Introduction: Stroboscopic Zoomography

About: A Northern Ireland based maker with a propensity to cause trouble and freshly constructed family.

So, this technique may or may not already exist, I haven't the faintest clue what to call it if it does so I can't find it.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure stroboscopic zoomography is a better name for this.

The reasoning behind doing this is simple, the photography contest is on and I want to do something new, if not to everyone, then at least to me, seems to be the point of a contest really. Besides, I've already written about reverse lens macro photography. (not to mention the other entries are better than mine...) I could write about the fact that I'm currently doing a few hundred product photos a day at work but that's crushing my soul enough as it is.

Admittedly slow shutter, images flashing by isn't entirely new to me, album in a photo actually worked on really similar principles.

I got to doing this because my old 420EZ speedlite has stroboscopic capacities I haven't explored beyond messing about with the interplay of stage lights and multiple flash photos - sadly it can't fire fast enough for handheld goodness.

You don't even need an external flash for this, I really wanted this to be an onboard sort of portable thing but you don't need a camera flash for stroboscopic photography - any strobing light you can control the speed of can do this.

What you do need is:

- Camera, you'll be hard pressed to do this without an SLR/mirrorless but it's possible with manual controls and a strobe light.

- Lens, related to camera, needs to zoom, manually, again possible with electronic zoom but harder - film makers, have you got mad focus pull skills? Or even one of those electronic doubreys what turns the ring for you? You can turn this malarkey into a science.

- Flash, this flash doesn't need to be a camera flash though, I'm using one, one everybody should have, it's old, it only works in manual, it's actually been repaired with parts from a new one, after the hot shoe was torn off it but it works despite my soldering, they're easily found cheap and you can trust these everywhere, get your settings and never have E-TTL go back on you again over some shiny thing or an LED stage light confusing it.

- Snoot, not 100% necessary but my cardboard super snoot improves this so much.

- Tripod, you need to lock your camera down, now some of my shots aren't on the tripod, I've slipped the head off it and used a swivelling ball clamp to hold it, really you need a big, solid tripod built for video to get the best out of this, or clamp your camera to some furniture.

So, if you put your bridge/compact camera in a vice and get a cheap strobe light, you could do this technique without using a single piece of "proper" photography equipment.

Step 1: Initial Settings and Plan

When I had the idea I basically just waited for it to get dark and threw the flash on the camera with it pointing upwards as I normally would and dialed in some settings.

The settings were pretty simple, knock the ISO down to 100, relatively high aperture between 5.6 and 8 and a shutter speed between 1 and two seconds - the flash was in multi mode and I varied the power between 1/4 and 1/16 depending on how many flashes I had - you set this in terms of hz mine does between 1 and 5hz, though you will need to check your datasheet to find out how many flashes your flash can set off at different power levels, this will inform the length of your shutter speed.

These photos lit too much of the general area, rather than the focus object.

By the by, this arrangement of the books and flamingoes is just something that lives in the corner, I just chucked one of Christy's skulls in to the mix. It wasn't until we were inspecting the initial photos that we noticed how well tied together that little chunk of decor really is.

These seemed really unrefined, but they're pretty cool for the first go at some random notion, I reckoned more selective lighting would do the trick.

Step 2: Enter the Super Snoot

The super snoot is ridiculous, essentially it's a cardboard tube (white on the inside) that extends the flash out a ways before hitting a right angle, which is weird for a snoot.

The logic is simple, I can be pretty selective but very harsh with my flashes by pointing directly at the object and zooming it to 80mm, this on the other hand lets me "drop" light on something at a decent length, the right angle also means I can tilt the whole arrangement out of frame for the wider end of the shot without losing the effect. If it was straight it would need to be pointing at the thing directly.

It's made out of a single piece cardboard folded a little too small with slots cut in for the flash piece (makes the whole thing a pressure fit) and the right angle's simply all but one side (of the initial box/tube) cut through to hinge it over and form the second box, with a hole cut in the extension to let light out.

There's a photo as well of what it can do, indoors during daylight to single objects.

Significantly more selective on the lighting. My plan with this has been to repeat a feature object in a cool way to make this whole lot work...

Step 3: Actually Doing It...

So to actually do this...

Start by setting up your camera for a second or two exposure along with your flashing apparatus...

Take a photo, don't bother zooming, it shouldn't be wildly overexposed.

Now I've given information on the setup I ended up with but this will vary a lot depending on your flash and what you're lighting so I'll describe what you need to do get the effect.

Get ready by focusing with the lights on, or use a flashlight to get a nice focus and lock it - if you can't manually focus you'll have to do this every time you shoot, now my flash gun has a focus aiding grid but in total darkness or with the wrong subjects it just isn't enough alone.

When you're ready, you should have a hand on the zoom, a light touch is key to getting sharpness.

When you fire the shutter you want to smoothly zoom, without moving the camera itself.

Experiment with zoom speeds vs flash speed, you can give prominence to zoomed out or zoomed in by starting there, but also by stopping at any zoom level.

I tried with my 70-210 external zoom lens, it's awesome for a lot of stuff but useless for this, it slides to zoom and if you hit either stop during the shot the shake's enough to ruin the photo but also the changing weight moved it slightly.

Step 4: The Same Thing Again...

This time I didn't bother waiting for full darkness, I just closed the curtains on the window right beside this.

The settings are pretty similar, I just fiddled with number of flashes on a 1.5 second exposure.

To get a good effect I've found you really have to be on it with the zoom, if you take a little to react it tends to look a bit more like messy blur because the superimposed bits are too close to each other.

Anyway, super snoot improved things a fair bit.

Step 5: But Wait!

This gets better with subject.

So my test shots were in the same place to well, test.

The cover photo was my favourite, Christy's lunchbox and my sign well, if you can't see why I like having it then you wouldn't know why I have it. The patterns look awesome together.

So the dark skull with no close backdrop was pretty weird, because the curtains have a white back I left them open, between the streetlights in the distance and the open laptop on the coffee table I ended up with a combination of radial blur and stroboscopic zoomography.

Step 6: Post Processing

There's the off the camera versions, I could've shot it brighter but this one was a "one last photo" deal for the wonderwoman lunchbox/neighbourhood watch sign.

For all of them I used curves in photoshop, the unsharp mask and a brightness/contrast adjustment layer to fairly extreme levels to make this pop a bit.

You can lay it on pretty thick with this.

I also clean up some dirt specks because I need to clean my sensor (last few shoots have been at the seaside) but this, with multiple flashes and long exposures just exaggerates any dirt, noise or lens mess by a shocking degree.

I found cropping to square format really improved the look of these photos, since the effect is radial, though that's a personal opinion.

All this advice lets you shoot these with less equipment than I have, but most people have nicer camera bodies than me so they have more freedom, since the kit lens with an SLR is more than capable of doing this. Losing the flash for a strobe light might actually be an improvement, on the basis that it cost me about ten quid in AA batteries to do all of this and an el cheapo strobe light will do fine to start this.

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