BC3 #2 Shot: Middle Archaic Spear Point

The local focus of Boot Camp III did not happen by chance. As many of you know, I have been working on a local blog, HoCo360, for about a year now. Over the last couple of months, an idea hit me that I think will both make the site better and increase its value to the local community.

The blog itself continues to ramble along seeming randomly. But it will soon contain a module of posts which will comprise a complete, structured guide to Howard County. Leading off in that module is s section on local history, which is what led me to photograph the ~4,000 year old spear point seen above.

One of the things that stuck in my mind as I searched for post and photo ideas for HoCo360 was the problem in how to organize them. Early this summer, it hit me -- why not develop a structured guide to the county? It could be of value to current and potential residents alike.

Done well, it could become a heavily referred, go-to site for people looking to move to HoCo, which of course could give it good commercial value. Having the eyeballs of people considering a move to a location would make a site very valuable to local real estate firms, for instance.

But that is the kind of stuff that comes later. First, you need some sort of critical mass to attract and grow readership. The blog is cool, and randomly gets ~1,000 views a day. But what I really want to do is create something that grows in breadth and depth, and gains both value and perspective over time.

HoCo360 displays only one post on the front page, which is by design. That means I can structure everything that is not on the front page any way I want, through threaded links. (Think Lighting 101, or On Assignment on Strobist.) The internal link structures can define sections of related material, no matter what the chronological order of their insertion. Scrape the date info off of the posts (by altering the blog template) and you give more importance to taxonomy than chronology. It's a neat trick to make the archive content of a blog far more relevant.

It will take a while to make the initial HoCo Guide section significant enough to publish it as a module. But once that happens it can be fleshed out on the fly, filling in gaps and creating new subsections like a fractal.

I'd like to have a good selection of segments before releasing it. Say, things like history, geography, culture, arts, business, food, etc. Think Wikipedia meets Lonely Planet Guide meets photo-heavy magazine feature. A lot of the info exists for Howard County already on the web. But it is disparate, disorganized and not very well done.

How valuable would it be to have rich collection of location-specific content in one spot? As I see it, this is a vacuum. And filling vacuums is what the web does best. As photographers, if we can see, define and fill these niches, we can monetize the value we create in a variety of ways. But you need to create the value before you can monetize it.

So, where better to start than with a section on local history. And to illustrate it, a photo of a ~4,000 year old local spear point that dates to the Middle Archaic period. From basic research, I am pretty sure it is either a Gary point or a Morrow Mountain point. I can settle that out over lunch soon enough with a local archeologist at a nearby college.

(And the next stop will be a visit to the local historical society as I make my way through colonial and other periods. Lots of cool things to shoot, and people to talk to.)

For this shot I at first thought about contextualizing it in some local woods, maybe near a river. Points like this are generally found near rivers because that's where people lived. Or in this case, in a plowed field because plows turn up lots of dirt.

As I thought more about the photo, I decided I wanted to connect it to a human hand. Both because it was made by hand and because a hand would immediately give it scale. As I held it, it was impossible to not think about the person who carved it -- likely as far before the birth of Christ as we are after. I wondered if anything I create will be around in the year 6,000 A.D. Almost certainly not. In fact, the historical odds are strongly against even our civilization surviving that long.

That's the thing that continually amazes me about photography. It is not a process but rather a jumping-off point. As McNally says, "That thing in your hand is not a camera. It is a visa." For an ADHD like myself, it's the best enabler I have yet found.

So I nixed the wooded setting and instead chose to convey the beauty of the object itself. It is white quartz, and beautifully translucent along its thin, sharp edges. So I wanted all of the light to come from behind the point.

The point-shaped background light is nothing more than a bare flash with a 1/2 CTB, pointed at a gray wall. As with last week's ceiling light, I rotated, tilted and zoomed the bare head to get the size and shape I wanted. I love the beamed quality of the light from a small flash. It is far more versatile to me because I can generally twist it to any shape I like. If I want a smooth circle of light on a background, I can dome it and vary the distance.

So flash #1 (an SU-4'd SB-800) would hit the wall to give the photo some depth. But to light my hand and the point itself, I would need a second flash. For that I used an LP160 in a LumiQuest SoftBox III. Dialed down to 1/64 power, it was still very powerful up close.

Holding the spear point in my left hand and camera in my right, I swayed forward and back to find the effect I wanted with respect to the key light. In the final frame, my hand was directly below the leading edge of the SoftBox III, which was pointed straight down. As long as I stayed lined up with the backlight's glow, this was pretty quick and easy work.

The resulting photo is clean and simple, yet I hope appropriately reverent for an elegant tool that has stood the test of such an extreme amount of time. I hope I can find the appropriate information to do it justice in the pre-history post that will accompany it, and that it will take on a second life as inspiration to those who read about it.


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
Grab your passport: Strobist Destination Workshops