Podcast 218 : Oct ’09 Assignment – Only 50mm! – Results

by | Nov 23, 2009 | Assignment, Competition, Podcast | 1 comment

Today we look at the results of the October MBP/WebSpy Assignment on the theme Only 50mm! We have some great back-stories to share too!

Once again, the quality of the entries for this assignment was outstanding. Thanks to everyone that participated! As has now become the custom, I’ve got three great back-stories from the winning photographers to share with you today.

Let’s start with the third place winner and that is Marcus Bain with image m14607 (below), entitled “Calm after the storm.” Marcus was placed in the August assignment too, and the next two winners were winners have also been placed a number of times already, so we are certainly seeing some consistency here.

Calm after the storm (© Marcus Bain)

Calm after the storm (© Marcus Bain)

Last month I tried to rewrite the back-stories so that I could tell them myself, but I’m going to revert to third person today, and just read out the original stories for you. This will take a little more following on your part, but I think this will be better. Anyway, here goes with Marcus’ back-story for Calm after the Storm.

Shot with my Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM locked as close to 31.25mm as humanly possible, for a true 50mm experience on my Canon 350D. I have a lensbaby but wanted to see what 50mm really looked like.

This is a shot of Chigasaki’s famous “Southern Beach”, named after the JPop super-group, “Southern All Stars (サザンオールスターズ Sazan Ōrusutaazu). Shot just hours after the passing of typhoon Melor, which manage to reach Super Typhoon strength (cat 5) earlier in its life, but passed around the back of Tokyo as a tropical storm. Sorry, I’m a surfer and I get kind of obsessed about the weather.

Anyway, in the morning the wind was averaging around 90kph and gusting up to 120kph. What this means is that the sand dunes should have some rippling and detailing on them from the wind. After lunch the wind dropped to almost nothing, and I rushed off to get some shots of the sand, and whatever else I could discover. Being locked at 50mm had me scurrying about all over the place. Meanwhile the 70-200mm crowd were shooting from the walkway. Getting this shot was a very physical experience for me. While moving about I found this dune and saw the cloud, quickly composed the shot, squatted down a little to line up the distant clouds on the horizon along the top of the dune for a little detailing, and click, click, click. Shot about 10 frames of this scene, playing with composition and making sure I had at least 1 good shot of what I saw.

In photoshop I used ‘Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro’ for the b/w conversion and adding grain/noise/contrast etc. For this shot I went as far as isolating the dune, sky and cloud for different amounts of grain, noise & contrast. For the sand I was after a more hardcore, intense grain, where as the cloud is almost devoid of grain keeping it soft and puffy. Spent around an hour processing.

Hope that makes sense ! Thanks to everyone for the votes !!

That makes a lot of sense Marcus. Thanks very much for the back-story. For sure, the first thing that struck me when I saw this shot was the alignment of the single long cloud with the sides of the frame. This is well done, especially when we consider that Marcus had restricted himself to the cropped equivalent of 50mm. I should note that we’d actually said that you should ignore the crop factor, and that we wanted to see the EXIF data showing 50mm, neither of which Marcus conformed to, but hey, it’s a great shot, and the idea is to force yourself to work with a fixed focal length, which Marcus did, so let’s overlook these small details.

The next thing that struck me was the very nice black and white conversion. As a Nik Software proponent myself I pretty much knew before I read the back-story that this was a Nik conversion, but Marcus sure took it a step further playing with the grain, even down to giving different areas different treatment.

Finally, knowing that the high winds would produce this wonderful fingerprint pattern on the sand-dunes was a testament to Marcus’ local knowledge, enabling him to get a shot that many would not have thought about. Great work all round Marcus, and congratulations on third place!

Merlin's Bath (© Allen ONeal)

Merlin’s Bath (© Allen ONeal)

In second place is Allen ONeal, the winner of last month’s assignment, with image m14617, entitled “Merlin’s Bath”. Allen has provided us with a wonderfully written short story as his back-story, so here goes…

It was stormy and very cold that night. I wasn’t sure how cold, but I could just tell it was. I woke up to the wind whipping against the tent walls and my bladder was telling me “It’s time!” but I knew if I got out of the tent, I would regret it. Leaving the warmth of my bag just didn’t sound appealing. So, back to sleep, or at least I’d try.

The moon didn’t help either. It was almost full and directly beaming down on us, intensifying the cold that surrounded our alpine camp. “I bet it looks amazing”, I thought while holding back the urgency to relieve myself. The walls of the tent had stopped flapping at this point. They were simply frozen stiff. I’ll try to sleep some more, maybe get through the night and pee in the morning…

No luck. Up again. The urge was too great to subdue. It’s going to have to happen. There’s no denying it. So on goes the headlamp. “Click” The beam of light immediately shimmers upon the ice that has consumed all condensation inside of the tiny tent. Yep, this 1am pit stop will come at a cost. Down jacket on, boots on, gloves on. Out I go into the frozen abyss.

