Category: PAD Challenge

Things have been a little quiet on this blog lately, but not so in my photo world. I’ve got a couple prospective assignments cooking up for later in the year, and perhaps a personal vacation that could result in some great photos, as well. More on those as they develop.

In the meantime, my better half recommended a bit of a challenge to keep me shooting every day — at least in February. Working a full-time job with overtime and planning a wedding while trying to shoot every single day for four weeks straight is going to be pretty difficult, but therein lies the virtue, eh? She’s given me a new concept or object to shoot every day, a single word, and it’s my choice as to how to interpret this. Today we begin with…

#1 Magnets

“Magnets. Simple enough, I suppose. At least it’s something concrete to show.” Such was my thought process when I read today’s idea. But I also didn’t want to start off on a lazy note, and I definitely wanted to avoid anything resembling a large red horseshoe. I like to think I have some semblance of creativity, after all.

So I went for the biggest magnet I know of — Earth. I lacked the budget for a satellite launch, even a modest one, but that’s just fine. I knew what I wanted to accomplish: Show the Earth’s magnetic field overlaid upon it.

Iron filings are what one will typically use to show a magnetic field, but if you had to today, where would you purchase yours? My solution was to buy some steel wool (surprisingly hard to find, and I had to rid it of the soap the manufacturer had seen to embed in the thing!) and chop it up. Suffice it to say, I’ll be picking steel splinters out of my hands for about a month.

“But Thomas,” I hear you protest, “steel wool is grey, and whatever you have used is white! Shenanigans, sir!” And to you, I reply, “Stop being so cynical.” It’s true — and I also knew that I wanted the planet to appear somewhat as it is; that is, suspended in dark space. But using dark steel on a dark background would be a pointless waste of time. My solution: Take a government photograph of the Earth, invert its colors in Photoshop (rendering the Earth a psychedelic purple and gold, with a white background), print it, toss the filings atop it, place a magnet of appropriate size and strength underneath the setup, and photograph from above. When I brought the final image into post, I inverted the colors again, and tada! Everything was as you see it here.

It’s far from perfect. It looks hurried and a little sloppy — because it is. If I had more time, I would have done a better job of it. But sometimes art must be rushed! I can’t spend any more time thinking about Magnets when I have tomorrow’s theme to think about…

#2 Music

Yes, Music was the subject of today’s challenge. And similar to how I didn’t want to shoot a big red horseshoe for yesterday’s Magnets, there were many ways I could have taken the easy way out on this one. Subway platform busker? Artistically lit close-up of someone picking a guitar? Fingers over the piano keys? A vinyl record, 8-track, casette, CD, and iPod? Each one of those can be a pretty, and perhaps even an interesting, photograph. But none of those satisfied me creatively. I’m pretty sure you could hop over to any of the dozens of stock photography websites right now and dig up an example of each.

I’ve never seen anyone make this photograph, and I think (if I can wear my Pretentious Hat for a moment) it even has a message to it. Obviously the music industry is completely changed from twenty, ten, five years ago. (And the same is happening in the world of film!) The record company giants of eras past can now be completely sidestepped, and something mindboggling to me is how the medium is also the method of distribution. It’s like if CDs rolled from the recording studio to your house autonomously.

Technically, this photo obviously suffers in several places, the worst being that I somehow managed to cut off the top of the guitar. Still kicking myself right now. I don’t know if it’s evident, but most everything in this photo is dangling by dental floss from the ceiling of my good friend Josh’s apartment. (He’s been mentioned round these parts before, on both sides of the lens.) The guitar is the exception, though it’s not being supported from the part that was cut off! Guh. No good reason for its exclusion.

But much like yesterday’s, this stuff is quick, sloppy, and keeping me shooting (and thinking!) every day. I have a lot of problems with this photo, but I still like it — and the idea behind it. Maybe someday I’ll reshoot it, if I’m so moved. At least I know how I would go about it. (And I would block out most of a day and use some better equipment, as well!)

I’m certain that over the course of this month, I won’t be able to dedicate the time and, frankly, brainpower to each photo that I have to yesterday’s and today’s. But it’s an awful lot more satisfying when I do, so I’ll keep trying.

#3 Smooth

Chopin is at the center of today’s theme, and not for the nocturnes. Today’s is one of those I mentioned earlier about not being very thoughtful — in fact, I’ve taken extremely similar photos before (and not just of glass bottles) — but it is accurate. This is potato vodka, which should be redundant, and Polish vodka, which should also be redundant. It’s also extremely smooth.

Apparently, they’re claiming to celebrate their 200th anniversary over at Chopin Vodka, and if so, I congratulate them on their prescient naming. Frederick Chopin would have been one year old in 1811.

I’ll dedicate a little more time to tomorrow’s photo, methinks.


