Microscopic Snake studies using the Micro-CT scanner with Levi Sim

Words by Levi Sim - Platypod Pro
Edited by Eryka Bagwell

"Helen Plylar, a researcher at Utah State University, studies snakes, and she does it at the microscopic level. Last year, her team acquired this Micro-CT scanner (made by Nikon!) which uses two x-rays to see in 3 dimensions through objects and organisms as if they were transparent. Plylar is maximizing this tool in her research, but she's also helping other scientists in myriad ways.

"My task was to photograph this new tool, but working as the university's photographer, I've learned that every science instrument is just a big gray box. I strive to find ways to show what they do and to show people using them -- ways for lay people to understand and connect with the devices.

"This Micro-CT scanner has an x-ray emitter that looks science-y and cool -- like it might shrink my kids if I'm not careful. But it's inside this box, and there's not a lot of room in there to work. Of course, Platypods are the perfect solution.

"Lumix's S1 camera with a Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 lens was the perfect tool to use foreshortening to expand the distance and make the tools look big while making Plylar's gloved hands look like something out of a comic book. I also used a Godox AD200 strobe bounced into the farthest wall of the chamber. The light bouncing off the walls made the tiny light source appear much softer and more flattering. 

"I posted the flash on a Platypod so I could angle it just right. My camera is also on a Platypod and a Platyball Ergo ball head (be sure to visit our site to capture the Overstock Sale while inventory is available by clicking here). Note that the Platyball head is facing into the chamber, while the camera is facing out of the chamber. I reached just one hand into the chamber and adjusted the ball head with the buttons while monitoring the view using the camera connected to Lumix's app on my phone. This was much easier than a normal ball head which would have taken two hands to adjust.

"Using the app, I got the light powered and pointed just right, and framed up the shot. Now, I was ready to make a picture. But before I make a portrait, I always ask myself, "What would Joe McNally do?" Of course, Joe would add some color.

"Outside the instrument, the lab is pretty normal -- boring white walls and lights. So, my assistant added another flash with a blue gel to light the room behind Plylar. The blue connects with her wardrobe and the cool color contrasts with the warmth inside the machine adding depth to a room that's just 10 feet wide.

"The result was good! We made a few frames with Plylar's hands in different spots, but the hard work was done. And there was no way a tripod sturdy enough to hold that camera and lens combo would have fit in that teeny tiny little space. Having my Platypods handy I knew they were the only solution.

To view more of Levi Sim's work visit his personal Instagram by clicking here and other works by Levi for Utah State University by clicking here to view that Instagram page. You can also view more of his University captures by clicking this link

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