One step out of the tent and the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. My eyes wide open and consumed with amazement and wonder. It was all around me now. I’d never seen anything like it. You see, I usually sleep through the night just fine in the mountains at 10,000 feet. But tonight was different. Something made me get up. Something called to me and it was more than just my full bladder.

Everywhere I looked, dark & wispy clouds were swirling fast, very fast. Around Hengst Peak just above me, weaving through the pine trees on both sides of me, and over Mosquito Lake just a stone’s throw to my left. The moonlight was intense, flickering on and off in various spots as these playful clouds danced through the beams of light coming down. It was like nature’s rock concert light show coming from the heavens above. The clouds truly seemed alive.

Every second or so, the clouds would open up and a new feature of these beautiful alpine surroundings would illuminate with rays of intense moonlight. A boulder here, a fallen tree there, a sparkle on the lake, the tip of Hengst Peak in the distance, all of them illuminated just for a moment each. Then suddenly on my head. As the light struck me, I had a brief but perfectly clear shot of the stars above through these frolicking clouds. It was an amazing view. An incomprehensible amount of stars, gleaming along with the enormous moon. “Thank you clouds for giving me that view!”

Almost as soon as it came, it was gone. They only wanted me to have a glimpse of that breathtaking night sky. But it was so very worth it. Now the clouds were off to continue “spotlighting” the rest of this pristine area by reshuffling and swirling about. Like a deer in headlights, I was frozen. All I could do was let my eyes consume this light show for as long as possible. It was magic of some sort. It must be.

Could this be a dream? Was this show of unusual weather and freezing cold and flickering moonlight all in my head? Although it seemed like a dream, like something out of a Harry Potter movie, it was definitely real. The overwhelming cold and urge from my bladder was proof of that. Even though I must have stared off into that surreal display for quite a while, it was now time to do what I got up to do…

Just a handful of hours before this, we were taking pictures of the sunset light striking Sawtooth Peak off in the far distance. Even at that early point in the evening, there was a sense of energy in the crisp, thin air. Before sunset, the clouds had already begun to amass for the “magic light show” on that autumn night. I had been here a few times before, but this time was different. The energy was different. This time, the magic of this pristine area had decided to come alive and reveal itself. This is where the image “Merlin’s Bath” was captured.

The sound of clicking shutters was all that could be heard that early evening. We were all silent, awed by the beauty of the reflection and the vivid, pink sunlight splashing upon Sawtooth Peak and the clouds overhead. This was a once-in-a-lifetime view and it was nice to share it with great company. After taking many shots, it suddenly came to me. Remembering the October “50mm only” assignment that I’d heard about just the day before, I knew this would be a perfect time. A few clicks and… Got it!

At the moment this image was captured, the lighting couldn’t have been more perfect. With ample cloud cover and direct sunset light on Sawtooth Peak, the dynamic range was just within the cameras ability. Later, all that was needed in Lightroom was a slight ND grad filter and the regular miscellaneous adjustments. It is unusual for me to shoot landscapes at 50mm, but I have to say this has become an instant favorite.

So, the next time you feel an overwhelming urge to go outside, whether it is from your bladder or not, don’t pass it by. It could be the lure of nature’s “magic” waiting for you outside!

Allen, you are insane! That’s probably why you get on so well in this community. J Despite the fact that it seems to have very little to do with the image, thanks very much for the entertaining back-story, and for a wonderful image. It’s great that you recalled the 50mm assignment at the last moment, and captured this while the light was still great.

This could have also won the Everything in Focus assignment too, with that wonderful depth-of-field. Everything from the grasses and rock in the foreground to the Sawtooth Peak in the distance is in crisp focus. It might have won the mirror image assignment too, with the warmly lit peak and the clouds reflected perfectly in the lake. I like the composition, with the foreground rock off to the left side, and the trees along the left edge too, and the way the peak sits slightly above center with the slope of the mountain to the middle ground pretty much ending in the middle, but with the slope heading off out of the frame on the right side. Very nice shot indeed Allen. Congratulations on second place!

So, Dan went all out for this assignment again, and has thrust himself back into first place in the running for the 50mm Sigma lens prize with image m14665, entitled “RGB”. Dan also provided an amazing back-story, with photos to help explain the painstaking experiments he did. Here goes with the back-story.

RGB (© Mr Nikon)

RGB (© Mr Nikon)

This was a hard assignment. I took the bulk of my pictures on a trip to New Mexico with my 50mm lens but I didn’t find one that really stood out. That was plan “A”. So I figured I should try to create a shot. Here’s my story, it’s a long one.

Plan “B”. My first thought was to buy some fireworks and shoot it at a 3’x3′ pain of tempered glass. I wanted the star burst effect of it hitting and blowing in all directions. Here in Vancouver, BC we can’t buy fireworks until a week before Halloween so I had to wait. I picked up the glass in the meantime. When it came time I discovered they don’t sell Roman Candles any more (10 ball). I got a 90 ball firework and the guy selling them said I just have to take the bottom of it off to get the 9 individual 10 ball Roman candles. I was ready to do the shot but the weather was too crappy so I had to come up with another plan.