#4 Race

For today’s theme, Race, I had several ideas. Sadly, since they variously involved mice, snails, and/or paint, and I tend to go from concept to final product in 12 hours on these images, with an eight-hour work day thrown in for good measure, that wasn’t so doable. Since I own, apparently, only sneakers, I opted for this idea. Not the most brilliant in the world, but it works. It finally gave me a chance to use some white seamless I acquired about a year ago that’s just been sitting in my apartment. Hurrah!

It’s pretty straightforward, as images go. Two-light setup, four exposures of my right foot brought together into a single final image. Space was probably the most limiting factor on this one, unless you count the fact that I was making a single image out of four — typically not the kind of Photoshoppery I’m fond of.

I took another photo today as well. It’s from the uptown 4-5-6 platform at Union Square at rush hour. If you don’t like the above image, maybe you’ll like this one a little better. Pretend it has something to do with, I don’t know, The Rat Race. (It did feel very good to be taking a shot of something real, as opposed to completely fabricated, for the first time in a while.)

For maybe the second time ever, I found myself adding noise to an image. I guess Lightroom calls it “Grain” when you’re doing it that way, and it is subtly different, but I thought the photo called for it. I’m amused by the upside-down “5.” It seems rather obvious how that would happen (internal lens reflection, I’m guessing), but I didn’t notice it at the time. I’m quite pleased with the starburst effect on the headlamps — it’s been so long since I’ve used an aperture smaller than f/5 that I’d forgotten about it. (This photo was taken at f/9, two seconds, ISO 200.)

Enjoy! And I will still happily enjoy the spoils of yesterday’s photo. Oh, and PS — please don’t actually run in Chucks. They’re very bad for serious running.

#5 Faith

This scene isn’t terribly far from my apartment, so I see it with some regularity. It’s been available for rent for over a year now, and as far as I can tell, not so much as a nibble. (This is a little surprising — Spanish Harlem has been seeing a lot of fantastic development, particularly restaurants, so for this space to be neither rented out nor demolished for new developments seems like just a waste of money, at least, and bad for the community.)

I like to imagine that there’s a chronology going on here. The grate was probably put over the windows soon after (or even during) initial construction, followed by the vines creeping toward the window slowly, the window giving into negligence, the brick of the facade weathering and cracking, and finally, the building was lost to debtors. (Ideally, that’s the sort of thing the photo communicates on its own. Maybe all these words are a little redundant.)

Particularly enjoyable to me is the contrast between the still-pristine cross right above a sign saying that the building is giving in to potential retail/commercial dollars. Make your own conclusions on any significance there.

I toned a black and white version of this image, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as a low-saturation, high-contrast version. I’m really loving that look lately. I employed a pretty similar technique for yesterday’s bonus image, and I get an entirely different vibe from low-but-loyal saturation than I do from, for instance, a split-toned image. I was shameless with regards to tonal contrast on this image, and I have no regrets. I’m not working for the newspaper on this project.

This wasn’t the original image I had in mind for today’s assignment, but in fairness, so far none of them really have been. I kind of consider it cheating to stay close to home, but in the end, I was happy with how this turned out.

I did accidentally crash a Mormon wedding reception while looking for today’s image — no joke — and believe me, I wish something visually interesting had come of it. But alas, I got nothing from that, and am quite pleased with what I have here instead.

#6 Anarchy

Anarchy caused me to struggle ever since I saw the list of topics I’d be shooting. I had no idea how to actually shoot it.

I also don’t view anarchy as many people seem to. It’s simply a philosophy wherein people handle themselves without the aid of government. I also think it’s as unrealistic as libertarianism, but a little more utopian.

I had no idea how to illustrate the idea photographically. I spent about a week trying to come up with something. In the end, the best I could do was show a bit of a collage of government-funded things that would go away should anarchism (or its current equivalent that’s in vogue) take hold. So take a moment to appreciate your police, roads, parks, schools, libraries, and so on.

If you would like a more traditional definition of anarchy (kind of), this photo gallery is wonderful.

Exception proving the rule

#7: Nature

Sometimes I’ll see one of the themes I have to shoot, and there’s very obviously an easy shot that I could take for it. (Yesterday’s Anarchy gave me the opposite problem.) There are a couple “easy” shots for Nature: A plant shooting up between cracks in the sidewalk, or even just a nice shot somewhere in Central Park. It’s right there.

I wanted to do something different though. Part of the point of all this, for me, is to go out of my way to shoot things I ordinarily wouldn’t, so even when it’s something of a failure (as this one is), it’s still worth trying for it. Technically, this photo is boring, and for the viewer it’s probably just confusing.

You’d probably like an explanation. While ruminating on what I could shoot for today’s assignment, I got thinking about the elements. The most natural things around, the building blocks of, well, everything. So I ran with it.

But how to best show an idea of “the elements?” A poster of the periodic table? Not only had I already broken a personal rule of “don’t just take photos of words that fit the theme” yesterday, that would be simple plagiarism. Take photos of all 118 elements? Some people spend their entire lifetimes trying to gather samples of all the elements (or at least, the ones that exist for more than a couple hours) and still have a hard time of it. But I kind of liked the idea. And if you’re going to choose one element that will represent itself and all the others, hydrogen is the obvious choice. One proton, one electron, no nonsense. It’s simple and elegant.

