Podcast 214 : Sept ’09 Assignment – Mirror Image – Results

by | Oct 26, 2009 | Announcement, Art Talk, Assignment, Competition, Podcast | 0 comments

Before we take a look at the winning images, I wanted to note that since we upped the pace when we shifted to a monthly assignment, more and more I’m announcing the theme of the new assignments in the forum, and once announced, like earlier this month, I sometimes forget to announce the new theme in the Podcast.

Also, we’ve been getting good feedback on the back-stories that I read from each of the winners last month, so I’m thinking that we’re going to make that the default moving forward, so the announcement of the winners is also now forum based, but I will mail each winner to alert you to the fact that you won, and to ask for a back-story. I used the forum Private Message system in the forum to mail actually, so it’s important that you also have a user account on the main Web site, as well as the members’ gallery, so that I can easily contact you. You’ll have anything from a few days to a week to post your back-story, and then produce a Podcast like today’s to announce the winners again, read the back-stories, and add my own comments about each image.

You can read the back-stories in the forum, and there’s a link in the show-notes, but I’ll also be posting the full text for this Podcast with images and show-notes, to my blog. Although the preferred method to subscribe is iTunes, if you simply don’t want to use iTunes, there’s an audio player and link to mp3 files on the blog too.

So, let’s take a look at the winning images, as usual, in reverse order, starting with an image called “Misty Mountain”, which is image m14319 from Pixelstate, real name Chris Sargent, from the UK. Chris tells us in his back-story that he took the photo on a recent holiday to Scotland. Despite being on holiday he managed to drag himself out of bed before dawn each morning with the hope of getting some good light on the iconic Buachaille Etive Mor, and after two disappointing mornings the third day held a little more promise.

"Misty Mountain" © Chris Sargent

“Misty Mountain” © Chris Sargent

Chris had spotted the potential composition earlier in the week and drove there in the dark, parked up and scrambled down the embankment to the banks of river in thick fog. Fortunately almost as soon as he had planted his tripod in the water and composed the shot, the mist began to clear and the early morning sun picked out the mountain almost exactly as he had pre-visualised it. The thin wisp of mist at the base of the mountain was an added bonus. Chris also tells us that coincidentally, the odometer on his car showed that he’d driven exactly 1000 miles over 4 days from his home in Surrey to this location in Scotland. I totally agree Chris that it was definitely worth the drive.

It is a very iconic mountain, and a great capture to do it proud. Of course, the theme of mirror image is upheld, with the beautiful reflection of the mountain in the river. Had Chris set his camera any lower than this on the tripod, the tip of the mountain would have touched the rocks in the foreground, so I’m sure Chris was conscious of this when composing the image.

The early morning light has given the shot a beautiful golden tone, and the dry grasses on either side of the river match the color palette perfectly, and they are complimented by the patches of dark green on the banks of the river. The mist is certainly an added bonus, giving the shot mood, and reinforcing the idea of this being early morning. I think possibly the exposure could have been just slightly shorter, as I see some hot highlights on the rock to the left, and the pale blue in the sky might have been a little darker with a slighter shorter exposure too. Of course, the dark areas of the rocks would also have been lost, so maybe just a neutral gradation filter in Lightroom would have been nice to reduce the brightness just of the top of the image. This is a tiny nit-pick though, and like all those that voted for this, I really like the image as is as well. This is just a little food for thought. Congratulations on third place Chris with this wonderful image.

Next up we have another wonderful shot called “What Has Sixteen Legs”, which is image m14152, from BKSecret, or our good friend Landon Michaelson, Wenatchee in Washington State. This is just wacky good, as we’ve come to expect from Landon. It’s a black and white conversion of a shot of a spider on a mirror, and Landon used some innovative shooting techniques to get this shot, so let’s take a look at the back-story.

