I mentioned that I had been saving up some good posts ready for my new website, well here is the first. If you were reading this blog just before I left for India you may remember that I mentioned a parkour photography project that I was working on, with a photo of Tim here flipping through smoke. Unfortunately I only ended up with four of the eight images in this series that I had planed for, mainly due to finding myself on a different continent, .
Parkour is yet to catch on here in India for some reason, which is a shame as there are many possibilities. Boundaries and a sense of personal property that effect PK in Europe are almost non existent here; nobody looks twice if you just wander onto somebody else’s roof for a while. The architecture in Dharamsala would be perfect too. There are lots of random walls, flat roofs and buildings that are jumping distance apart, in fact the only place I’ve ever been that’s more suited to parkour is Fez in Morocco (think Assassins Creed).
The idea behind this project, which I have preliminarily labeled “Elemental Parkour”, was simple. It was to be a graphic exercise based on the four elements and some tricking. Why the four elements? Do I believe they have any sort of mystical significance? Do I believe that everything is made up of a combination of these four things? No, but if it’s good enough for Chase Jarvis, it’s good enough for me!
Much more on this shoot after the jump.
My concept was to get a head shot and an action shot of four traceurs, with a different traceur for each element, making something that graphically represented Earth, Air, Fire and Water in terms of Free Running. I wanted something more commercial in my portfolio, something which demanded a greater degree of planning than normal. Most of all I wanted to do something fun and challenging.
Oh, and did I mention how I wanted to throw in a bag full of post production?
I had a couple of secret ingredients for this shoot, namely Potassium Sulphate, sugar and baking powder, but more on that later.
Firstly, the most important thing about this shoot it the talent. Tim was the obvious choice to represent Air. He is tall and light; light in complexion and light and weight, but when I say light I am really referring to the way he moves. Tim does not jump between railings, he floats, and man is he fast. I don’t know anyone in BHB Parkour who can move through obstacles as fast as Tim.
The first problem to overcome was: how do you represent air in a photograph? For fire you burn something, for water you turn on a tap. How do you show something that is both invisible and ever present?
In Chase Jarvis got around this using autumn leaves to show the wind, I decided (inspired by a fellow strobist on Flickr) that smoke would be the way forward.
When producing smoke is your goal a smoke machine seemed like the obvious first choice,but they are not perfect for every occasion. To use a smoke machine I would need power, which meant either doing the shoot inside or hiring a generator. As I did not have access to an indoor space big enough for this shoot within budget (i.e. nothing), or a genny, I decided I needed an alternative approach. So off I went an Scroogled “how to make smoke bombs”. I found lots of handy videos on how to make some very effective smoke bombs using household items easily obtainable in the U.S. Unfortunately the most important ingredient, potassium-nitrate, is not so easily found in the UK. Eventually I discovered a supplier: hobychemicals.co.uk.
How to make smoke bombs:
(You can find lots of useful videos for this but if you don’t want people monitoring you then I suggest you search this term using TOR. Most governments probably track people who search for “how to make” and “bombs”. If that’s how you got to this page then it’s probably already too late. Here’s a good example, although the dye and fuse are optional.)
Potassium Nitrate (KNO3)
1. First mix 60% KNO3 with 40% sugar in a sauce pan that will not be used for food, the ratio does not need to be precise.
2. Put this mixture over a very low heat and stir continuously. If your mixture burns and sticks to the pan you have the heat too high. After a little more than ten minutes the sugar will begin to caramelize. Be patient and continue stirring until the mixture has reached the colour and consistency of peanut butter. At this point it smells pretty good, but I wouldn’t eat it if I were you.
3. It is now time to add a spoon full of baking powder. Exactly how much is up to you, experiment. The more you add the slower and more consistently the smoke bomb will burn.
4. Once you have stirred in the baking powder and you have seen the mixture has risen, turn off the heat and divide the mixture up into different bombs before it sets. Some people use toilet rolls with the end covered for containers, tinfoil also works well.
Once the mixture has set your smoke bombs are ready to light. Once lit the reaction is vigorous! These burn very hot, as you can see by the white hot sparks which fly off them. The bombs can burn through wood and metal so I recommend you only use these outside and on a concrete surface.
Oh, and if you have the permission of the land owner these are completely legal. Still, you can’t go wrong with TOR.
Here’s the portrait of Tim straight out of lightroom, which was shot simply with three lights against a black background (well, a school playing field actually). I wanted all four elements in the series to be tied together with a fairly standard lighting setup. I have started using softer lights for my kickers these days as it gives more shape and definition to a portrait. Here I used a couple of 90cm brolly-boxes on my strobes, slightly behind Tim and facing at a slight angle towards the camera. Ideally I would have flagged these, but I was using a hooded Canon 85mm F/1.8 USM, a lens I cannot recommend enough. There was no indication of flare on the preview so I didn’t bother.
The lighting was finished off with an on camera Rayflash for a bit of fill.
Here you can see just how effective the smoke bombs can be. When it came to the action shot I wanted the figure to be more involved with the smoke, and this is where Tim showed his true skill as I got him to flip through the smoke. Being able to front-somersault on a flat piece of wet concrete is fairly impressive. Now imaging being able to do this in the dark, over something that is burning, through a thick cloud of smoke, with two strobes going off in your face just as you reach the apex of your jump so that you have absolutely no way of spotting your landing. Tim landed everything perfectly.
I disposed of the fill light for the action shot for two reasons. Firstly, when those bombs burn they give off some light of their own. Secondly, the smoke acted like a huge product tent a few stops down, throwing light in all directions and creating it’s own fill to a greater extent than I had been using the Rayflash.
Later I used the same background image that I had for the mugshot and combined it in Photoshop with the smoke that was there already.
I am still working on the images for Fire which I also shot before I left, so hold on Callum, it won’t be too long!
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