Saturday 5 October 2013

Project: Airborne... concept test

The nature of my Day Job is that I’m very busy over the spring/summer/autumn, but have much free time in the winter, which means an opportunity to get some projects done.  I have a few which I’m aiming to do this winter, the main ones being to play around with long-exposure pictures using miniatures.

There are some types of photography I’ve fancied doing for a while, but which are difficult to replicate, at least without using Photoshop and the like.  I’ve been wondering about trying to do some sort of aircraft shot in-camera with miniatures, with little or no involvement from Photoshop, as a run-up to doing the Project: Thunderbolt pictures.

I figured that the best way to get a shot of a plane flying against the blurred background was to have the camera and plane fixed together on some sort of rig- it’s a development of the “Intercity” project I shot last year, where the camera was mounted on a railway wagon and propelled through a scene with a long exposure.

Developing the idea for aircraft shots involved coming up with some sort of rig to keep the plane model and the camera fixed.  I had wondered about the good old “Thunderbirds” method of having the model suspended by wires, but it would move around too much (it needed to be rock steady) and the size of camera rig required would be bloody daft.  So after a bit of though, I shall be using a stick instead; much simpler.

The failiure of an early attempt (due to the weight of the model and the poor attachment of the rig to the camera) led to the test rig Mk.2, which is a slightly more glorified form of stick.  The attachment to the camera is a Poundland mini tripod, which in terms of material quality seems to have been made from tin foil, so it has been heavily reinforced with hot glue.  One of the rubber feet from the bottom of a tube was removed, and had a small length of square-section wood inserted, on the end of which was hot glued a small plastic tub which had previously contained glitter.  The reason for this is that the tub has a tight-fitting but rotatable lid (glued to the bottom of the plane) which will allow the angle of the plane to be varied- the leg of the tripod also rotates, allowing for more angles in each shot.  The stick was painted mottled greens to try and hide it against the scenery a bit.

The plane was a little trickier; being as I was doing this as a concept test, I didn’t want to spend hours building an Airfix kit, just to have it fall off and smash to bits the first time I tried to shoot any pictures with it.  So the plane chosen was a very cheap and nasty clip-together kit, which claims to be a Spitfire.  It took a fair bit of bodging together, and I had to perform a serious bit of modification to the wings, which amazingly they had managed to mould upside down and back to front, giving the wrong shape altogether.  Its still not exactly brilliant, but its good enough for the test piece.

Once it was assembled, it was quickly painted intoi something resembling a proper colour scheme, and lightly weathered.  A finishing touch with the pictures was a plan to incorporate a battery-powered fan to turn the propeller (as it happened, I ended up being too late to get one from the shops, stupid end-of-summer clearances…)

With everything built up, it was time to actually test the concept- I needed a high-up vantage point, so went up the valley to a path between Haworth and Oxenhope, and hey presto, a viable location... except that the Day Job got in the way, so I ended up shooting this off the fire escape at work, which provided a similar location.  For the sake of the concept shots I ended up just using my old Cannon 350 rather than the posher cameras, and I was reasonably pleased with the resulting shots. 

The next step?  Well I had wondered about using this technique for the “Project: Thunderbolt” images, but that model weighs a bloody ton, so that’s out of the question.  I do however want to try some more of these pictures with a better model (I have two available, both 1/48 kits which should allow for some better detailing).  Weight will be more of an issue with bigger kits however; and I want something a bit better than a stick, which will give a bit more flexibility.

The design for the ‘proper’ rig at the moment involves a special mounting built to accept a base-plate from a camera tripod, which should make things a bit sturdier.  The ‘trigger grip’ on the base should make the camera a little more controllable too, and to support the planes I will be using the same glitter-tub method as on the concept piece, but modifying the stick with thin, but strong, metal or similar as a substitute.  The intention is to have two interchangeable sets of ‘sticks’, one painted in green and one in blue, for differing shots.  Hopefully there will be more on this project before the month is out...

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