Digital spin cycle: Risky photographic fad produces striking pictures

Monday, January 30, 2006
The result of a camera toss with a 1.3 second exposure taken from the roof of the Journal Gazette building overlooking the Mattoon Lightworks holiday display at Peterson Park in Mattoon, Ill. (STEPHEN HAAS/Mattoon Journal Gazette)

CHARLESTON, Ill. -- It's all about the ... SPIN. Camera tossing is the latest craze in digital photography and may even qualify as an extreme sport.

Like most TV commercials for prescription drugs, this article may be as much disclaimer as anything else.

Thus you may not want to read this story about the new photographic technique called the "camera toss" if:

* You sell camera insurance

* You lack self-restraint as well as hand-eye coordination

* You own an expensive digital camera and you have a tendency to read aloud around your young children

* You're a receiver for the Green Bay Packers.

Fortunately, Stephen Haas meets none of these criteria. A former photo editor for the Daily Eastern News at Eastern Illinois University, he is among a growing group of photographers who have discovered camera tossing as a means of endangering their equipment and faces while taking some pretty cool pictures.

"I like the thrill of not knowing what you're going to get," said Haas. "It's also a pseudo-adrenaline rush, throwing thousands of dollars of gear around."

It works by opening your digital camera's shutter for one to two seconds just before you spin it into the air, usually at night in front of different light sources. The result: brilliant arcs and patterns of light that border on the abstract.

"Camera tossing is basically what it says -- tossing a camera in the air," said Haas, who now works as a photo technician/ staff photographer for the (Mattoon) Journal Gazette/(Charleston) Times-Courier.

"It usually helps to catch it, too," he added.

The camera toss has been pioneered largely by Ryan Gallagher, a photographer from Austin, Texas, who maintains the Web site and blog cameratoss.blogspot.com. Gallagher is also responsible for thousands of postings on the Yahoo Web site www.flickr.com, where amateur and professional photographers from around the world show off their stuff.

The camera toss blog's "Guide for Beginners" discusses various methods.

"Remember, it's not about how high you toss, it's all about the spin you put on the camera," according to the blog.

Side note: Like this article, the blog starts with a disclaimer. The blogger "accepts no responsibility for any injuries to photographers or damage to photographic equipment sustained during the tossing process," it reads.

The camera toss group on flickr.com already boasts almost 900 members who have posted numerous examples of their work.

"This is a technique group, and the technique here is regarded by some as insanity," according to the group's administrator, who goes by the alias "clickykbd."

"For we are the reckless folks on flickr that enjoy the abstract, chance, generative, physical photography that results from throwing our cameras into the air."

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