Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fire in the Hole

"Leave no outhouse unplundered." (a line from, 'The Young Indianna Jones Chronicles')

I wanted to call this leaning outhouse photo, "Bubba Don't Smoke in the Privy No More," or maybe, "Dangerous Gasses -- No Inhaling." Perhaps, "Roadhouse Chili, the Day After." But I don't know, they all seem so wordy.

This image is from my series of photographs known affectionately as, "Light Paintings That I Don't Know What to do With." I have a growing collection of, um, different images that probably have little commercial value. But for me, light paintings are like episodes of "Lost" back when it was still on TV -- makes no sense to normal people, but a handful of us are hooked anyway.

By day, I was photographing horses at an old ranch on the east side of the mountains, in central Montana. By dusk, I was waiting for the moon to rise over this abandoned outhouse. And that's when the clouds rolled in. I probably would have tried an interval moonbow if the clouds had been anywhere else in the sky.

This exposure was 32 seconds (bulb with a cord) at f8 and ISO 400, 18mm lens on a D700. For light, I lugged around a big-boy spotlight plugged into a jumpstart battery. Overkill for this scene, but it's the light I use most for painting bigger scenes and the biologist in me likes to keep some variables consistent. I shot about a dozen frames before my assistant (wife) declared that it was time to retreat to our camper.

The painting started inside, then back to front. With the light off, I pressed myself against the back wall inside the privy and told Tracy to trip the shutter. I painted inside the door, turned the light off and, closing the door behind me, ran around behind the privy. Brief, glancing brushes on the background debris, then light off again. After dashing off camera left, several glancing strokes across the grass. Light off, race to camera right. Paint a few lines across the outhouse to bring out the peeling red paint, then finish up with a couple of more glancing strokes across the grass.

There are times when I wonder what goes through Tracy's mind, like when she's watching me dance around a dilapitated outhouse in the dark, in prime rattlesnake habitat on the Montana prairies. Most of the time, I try not to think about it.

With the clouds rolling in thick and thin, I wandered between 30 and 60 seconds, trying to blur the clouds but keep the moon from blowing out. All of our frames were slight variations on the same theme, and always in the same order. I chimped the back screen after each exposure to see where I might want more or less light. It's a good idea to work from the histogram when your pupils are adjusted to the dark, because the screen image is going to look extremely bright to your eyes.

I picked this frame for editing for two unusual reasons. First, the flare. Lens flare is normally a bad thing to be avoided, but I warmed up to this one. This flare reminds me of the concussion wave from a big explosion -- which sort of fits our theme here. The second reason is that little blue floating scribble. It's from my dialed-down headlamp, and I noticed it after the first few shots. I made more exposures with and without the headlamp and mostly preferred the ones without the scribble. But in this frame it adds a little strangeness that I like.

Another thing to point out -- the original is sharp, but some painted areas appear slightly blurred. On a windy night, if you paint the same movable object more than once, you'll probably find a little blurring and multiple exposures in those areas. Some of the yellow flowers are blurred because I painted them relatively slowly in the wind. And the weedy stalk at the bottom of the privy door shows a multiple exposure because I hit it with two quick coats of light, but at different times.

Just a little burning and dodging in post-processing, and now this romantic, western painting reminds me of that night spent on a windblown prairie -- just the moonlight on my wife, and me in the privy.


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