. ISO 100 and painted with an LED torch. You need to experiment with exposure depending upon distance from the plant or object.

Night Scenery Mode: 100 ISO 2.8 aperture and 2 second exposure. Using a torch, light the area. If you want a narrower depth of field change the aperture.

photo by Rod Holmes Camera Club: person running by with torch with red cellophane over lens. All photos 6 second exp; f/11; ISO 400

Rod Holmes

Rod Holmes
Twist the lens while taking the photo and flash with a speed light once – model must hold still

ShutterPriority 3.2 seconds, 160 ISO and Aperture 2.8 Blue glow because of LED torch

Making the orb

An orb, or ball of light, is created by swinging your light in a circle and rotating to create the sphere of light. It works great with colored lights but I trialed it with a small LED torch. I tied a string to it so it was perfect for this technique. Look around at your local camping or hardware store to see if you can find something similar. You want it to be lightweight (hitting yourself in the head with a big flashlight really hurts) and easy to twirl, it also helps if it glows out the sides and the end (glow sticks work well). If it doesn’t come with a string attached, just rig up something using a dog chain or similar. You want it to be just above the ground when you extend your arm outwards, so you aren’t whacking the ground when you spin it around.

I also read that you didn’t need to twirl for the entire exposure. However as my camera only had an eight second exposure, we twirled for the entire time. It will take some practice twirling to get it round and get the brightness just right. If it’s too dark twirl longer. If it’s too light twirl for less time.

For these photos I used my Panasonic Lumix F 200 (not a DSLR) I set the Aperture to 2.8, the ISO to 200, Shutter to 8 seconds exposure and did not use a flash. Although not perfect, I was pleased with the result for a first timer.

Blue hue is from the LED – use a maglight for a white arc. The arc was not complete as the torch did not have light on the sides.

On to some more fun stuff – sparklers: this was from Darlene’s site

ISO 100, f/5.6, 15 seconds

This is the kind of fun you can have with a group of photographers and a great location. We were out in a farmer’s field (with his full permission) away from most of the city lights – that is another key to making sure it’s even dark enough to do lighting tricks like these.

How this was done was . . .

using an exposure time of 15 seconds my husband/assistant lit the sparkler and everyone in the group pressed their shutter simultaneously

he then proceeded to outline the shape of my body with the sparkler

while that was happening someone else in the group fired a flash a couple of times, once on each side of me, to light me and the grass up a bit. I think we were at 1/4 power but that will vary depending on your flash and its output. If you don’t have a flash you can do the same thing with a flashlight. Just keep moving and don’t light up yourself. We have two “ghosts” in this image, can you see them?

Night scenery 400 ISO, Aperture 2.8 and 2 second exposure

1 / 2 sec exposure, aperture 2.8 ISO 400

Shutter priority: 8 seconds, 160 ISO, Aperture 2.8

The Pièce de résistance – steel wool or fire spinning

Fire spinning on the beach by Darlene again. Her settings were– ISO 100, f/11, 2.5 seconds

Basically what you need to do to achieve this is put some steel wool into a regular kitchen whisk, light it on fire, and spin it around. Make sure you pull the steel wool apart as much as possible so that it will light. The camera settings are very similar to light painting, you just need to correctly exposure for your background, and have a long enough exposure to capture the sparks flying off the wool as it spins.

ISO 200 Aperture 2.8 Exposure 8 seconds

ISO 200 Aperture 2.8 Exposure 8 seconds standing much closer to the subject

ISO 200 Aperture 2.8 Exposure 8 seconds Standing further away from the previous two photos.

One Long Exposure: Christoper O’Donnell on Star Trails

To capture star trails using one long exposure, there are a couple important things to consider. You need to let as much light into your lens as possible for those stars to register (the why’s of this are explained below) – this means using a fast lens, preferably in the f/2.8 range.

When photographing stars under one exposure, you need to do it during a new moon night – meaning that the moon is nowhere to be seen. If you have anything more than a crescent, your exposure will be limited to the 10-minute range because of the ambient light, which won’t do much for star trails. For this kind of photography, darkness is your best friend.

Ultimately, you’re aiming for your environment to be illuminated by the stars themselves – yes it’s possible! However, this entirely depends on the length of your exposure. The image below is the result of an 80 minute exposure taken under a new moon – you can see that the foreground is exposed nicely and the star trails are outstanding.

When calculating your exposure, it would be best to do a shortened test shot so you’re not waiting a ridiculous amount of time just to see if your settings are correct. Many night photographers will jack up their ISO as far as it’ll go and shoot wide open – you’ll rarely find an instance where you’ll be taking a photo shorter than 30 seconds here. Of course the test shot will be entirely unusable due to noise and lack of trails, but it will give you a base to calculate what settings are needed with an ISO of 100.