It’s also an odorless, colorless gas. Great. (It does have the endearing property of being highly, highly flammable — I tried to exploit this, alas, to no avail.) I could have taken a shot of the Sun*, I guess, but that almost seems like a cheat. But hey, it’s literally the most abundant thing in the entire universe. There should be some good way to show it, right? So even if this photo isn’t very exciting visually, I love what’s going on in it. The battery here is quite literally splitting water molecules to create new molecules. And it’s not like most chemical reactions, where you’re simply tossing valence electrons from one shell to the other: Electrons from the battery escape into the solution (salt water here for extra conductivity) and kidnap protons to create hydrogen atoms.

So that’s what’s going on with the terminal on the right in this photograph. The other is actually spitting out oxygen atoms in a similar process, but since water has half as much oxygen as hydrogen, it’s not as quick a process. That lead, however, was highly oxidized after only a few short minutes. Cool stuff!

I have no clue what I’ll be doing tomorrow, but the theme is pretty wide-open. Hopefully I can exhibit some more technical prowess!

*Please see this important addendum.

A vital ingredient in beer

#8: Light

This makes the second blog post in a row where I could have just run outside and shot a picture of the sun. If I’d been feeling particularly artsy, I could’ve even shot a sunrise or sunset. Or the moon, I guess. But seeing as how, especially at this time of year, I can easily go more than a hundred hours without seeing that sun, this seemed more appropriate. (According to this, I’m not alone, either.)

This is actually something of a sequel, if a photo illustration can have one, to a photo I took a couple years ago. That photo is old, boring, poorly executed, and many other people have done variations on it anyway, so I won’t even bother linking to it. Suffice it to say that this one is pretty different, and better in all the ways that matter to me. It took ages to complete, but it was worth it. I actually had to import an entire other set of images to figure out exactly what it was I hated about the photo, then I spent around another half an hour doing the whole thing over.

Two strobes were used for this photo. One is horribly precariously situated on the hutch of my desk, above the entire image, and the other is hidden in front of my head. (Ach! My eyes!) Strobe 1 serves two purposes: One is to illuminate the keyboard, mouse, and give me the hairlight; the other is to trigger Strobe 2, which is optically slaved. That one is pretty much only providing me with the rimlight on my head and across my shoulders. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s really important to this photo. Happily, gelling the strobes deep blue, along with a generally blue monitor anyway, meant I had to do basically no work in Lightroom to get the colors how I wanted. (I actually ended up decreasing saturation by around 33%.) I greatly prefer getting that sort of thing done in-camera when I can.

This whole situation is getting very meta, as the above photograph is pretty much exactly what I’m doing right now. Time for me to move along.

Computer Nerd Redux

#9: Temptation

I’ve been trying to avoid cliches with this assignment, but as soon as I saw this assignment on the list, I knew that this was pretty much the exact image I wanted to shoot. I’m quite happy with how it turned out, for the most part.

Simple two-light setup again. One was snooted directly overhead, pointed downward at the cake. I had black posterboard set up as essentially “seamless.” I cut the horns out of the paper and hung a red posterboard behind it, and underexposed it by maybe a stop, stop-and-a-half with another slaved strobe. Easy peasy! I’m a little displeased by the obvious jaggedness of the cutout; I would do a better job of this if there were a next time. I could probably fix it with some dedicated editing, too, but I simply don’t have the time. It’s not a dealbreaker for me.

I’m happy with the texture on the cake. The lighting is pretty much exactly as I imagined, and the white plate bouncing a lot of light back up at the cake itself is instrumental for this.

A final note: I did not succumb to this temptation! My stomach was growling the whole time, but I ended up giving it away. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go pat myself on the back.

#10: Zeal

This assignment, like Anarchy, gave me heaps of trouble when I was trying to come up with a concept. I don’t think this is quite as much of a failure as that one was — at least there’s some sort of idea at play here, and it did require a certain degree of technical prowess. (Not a lot, mind you.) Plus, I’ve had a hankering to shoot some fire ever since the lackluster Nature shoot, so this was as good a time to do it at any. Important disclaimer: I’ve shot fire before and this was done safely. Please do not attempt to replicate in your own studio or home.

All said, with a ten-hour work day and four hours of wedding planning across state lines, it was midnight before I could even begin shooting today’s assignment. To be honest, there was a period of time today where I was worried I wouldn’t be able to post anything at all, but I refuse to accept that, today or any other day. I don’t care so much if I have to post a crappy photo every now and then, but I am beholden to posting a photo every single day, at the absolute least.

Anyway, this is relating to the theme — think politically — but I’m not trying to make a qualitative statement with this one. No matter which side of the fence you fall on with this group of people, it is undeniable that they are, at the very least, very passionate.