Today we're going to take a brief look at a particular moving type of photography that attempts to channel chaos into beauty: kinetic photography. As you can see in the image below, the results vary incredibly and are often quite stunning.
So what is kinetic photography and how can you do it? Read on to find out!
A Rough Definition
Writing about kinetic photography is probably a great way to garner snide comments about what "real photography" is and isn't. However, though some professionals will scoff at the idea, many photographers from every part of the talent spectrum can't help but appreciate the attractive results coming out of this small movement.
Obviously, judging from the examples below and the inclusion of the word "kinetic," this type of photography uses motion heavily. There are a couple of techniques that fit the category of kinetic photography but all of them essentially use light and motion to create abstract shapes in the resulting photograph. The peculiar part is that, rather than utilizing a moving subject, most kinetic photographers instead opt to use camera motion to produce the desired effect.
The most common form of kinetic photography is known as camera tossing. This growing group of intrepid and/or crazy photographers has discovered that by tossing their cameras into the air with an open shutter, they can achieve some outstandingly interesting photographs.
If you value your camera equipment, odds are bells and whistles are going off in your brain to inform you that this is a bad idea. In a sense, you're exactly right. The camera acrobatics described below are not for the cautiously minded photographer, so if you fit into this category then you might want to stay in the camp that appreciates these photos without making any attempt to duplicate them.
Most importantly, if you attempt any of the methods below, be forewarned that it might result in damaged equipment and we here at Phototuts+ accept zero responsibility either for your temporary loss of sanity or permanent loss of a functioning camera. Not to mention the hospital/dentist bills that result from a heavy chunk of metal and plastic crashing into your face!
Camera Tossing: The Safe Method
The headline here is a bit of a misnomer. Tossing your camera is pretty much never going to be a "safe" way to spend an afternoon, but this method is at least a little less likely to end in tears than the alternative.
The first thing you'll want to do is make doubly sure that your camera's strap is secure. Now that you've checked your strap twice, check it again just to make certain it isn't going anywhere. Next, adjust your settings so that your exposure is long enough to keep your shutter open for the duration of the swing, and make sure everything else limits the incoming light enough to not result in a completely overblown photo with little to no detail. We'll look at how to do this a little later in the article when we examine some examples.
Now hold firmly to your strap, click the button and let her rip. The possibilities here are nearly endless. You can toss, swing, shake, twirl or any any combination of these methods to create some wildly diverse results. Experiment around to see what you like best. Try creating fluid arcs of light or jagged zig zags. There's pretty much no wrong way to do it as long as you're having fun and enjoying the results.
Another even safer method to replicate this effect is to cheat completely by placing your camera on a tripod and proceed to shake or spin your subject. One photographer claimed that he used this method and simply shook some Christmas lights during a lengthy exposure. The result was excellent and in no way inferior to "the real thing."
Camera Tossing: Extreme
Some particularly passionate members of the camera tossing community claim that it's not really camera tossing unless your camera is airborne and strapless. Obviously, this method requires excellent hand-eye coordination, someone experienced in the art of catching wildly moving flying objects and a fearless streak.
Remember that the key here is motion and not necessarily a contest to see how high you can go. Focus on flipping the camera in different directions to produce results that you simply couldn't get by holding the camera and spinning around.
No matter which of the methods above you plan on using, here are a few things to consider.
Obviously, lighting is going to play a huge role in the quality of your results. Many experienced kinetic photographers recommend starting out in a fairly dark room. Try varying your light sources to see what works best. Start with a single light source and gradually introduce more complexity while monitoring and adjusting your setup to fit your desired result.
Once you've mastered the technique in a controlled environment indoors, you'll gain some insight into the appropriate lighting conditions. Armed with this knowledge, venture outdoors and hunt for locations that will provide you with strong results.
Use a Cheap Camera
Remember that by doing this, you're jostling around a piece of equipment that was designed to remain fairly stable. Even if you are confident that you can catch the camera every time, the harsh treatment could do significant damage to the internal components of your camera.
For this reason, it's probably best that you put down the Canon EOS 5D and try this out on something that you won't mind breaking. You'll be much better off if you simply assume that it will be a damaging experiment and choose your equipment accordingly. Honestly, the effects are so simple to create that even really cheap cameras can produce fantastic results.
A Soft Landing
Another good idea to keep things safe is to create a soft, well-cushioned place for the camera to land (whether or not you plan on catching it). Try standing over a couch or bed on your first few attempts. Even a soft landing could jar your camera's finer components but you'll at least be a lot better off than you would be on a hard wood floor or concrete sidewalk should everything come crashing down.
Though many that attempt camera tossing seem to get lucky on the first attempt, don't expect to produce jaw dropping results in your first few minutes. It will take lots of time and experimentation to determine what works best with your particular camera and environment.
Examples and Camera Settings
Now that we've discussed both the literal and figurative ups and downs of kinetic photography, let's take a look at how a few examples were shot.
The smooth arcs in the example above suggest that the camera spun around quite a few times on its journey. One of the most important things we see here is that the photographer used a Fujifilm FinePix Z10fd, which usually runs below $200. Other hints at the quality of the camera are evident in the fairly high amount of color noise despite the low ISO (200).
You might be tempted to really crank your exposure but remember that gravity will ensure that your camera only stays in the air for about a second, so using an exposure of just over a second or less like we see here is enough to do the trick. If your environment is bright enough, you might even want to cut this time in half as in the image below.
This shot features a much broader spectrum of color and what appears to be a more controlled spin. Here we see another photographer using a camera in the $200 range, this time a Fujfilm FinePix A340. The fairly wide aperture and long exposure time are geared towards letting more light in while the low ISO keeps everything from becoming too blown out.
For this shot, photographer Christian O'Brien left a brief message regarding his technique: "This is my first attempt at a camera toss photo. Taken with a Fujifilm A180 with lights provided by a Mitel 5212 office phone on my desk! Taken by tossing the camera about 20cm in the air directly above my desk phone with a 1 second exposure (I think, it's just a basic point and shoot!) "
The result is an impressively intricate swirl of red light that any kinetic photographer would be proud to claim.
To end out the post, here are a few more excellent examples of kinetic photography.
More Kinetic Photography Resources
Can't get enough kinetic photography? Check out these other great resources for more information and examples.
- Lightxposed (Photoblog)
- Beautiful Examples of Kinetic Photography (Smashing Magazine)
- Camera Toss Flickr Group
- Camera Toss the Blog
To sum up, kinetic photography is risky, unpredictable and tons of fun. If you work up the courage to give it a shot, we definitely want to see the results. Post a link in the comments below and tell us how you went about it!