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June 7, 2016

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana (or a tomato or a lime)

Some photography jobs are mad. Some jobs are conceived by a mind that is on a different planet. (I’m looking at you, IV-Q Branding and Design) that is what you have here. When local events catering business Red & Green Buffet Co decided to look again at its visual identity, Mark Smallcorn (yep; I have photographed him) of IV-Q pitched an idea of smashing red and green fruits or vegetables together and using the result as an attractive photographic logo together with a classy typeface that depicts the company’s strength, confidence and ability to turn standard buffet catering on its head.

Mark approached me with the idea of photographing this, which I happily responded to as opportunities to carry out unusual assignments are, well; unusual. The project had some technical challenges to overcome however. Mark’s idea of getting the veggies to meet at velocity involved firing them out of crossbows. He made these from polypropylene drainpipes, flexible rubber hose acting as the string and plywood for the limb. The fruit sat is a cup held to the string with cable ties – necessary because without the cup, the hose rode over the fruit, leaving it slightly mushed in the pipe. He then christened the crossbows the ‘Large Vegetron Colliders’ (one and two. Hastag: #LVC – you may find a few references on Twitter to them).

The first technical challenge for photographs was ‘how do we know when to fire the camera’s shutter?’ Remote triggers for camera are available from around £20 to £500 so there were options available. Cost was a factor however, so I chose a sound activated system that runs with smartphones. Using the noise from the crossbow firing or the sound of the fruit meeting in mid air would give us the best chance of capturing the action.

First though, the theory needed testing. Setting up the crossbow in a kitchen is no mean feat. Trying not to make a mess with squishy strawberries was quite another. Luckily we only failed on the mess front. Keeping it simple, we used just one crossbow, firing the fruit at a target around a meter away. The impact zone never varied by more that a few centimeters in any direction. The camera’s sound triggering system was mit and hiss, but with a little refinement of positioning of the smartphone and a couple of tweeks to the software, we at least got it to hit and miss. Concept of idea was proven!straw-smash-01 straw-smash-02 straw-smash-03

Things we discovered during the testing included; the camera’s shutter speed setting doesn’t have to be slow. For the photographers reading this, the perceived wisdom is setting the camera to ‘bulb’ which keeps the shutter open and setting the flash off to freeze the action. Ambient light then becomes a problem and anyway, I couldn’t sync the trigger directly to the flash gun. Instead, I fired the camera shutter at 1/125th of a second and used a second radio trigger to fire the flashgun set to 1/4 power. Combined with a relatively high aperture (f11) ambient light was not a problem, thus keeping ghosting from ambient to a minimum. Having the flashgun close to the action meant there was plenty of light falling on the fruit.

Come the main event, Mark transported the two crossbows, plus a couple of boxes of ripe tomatoes, strawberries, bits of cucumber (that were past the best before date) limes and a few other juicy morsels to a basement of his friendly accountants. I brought along the camera, stands, flashguns and a couple of large polythene dust sheets to minimise the mess. Along for the ride was a chap that kindly agreed to film the event in slo-mo with a couple of cameras and continuous lighting kit. The crossbows faced each other around a metre apart, were lined up and raised slightly to increase elevation. A nylon cord acted as the firing mechanism, being attached to the ‘string’. We altered the tension on the string by having knots at specific intervals along the cord that lodged into a small groove in the end of the pipe. Firing meant pushing the knot out of the groove and… Bosh! out flies the fruit.

Mark passed the lime projectile

click photo to link to a video!

The continuous lighting was a bit of an issue; the filming needed the light so you can see the action, but it created too much ambient so each of the events had ghosting trails following the flying fruit. the compromise was to film some elements and then shoot others. And that’s when we hit the second technical challenge.

It was a biggie, too. With no synchronisation between the two crossbows, they had to be fired manually by hand. Even with a 3-2-1-fire chant, there was a considerable delay between the firing of each crossbow. Also, more than once, the chanting fired the camera’s shutter prematurely. The chanting became a whisper and head nodding to overcome this. Also, tomatoes weigh more than 5cm lumps of cucumber and not quite as much as half a lime creating variances in where – or if – the fruit would collide. On the test, the target area was plus or minus 7cm, but that was only the one crossbow. Now with two, the variance was at least double. Adding together the increased variance, the different mass and weights of the projectiles, the fact the crossbows had slightly different firing characteristics and the manual firing of each one it’s no wonder I shot more than 200 frames and ended up with 24 showing something on them. But we did get the ‘money shot’. High fives all round.

This is the rough version of the shot that made the cut and now graces the website of the Red & Green
Buffet Co.

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Here’s a screen grab of the final result:

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I could end this story here – but it doesn’t cover everything. The branding also covered the people as a new website needed good shots of each of the team as well as a team photo. Another ‘left field’ idea from IV-Q was to have sensible shots as well as… less sensible shots. How to make them less sensible? How about a food fight? Sure thing – said no catering business owner ever! After a little persuasion, the owner of Red & Green agreed to the food fight. He called it team building. I called I fast food delivery. I’ll never think of mint sauce in the same way again. Here are some of the shots.

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Finally, the launch where friends and contacts came together to celebrate the new look for Red & Green and the #LVC 1 crossbow gave those willing to cough up a few quid for charity the chance to shoot golf balls at tin cans. Even that was a little bit mental.

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