Monday, January 09, 2006

Zen and the Art of Practical Photography

In his 1974 tour de force
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert M. Pirsig describes a situation in which the story's protagonist sets about repairing the slipping handlebars on a friend's brand new state of the art BMW motorcyle with a shim cut from an aluminium beer can. The solution is an ideal one as the aluminium provides material of the perfect thickness and flexibility to overcome the problem at hand and furthermore, it doesn't rust. His friend however is horrified by the notion of sullying the very essence of his crafted machine with something so base and common as a section from a beer can and settles for enduring the problem until such a time as a 'proper' repair might be undertaken.

Anyone engaged in acts of creative endeavour, photographers included, would serve themselves well in reading and absorbing Pirsig's words. Anyone engaged in photography, whatever their area of application, would serve themselves well in playing with the off-cuts of a beer can, or even a little baking foil and gaffer tape from time to time.

It's not so long since I got snagged in the spokes of the DSLR bandwagon and I've had no regrets as a result, though the odd minor irritation has been encountered. One of these revolves around the fact that for flash photography I could use the camera's pop up flash unit with harsh and ugly results, or I could spend money on a suitable hotshoe mounted flash unit with more flexibility built in. The latter was something I was not ready to invest in as I typically favour available light photography and thus the cost effectiveness of such a purchase would be limited. The former is something that caused me to miss out on shots as I felt that no shot at all was better than one mauled by direct flash or blurred beyond recognition through being captured hand held.

In essence I was behaving like Pirsig's BMW owner. Thankfully I was soon to be reawakened by Petteri Sulonen's invigorating guide to the
FinnBounce. Try it. It cost nothing (based on the premise that I already had a piece of card laying about, a roll of baking foil, some glue and some gaffer tape). It really does work a treat and I am now proud to carry a hybrid FinnBounce everywhere that I take my state of the art (if somewhat budget end of the market) DSLR and I'll deploy it without embarassment in any situation where a spot of bounced flash will lift an image from the cloying shadows of murky lighting.

Meanwhile on the other side of the technological galaxy, Alan Cooper's acoustically activated strobe set up (opening image) is a marvel of budget innovation and good old audio visual wit. The set up illustrated in the photograph cost Alan approximately UK Pounds Sterling 99.40 (roughly double the figure to calculate the US$ equivalent) but he assures me that exactly the same results can be achieved with less expensive components totalling UKP 38.40 or even UKP 28.40 if one were to forego the microphone stand. The UKP 0.40 was for the bottle of milk which Alan tends to water down to spread out the ongoing running costs of his scientific art. Treat yourself to a view of his results
here and here. Okay, so it's not Harold Edgerton's bullet piercing an apple (not least since Alan's work contains a great deal more in the way of calcium) but that's not the point.

Whatever you decide to do with your photography, let your hair down, loosen that knot in your tie and if you don't have immediate access to Alan's more exotic components be prepared to shoot with accessories that look like they were pieced together by a child in kindergarten art class (my hybrid version of the FinnBounce being the case in point). Have you ever had so much creative fun as you did back then?

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Anonymous alspix said...

What the heck was he doing using beer can metal on a BMW??!

What a waste of excellent pinhole material!

He could have used it to build himself a camera and then photographed the bike instead! :-)

9:54 pm  
Blogger khon_fused said...

Indeed! ;-)

I've just read your pinhole camera article! Now that is something I'm sure to try out. I'll pick up a box of matches when I next go to buy milk from the local store.

Also I just stumbled across another interesting blog dealing with budget DIY photography projects at:


12:48 pm  

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