I’ve had a bit of a quiet spell here on Creative Splurges as of late. I’ve been burying myself in processing the thousands (literally) of images I’ve taken over the last month, as well as writing up my backlog of images that still dates back several months. The difficulty I face is getting the balance right between spending my time editing photographs, and posting them. It seems I’ve gone too far in one direction as of late; it’s been almost two weeks since my last post, far too long if you ask me. Anyway, time to fix that.

On my mother-in-law’s birthday back in August, my wife and her sisters and their children all came along for a birthday meal. And as it was a family event full of kids and people, I of course took my camera.

I managed to get a few really great shots of people at the restaurant and at home – the best of those, however, have joined the portraits pool for later.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 79mm

A little later in the day, however, some of us ended up out in the garden playing with bubbles. Obviously there were some adults – two to make the bubbles, and me to photograph them. No-one was supervising any of us; slightly disturbing when the kids were all under six, the two adults were the sort to play with bubbles for their own amusement, and then there was me, like a wildlife photographer not wanting to interfere with the subjects.

The first apparent grown-up was the man in the picture above: my brother-in-law, along with his daughter Alayna. I’ve introduced you to them before, earlier this year in my first portraits post. Since then, I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing about with portrait-style photography (I use the term ‘portraits’ to apply to almost any reasonably close-up shot of a person, I don’t care what the technical definition says), and have been improving a fair amount.

The main thing that sets this set of images apart from any of the other portraits photos I’ve taken in the past is the fact that just about every one of these shots was taken using fill flash. At the time, I had no idea why the fill flash was working when it hadn’t on previous occasions. Now, however, I’ve been on a flash training course and learnt that by default, when you use a flashgun the shutter speed of the camera is restricted to a top speed of 1/250th of a second, which in cases of bright light can result in overexposed images – but on this day, it was a bit darker, and so even with a slightly increased ISO the images were turning out pretty well.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 87mm

Alongside Matt and Alayna, my nephew George was also out there with us.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 47mm

Oh well. You’ll see what he looks like later. My other niece – George’s sister – was out there as well, but she can be a bit shy at times so didn’t end up in many photographs.

The other so-called grownup was a family friend called Lewis.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 87mm

Of course, the real stars of the show were the bubbles, which looked great in the light, especially when enhanced by the flash.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 57mm
1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 120mm
1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 87mm

One of the things that constantly perplexed me about photographing the kids (of all ages) playing with bubbles is how the autofocus on my camera seemed to prefer focussing on the bubbles rather than the people. This is good, in the sense that that’s what I was aiming for, but in photographs like this next one, you’d have thought the camera would struggle to lock on to the bubbles and focus on George instead:

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 44mm

That said, when I wanted to focus on a child rather than a bubble, that seemed to work too.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 135mm

Whilst we were playing outside, family dog Cindy decided she wanted to get through the fence and join in the fun.

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 120mm

She failed.

I’m pleased with how the shots of the bubbles have come out. They contain such wonderful colours with great reflections. I suspect this was also helped by the fill flash.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 37mm

At some point, the kids decided it would be fun to try to catch the bubbles in the blue bucket George was wearing earlier. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty good idea, because if you managed to capture every bubble then you should be able to reuse the liquid to make more bubbles, right?

Unfortunately, Alayna was hampered by the fact that the bucket was as big as she was.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 135mm

Meanwhile, Cindy was continuing to try to get under the fence.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 45mm

Cindy, bless her, is a lovely dog, but not that bright. Not at all. Her current logic here is, ‘I can see through the fence, so I must be able to fit through it’. The tortoise my family had when I was growing up had a similar problem during his frequent attempts to escape.

Anyway, back to the bubbles. On only one occasion did I get close enough that the flash began to get a bit powerful (this was before I learnt how to turn down the power of the flashgun), which resulted in this next shot:

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 75mm

The effect isn’t that strong, but you can see the light from the flash is overpowering the natural light of the sun (which is behind Alayna) and casting its own shadows.

