Tag Archives: table top

White Table for Shadowless Lighting

A portable table for high-key photography in the field.

Many times we encounter great photographic opportunities in the field and can accomplish making some superb images of the subject in its habitat. (The mating stink bugs, below) Often however, it would be nice to capture images with greater clarity by the eliminating of ugly or distracting elements and improve the subject view by removing all the background.

High Key-MedREZ-2

I am often told by many that you can do all this in Photoshop or other post processing software. (Don’t worry, fix it in Photoshop.) While I know that to be true, why spend a lot of time in front of the computer when we can manage the technique in the field and in the camera?

 So, my suggestion is to use a translucent white acrylic plastic background sheet and create near shadowless, high-key lighting by using an electronic flash as backlight. Similar to the White Box technique, (See: Create shadowless macro backgrounds) this has been a common studio practice for many years. Now recreating this technique in the field sheds a new light on our subjects. (Pardon the pun.) Enter the White Table.

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This simple tool is an open framework created of PVC plumbing pipe. My dimensions are simple, 12 inches on each side. And with the addition of a 12 inch square white acrylic plastic top, the table is complete. I do not cement the PVC joints so the legs readily come apart for ease of transport.

In use, above, the unit rests on the ground. A back light flash is positioned to fire upward through the plastic top to provide a blown-out background. A second flash on, or near, camera provides front light for the subject and the trigger for the back light flash.

Here is an example of the same mating stink bugs carefully moved to the White Table. This process provides a completely different view of the insects without background distractions. The photo is clean and this technique allows lighting for maximum detail.

High Key-MedREZ-1A simple twist to this technique is to switch the white acrylic for a black sheet of the same material. This will allow the production of some images with nice, contrasting black backgrounds and interesting reflections. This works exceptionally well with hairy subjects like the tarantula, (below).

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Copyright © 2016 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

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Six great tools for photography

How many times have you been asked the question, “What kind of camera do you use?” Or, “Is that made with a prime lens?” I hear that all the time. Many of my students are always focused on the cameras and lenses. And sometimes, not much else.

While the image capture apparatus is certainly important, how you make the picture is even more so. And as a follow-on to that statement, the little regarded accessories often save the day.

While it is true that we need a variety of tools that may be specialized or single- purpose, I have several basic tools in my armamentarium I would not like to do without. Each one is very inexpensive, quite handy and readily available through most hardware stores.

Nikon D2Xs, 60 mm, F2.8 Micro Nikkor lens, electronic flash with softbox and reflector.

These six tools include “A” style spring clamps, ball bungees, blocks of wood cut to a variety of dimensions,  bungee cords of various lengths, carabiners with a rope loop, and spring-style wooden clothespins.

The “A” clamps will hold a lot of things like backgrounds, reflectors and flags and are useful for making tents from foam core boards.  Ball bungees tie up extension cords, secure lighting cables to overheads and booms and of course, to stretch tarps, silks and butterflies to frames. One photographer claims to mount his speedlights on furniture with them.

Blocks of wood in a variety of sizes make their home propping up or elevating objects in still life or table top arrangements. I have a large bucket of pre-cut pieces from 1/2 x 1 x 1 inch to 2 x 4 x 8 inch material.

In my outdoor photography of plants and flowers, bungee cords work well to pull back vegetation and other unwanted material from the subject area. These are also great for stretching as a clothes line to support fabric backgrounds and diffuser material. I also use them to make light stands behave in their closet.

Carabiners are exceptionally handy, spring closing, safety clamps originally designed for mountain climbing. But, small light weight “beeners”, when married to a short loop of rope, are handy for hanging set weights, corralling coils of extension cords and safely securing lighting fixtures when in use.

And of course, the wooden spring clothes pin has many magical uses. More commonly, close pins are used for clamping gels and sheets of diffusion material to barn doors of lighting fixtures. Called C-47s in the movie industry, it is thought they received this highly technical nomenclature because they were once located in Row C-Bin 47 in the lighting department’s grip storage.

So remember, when you admire nice photography there may be just a few dollars worth of these special tools holding a very expensive set together in front of the camera and lens.

