I used a fire extinguisher for the first time today

In the purest sense, NaNoWriMo is not going too well for me. I reached 15,000 words pretty quickly and then stopped. I’m not unhappy with that–it’s 15,000 words more than I started with. And as words go, they’re pretty good ones with plenty of potential.

However, to keep up the creativity, I decided to shoot a Christmas still life like I did last year:

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I ran across this tutorial on 500px ISO about using sparklers in glass jars. It looks amazing and seemed doable so I thought I’d give it a go.

I decided to set it up in my garage because it’s entirely concrete and thus fire-proof. Great decision number 1.

I also brought along the fire extinguisher I keep in my kitchen and put a bucket of water nearby as well, just in case. Great decision number 2.

This was the set-up I decided on:

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I reused the glass reindeer from last year because I quite like it. I went to a dollar store for the decanter and wine glasses because the tutorial mentioned that the heat from the sparklers could cause the glass containers to crack and I didn’t want to break anything expensive. Great decision number 3.

It turned out to be really difficult to get the sparkler bits in the bottom of the decanter to ignite. I tried various things–varying the amount of sparkler bits, dropping in lit matches, using a taper. I think the main issue was the shape of the bottle. Anyway, it took a long time but eventually I got it to light.

That’s when it went wrong.

Instead of the delicate spray of sparks bouncing off the interior of the decanter, I got this:

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That’s right. I accidentally created a homemade blowtorch that went off with a very unsettling roar. Like any good photographer, I kept my finger on the shutter while I panicked about what to do. My first thought was to grab the fire extinguisher but all the fire was enclosed by glass, which was less than helpful.

Fortunately…? a moment later the decanter exploded, showering glass everywhere and setting fire to the backing fabric:

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This was the very last shot in the burst.

Of course, that meant the fire extinguisher would be effective so I got things under control pretty quickly.

All in all, this shoot did not go to plan. However, I persevered through the ensuing clouds of smoke to get the shot of the wine glasses and with a bit of work in post, I ended up with this:

Xmas still life 2 recomposed_square crop

It’s a bit different to the image I’d originally planned but it’s got a certain drama that I quite like. Overall I’m pretty happy with it. Maybe don’t try this at home, though, kids.

Unexpected renewal

Today I spent four hours rescuing and then recolouring a friend’s photo of their grandfather. It was so much fun! It’s not something I’d ever thought of doing before. I was asked to have a go simply because I have some skill with Photoshop. It turned out to be very satisfying.

Before
Before
After
After

Creativity vs. Equipment

I’ve been reading a lot of photography blogs and, while they’re full of valuable advice and fascinating ideas, they’ve also been making me a little depressed. The blogs are full of “key source lights with fresnel lenses” and “LED spotlights with gels” and “full frame cameras with 25mm f/.95 lenses”. And these people have produced some amazing creative works. And this is the very reason I read these blogs. But the fact that I don’t have any of this enviable photographic equipment sometimes kind of hits my confidence. I started to wonder if I needed all that stuff to take a good photo.

So I decided to try to do a portrait without all the fancy equipment just to show myself it can be done. I went with a Game of Thrones theme because I’m a geek and it’s fun.

Equipment:

  • a bedspread hung from a curtain rail (for the backdrop)
  • a reading lamp attached to an exercise bike’s handlebars (key light)
  • a few A4 sheets of white paper stapled together and blu tacked to a kitchen chair (reflector)
  • tripod
  • camera with 18-55mm kit lens
  • remote trigger.

I didn’t have anyone to model for me (which would have made things easier and maybe the final photo look a bit better) so it’s a selfie. The costume is just an inside-out, back-to-front coat, some black fabric, feathers, a belt and sweatpants*. I happened to have the sword prop already—probably the only ‘professional’ part of the costume.

So you can see that the set up is anything but professional, using only the most basic and cobbled together equipment, but I was really happy with the final photo:

portrait

I guess I need to keep reminding myself that creativity doesn’t rely on having the best equipment or most experience.

* I planned on only a medium or head shot but in the middle of the shoot I realised that I had to go for a longer shot and totally forgot in the creative frenzy that I hadn’t planned a full-length costume.