Lewis, meanwhile, was working on blowing bubbles as big as he could, which meant ones about as big as the kids.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 79mm

As you can see, the light is behind the subjects, making for interesting results sometimes. I like the way Lewis’ head disappears into the sky in the image above.

If you’re wondering how he got on with that bubble, well, his success level was about on par with Cindy this time.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 87mm

I love the way that you can see the tiny remains of the just burst bubble.

Matt, too, was now aiming blow a big one. If you’ll excuse the expression.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 135mm

As I said before, the backlighting on the subjects made for visually appealing shots. I really love the lighting on this next show of Lewis.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 135mm

Even better, I now know that this shot would have looked quite a bit worse without the fill flash, which is working here to fill in the detail on the side of Lewis’ face that is towards the camera.

As you can see, it wasn’t just the kids that were amazed by the bubbles.

1/250sec, f/4.5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 39mm

Of course, Alayna really liked the bubbles, but that soon led to over-enthusiasm and the death of a bubble.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 120mm

Meanwhile, Lewis’ attempt to create a big bubble had resulted in something resembling a mushroom cloud.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 75mm

Still, he persevered.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 87mm
1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 100mm

Now, ladies and gentlemen, we move on to a very special section of this post. Just in case you were having trouble identifying the bubbles, my niece will now help highlight them in a segment I like to call, Alayna Points at Bubbles™.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 135mm
1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 120mm

(that shot is some of the most determined pointing I have ever seen)

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 67mm
1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 47mm
1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 53mm
1/250sec, f/4, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 25mm

Thank you, Alayna, for a helpful and informative guide.

(I would like to note, often when I group images like that, they’ve come from all over the place, chronologically speaking. Not in this instance, these shots were all taken concurrently during a frenzied bout of bubble-pointing)

At this point is would also like to point out that Lewis is the sort of person to wear smart shoes to play with bubbles.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 53mm

Presently the sunlight glinting through the trees caught my eye, and I decided to try getting some light stars. by closing up the aperture.

1/200sec, f/22, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33, 18mm

It was a bit of a mixed bag of success; the stars came out pretty well, especially on the bubbles themselves, but the exposure was a bit low and I’ve had to boost the darker areas of the shot to show George and Lewis a bit better. Shooting straight into the light has also highlighted the dirty state of my lens, where bursting bubbles had splattered and made a mess during the afternoon.

This next bubble is perhaps the most colourful of the set; the detail reflected in it reminds me of van Gogh’s Starry Night.

1/250sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias +1.0, 64mm

In case you’d noticed the +1.0 exposure bias on this shot, let me explain: I was using it when playing about with the ‘star’ shots above to brighten up the subjects in the foreground, and had forgotten to set it back. However, as the camera was restricted to a 1/250th of a second exposure due to the presence of the flash, it made no real practical difference to the exposure length or the end result. Changing back settings I’ve played about with is something I really need to remember to do, because I often forget and end up screwing up shots.

Fortunately, continuing to shoot with an incorrect exposure bias didn’t cost me anything, including this rather wonderful shot:

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias +1.0, 50mm

This next image is, I’m pretty sure, almost entirely out of focus, however I like it.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias +1.0, 48mm

It would have been better if some of it was in focus, of course.

After this, Lewis continued to blow bubbles.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias +0.33, 52mm

Much like the earlier shot, I enjoy the almost blown-out background in this photo. It is almost too much – I’m sure for some, it is too much – but that’s what I like about the image.

You might have noticed that at times I’ve used a tilted frame in this set. It’s something I definitely seem to be using more often. Sometimes I suspect I go too far with the tilt, but if I did, you’d tell me, right?

1/250sec, f/4.5, ISO 320, exposure bias -3.33, 35mm

I love the light coming off of the leaves in the background in this shot, and Lewis’ reflection in the bubble in the top left of the frame.

I actually don’t think the tilt is too much in that shot, it feels natural as it follows the line of Lew’s arm. I think I may have gone a little far in the next photo, however.