© Copyright 2012 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Table-top macro background holder

Many times it becomes necessary to use a card or other two-dimensional material as a background or light modifier for small scale table top photography.

Mounting these materials has been a previous challenge. The use of “A” spring-type clamps, wooden blocks and other mounting schemes is only somewhat successful. As illustrated below, some of these devices may get in the way on the table top.

The solution that really works is an adjustable clamp that will hold a variety of cards, plate glass or other materials vertically and securely. These adjustable clamps are very simple and easy to construct out of common, low-cost materials.

In use, these clamps allow the easy, yet secure, positioning of light modifiers such as glass, scrims, flags, reflector boards, and background cards or prints. They also require little space on the table top so they don’t interfere with positioning of the subject or other props.

MATERIALS :
(All dimensions, inches.)
1 ea-  1/2 X 1 1/2 X 12 clear lumber
2 ea-  3/4 X 1 1/2 X 12 clear lumber
1 ea-  1/2 X 1 1/2 X 12 clear lumber
1 ea-  3/8 X 4 inch coarse thread (all thread) carriage bolt
1 ea-  3/8 coarse thread recessed Tee nut.

CONSTRUCTION:
Assembly of the holder is straight forward. Measure and cut all wooden stock to size. Drill a hole through one piece of the 3/4 inch stock at its center and mount the Tee nut as shown below. Screw and glue the two larger pieces to the base as illustrated. Insert the carriage bolt into the side piece to secure the smaller clamping board. In use, simple finger pressure is sufficient. Position the bolt side of the assembly away from the camera on the table.

My specifications suggest 12 inch long materials. Background holders of other dimensions may be desired depending on the required use.

Sample table-top macro with a mounted color photographic print as a simple background.

Silk iris and bud. Nikon D2Xs, 200 mm F 4.0 Micro Nikkor. Two SB-800 Speedlight electronic flash with background, reflector and diffusers.

Copyright © Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Ants in detail

It’s often hard to visualize the tiny anatomical structures on these small creatures. With proper tools and techniques, exceptionally good detail may be revealed, even on the smallest of ants, if a photographer diligently practices an often overlooked,  non-technical skill — patience.

Ants are small indeed, and fast. At macro magnifications it’s difficult and often impossible to chase living specimens with a lens and to expect a quality outcome. Like experienced wild game hunters, it’s best to let the subject come to the lens. To chase the insects, you must try to hit a moving target with a moving camera and that procedure introduces unwanted image degradation into the equation.

In the image below, this Acrobat ant (Crematogaster sp.) was reproduced at a sensor magnification of  2.0X with the use of a macro lens on a bellows. A 105 mm macro lens was selected to provide excellent resolution and adequate working distance between the subject and the front of the lens. This procedure precludes shadows of the lens barrel on the subject area and allows sufficient room for electronic flash.

My method is to isolate several ant subjects on a small mound of clean pebbles surrounded by a moat of water as illustrated in the bottom image below. If assembled carefully, the ants will remain within a small area. That confining stage can be set up in a petri dish or other suitable shallow dish. The pebbles may be contained in a bottle cap or something similar. The trick is to bring the level of the water to the lip of the cap so the ants don’t run all over the place and off the gravel mound.

After a while you can notice the ants establish a trail and may follow each other around and over the pebbles. The trick now is to select a preferred spot, pre-focus and wait. Shoot the picture with a suitable shutter speed of 1/150 to 1/250 second and with electronic flash providing some motion-stopping assistance and acceptable depth of field. This procedure requires considerable patience and persistence to achieve good results. Don’t worry if your first attempts contain only the south end of north-bound ants, or worse, just a leg or antennae. Stick with it. Good results will follow.

So when you become frustrated, remember Brian’s 7-P rule of nature photography: Prior planning, patience and persistence pays in prime performance!

Nikon D2Xs, PB-4 bellows on tripod with 105 mm F 4.0 Macro lens, SB-800 flash and diffuser.

© Copyright 2011 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Wooden puzzle

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