The other day I was sitting on my porch with a camera in my lap and the cats nearby and I was waiting for them to do something interesting. They both fell asleep--cute, by hard to photograph them. While I was waiting, I noticed some interesting color patterns in the surface of the frosted glass table I was sitting next to. The table has a shelf about 10-inches or so below the glass top and I store bits of junk under there--glass dishes, candles, magazines, etc. The sun was illuminating the stuff under the glass, but not the surface of the glass and the rippled surface of the frosted glass was creating all sorts of pretty colored patterns.
I sat and played with the patterns for a half hour or so using an Olympus E-PM1 camera (it's what they call a "MILC" or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera). The camera is tiny and the zoom lens that I was using has the equivalent focal lengths of 28-84mm in 35mm terms; I was using it at approximately 42mm in 35mm terms. I really wasn't paying much attention to camera settings or exposure because I was in a kind of awkward physical position and had to shoot handheld--so I just went with whatever was happening. I wish I had used a smaller aperture for more depth of field (though it's hard to tell, some areas of these images are a bit soft), but it is what it is--I was more after the color patterns than detail.
As I shot the "found" photos, I decided that I wanted more color and so I started shoving bits of paper and things that I had nearby just to add different color and patterns. Ideas starting going off in my head--pretty colored things I could shove under there to create even more intense patterns--but I had some writing to do, so I left those ideas for another day. This winter I think I'll bring the table in from the porch and set it up in my basement and spent some evenings experimenting with various objects and lighting under the glass.
The next time I shoot this table (and I will shoot it again) out on the porch, I'll probably use a Nikon dSLR and a wide-angle lens and a tripod and pay more attention to technique. Of course, the spontaneity will be gone and I'll probably ruin the fun of the discovery. Oh so typical. But that will teach me a lesson (again), I'm sure: sometime it's better to just go with the flow and take what you get at first blush.
By the way, if you'd like to try this yourself, all you need is a small sheet of tempered/textured glass (an old shower door form the dump would be great). You can probably find a scrap in the junk bin at your local glass dealer. Then just set it up like a table (use stacks of books to hold up the corners) and slide stuff under the glass and light it from below. You'll be amazed how addictive this can be.
My new book: My new book Digital Photography FAQS should be out in the next two weeks (you can pre-order it on Amazon right now). It features 365 questions and answers about all aspects of digital photography and the text for each answer is mercifully short--so it's an easy read. The book also feature a few hundred of my photos as well many by some of my very talented photographer friends: Jennica Reis, Derek Doeffinger, Robert Ganz and Lisa Aliperti. And if I'm forgetting anyone in that list, I'll correct it shortly!