Photography News issue 28

Photography News Issue 28



Only a spill-kill reflector was used to direct the light, keeping the contrast high to match the background effect. At the aperture (f/11) and ISO settings used (200), I got a good exposure at around 1/16th flash power. If you reach the lowest flash power and it’s still too bright on the subject, just move the flash back. Alternatively you can close the aperture or lower the ISO further, but this will make the overall exposure – that for the background –darker, too. Spinning and shooting With the flash at the correct power and the long exposure working, all that’s left to do is focus on the subject and get shooting. For the former, due to the darkness, you’ll need to lock the focus, then switch to manual so you don’t have to focus each time. To do this, shine a torch on the subject, then autofocus, before switching to manual focus. Of course it’s important you don’t move the camera or the focusing ring, and the subject doesn’t move after this either (youmight have some depth-of-field to play with at f/11, but better be safe than have them wandering out of focus). When it comes to the wool spinning itself, it’s a lot simpler thanyoumight think; thewirewool (whichneedstobeofathin,finegrade)ispinched Misaligned and too fewsparks Here, the fire spin effect is too weak, caused by PN editor, Will, spinning the wool too slowly. The circle of sparks is also misaligned, and looks better directly behind Amber. After a stiff talking to, Will increased the speed.

byabulldog clipor packed into a steel eggwhisk, with the latter attached to a rope or a chain. The wool is then lit with a regular cigarette lighter and as soon as it glows you can start spinning it; at a sufficient rate of turn, the increased airflow will send the sparks flying. Don’t pack the wool too tightly, or it will struggle to burn, but done right itwill burn throughquickly– 10seconds at the most. The sparks won’t look like much at the time, but like all long exposures, the effect will build up during the time the shutter is opening. Timing and fine-tuning When it comes to recording the spin, it’s best to start the exposure as soon as the wool is lit and moving, but before it starts sparking, which means you’ll get nice smooth streaks. Of course, this presents a problem if you’re working alone, so it’s better to either have someone trip the shutter or do the spinning for you. If you are working alone, using the camera’s self-timer set to its longest (usually 10secs) should give you time to fire the shutter, get in position and start spinning, but it’s still a bit hit-and-miss. As mentioned before, it’s important that the subject doesn’t move after the flash has fired. The reason for this is the way that light is picked up during the exposure. With the flash firing at Toomuch subjectmovement With the sparks behind Amber, the light from them is blocked by her body. Despite being frozen by the flash, here she has moved during the spin, which makes the sparks show up her previous position as an outline.

the start, the subject will be lit, and if they stay in the same spot throughout, they’ll block any light from behind them; if they move after the flash, the streaks of light will continue to be recorded and will show through the position they were in. This gives a kind of double exposure effect, which can be fun, but isn’t always desirable. Finally, as you’ll see from the example images above, the effect looks great when it’s directly behind the subject, somake sure your alignment is spot on. Using other types of light With the basic technique nailed you can experiment with other light sources, or variations on the wire wool spinning. We tried the latter first, by walking slowly towards the camera while spinning and this created a pleasing a tunnel effect. Next we switched the set-up to use a laser pen on the background. This meant we needed something to shine it on, so repositioned Amber about 8ft in front of the tunnel wall. The flash was positioned and powered similarly to the first set-up, but we had to be careful not to let it spill onto the background; any light from the flash falling there would lessen the effect of the laser due to the conflict in brightness. Moving the spin There’s no reason why you need to keep the spin still, and here Will moved toward the camera slowly throughout the exposure, changing the look. You can see the way this has turned the static ring into more of a swirl.

Reach of the sparks In this wider framing you can see the spread of the effect. We shot in a railway arch and the sparks easily make it to the roof and the walls. This can look good on its own, but make sure you’re well away from anything flammable for safety.

Start the exposure as soon as the wool is lit and moving, but before it starts sparking

The kit we used

Although you can use any flash head or speedlight to light the subject in this technique, a location flash kit will make your life a lot easier. We used Elinchrom’s ELB 400 One Head Pro To Go Set (£1269), which consists of a flash head and a rugged rechargeable flash generator. This is a nice compact head, equally at home in the studio or on location, and at under 4kg it’s light enough to be easily transportable. It can also be fitted with a carry strap for working on the move. The flash has a maximum output of 424Ws, which is enough to overpower the sun if required, but it can also go as low as 7Ws for lots of control. On a full charge, the kit will provide 350 flashes at full power, but many thousands more at lower settings. It also comes with a Skyport Transmitter for wireless triggering.

Above A laser pen with a kaleidoscope lens costing £5 from a street trader was used for these portraits. Below Too much flash can drown the laser effect.

Nextmonth More creative lighting set-ups to enjoy as well look at spotlight effects. Thanks to... This month’s model was the wonderful Amber Tutton. To see more of her work, or enquire about a booking, visit

Above It is worth experimenting with how you move the laser pen around and for how long. The different patterns provided by the laser’s kaleidoscope lens are worth playing with too.

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