Image Stacking Shorter Exposures
An alternative to waiting an hour or more for your exposure to finish is to take sequential images and stack them together in post process to get your star trails. In short, your exposure should be just long enough to register your stars as bright objects in the sky before moving onto the next one. It’s not uncommon to have several hundred images to stack taken over the course of a few hours.

Post process software such as ImageStacker and DeepSkyStacker will automatically throw all your images together and produce a stunning star trail.

Another benefit to image stacking is that you have all the necessary photos to make a time lapse video – here’s a short clip of what you can accomplish with this method of star trail photography: both the time lapse video and the composite trail image are shown here.

Tip: Between shots, try waiting a few seconds to let your sensor cool down a bit as a hot sensor = more digital noise.

Aperture: Wide Open or Narrow?

A common question – or rather misconception – with star trail photography is why wouldn’t you use a small aperture (say f/8 or above) for a sharper image rather than shoot wide open? You’re already shooting hour-long exposures so the timing isn’t a concern….surely it’s better to have a sharper photo, especially if you have other focal points (foreground interest, etc).

The issue with photographing stars is that they move – this is why we want to photograph their trails in the first place. With that in mind, there is a delicate balance to find with your exposure that’s more than just how long your shutter is open.

Wider apertures allow for shorter exposure times because they let more light in than narrow apertures. Focus on that last part – they let more light in. Considering that stars are constantly moving, you need to make sure that they’re registered on your sensor before they move – otherwise your star trails will be very dim, perhaps even non-existent depending on your chosen f/stop. Imagine doing a two-hour shoot where your foreground is lit nicely, but your star trails look no more than a slight variation in tones on the night sky.

Considering this, it’s a good idea to have a lens that’s capable of very wide apertures – such as f/2.8 or even wider. The wider your aperture, the brighter your star trails will be.

Finding the Poles

As you may have noticed, several of the example images used here have a circular pattern around a more central location- also known as the north and south poles. This is especially apparent in the video link above. In order to replicate this, you need to locate the poles first and aim your camera for it.

If you’re an astronomy beginner like me, this may seem a bit daunting – not to worry though. If you’re shooting towards the north pole, the Polaris (a.k.a. the North Star) is what you’re aiming for – it’s the last star on the handle of the Big Dipper, so if you locate that you’re good to go.

The south pole is a bit more difficult to eyeball as there’s no prominent bright star near the pole to help like the Polaris. You can still gather an idea of where it is though by using this free software to help pinpoint the south and north poles – very handy.

More Tips

Light Pollution – Whether from a nearby city or the street lamp at the end of your driveway, light pollution can greatly affect long exposures. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – in fact, it may add to the ambiance of your photo, such as a star trail image that begins during the blue hours. Experimenting with atmospheric light can be a creative way to make a unique star trail image – just be aware that the lighter your sky is, the less contrast your star trails will have.

Clear Skies and Dry Air – Obviously you don’t want to photograph star trails under a cloudy sky, but other atmospheric filters can interfere with your night photography – air pollution and humidity being the top annoyances. The best locations for a clear sky would be high up and away from any congested cities, and take on a night with very low humidity.

Light Painting

Setting Guides: Use a dark room
Use Tripod
Shutter speed: 3.2seconds
ISO: 160
Aperture: 2.8
Set timer on camera: I used 2 seconds
Use torch to “paint” object

Oil and Water
Setting Guides:
Use Tripod
Shutter speed: 1 / 60
ISO: 100
Aperture: 2.8
Or Manual settings: mine was ISO 400
Aperture 2.8
Shutter speed 1 / 30
Fill container with some water. Put a drop of dishwashing liquid in, stir gently and let sit for 5 min Pour a couple of drops of vegetable oil on water drop by drop until you are happy with covering. Swirl with spoon/toothpick. Have the camera looking down on water lit by a torch or desk lamp.
Use coloured card under container.

Milk Drops
Setting Guides:
Use Tripod
Shutter speed: 1 / 320
ISO: 100
Aperture: 4
Light with LED torch for blue effect
Pour some milk in container. Use eye dropper to drop droplets.

Milk Drops
Setting Guides:
Use Tripod
Shutter speed: 1 / 15
ISO: 400
Aperture: 2.8
No Flash
Pour some milk in container. Use eye dropper to drop droplets.

Food Colouring Drops
Setting Guides:
Use Tripod
Shutter speed: 1 / 60
ISO: 100
Aperture: 2.8

Pour water in container. Use food colouring dropper to drop droplets in water. Add another colour if you want.