The Frozen Moment


For this exercise (and Ex. 3.2) I read up on some of the pioneers mentioned in the course notes, and discovered a lot of interesting facts about the development of the motion picture. I was familiar with Edgerton’s 1964 bullet through an apple shot, but never realised he invented the first ever high speed camera, as Tom Ang mentions (2014, p202). Amazingly important discoveries. I also found out that the impressionist artist Edgar Degas was a talented photographer too (Ang, 2014 p87), and his beautifully atmospheric photographs of ballet dancers from 1895 are something to see – he was apparently 61 when he started photography! – well, that’s encouraging.

I did actually think about making my own wind/smoke tunnel1 as a homage to Etiene-Jules Marey, but I gave up when I realised that it was a lot harder than it seems, and that divorce was imminent.
I also thought I would try out a really fast shutter speed to start off with; yeah, I went with my camera’s maximum of 1/4000 thinking I was Stephen Dalton or something with his 1/60.000s flash sync (Ang, 2014, p286). But that soon ended too: it was too dark. I raised the ISO to over 5000 and it was still obviously too dark if I wanted to keep that fast shutter; I decided to use the flash which is synced to a 1/250 shutter speed as I was shooting indoors at night. I tried some shots with the Olympus 14.42mm, but found that the manual focus wasn’t good enough; I ended up with the Olympus 50mm at various apertures. I set the manual focus using the camera’s focus peaking (not the greatest invention in modern photography but close!) and used the self-timer at 2 seconds.

I used a coffee table to set a bowl on; then used a plastic jug filled with coffee, some herbs, sugar, sea-salt; I set my camera on a tripod and patiently tried to freeze the granules and whatnot as I poured them into the bowl. It was a lot harder than I had expected and there were quite a few missed and some hits as well, I’d say (as seen in the contact sheets below). None of the shots have been edited other than the natural compression to JPEG in camera.

I think shot 1 freezes the coffee and brown sugar granules nicely – it almost has a fluidity to it, which makes sense as I was pouring the granules into the red bowl.
Shot 2 we can see that I added some white sugar, herbs and sea salt to see if I could create a bit more volume to the picture.
Shot 3 works well, I think. I like the way it almost looks like it is a solid lump of rock; with the shallow focus too (thanks to the deliberate choice of F/1.8), it makes it look like a wedge of stone instead of thousands of tiny granules.
I did clean up, or it really would’ve been divorce…

I decided to have a go with some humans too:

In the Air – 1/250sec at F3/5, ISO-400, Olympus 14-42mm, at 14mm (28mm Eq)
Floating – 1/800sec at F4/0, ISO-200, Olympus 40-150 mm at 40mm

I think we can see again with the first shot here above (In the Air) that the flash works well at freezing movement; with the second shot (Floating) I used a much higher shutter speed to freeze this jump which is not quite at the “peak action” as Garret & Harris (2008, p71) call it when talking about shutter speed; the jumper seems to be ‘coming down’ to the right even though she was jumping straight up. I like it: almost like some sort of super human leap across the frame.
The second shot here shows that we don’t always need a flash to ‘solidify’ action – although when we are inside with low light (and a slow lens) then it seems like a must, I would say. The higher shutter speed of 1/800 is enough to hold the jumper forever suspended in time. Or is that space? Or both?




Some future considerations


  • Why didn’t I use the burst mode on my camera? Instead of just trying to nail that peak  moment – which was probably a lot more fun to be fair and satisfyingly challenging. The camera does have an 8 frames per second burst, why not use it?
  • For some reason I wanted to avoid the famous ‘drip and crown’ on surface water, possibly  as it has been done before. I think I needed to experiment with more things. Maybe try the  water globules/droplets anyway and add it to this exercise at a later date.
  • After all, just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean we should purposely steer clear  of it, does it? Who knows what interesting effects I might find? Don’t be scared of trying  something new – or old (and getting things wrong); although I refuse to take pictures of dogs or cats.


References and sources

Anderson, J. (1997). A history of aerodynamics and its impact on flying machines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (p101, Fig. 4.12)

Garrett, J. and Harris, G. (2008). Collins complete photography course. London: Collins. (p71) (2016). Stephen Dalton: Welcome. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Apr. 2016]. (2016). Degas as Photographer (Getty Press Release). [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Apr. 2016].

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2016). Etienne-Jules Marey | French physiologist. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Apr. 2016].

Ang, T. (2014). Photography. New York, New York: DK Publishing, (p87; pp202-3; p286) –these page numbers refer to the Italian edition.

LensCulture, B. (2016). Berenice Abbott, Photographs – Photographs by Berenice Abbott | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: [Accessed 24 Apr. 2016].

Contact sheets



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