Saturday, March 24, 2012

Set up for a desktop photo studio

Part 3 of a 6 part series

I'm going to describe a simple desktop photo studio.

Let's first talk about the background that will be seen behind the fly. If you decide to use a busy background, such as an assortment of colored thread spools stacked on dowels on one of those cool multi-stepped wooden racks, be sure that they are far enough away from the fly to be somewhat blurred in the photo.  Otherwise the background will be distracting to the viewer.

I've tried busy backgrounds, but prefer a simple approach. Colored mat board is a good choice if you have access to an art supplier. Mat board is the material that is used for mounting photographs for framing. I like to keep the mat board about 8" to 14" inches behind the fly. You'll have to experiment to find what works best for you. 

A mid-tone background is a good overall choice. I like medium shades of gray, blue, or green.  I buy my mat board online, from American Frame. A 12" x 18" piece should be plenty big enough.

Colored folders work great too. You can pick up colored folders at Staples or W.B. Mason.

Three good colors to use for a background.  Grey and green are mat board. 
The blue is a colored folder. If the grey mat shown here looks a bit off color,
then it is likely that your monitor needs calibration. 
Most monitors are too bright and have a blue color cast.

In the past, I've propped up the mat board vertically using two 12" lengths of 2x4s, one supporting the mat from the front and one from the back. Here I've used four 16 ounce cans from the kitchen (two at each corner, front and back). 

Want to simplify one step further? In the picture below, I have merely leaned the mat up at an angle against a pile of stuff at the back of the desk. The pedestal of the vise will hold it in place.  The angle of the mat actually reduces the reflection on the camera lens from my tying lights.  Plus, it's a great way to hide crap on your tying desk!  Use this system even when you are not planning to photograph your tying steps.  I find the green to be very soothing on the eyes while tying.

Don't want to buy any mat board?  With a one or two clothes pins, clip a colored folder to a piece of corregated cardboard cut from the side of a cardboard box.  All the hopper photos on my Web site were done with this green folder as the background.

For light I like two desk lamps with elbow joints. They are held to the table with C-clamps. You can see the lamp shades in the upper two corners of two of the images above. You can buy them cheaply at Staples. I use this arrangement because it is the same lighting I prefer for tying flies. If I could find higher quality desk lights than these $25 ones, I would buy them. But I have to admit, I haven't looked too hard.  The ones I have don't hold their positions very well, because I can't get the elbow joints tight enough. I sometimes use duct tape to keep the elbows from slipping.

For light bulbs, I use spiral fluorescent bulbs. They are 30 watts. The fluorescent bulbs are nice because they don't heat up. If you use incandescent bulbs, use 100 watts.

A tripod is needed to free up your hands to hold materials.  The one pictured below is made by Sunpak and is the MiniPro Plus/B.  I think the "B" must stand for "ball head", which easily allows you to move the camera around the ball joint for making adjustments.  As of this date (March, 2012) it is selling at Amazon for $20.95.

The G9 allows for a pretty good macro at about 2x zoom at 2" from the subject.  A 2" working distance or more
is needed when tying a fly.  At a 1x zoom this camera has to be too close to the fly, and it is then nearly
 impossible to get light onto the subject.  Take a few moment to do a better job than I did lining up the camera and the fly.

Available on Amazon for about $21 (as of March, 2012).

Next Post: Set up for your camera (for Web use)

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