The Breathalyser Photo Booth

Hey Cindy, I think you're probably drunk enough to get your photo taken now. Cindy? Cindy? Oh well.

As I was writing up the user guide to the Triggertrap, I was googling around to find out what kind of sensors you could conceivably connect to the Aux port of the device. I came across a sensor I didn't even realise existed: An Alcohol Gas Sensor.

Brilliant. Spectacularly brilliant. Why? Because it gave me an idea for a completely novel way to use the Triggertrap that I hadn't thought up quite yet. You probably see where this is going already, because once you know that such a thing as an Alcohol Gas Sensor exists, the idea writes itself:

The Wobbly Photo Booth.

For parties, rig up a 'photo booth', connected to the Triggertrap, that measures the alcohol content of your breath. If you're sloshed enough, it'll take a photo of you!

To create something this awesome, all you need is a $4.95 Alcohol Gas Sensor wired to your Triggertrap, like this:

Now, you need to calibrate the device. You can either use mathematics, or you use a reference: Pick someone who seems quite inebriated, and get them to blow on the alcohol sensor. Set the Threshold on the Triggertrap's Aux sensor to the value they just blew, and get everybody to try.

Get ready to Facebook a gallery only of the most sloshed people at your party! Fabulous.

Of course, the Wobbly Photo Booth is simply one of many, many other sensors you could use to trigger your cameras.

This little project illustrates why I'm so excited that we included an Aux port on the Triggertrap - it opens up for all sorts of crazy and creative uses of the device, letting trigger the camera using literally anything you can think of.

What's your favourite crazy idea for the Triggertrap?

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Interview: Graeme Taylor

EMP/SFM by Graeme Taylor

Towards the end of last year it seemed as if every geeky, gadgety, or photography website was featuring the awesome Glide 2, a slow-motion film shot from a high-speed train. In two weeks alone, it generated over 735,000 views. It was made by the lovely Graeme Taylor, and I was fortunate enough to be able to catch up with him over braised lamb shanks earlier this week, and heard about the similarities between maths and photography, finding a train suitable for filming, and devising a follow-up to Glide.

Daniela: You’re not actually a professional film-maker or photographer are you, Graeme? What do you do?

Graeme: No, and seeing myself labeled with descriptions such as ‘video artist’ has been entertaining! I’m a research mathematician, which I’d argue is a creative activity far closer to, say, photography, than the tedious grind of high-school calculations. Both maths and photography require a certain amount of technical ability, but beyond that, inspiration, experimentation, and the desire to ask lots of questions that start ‘what if…’ or ‘how could I…’ are crucial. It’s just that in my day job I’m trying to capture the behaviour of abstract concepts rather than a landscape or piece of architecture.

DEB: So do you envisage yourself making money from photos or films?

GT: I’m still rather pleased that I’m able to make money from mathematics! To be honest, I like the fact that my photo and video projects are purely hobbies, rather than having to be financially viable activities. Probably as a side effect of the way mathematics works (where you publish your results for all to build upon), I’m more interested in people seeing and enjoying my work than trying to maximise the amount of money I can extract from it. Of course, if anyone wants to sponsor future projects, that’s fine by me!

DEB: Where did the idea for a slow-motion film of a train coming into a station originate?

GT: The usual role of slow motion video is to capture a complicated, high speed activity from a static viewpoint. My first thought was, ‘What if the camera is the high speed object?’ I hoped that this would allow me to recreate the effect of panning through frozen motion which is common in films – the most obvious inspiration would be bullet time, of course. Somewhere along the line I came up with the other piece of the puzzle, which was to record something mundane rather than an action sequence. Then a station seemed like an obvious solution.

EMP/SFM by Graeme Taylor

DEB: Did it take a great deal of preparation?

GT: My original plan was to record from a train that wasn’t stopping, so that I’d have constant speed through the station. I also knew I wanted a slam-door train so that I could film through an open window rather than glass. So the idea spent a lot of time on the back burner as I tried to think of a suitable journey – although I travel a lot by train, I couldn’t find a location that was busy enough to warrant filming, yet somehow unimportant enough for the train to blast through without stopping.

