Where there is smoke….

I have been thinking about a new project for some time and finally have begun working on the process to create the images. I am still at a sketching phase for the project, but I am loosely thinking of the project along the lines of the four classic elements proposed by Empedocles. Empedocles proposed that there were four classical elements that made up all matter in the universe. Each of these elements directly linked to a point on the compass.

The Northern element Earth was considered the feminine and was normally represented by a goddess associated with seasons, life, death, seasons, crops and fertility. The eastern point on the compass is represented by Air. Air was said to be both hot and wet as well as containing the essence of life and wisdom. The southern point represented Fire. This symbol often represented passion, creation and destruction as well as energy and drive. Finally water is the symbol of the west. Water was seen as both wet and cold and was later associated with Winter.

In my vision for all of these images has a black or white seamless background for each subject. Since Empedocles viewed these elements as the building blocks for the universe, I wanted a black, big-bang/white-bang sort of look to help push this creation concept. All of these shots are taken with on a roll of black backdrop paper about 4 feet wide.

I have started this project with fire. Specifically, the instant when fire begins. These initial images I have been working with are an attempt capture this moment with a match strike.

The setup for the shot was fairly straight forward. The camera is setup on a tripod with a cable release in front of the seamless backdrop. I light a match and take the shot. It didn’t take but about 2-3 shots to realize that focus would be an issue with this approach. My solution was to grab a piece of wood and drill a hole into it and hold the match stick in place. I could then focus on the stationary match head and take the picture. Each match was lit by a second match from a variety of starting points to change the look and feel of the image.

My first few images resulted in something like you see here.I wasn’t all that pleased with these results. In my vision, I wanted to see more of the match head and structure of the flame. This particular image was shot at f5/6 and 1/1600 at ISO 800. These initial images were take at ISO 800 so I could look at the noise levels in the camera with and without flash.

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For these next images I put the camera in high-sync mode and fired a pari of SB-900s at the match from 45 degree angles. The images were taken with high-speed sync to deal with the very fast and bright flame patterns. Flashes were set in Manual mode and flash-output was adjusted to keep detail into the match stick texture. From that point it was a matter of just lighting matches over and over to capture a flame structure and burn pattern that I found interesting.

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The next posting will be my work on smoke as a representation of Air.

All images were taken using a Sigma 105mm Macro lens (157mm equivalent) on a Nikon D300s. All images were captured on Lexar UDMA 300x cards and processed in Lightroom 3.

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