Words by Stewart Wood
Edited by Eryka Bagwell
Before we begin, let’s take a moment to talk about ethics. Although we will be talking about placing subjects onto a pre-made scene, this should only be done with a pet invertebrate or with species that you know are ok to be moved and manipulated. If you don’t know what the species of the insect being photographed is, then don’t mess with it, just leave it be and photograph it where it is. For example, I will not try to capture a ladybird spider to bring it into the studio to take a photo of it, but I have no problem getting an ant of which there are millions, and bringing it into the studio to get a photo of it. No matter what, the subjects I photograph are alive and unharmed.
I love venturing into the wilderness to find bugs and new subjects to photograph. Finding them and photographing them in their natural environment is great but, sometimes you need a helping hand to get the shot. This is what the Platypod setup has been developed for.
I started my macro journey in the home studio and as such, I developed an artistic style for my indoor macro work, a style that until now I couldn’t make work for my outdoor macro photography. One of the issues you come across when photographing insects is, they move around… a lot. Using the tools I’m about to show you, can make it easier for you to get the final capture that you want.
I used to use mini tripods from the pound store for my macro photography work, but they break so easily and really can't hold much weight. So now, I use the Platypod and its supporting gear!
FIGURE 1 (Above: The BTS Setup)
Let’s take a look at the setup in the two photos above and what you will need to make your own:
- Platypod eXtreme
- Ball head (with panorama control) Platyball Elite or Ergo would do great!
- Gooseneck arms (2 minimum)
- Mini Super clamps (2 minimum)
- Background textures
- Some flowers or other items for the subject to be placed onto
Platypod is running several Holiday Deals some of which include their own Macro setup suggestions listed below. You can click on the links below to visit their website and purchase yours today!
- eXtreme Macro Bundle
- Rick Sammon Close up Bundle
- Macro Accessory Bundle
- Shop All Products (for other photography tools and sales)
FIGURE 2 (Above: The Platypod and other items used in my setup)
Let’s start with the indoor setup, first. We start with the all-important Platypod, the Platypod is a great bit of gear for macro photography work. Well build and solid, for anyone who knows me and how ruff I can be with my equipment this is a must, it’s lightweight and has multiple mounting points for accessories. Next, we need to add a ball head, any ball head will do the job, but it must have separate controls for the panoramic movement. We can now place a super clamp into the ball head, this will allow us to place any number of objects into it and hold it tight.
FIGURE 3 (Above: The Platypod eXtreme fitted with a ball head and Mini Super Clamp)
Let’s add a flower to our scene, any type of object will work for this, not only flowers but sticks, bark, and even sometimes dried fruit. Just be creative. Making sure that all the adjustment knobs of the ball head are tight so the ball head can’t move, except the panorama control knob.
FIGURE 4 (Above: A flower added to the setup)
Using a mini super clamp fixed to a gooseneck arm we can now add a background texture to our scene, this is one of my designs, available on my website at www.stewartwood.com (as a digital download) that you can print at home (fig. 5, below), this helps to enhance the background but it also allows us to control the color of the background by swapping it out for a different texture.
FIGURE 5 (Above: Background added into the Macro setup)
Before we add a subject to the scene let’s talk about the camera gear I use (fig. 6). I’m currently using a Canon EOS R with the Laowa 100mm 2 x macro lens. For my lighting, I’m using the Godox MF12 twin macro flash with a custom build crafty bells diffuser.
FIGURE 6 (Above: My current macro gear)
Say hello to my regal jumping spider, which we’ll use for this demonstration (fig 7).
FIGURE 7 (Above: My pet Regal jumping spider)
We will place the subject onto the flower and allow them to freely run around. If the subject keeps running away and jumping off then don’t try to photograph them as they may be stressed, place them back from where you got them from and move on to a different subject. Perhaps you can refocus your attention on that subject on another day when they seem more comfortable where you position them.
In this example, this jumping spider is a pet, so we’ll be ok to work with it. After a small amount of time, they will start to explore this new environment. Sometimes if you are lucky, they will sit still and allow you to photograph them. Other times you might even be able to get a focus stack, but focus stacking is not something we’ll talk about this time, for now, let’s just start with a single shot.
I like to start with my shutter at 1/200 sec or the max sync speed that my setup allows. I don’t want any ambient light in the scene only the lighting from my flash. This way, I have full control of the lighting. My f-stop is normally around f7 – f13, in this example I’m using f9, we want to get nice sharp details without introducing diffraction (softening of the image due to a high f-stop). As for my iso, I like to bump it up a little. Sure you can shoot at iso 100 but that puts a lot of stress on the flash, so bumping up the iso to say 400, we can keep the flash power low. This helps with the recycling time as well as the battery power usage. The Godox MF12 has internal batteries that you can’t swap out when they are flat, so keeping the iso at a slightly higher number will mean you need less flash power to light the subject. This will help to get as many shots as possible before the batteries run out.
Here is the best part about this setup, remember that I said to make sure that all the control knobs are tight except for the panorama control? Well, as the subject moves around the scene we can now turn the ball head to keep them facing the camera without affecting the background, magic isn’t it?
FIGURE 8 (The result of our macro setup)
FIGURE 9 (Above: A Regal jumping spider on the setup)
You don’t always need to use a background texture card in the scene, you can also use the same or indeed a different flower for the background. Again, use the super clamp and gooseneck arms to hold it in place, if the background is heavy, you can always use two gooseneck arms with mini super clamps to hold it in place.
FIGURE 10 (Above: The same setup but using a flower in the background)
Now we are getting some good photos, but we can push the boundaries just a little bit further...? By adding another mini super clamp and gooseneck arm at the front of the setup we can add some foreground interest (Fig. 11). By shooting through this foreground object, we can add a third dimension to our images, just like you can when doing portraiture.
FIGURE 11 (Above: The setup with foreground interest)
FIGURE 12 (Above: The result of the foreground interest setup)
This setup will also work great for videos as well, by adding some LED lights (using more gooseneck arms) to light the subject. I’ve used this setup many times to film my pets for my YouTube channel.
FIGURE 13 (Above: The setup with Litra lighting for video work. Can also sub out these for Lume Cube 2.0 or the LumeCube Panel Pro lighting)
This setup is so versatile, it will also work for outdoor macro as well. You can use the full setup described above but again only on subjects you know are ok to be moved and that you are not disturbing. Not only that, but we can also use the gooseneck arms and mini super clamps to hold onto the stems of a flower or foliage to help stabilize them in windy conditions. You can add diffusers to the arms or even a wind blocker when the wife is not available to stand in the way of the sun or wind.
FIGURE 14 (Above: Using a Mini Super Clamp to hold a stem in place)
FIGURE 15 (Above: The mini setup using a Sirui ST-224 Tripod)
If you have a tripod that supports adding accessories to it, like the Sirui ST-224 then you can create what I like to call the mini setup. This is the same setup with the same results but without the Platypod, great for a quick snap-and-go mobile macro photography studio.
Overall, the Platypod system is a fantastic option for macro photography and I never leave my house without it. In case you've been wanting to give your skills a new challenge and try some Macro photography of your own be sure to click here to visit their website and capture the Macro Holiday Deals (and more!) while supplies last!
Be sure to visit Stewart's website to view more of his incredibly captivating artwork by clicking here. Another great video which shows some of Stewart's favorite Macro gear can be found on his YouTube Channel (and also by clicking here) where you'll find tips and tricks about Macro and how to capture these fascinating subjects.
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