So I stopped trying to prepare and decided to wing it! Having decided to take my chances with stopping services, I took to travelling in the front carriage of trains (no great burden on London-bound journeys, as that meant booking first class) and always having the slow motion camera with me. As it happens, though, Glide was my very first capture of this type, and Glide 2 was taken the following weekend at the same station. So, perhaps a happy accident – if my first few experiments had failed due to poor light or focusing issues (as many other attempts have), then I might have given up early.

DEB: How does it feel knowing that you’ve made something that has become an intergoogle sensation?

GT: My favourite part has been people I know getting in touch to say they spotted it on a blog they follow, through facebook friends, or the like, rather than as a result of my own efforts at self promotion! It’s also fascinating to track its progress on Twitter and to see how different descriptions might or might not catch attention and propagate, or when it made an impact in non-English speaking communities and there’d be a flurry of comments I could only decipher with Google translate.

Elliot Bay Waterfront, by Graeme Taylor

DEB: Do you have people you look to for inspiration, or people’s work you respect or admire?

GT: I gave up on trying to compile a Flickr favourites stream, or posting photos/videos I particularly enjoyed, because I’d never have time for anything else! But generally speaking, I’m most interested in techniques that allow us to see things the human eye ordinarily wouldn’t: from compressing extended periods of time into a single picture with long-exposure pinhole to capturing slices of action with high-speed digital imaging. Any image/footage that I look at and think ‘How did they manage that?’ will impress me, whether it’s from a big name or just some random online experimenter like me.

DEB: What kit do you use?

GT: All my slow-motion work has used a Casio Exilim FH20 in 210fps mode. There are a few others in the Exilim high speed range and some are quite old, so with some shopping around it’s easy to find one at a reasonable price these days.

I also have a Canon 550D, which can do 60fps in 720p quality. With a lot more post-production than the Exilim it might be possible to push that further and still get something that feels like video rather than stop-motion, but I suspect high-end video software would cost more than the camera!

Curious Christmas Kitten, by Graeme Taylor

DEB: What was it that got you interested in photography and film-making?

GT: Looking back, even at high school I was always the guy with the camera, and hosted pictures from social events online – which in those days meant getting film developed, scanning each image, and hand-coding the site. If only I’d had the sense to invent Facebook… I kept shooting casually through undergrad, then I started taking a lot more photos as a post-grad. When I finished my PhD I made the jump to the world of dSLRs.

But whilst it’s rare that I’ll go somewhere without a still camera to hand, film-making tends to be restricted to specific projects. Still, the sudden success of the glide idea and the high-def modes on the 550D mean I’m thinking about video a lot more these days! After all, I have a few hundred subscribers awaiting a follow-up…

DEB: So what’s next, then?

GT: I have a location in mind for a glide-like film using a car rather than a train, which is complicated by my inability to drive! So the next slow-motion footage I post will likely be from this year’s Upchuck juggling convention, which is happening in February. I’m also thinking about the opposite end of the spectrum, which is time-lapse. I spent last week in New Orleans and have a few hundred photos from that to sift through. Oh, and there’s the day job to attend to as well.

Many thanks to Graeme for this interview. If anyone is interested in collaborating with Graeme on some slow-motion film work – from martial artists to scientists – let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

Learning by example

Photos that Inspire is one of the few books I'm aware of that goes into detail about the individual photos, with how, why, where and when they were taken - perfect to start learning

Some people learn best when they start at the basics: This is a camera. Press this button to make it go ‘click’, and it takes a picture. Change the aperture to… etc. Me, I like to work the other way around – I learned a long time ago that photography – like computers, cars, etc – is interesting mostly for its results, rather than for its technology. Who cares if your camera can do 1/4,000 second or 1/12,000 second shutter times… Unless, of course, you need the faster shutter time to achieve something.  