1/250sec, f/4, ISO 320, exposure bias -4.0, 29mm

As you can see, in these last two shots I was struggling with overexposure, because I was pushing the exposure compensation all the way down the -3.33 and then -4.0 respectively. I didn’t realise, of course, that it was making no difference due to the aforementioned 1/250th limit when using the flash.

I’m really, really pleased with how these shots came out. It was my first time using fill flash for any duration, and it helped make the shots. I love the composition of a lot of them. If I ever manage to get into a photography studio, remind me to bring some bubbles with me.

In many ways, this post is a warmup to my forthcoming portraits posts. It’s been a while since I showcased my photographs of friends and family (February, in fact) and it seems like almost since then I’ve been talking about releasing another. Over that time I’ve been practising on both myself and anyone else who’ll let me, and building up a collection of images that now numbers over one hundred, which will be released at some point in the future as a series of posts.

11 thoughts on “Bubbles

  1. What fun. And what fabulous photos.


    1. Thanks, Cat. Who doesn’t enjoy playing with bubbles?


  2. These photos are great fun. You really captured the intensity of everyone’s obsession with the bubbles! Love the commentary too, it really made me smile. It’s a really top quality post you’ve treated us with. No matter that you’ve not been blogging as frequently as you’d have liked – this was well worth waiting for!
    Looking forward to the next instalment! Can’t believe you had such great weather too 😉


    1. Thank you so much! I’m pleased with how this post came out, especially since I struggled a bit to get it going, so it’s always great to know someone else loves it too!

      We did have good weather, but as it was August we probably should have had even better weather. Hey-ho, it worked out well for the photographs, so there shall be no complaints from me!


  3. These are excellent shots, I like so many that it’s hard to pinpoint any highlights, but Alayna photographs really well, and George looking through the bubbles stands out. I’m intrigued by your flash work as I have a natural default position of resisting the use of flash completely, although given my preferred subjects, that’s perhaps not surprising. There’s obviously no way you can get away with relying solely on natural light for all portrait photography, so it’s interesting to see how it’s applied.


    1. I went on a flash training course a week or so ago (one of the reasons I was shirking my responsibilities on Mondays). You’d be surprised at how often they encourage you to use flash (although I’m quite pleased I was apparently using Flash correctly prior to the training…).

      Flash has this reputation of producing washed out, awful looking images, the sort you see when you photograph people in a poorly lit bar. But when it’s used properly it can make your images look more natural. I just regret not capturing some with/without flash comparison shots to show the difference it was making.

      Also, glad to see your hectic schedule has finally allowed you time to read and comment on a post!


      1. I’m hoping I might even have some time to do a few posts of my own! Got the “nifty fifty” and a filter set recently so some experiments with those to document.

        If I had more people to photograph, I’d consider getting a flash & learning how to use it properly (where did you do your course?)


        1. I did my course with a company called Experience Seminars. The only reason I found them was I got a £150 training voucher with them when I bought my camera. But I got my money’s worth, I have over 600 images to edit from that day. All of the same guy.

          Glad to see you’re getting back into the blogging game – I’m still looking forward to your final Olympics entry! I think you, Simon and I are way overdue for another photography trip, too. Tomorrow’s post should give a pretty strong indication as to what I think we should be photographing!


  4. Only just caught up with this post. Some lovely shots there, and I saw a touch of inspiration. Not sure if I’m a fan of the whole ‘selective colour’ thing but looking at your bubble shots made me think it could work really well picking out the bubbles in colour. I took the liberty of ‘borrowing’ a couple of your shots to have a play, and it can work pretty well.

    I’d post one somewhere for you to see but seeing as I flagrantly stole your images I’m not going to put them online. Just a suggestion if you fancied having a go yourself.


    1. I’m interested in taking a look, it’s always nice to know images have inspired (on the few occasions it happens!).

      Can you throw some over to me via email at creativesplurges@rob-howard.com?


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