The Blurry Man
I find myself inspired by the work of Francesca Woodman. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/woodman-space-providence-rhode-island-1975-1978-ar00350
The way she used long exposures to blur the movement of her body, produces images that I find fascinating.
The representation of movement is something which interests me, though unlike Woodman, and indeed, diverging from the point of this exercise somewhat, my real interest is in representing the movement of objects, or people, not through space, but through time.
Using the methods demonstrated by Woodman can achieve this objective, though whether a casual viewer would appreciate the fact that time rather than movement is the subject here, I can’t say.
All of this is working towards a larger objective, of which I have hinted previously, but still have not spoken yet. Patience please. I’m not quite there yet.
So… here’s what I did today.
With my camera set on a tripod in the garden, pointing towards the garden shed, where we have assorted furniture and garden objects effectively abandoned (we’ll hire a skip at some point, but for now, this is where they rest). It looks deliberately arranged, but it’s just how things have been dumped over time.
Despite the requirement of the exercise to use shutter priority mode, I had my camera set to full manual. I couldn’t achieve the effect I wanted otherwise.
I placed an adjustable neutral density filter on the lens, set an initial aperture of f22, ISO of 100, and a shutter speed of 30 seconds.
Next I focused on the chair, set a 2 second timer, pressed the shutter release and ran to stand behind the chair.
For the 30 seconds that the shutter was open, I… well… I jiggled… I suppose you could call it. I stood and fidgeted. Not moving a great distance in any one direction, but trying to make sure no part of my body remained still.
I used various aperture settings, with various ND filter settings and various shutter speeds…. with varying results.
What I discovered is, when it comes to adjustable ND filters, you get what you pay for. Mine was very cheap, and frankly, it’s quite rubbish. When adjusted to extreme settings, it doesn’t darken the frame evenly, rather, it darkens a cross shape across the middle of the frame, leaving the corners overexposed.
This forced me to opt for a tighter aperture setting than I really wanted… though it also caused me to try some extreme processing of the RAW files, just to see what could be done to recover lost detail. Some of the results are… interesting.
So, here we go….
As you can see… I am there…. but I am not. I’m not going anywhere. Was I there once? Am I there now? Will I be there in the future?
Maybe all of these things… at the same time.
If, as humans tend to perceive it, time is linear, then I was there.
If however, everything that was, is, and will be, all exists… at once… that all of time exists in one big…. thing…. and we simply don’t have the ability to perceive it… then in that image… it doesn’t matter if I was, am, or will be standing there. I am simply standing there. The blur, caused by movement through space… and through time…. is what I’m using to suggest this.
Now, moving away from the interpretation of the image, and back to the technical aspects, I wasn’t entirely happy with using a tight aperture. While there is a certain atmosphere created by this setting, I didn’t really want the buildings in the background to be in such sharp focus, so I tried opening up the aperture.
This is where things started to go away from what I had in mind.
At f22, with the ND filter darkened by a couple of f-stops, what I saw on the screen was what I got when I took a photo. Unfortunately, this didn’t hold true at f2.8.
The results were massively overexposed, and while I was able to recover some detail from the RAW files in post, enough to create an interesting image, this is not what I wanted.
Darkening the filter, I discovered the flaw in it’s function, creating a dark cross across the frame, while leaving the corners overexposed, so I stopped down to f5 instead.
The corners are still overexposed, while the buildings in the background remain sharper than I would like them.
Playing around with the fill light, contrast and vibrancy in post created some very odd effects.
I tried reducing the exposure time, and it’s getting there, but here you can see the dark cross created by the filter.
Exposure is down to 20 seconds. Still getting a nice blur on the figure, but the dark cross is still evident, with the corners overexposed. Compensating for vignetting in post fixes this a little, but the upper left is still not acceptable.
Extreme adjustment of levels on the previous image produced something scary. It’s not what I set out to achieve but I like this!
Probably as near to what I’d intended as I’m going to get it with this filter. The exposure is quite short, while the aperture is quite tight. The upper left is still overexposed while the buildings aren’t as blurred as I want them. Also, unfortunately, there was a spot of fluff on the filter and it’s caught the light here, creating a faint flare like effect on the right of the image.
There is though a feeling of ‘otherness’ and the blur on the figure is very much still what I wanted.
This is heading in the direction I want to go. It says part of the thing that I want to say.
Must get a better ND filter. Hopefully a very dark non-adjustable one will do the trick…. though I’m not sure how dark they actually make them.