In the old days when I was a Ham Radio operator, if a contact suddenly went off the air for an extended period of time, we used the phrase ‘silent key’ when wondering about him. It usually meant that the operator had passed away. If I had to describe my photographic activity for the last several months, ‘silent shutter’ would do nicely, although I can’t use death as a convenient excuse.
There are some reasons: increased work load (a good thing), home improvement pressures (a good thing), cold and flu season (not a good thing since grade school days!) and a perceived sense of creative decrepitude. And the net result is that I have not picked up the camera and taken pictures for a long time.
A wonderful discovery and a way out of a creative block
I have been doing a lot of reading, however, and one of the more interesting books that I found is ‘Build a Better Photograph‘ by Michael E. Stern‘. In his informative and well written book, Mr. Stern describes how he constructs a photograph, often from several individually photographed elements or from separately lighted exposures of the same scene. This was of great interest to me since it is a technique that I have been trying to use for my interior shots, particularly this recent shot of a dining room.
In Chapter 3 of his book, Mr. Stern discusses the 3D scanning of found objects using a flatbed scanner. He goes into great detail about the technique and it sparked some enthusiasm in me. I have a scanner and immediately started looking for stuff lying around the house to experiment with. Linda had these peacock feathers lying around (don’t ask!), so they became the first subject.
My 0mm f/0 macro ‘lens’
My scanner is an Epson Perfection 4870 Photo. Its plane of focus is infinitesimally narrow, meant to be just the surface of a document laying against the glass. Focal length is the distance between the focal point of the ‘lens’ and the film plane, which seems to be zero in this case. F-stop is the ratio of focal length to the iris diameter. I can’t figure out what the iris diameter is, but since zero divided by anything is zero, the f-stop is f/0.
It’s a new challenge to compose a shot when laying things out on the scanner. You’re looking at the back of the subject, so it is a mirror image and you have to visually reverse right and left. You also can’t see what is actually up against the glass until you run the pre-scan, so there is an element of luck, trial and error (and pleasant surprise when you see what you’ve done). In this case, the accidental eyes with their strange expression was totally unexpected. My subsequent attempts to ‘improve’ upon it failed and this became the keeper.
The scanner has a cover which is meant to be closed against the back of the original artwork to hold it in place. It creates a white background which was not the effect I was after so I left the cover open and laid a sheet of black foil over the bed. I kept the foil far enough away so that any texture would not be too apparent, given the short depth of field.
I am using SilverFast (Epson-SE) to control the scanner. The Epson is primarily used to scan flat artwork and this subject, straight out of the pre-scan, was far too dark. The scan settings need to be tweaked before the final output is created. I had to adjust the exposure curve to bring up the highlights and adjust the black point to maintain the contrast. This is still a matter of trial and error, since it’s hard to determine the outcome without running a pre-scan each time. There was also some post-processing to punch up the color contrast a bit.
I’m still working on learning and improving with this technique. I will need to get outside someday soon, if only to find some more interesting object to lay on the scanner. I have some more examples on my Flickr ‘Animal, Vegetable, Mineral‘ photoset and will post more here as I make progress.