Field Studio Photography - Part 2

New photographic techniques normally involve at least some investment and field studio work is no different. But the cost of entry is low and greater investment buys convenience rather than superior images.  We’ll look at the equipment and sets you will need for three main subject groups: plants, invertebrates and underwater subjects.

Plants

Lilium bulbiferum and photographic set, Austria

 

Lilium bulbiferum, Austria

 

Start off shooting plants to get a taste for field studio work: this needs the least initial investment. The set can be as simple as a piece of opaque acrylic behind the subject.

Basic:

  • Digital camera with close focusing zoom or macro lens, manual exposure capability and RAW mode.
  • A tripod to support the camera.
  • 2 manual flash guns and sync. cables to connect them to each other and the camera.
  • 1 A3 3mm sheet opaque acrylic, 40% transmission rating as background.
  • 1 A3 sheet Challoner Flyweight opaque envelope stiffener as front diffuser.
  • At least one helper to hold rear flash and background (you’ll have to hold the front flash and diffuser yourself and trip the camera by self-timer).

Making life a little easier:

The same as the basic kit except:

(when I travel, I use this combination, substituting one of my Trekkers with my Gitzo tripod and handholding the camera.)

In an ideal world:

The same as the basic kit except:

Hedge bindweed in the field studio

 

Invertebrates

This is a little more involved insofar as you’ll need a transparent sheet of acrylic formed into an arc to act as a set. The reason it needs to be transparent rather than opaque is so that you can manage the distance between the subject and the white background (see part one of this series).

Male stag beetle, England

 

Basic:

  • Digital camera with close focusing zoom or macro lens, manual exposure capability and RAW mode.
  • 2 manual flash guns and sync cables to connect them to each other and the camera.
  • A large reflector (such as a sheet of white polystyrene)?which acts as the white background when a flash is fired at it.
  • 1 60 cm x 30 cm sheet of transparent Lexan (by Sabic) or Makrolon (by Bayer) flexible plastic, made rigid along its short edges with wooden batons and held in an arc by short bungee cords, with ends formed from Flyweight. This is the set.
  • 1 A3 sheet Challoner Flyweight opaque envelope stiffener as front diffuser.
  • Two helpers to hold diffuser, flashes and set.

Making life a little easier:

The same as the basic kit except:

In an ideal world:

The same as the basic except:

Photographer using transparent field studio set to shoot whelk, Scotland

 

Note:

  • Softboxes designed for use with compact strobes may not always be lit corner to corner owing to the small size of the strobe’s window and distance the strobe is positioned from the fabric.
  • A Benbo Trekker used to support the set allows it to be positioned easily for overhead shots (for example, of beetles) or side-on shots (such as frogs and grasshoppers) by use of a Manfrotto 026 Lite Tite Tilthead. Benbo tripods make excellent lighting stands and set supports.

Field studio set using speedlights, France

 

Field studio set using speedlights, France

 

Underwater subjects

The set this time is a homemade tank made from panels of acrylic, made watertight with aquarium sealant such as OTTOSEAL® S28 Aquarium & Glass Block Sealant. Use 3mm thick panels of white acrylic for the sides and base, a 3mm transparent piece for the back and a 1.5mm transparent pane for the front of the tank. After tacking them in place with superglue, seal all the corners where the panels meet. You’ll also need an additional transparent partition in the tank to keep the subject as close to the front as possible: you can hold it in place with little suckers stuck to the inside of the tank.

Smooth newt

 

Basic:

  • Digital camera with close focusing zoom or macro lens, manual exposure capability and RAW mode.
  • 2 manual flash guns and sync cables to connect them to each other and the camera.
  • A large reflector (such as a sheet of white polystyrene)? which acts as the white background when a flash is fired at it.
  • 1 A3 sheet Challoner Flyweight opaque envelope stiffener as front diffuser.
  • Two helpers to hold diffuser, flashes and set.

Making life a little easier:

The same as the basic kit except:

In an ideal world:

The same as the basic except:

Guests on a Wild on White workshop, Ballintean, Scotland

 

In part three of this series, I’ll describe how to work with and shoot different subjects in the field studio...

Read part three here...

 

About the Author

Niall Benvie is a professional outdoor photographer and author of the eBook The Field StudioYou can find out more about him and see more of his work on his website: niallbenvie.photoshelter.com