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Seeking photos for the end of the world.

Byline: Paul Kapteyn


What's the best way to take photos in near-total darkness? Perhaps we need to get used to it, since the sun did, in fact, rise on Saturday morning - what with the world supposed to come to an end, at least according to some theories about the Mayan calendar.

Because of this alleged apocalypse, T&G reporter Susan Spencer and I recently went to the EcoTarium in Worcester to meet with planetarium coordinator Melissa Dowd. She had put together a planetarium presentation examining recent theories about the Mayan calendar and the supposed end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012.

My job simply was to get a photograph of Ms. Dowd and somehow include something about her presentation in the photo.

Planetariums are supposed to be dark. Turning the lights up would wash out the projected stars I wanted to include in my photo. Using a camera-mounted flash in the traditional manner wouldn't work for the same reason. The solution: a tripod-mounted camera, an off-camera flash and a black neoprene beer Koozie.

After setting up the tripod for the low-angle shot that I had in mind, I made some test exposures of the title screen of Ms. Dowd's presentation, finally settling on 8 seconds, f5.6 at ISO 400. Making a successful photograph of someone at 8 seconds usually doesn't work too well, as nobody can hold perfectly still that long. But since Ms. Dowd was in total darkness, I didn't have to worry about motion blur on her part. The tripod kept the camera still enough to capture the projected star field. With the shutter open that long, I also had time to walk to the side, point the flash toward Ms. Dowd and fire it manually, freezing her image in the middle of the 8-second exposure.

I also had the challenge of preventing the light from the flash from spreading out too far, which would have washed out the stars projected on the dome. This is where the beer Koozie came in handy. With the bottom cut off, a black Koozie makes a perfect snoot - a simple tube or cylinder mounted on the business end of the flash to focus all the light forward in a narrow beam, flashlight-style. I made sure that the flash was pointing at Ms. Dowd's face at a right angle from the direction the camera was pointing. Think of a triangle formed by the camera, the subject and the flash. I also had to make sure the flash was not in the frame, as I was using a very wide-angle lens.

I took several pictures, and ended up using a frame shot at 15 seconds at f5.6, ISO 400. Note the test frame I made of myself holding the flash. If you look carefully, I look somewhat transparent, with the stars clearly visible through my body. This happened during the brief time that I was not in the frame because I was manually triggering the tripod-mounted camera. The red and green streaks from the LED lights on the back of the flash unit trace my movement, flash in hand, from the camera to the point where I triggered the flash.

Anyone who wants to experiment with shooting photos at night may find that an inexpensive beer Koozie and a small tripod can be worthwhile investments. And you just might be able to purchase them for cheap money during this weekend's post-apocalyptic sales.


CUTLINE: (1) Melissa Dowd, EcoTarium planetarium coordinator, in the planetarium for her presentation called "It's The End of the World. Or Is It?" (2) T&G Photographer Paul Kapteyn shoots a test photo of himself at the planetarium.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 23, 2012
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