Learning by example, then, is the act of starting at the other end of the learning process: Find a photograph you like, or come up with a crazy idea, and then start stepping backwards: What do I need to do to create the photograph I have seen / imagined / come up with.

What’s the point?

Boats on Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Taken with a Canon Digital IXUS at ISO 200, f/8 and 1/30 second exposure, at widest possible zoom

Boats on Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Taken with a Canon Digital IXUS at ISO 200, f/8 and 1/30 second exposure, at widest possible zoom

The interesting thing of learning by example is that there’s a pretty good chance you miss whole fields of photography. If ISO or lens length isn’t relevant to the shots you’re taking, you’ll never have to learn them… It’s kind of like mathematics: I could never wrap my head around calculus. Not because I don’t have the brain capacity (or, at least, I would like to think), but because I never saw the point. Just like I never saw the point of geometry, until someone managed to bring it to life by explaining how I could apply it to my life – suddenly, I had a need for a bit of knowledge, so I went out to acquire the necessary information and understanding, and was able to do the calculations I needed.

I’m a strong believer in doing the same thing with photography: If you don’t think you need something, well, you probably don’t. You’ll eventually find out that the techniques you’re using at the moment are limiting you – or making the things you’re trying to achieve more difficult – but that’ll be new motivation to learn something new again.

So, how do you do it?

My sister in Vietnam. Taken at ISO 100 with a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens stopped wide open, aperture mode. Shutter time was whatever the camera suggested. Slightly desaturated the RAW file to get a more timeless feel

My sister in Vietnam. Taken at ISO 100 with a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens stopped wide open, aperture mode. Shutter time was whatever the camera suggested. Slightly desaturated the RAW file to get a more timeless 'feel'

Well, it’s easy: Find a source of inspiration. Personally, I use all sorts of sources: Magazines are a great starting point (especially amateur photography magazines like Digital Camera Magazine or similar – also check out PhotoRadar). Flickr, of course, is a marvellous source as well. The problem with on-line, however, is the nature of computer screens. Call me old-fashioned, but I really prefer the high-resolution way of looking at photography: Prints, books, magazines, etc.

The other problem is that, even on Flickr, not that many photographers take you through their way of thinking, or their technique for getting the shot (I love the idea of the How I Took It group, but so far, only 22 photos have been posted, which seems like a huge shame). Luckily, you can often ask questions, and many are good enough to help you along, but that’s still not an ideal way of getting tucked in. (Of course, I’m also guilty of this, but if you find any photos in my photo stream which you’d like explained and deconstructed, I’d be more than happy to – leave a comment and I’ll dig out the info!)

Using books for inspiration

Photos that Inspire is one of the few books I'm aware of that goes into detail about the individual photos, with how, why, where and when they were taken - perfect to start learning

Photos that Inspire is one of the few books I'm aware of that goes into detail about the individual photos, with how, why, where and when they were taken - perfect to start learning

There are a lot of fantastic photography books out there, but many of them are by a single photographer – the problem with that is that they have only a limited number of styles, and most of them say nothing about how the photos were taken – you’re expected to enjoy them as art, rather than as part of a learning experience. As you get better, this is a sensible approach, but when you’re starting out, it can be mighty frustrating.

The best one I’ve found that does things a little differently is Photos that Inspire (Amazon US / Amazon UK) is in the same series as my macro book – the Photo Workshop series published by Wiley – and it’s a peach.

For one thing, it has a couple of my photos in there (which obviously makes it a much better book already) but the important bit is that it contains tons of photographs taken by professional photographers – who explain why and how the shots were taken. It’s like a small art gallery with a personal guide by each of the individual photographers – and a fantastic place to start learning, of course.

How do you learn?

So, that’s my take on it – How do you prefer to learn about photography? Where do you get your inspiration? There’s a comment box down there somewhere…

Do you enjoy a smattering of random photography links? Well, squire, I welcome thee to join me on Twitter -

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