Blowing Bubbles

My friend Michael Helms [helms] is a famous Hollywood portrait photographer, who does head shots of stars as they rise and fall. He’s been bored and has been sending me some of the photos he has been doing out of boredom and – with permission – here are a few of them.

These would look amazing printed on metal or glass. They’re closeups of soap bubbles. I am not sure what he’s mixing in with the bubble juice (he mentioned “lube”) but he’s got a black backdrop, a great big softbox, a top of the line Canon DSLR, and a straw. Apparently if you get the camera ready and give the bubble a puff with the straw the colors chase each other wildly.

“Migration” – Michael Helms, 2020

I got two bubbles, one for each of you:

Want to talk about difficult photographic lighting problems?

I believe that was done with a translucent glass plate and it’s actually 2 bubbles. Honestly, I am still trying to figure it out. It could be photoshop, I just don’t know.

I feel like someone needs to make a way of putting a kaleidescope onto a bubble blower, or something like that. This is reminiscent (only better) of the 60s “oil and water on a watch glass with a projector” light shows from the early LSD days.

This is your brain on drugs:

At one point he was experiencing some interesting problems with depth of field and had the lens stopped way down, but began picking up weird interference grids. I don’t think that the question of what they were was satisfactorily resolved; my theory was that the reflection of the bubble was enlarging a view of the camera’s CCD sensor.

It looks like “ebru” – water-painting – done huge. I’d love to see this turned into a stained glass (print) window so it threw light across the floor.

There are echoes of mandelbrot sets; I feel as though the little blobbies contain more blobbies inside of them, ad infinitum. But they can’t – this is actual physical material. I forget the exact measurement but soap bubbles are very, very thin and Michael says they are comprised on multiple layers, which makes sense because there’s an “inside” and an “outside” and the outside is maybe dehydrating.

There are lots more, and I hope he does a show of them someday, if people go back to doing shows. The last one I’ll post here is a bit of a riddle:

When I started studying photographic lighting I used to play a game with another photographer, where we’re try to figure out the set-up of a complex image. Michael knows that game and knows I play it, so he sent me that, presumably to blow my mind. Because of the reflections on the back-side of the bubble are we seeing double? I just don’t know and I gave up.

Thanks for sharing these, Michael!

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I wish Caine could have seen these.

These remind me of some of the photos of the “wander probe” photos – the guy who does starscapes out of coffee creamer, and black holes using the bottom of a mug. I did a posting about that a few years ago and I can’t find it right now, but it’s more “deep miniatures” work. I know this is not what Feynman meant when he said “there’s plenty of room at the bottom” but – there is!


  1. komarov says

    Evidently someone should start funding an art programme where photographers are locked up with everyday household items and bored until they start making interesting stuff. Since we’re past feudalism (and corona, some day), the whole thing should be voluntary. But this is much better than movie folk faces could ever be. Movie folk face enthusiasts may disagree.

    I was initially going to say I liked the second best, but don’t think I can actually pick favourites here.

    I’m not sure what we’re puzzling over but tried to get a closer look in anyway. I’ve learn nothing except that filters applied to these images have … potential. ( doesn’t have many, unfortunately)
    The bubble looks like it might be a doublet, or double-shelled, but perhaps that’s just a trick of light due to the contrast from the floor and dark background. I suppose the reflected cloth at the bottom (which looks small but could be a badly distored towel or carpet) is where these fleeting things meet their end. As for all the reflected equipment: If the master photographer needs unfathomable bars everywhere in the room to make marvellous pictures of soap bubbles, then I’ll just accept that as fact and say, “keep rolling”. The wrinkly bit at the centre looks like it might be another towel or a shirt. Perhaps a glimpse of the master himself?

  2. says

    I think the wrinkly bit is cloth over the ac/heat vent to keep from having anything blowing on the bubble.

    I did not post the picture with the grid; these are just a few of the ones he shared that are OK to post.

  3. Jazzlet says

    Wow! And yes some of them are like those bubbble projectors from the late sixties and seventies, just what I thought was really cool back in the day when I started going to discos in the late seventies and still think is beautiful now. But also rainbows!

    And in that last one … a ?tea towel? on the floor to catch the drips when the bubbles burst?

  4. kestrel says

    These are amazing. I really want to paint things now… The top bubble looks like a landscape on another planet to me.

    I can’t possibly pick a favorite one; the Saturn bubble/s is super cool though. These are so appealing!

  5. says

    I think your friend here completely blew it and the adorations are completely overblown…

    I’ll see myself out.

    The pictures are really amazing. I think too Caine would love them, she herself did such things when she was stuck at home.

  6. cvoinescu says

    These are wonderful.

    In the last image, there’s two of everything, including the cloth, so clearly there are reflections from the front and from the back of the bubble. By the way, the cloth may be covering a tray, to catch the bubbles so they don’t splash when they break.

    The recipe I know involves J-Lube and dishwashing liquid.

  7. voyager says

    These are fabulous. I love them all and I much prefer this type of photography to celebrity head shots. Probably a lot less lucrative, but much more captivating. Blown bubbles blew my mind. Thank your friend for sharing.

  8. says

    Michael gave me more information about what he has learned about bubbles. Apparently, there are multiple reflections (back and front and off the camera lens) so this is an annotated version:

    Also, apparently soap bubbles are 3 layers: water between 2 nanometer-thin layers of soap, the soap is long-chain molecules that hold together and trap the water. The swirling is a result of evaporation.

    Those of you who said it was a towel for drips, win a hug from Joe Biden!

  9. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#9:
    Are any polarizing filters in play?

    Nope! (although a lot of digital cameras are filtered, for all intents and purposes, by the range that the CCD can capture and by how the software captures it)

  10. cvoinescu says

    What’s even more amazing is the amount of empty space that person has in their garage.

  11. publicola says

    Each bubble unique; each a work of art. Reminds me of fantasy art, or maybe even fractals.

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