"What Has Sixteen Legs" © Landon Michaelson

“What Has Sixteen Legs” © Landon Michaelson

Apparently Landon found this wonderful spider in his front hedge before he started trimming it. He took her off, and set her in a container with a couple of the stems that were around her. The hedge is pretty large so it took awhile to get it all cut and cleaned up, but then Landon took the container into the studio. He grabbed a black cloth and draped it over a working platform on wheels. Then he got a 2ft square first-surface mirror, which we hear is also a “two-way mirror” or “shoot through mirror”, and put that on top of the black fabric, so that no light would show through. Both sides have a reflection, but you have to use the first-surface side here. It has no depth like a standard glass mirror, so the reflection is true, clean and the reflection of the legs touch each other.

Landon then set up a studio strobe and the beauty dish at about 45 degrees to the subject. He took the spider out of the container and allowed her to crawl around the mirror until she stopped, being careful not to let her wander off of it. He then moved the light and the platform around looking for the best angle when the spider stopped moving.

Landon then set up a second light for fill and shadow control, pointed the bare head studio strobe away from the subject and just bounced off the wall and ceiling. Then he carefully setup his background alignment to only reflect the darkness beyond the simple “stage” of the mirror, mostly by just where he placed and pointed the lens. He took quite a few photos and kept trying to keep the glass surface clean of dust, with a blower and a brush, which was tricky.

When he’d was done with the spider, probably 10 minutes later, he put her back onto the hedge to live out whatever fall days she had left. Her abdomen was about the size of a dime, so she was pretty good size. Landon also ID’d the spider as a European Garden Spider, also known as a Cross Spider because of the markings.

In post he chose the shot he liked the best, rotated it 180 degrees and looked at it for awhile. He liked it better upside down as it made the reflection a touch more surreal, and the image was toned the B&W in Lightroom, not pure B&W, but subtle color to enhance the photo slightly to his eye. He kept the shadows dark, but with just enough light in there to give some definition to the back legs that are out of focus.

Well Landon, congratulations on another amazing shot, and thanks so much for the detailed back-story. I’m really impressed with how clean this mirror is, and was not surprised to hear that you had been blowing and brushing this off. Spiders are usually pretty dusty creatures in themselves, so I’m sure this was a challenge. The use of the first-surface mirror seems to be key here, and I have to admit, that I’d never even heard of this type of mirror. I’m starting to wonder where I might get one of these in Japan now. There’s lots of inspiration going on here.

I love the tones that you achieved in the black and white conversion, and the slight colour tone has helped to give the image punch for sure. Also the 180 degree rotation was pretty masterful. I might have thought to flip this as a mirror image, but would never have thought to rotate it. Another bit of wizardry you performed there Landon. As we noticed this actually puts you a few points ahead on Mr Nikon for the WebSpy first prize, that will be awarded in December, after the six month accumulative votes are in, so congratulations on that as well as taking second prize in this month’s assignment with this magnificent shot.

And the winner of the September 2009 assignment with “Sunflower Illusionist”, image m14285, is Zodiaci, otherwise known as Allen ONeal, from Visalia in California. We saw in Allen’s back-story that this was an idea he’d thought about some time ago after inadvertently catching his own reflection in two adjacent mirrors in a bathroom. Allen noticed how his reflection kept on repeating itself over and over again. He knew it would be great to someday capture this phenomenon and the September assignment theme, “Mirror Image”, was the perfect motivation.

"Sunflower Illusionist" © Allen ONeal

“Sunflower Illusionist” © Allen ONeal

To start off, he took down two 18″ oval mirrors from the wall and began playing with the repeating reflection. Allen discovered that if the mirrors were positioned just right, the reflection would wrap around itself into a circle. Allen said he’s never seen anything like this before, and neither have I I’ve seen repeating reflection, but the way this makes a circle is just wacky. Great stuff! Allen constructed a cardboard fixture to hold the mirrors in place and then used a satin-like sheet to hide anything he did not want in the shot.

