Why is This Pepper Smoking?

Because it's about to blow up.

Today, a glance into the explosive still life photography of Adam Voorhes.

I first got introduced to the work of Austin-based photographer Adam Voorhes through our mutual friend Chris Crisman. But I immediately recognized his still life work from the pages of Esquire, one of my favorite magazines.

Oh hang on, it's about to go off:

Adam's still lifes (still lives?) always seem to have have something extra. It might be a smart concept or distinctive lighting. Or perhaps an explosion of some sort.

Sometimes the explosions are be literal, as in the photo above done for Men's Health. But he also has a reputation for images of meticulously exploded images of mechanical objects, as in the motorcycle video below.

For the pepper shots (several others of which you can see here) he used actual explosives. Or, as more appropriate for the scale of a small pepper, firecrackers.

Said Voorhes:

We did have the technical hurdle of acquiring firecrackers off-season. I mentioned the idea to my cousin Sterling who was having drinks at my house.

He asked how many I needed. Just one pack should be plenty, I said. Oh no problem, he told me, I have a bunch of fireworks in the trunk.

You have fireworks in the trunk of your car? In Texas? In the heat? Yeah, he explained, you never know when you’ll need some.

My kinda guy.

So, just stick a firecracker into the back of a pepper, light the fuse and stand back, right? Hardly. There are actually a lot of variables that come to bear. Fortunately, Voorhes is in his wheelhouse for this kind of thing.

As you might have already guessed, Vorhees set up his camera (a PhaseOne P65+ back on an Arca-Swiss medium format view camera) in a darkened room. The flash is triggered by the sound of the explosion with a Mumford Time Machine equipped with a sound trigger mic.

(Note to self: WANT.)

And in a darkened room, as we all know, the flash pulse duration (AKA: t.1) becomes the effective shutter speed. But there are actually a couple of 'flashes' happening here: the photo flash and the explosion itself, which both has a specific speed and generates its own light. So you have to take that component into account, too.

Voorhes found that a t.1 of ~1/6,000th of a second mated the two together pretty well, so he used a flash chosen for that exact power level and t.1 spec: Paul Buff White Lightning 1600s (660ws monos) at quarter power.

He lets his t.1 needs drive flash selection for motion photography. For instance, he also has banks of Vivitar 285s built just for that purpose.

Here's a diagram, which includes an all-important suggestion to shoot through Plexiglass to protect your camera:

It's a pretty straightforward setup, assuming you could figure out the whole flash-explosion-t.1 marriage without pulling your hair out. Otherwise, well…

But Voorhes' whimsical and technical approach to still life work makes him much in demand for both editorial and commercial clients. If you have not seen his stuff, take a moment to check out his site and/or his blog.

I'd strongly suggest you RSS his blog, BTW. He does not post super often, but when he does it is totally worth the read. Just consistently great stuff.

And finally, for your viewing pleasure, Adam Voorhes will now blow up a motorcycle (no firecrackers required) in this time-lapse video of a shoot of a Kawasaki motocross bike for ESPN:

Cool, huh?


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Blogger Wing Tang Wong said...

Mind blown. Wow.

November 26, 2012 1:20 PM  
Blogger Cameron Baillie said...

Don't bother with the Time Machine. I bought a Triggertrap, it does all of that and more for much less. The TriggerTrap mobile dongle will do it all off your smartphone too. A much cheaper alternative to people just trying to get their feet wet into this king of thing. The triggertrap will trigger both cameras and flashes.

November 26, 2012 2:51 PM  
Blogger PaulT said...

Cameron, I see the software is free at the moment. Do you HAVE to have the dongle? Can the cable for remote triggering be plugged into the phone direct?

November 26, 2012 5:35 PM  
Blogger Kurt Wall said...

In other news, photographers everywhere can now rent more cowbell for the attractive price of $2/week. http://www.borrowlenses.com/product/nikon/more-cowbell

November 27, 2012 1:34 AM  
Blogger NewCube said...

I built my own for about £5.

Here it is:

And an example of it in use:

November 27, 2012 5:17 AM  
Blogger fishtoprecords said...

I would think that an ex-engineer like DH would prefer something a bit more hands on, like a CameraAxe http://www.cameraaxe.com/
Its available built, or as a kit, or open source parts.

Just add cool inspiration ala Adam Voorhes

November 27, 2012 4:04 PM  
Blogger GrumpyOldMan said...

When you said "exploded" motor cycle, I was thinking more firecracker kinda thing, then "How Does It Work?" kinda thing.

Coolall the same.

November 28, 2012 10:38 AM  
Blogger Brad Evans Clarke said...

+1 for the Camera Axe, I bought one to use for some water drop photos and it's really easy to use

November 28, 2012 12:42 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

PaulT I'm another happy Triggertrap user, both the mobile solution and the V1 hardware unit. From the phone/tablet it is important that the dongle be used to protect the camera/flashes from the output of the headphone jack. The V1 just requires the appropriate camera cable.

December 10, 2012 1:23 AM  
Blogger pellegrini said...


I 'm trying to get some tips to to start my food photosession.
I have 2x 580 EX. If I get an 50x80 or 50x60 cm hazelight, will I need some radio flash system or my 60d/7D infrared could reach and fire it?
Many thanks

February 21, 2013 3:32 PM  

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