Plan “C” was a high speed shot. I had tried it a number of years ago with mixed results. I basically fired the flash manually in the hopes to get the timing right. This time I had an electronic eye to play with. It was the Thursday night before the deadline and I sure felt the time crunch of leaving it to the last minute. I setup a large cardboard box on its side and put black art paper on all the inside surfaces to cut down on any bounce from the flash. I then purchased a number of cheap light bulbs from the dollar store. I cut a hole in one side to put the pellet gun through. Set up my flash in the corner of the box and had the light bulb held down on a block of wood with the electronic eye setup just behind it. The flash was set to its lowest power 1/128th to get the fastest speed. The idea was to have the broken glass break the beam setting off the flash. I want to have a picture with the pellet in the shot but I wasn’t sure of the speed of the eye. I darkened the room, set the camera on a 5 second exposure and pulled the trigger. Sure enough there was a delay with the eye. Here’s one of the shots.

© Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

I couldn’t speed up the eye so I figured I would put 2 bulbs in a row to slow down the pellet. The eye was still too slow.

© Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

The next day I came up with a crazy thought, why not fill three clear bulbs with Jell-O. That was sure to slow down the pellet. I have to tell you that filling light bulbs with Jell-O is no easy feat. I took a soldering iron andmelted the bottom off the bulbs then drilled a small hole into the filament. After that I took a large marinating needle and filled each bulb with different coloured Jell-O, red, green and blue. Squirting Jell-O through a needle is a very slow and messy process. It took about 25 minutes to do one bulb. I then hung them upside down on a chunk of wood with the electronic eye between the first and second bulb. Well that didn’t work as you can see.

The setup. You can see the electronic eye just behind the first bulb

© Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

Here’s the before shot.

© Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

And here’s the after shot.

© Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

Now onto plan “D”. I needed a faster trigger and remembered reading about a sound trigger on the net. It was now Saturday and was the last day for the assignment. I found a few schematics that looked promising. One in particular looked easy (http://www.hiviz.com/tools/triggers/triggers2.htm) so I went out to my local electronics store to get the parts. I picked up a small amp, http://www.rpelectronics.com/Default.asp?Main=/English/OnlineCat.asp?Menu=/English/Content/Categories/CatM_95.asp%26Detail=/English/Content/Items/UK151.asp

I grabbed one SCR rated for 400 volts, a project box, 9 volt battery connector, and a switch. On the way home I stopped by the handy dollar store and found a $1 microphone with a 10 foot cord. I also got a few packages of balloons. All I had to do was to put the amp in the box, connect the battery and switch, solder the SCR on and it was good to go.

Setup Diagram © Mr Nikon

Setup Diagram © Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

© Mr Nikon

I tested it and it worked perfectly. I could adjust the sound level that triggers the flash with the volume knob on the amp. All that was left was to set it all up. I decided to use balloons as it was a lot easier to clean up. I put a black cloth on the wall. Hung the balloons upside-down held there by little black clips and fishing string. To adjust when the flash fires all you have to do is physically move the microphone closer or further away from the noise. The closer, the sooner it fires. I tried a few test shots and was even able to grab the pellet going through the last balloon.

RGB (© Mr Nikon)

RGB (© Mr Nikon)

For the shot I submitted I put a little bit of water in the balloons to give it the effect I wanted. No pellet in the shot but that’s OK. A very hard assignment but at least now I have a sound trigger for future experiments. Thanks again for all the votes and sorry for the huge post.

And we finish here with the winning image. Dan you are totally insane, again, one of the pre-requisites for really getting on in the MBP community, but in addition, you are awesome! The resulting image is amazing of course, with the red, green and blue balloons bursting with that bit of water spraying out. The timing is perfect! The amount of work you put into this is simply stunning, as are the results.

Thanks for the back-story, for which there is absolutely no need to apologize for the length. I should be apologizing for putting you to so much trouble putting this together and illustrating it with the photos and diagrams. Anyway you came up with another great winning image here. Congratulations Dan.

So, we’ve got one more week left in November as of today, to shoot and get your Panned image assignment entries in. Panning is a lot of fun, though I haven’t made time to get out and shoot myself yet. I’m hoping that will change before the deadline of November 30th, when our entries have to be in. I actually lock the galleries and start the voting system on the 1st of the month, so you will have until the end of the 30th no matter what time-zone you are in. Please do try to get involved. We learn from these assignments as well as it being great fun!

Let’s quickly recap on the actual prizes we’re offering with the support of our sponsors WebSpy. 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. Thanks once again to our sponsors WebSpy for making these prizes available, and for supporting the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast.

Podcast show-notes:

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


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1 Comment

  1. Phil Scott

    Very interesting post indeed. You’re right Martin, he is crazy…in a good way. I don’t think I would have the patience to work out the bulb shots. Great results. Some fantastic images in here as usual.


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