Allen tried an apple and a few other objects first, but although the repeating reflection was amazing, it wasn’t what he was looking for. It just didn’t pop. Then one morning he went to his local farmers market, hoping to find a flower suitable for this shot, and found a vendor selling wildflowers and he had the most perfect, basically flawless sunflower. Allen bought the sunflower for a dollar, although the vendor only wanted $0.50, and off he went to shoot it. Allen notes that if the vendor hadn’t been there at that exact time with that perfect flower, this shot would not have materialized. This theme has run through this whole series, with the mist around the mountain for Chris, Landon finding the spider in his hedge, and Allen bumping into the vendor selling wildflowers. I’d say that this is a theme that runs through a large percentage of photography. As I’ve mentioned before, some people like to think that they totally control their art, and in some situations people do, but there’s no doubt that luck and coincidence help us on our way sometimes, if we are open and prepared for it.

The setup, shoot, and processing for this image was done really quickly, in a few hours, we hear. It was fun but challenging to shoot this image due to the fact that even the slightest mirror adjustment would make a relatively dramatic change to the scene. Because of this, everything had to be rigidly secured in place and the camera position was carefully dialed in. Overall he took about a dozen images or so and the one he chose as his favorite, Allen says, he simply couldn’t be happier with. What he likes most is the sense of absolute symmetry and enormous depth. It almost appears three dimensional, as if you could reach your hand into the image. Allen notes that mirrors are truly amazing when used in unusual ways, and he plans to continue experimenting with them.

Well Allen as you make more images with mirrors please do continue to share them with the MBP community. This really is a totally classic image. I love everything about it. Again as with Landon’s image, it’s very clean, even pristine. When I first looked at the thumbnail I thought it was some sort of a 1930’s light fitting, reflected in a mirrored surface below. It certainly took a few moments to figure out what I was looking at when I viewed the full sized image. I agree that the sunflower is perfect. You did so well to find that. I was looking for a perfect rose in my local flower shop recently and couldn’t find one from hundreds. I then went to a park last Wednesday and found one blooming on a bush right there, and got some great shots of it, that I’m really pleased with. Again, a little bit of serendipity in play here I think.

The other theme that we can glean through these back-stories again today is that each photographer has worked hard to get their images. It just goes to show that although part of the process is the luck to bump into the ideal subject or conditions to make the shot, you really have to be in the right place at the right time, or have the right ideas, and pre-visualization to set up the shot. Sometimes we are simply presented with situations and we’d be foolish not to take advantage of that, but other times it takes work, and we’ve definitely seen evidence of this today. Congratulations to Allen, and to Landon and Chris for your amazing images, and for gaining the most votes from your peers in the September 2009 Assignment on Mirror Image.

So, we’ve only got a few days left for the October assignment which is Only 50mm! I’ve got to tell you I’ve had a lot of fun with this month’s assignment, and I hope you have too. This has been the first time in a long time that I’ve had more than just one or two possibilities to select from. I had my old 50mm F1.4 lens fixed up for this and have really enjoyed getting out with this lens over the last few weeks. It certainly reminded me of how much fun restricting your focal length can be, and how much we can learn from it as well.

Images for the October assignment need to be uploaded to the assignment gallery on the www.mbpgalleries.com web site by the end of the last day of October. After this we’ll have just one month left in the six assignment series that our sponsor WebSpy have provided some great prizes for. Landon is currently in the lead, but Dan is still a close second, and just behind Dan now we have Zodiaci, or Allen, the winner of the September assignment that we just looked at. You can check the scores with the graph at the bottom of our scores page, which I’ll link to in the show-notes. With the votes for the October and November assignments still left to count, there is of course still time for someone to knock these guys off the top spot, so do try to get out there and join in the fun.

To quickly recap on the actual prizes we’re offering, the third place winner will receive every issue of LensWork Extended up until December this year. That’s 29 issues of LensWork extended, which is an incredible prize. Thank very much to the folks at LensWork for arranging such a great prize for us. The second place winner will receive a Lensbaby Composer. Again, this is just amazing, and will open many creative doors for the winner. Then the first place winner will receive an incredible Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Lens! If the winner already has this lens or simply does not want one, though I can’t imagine why not, you can exchange it for a $500 B&H gift voucher. So get out there and shoot for these last two assignments like your life depended on it. Well, at least like some really cool prizes depended on it. Thanks once again to our sponsors WebSpy for making these prizes available, and for supporting the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast.

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