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Photography rig

I love macro photography – who doesn’t? To take a tiny, seemingly insignificant insect and to blow it up to the size of a cat is exhilarating. There are many wonderful macro photographers out there (check out the list of links to the right), whose photographs I drool over every day. However whenever they mention the equipment used, a pit grows in my stomach. It’s all so expensive! So many lenses and flashes and rigs and fancy things I have never heard of. How is a poor/cheap grad student supposed to get into macro photography without a huge monetary investment? How can I ever dream of improving my “take 100 pictures and hope one of them turns out sort-of-ok” strategy?

For a long time I have felt relegated to various point-and-shoot cameras. I had a camera in high school I was able to attach a little macro lens to, but that camera became bulky and obsolete. I considered second hand cameras, but had no idea where to even start.

Fast forward to last year. I was gifted an old Nikon DSLR camera body by a colleague. I was excited, but quickly realized that without flashes (expensive) and macro lenses (expensive) I wasn’t going to get photos any better than with my point-and-shoot. So it sat in my desk drawer.

Fast forward again to this April. One of the invited speakers to the Connecticut Entomological Society meeting was Art Vaughan, a macro photographer. However he doesn’t have the same kind of equipment as other photographers. He specializes in building his own rigs to take advantage of the pop-up flash present on every camera. His rigs include clothespins, screws, bendable book-lights, aluminum foil, and pieces of metal. He finds lenses in garage sale projectors and cameras, and attaches them with bungee cords. I thought – hey, that sounds like something I could do!

To see what he can do with these rigs, check out his flickr page here:

Art’s photo of a wolf spider and offspring.

Impressive, right?

With the help of a colleague (who has the power tools needed to cut and shape metal) I have assembled my own camera rig.

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Nikon D70, Opteka 58mm macro lens, flash barrier, flash rig with book-lights, foil cards.

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My caterpillar photography studio.

The goal of this rig is to redirect the light from the pop-up flash to the two foil cards. This causes the light to act like two separate flashes, resulting in more even lighting across the subject. I finished putting the rig together yesterday, so I tested it out on some caterpillars.

Not bad, eh?

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Acronicta sp. (thoracica?)

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Acronicta sp. (thoracica?)

I’m pretty excited that I no longer have to rely on the availability of the “lab camera” to photograph my caterpillars. My rig is a bit bulky and awkward at times, but considering it cost me $75 (for the macro lens, adapter, and two book lights), it’s worth a bit of trouble.

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If you want to learn how to build your own, Art is amazing and would love to help. You can email him at: thylacine1936[at]verizon.net

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