- View Offline
Skill Level Beginner
- Alright, this week is for all of you extreme gear heads, you're gonna really like this. I'm here with Bob Sober. Bob takes really large pictures of insects. Some of the insects themselves are really large, but he takes these beautiful giant photos, lots of stacked macro stuff. And Bob, I've done a lot of stacked macro stuff and when I see your stuff I go wow, this is amazing, I don't have the foggiest idea how you could do this if you were using the gear that I'm using. So it's very interesting to come in here and find out you aren't, you've made your own gear.
And very often in my experience when you go and look deeper into the work, extreme technical work of someone who's doing something very difficult it is because they've made their own gear. And so I wanted to talk some today about what you've constructed here and what problems you were trying to solve. You're doing your work on a macro stacking rig and for those of you who aren't clear on what that is take a look at my macro course. We're gonna be looking in more detail at how he shoots in a future movie. But you've got a lot of homemade stuff here, you've got a homemade light, you've got a homemade rig.
Let's start with the light. What was the problem you were trying to solve here? - Oh my gosh, the light was the biggest problem I had when I started on this, because all I had that was available was a ring light. And I bought about every ring light you could find out there and I tried them and each time I tried a new ring light they all presented a problem. And my biggest problem was reflective surfaces on insects and that you could see every single light on the ring. - And you're not talking about cheap ring lights here, you're talking about the ring lights made for that specific Canon 65 millimeter macro lens, high end gear.
- Right, right. - That's still messing up. - It's not doing what I want and the reality is I'm realizing that this gear is made for more general use than specifically the problem I'm trying to solve. And so I started making them. I starting making them out of coolie cup tops, anything that I had a dome shape to it I made a light out of it. And I started putting LED lights on it, so I'm all sitting here with 12 volt systems, so this is all really easy to work with, I can't mess myself up at all.
But I kept finding every time it would be better, I'd make, these were small gains. Every time it'd be better than the time before, every time it was still less than what I wanted to accomplish. And the lights I've been using now for about a year got right straight to, it's just a reflector off a big lamp I got at IKEA and that was a great source for cheap parts. - So that's what this is? - Yeah, this is a big reflect. - This is a reflector off a cheap lamp at IKEA. You've loaded it with LEDs? - Yes, there's about 500 LEDs in this and I knew I was going to hit it now with some much light that I might not be happy with the end result, so I hooked up a quarter of the lights to each, there's 25% of the lights on each transformer, I've got four transformers here, so I can cast my own shadows if I would like that, if that would enhance it.
And sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't make any difference at all. The problem that I'm working with on this is that it may have a lot of depth to it and it may be real shallow, it may be real shallow and have a lot of width, you don't know what you're gonna deal with, so one solution, a solution for one insect may not work that great on the next one. So, and it's been an excellent light. The depth of the light was important, I've gotta be able to move the insect right up into the light, have it close enough to this lens that it will work even if it's, I think I have to, it's a little less than two inches is I'm working at five X, so I've gotta have that work.
And the hole in the top can't be too big, it has to be big enough, but it can't be too big, 'cause I'm doing a panorama on this, so I've gotta tilt this camera a lot of different directions, so it's gotta be slightly larger than the camera. And then I've got another problem, the biggest problem I was trying to overcome that was, the first problem was light, quantity of light, second one was the diffuser. - Quality of light.
- Right, right, so I created this one with two diffusers on it, then there's an air space between them. And it's the air space, without the air space I never would have solved this problem. So it works really well. - So you're a retired architect. - Yes. - You've therefore got a certain amount of engineering and mechanical skill, but you weren't trained in lighting, you're feeling your way through this. - Oh, absolutely. That was really a lot of fun, but it also was very time consuming.
For the first year I spent probably at least half of my time building equipment and testing it before I actually started seeing that I was getting the results that I wanted to get. - Okay, so for the person who looks at this and goes, well, yeah, but I don't have a mechanical bone in my body, I could never figure out how to build a light, what do you say? - Oh, that's easy. I mean, anybody can build a light. A 12 volt light, you get a transformer and some LEDs and they've got the adhesive on the back of them and you just start. It's really simple. - So you would come up with a design, you'd shine it on a bug, and see if it worked, and if it didn't you'd try and figure out why and modify it.
- Right, right. That was the good part, I mean, this trial and error thing you only abandon it because there was something that you didn't like, but you always solved a problem that you had before. So each time you're taking a step towards the answer. And I found several systems that gave me enough light, but I never could get the diffusers that worked. And that's part of why this one is so big around, it's not because of the insect, and it's not because of the camera, but it's because it's got two diffusers in it that are spaced, with air space between them.
- LEDs must be a big breakthrough for you, also 'cause they're cool, they're not cooking your bugs. - That's right, yes, it's fantastic. Yeah, if this was an incandescent light you wouldn't be able to get near this thing. And that was another, another issue you had with shooting bugs is how do you hold them in place? And so you've got, they're usually on, I've got them on a pin and I used to have this waxy substance that I would put them on to stick them to that and they started, it started melting, and slowly it would start drifting to the side.
And so you'd get done with your photographs and you'd find out that the first 100 were just great, but the last 20 it was listing to the side, and it doesn't work. - Okay, so you've got this big Polaroid instant camera system here, this is another rig that you've hacked together. - Oh yeah, yeah, this is a, this is a great system, but. - This is holding your camera. - That's holding my camera and I could have it holding a whole bunch of other stuff, 'cause it'll support so much weight, but oh yeah, I got that and it was, I found that anything that was developed for film cameras was cheap.
And so I could get it and screw around with it and if I didn't like it, well then I didn't have a big investment in it anyway. And this one I modified, yeah, I have some engineering background, but I don't have skill as a craftsmen. So it was really, it was difficult, but it was kind of fun feeling my way through that. How do you? I drilled some, I drilled a hole that big through this big aluminum, cast aluminum piece to see if I could get and attach another piece to it, and it worked.
And I ended up with, now I've got a system that's really interchangeable and I've got this dovetail Arca system so I can clamp anything on it anywhere I want to to make that work. - You mean there's a, so he's talking about the Arca-Swiss plate, it's a type of tripod mount, it's very standard and totally modern, but you've got it bolted onto all of this really old stuff. - That's right, that's right. And the connection was right here. I had to make, I made this piece that allowed me to attach it, 'cause that's where the camera would be, the Polaroid camera, and actually I, sometimes I use the Polaroid camera with a different, with shooting it, my 35 millimeter camera onto it, so I had to make attachment to the back of the Polaroid that would allow my camera to fit on the back of that, 'cause nobody's gonna make that stuff.
But it's so easy to do once you, you just start thinking about it just a little bit and you've just gotta cut a hole in a flat piece of, what I used was plastic, and then put an adapter on there, an adapter you can buy anywhere. - So you're running the very latest, most modern 50 megapixel 5D and you've got a couple of modern mounts and things, but mostly this is old film stuff that you bought off of eBay for cheap. - Oh yeah. - And as I look around it's a repeating theme in here.
You're really killing on eBay, aren't you? (laughs) - Oh yeah, yeah, I've been a big eBay customer. This thing, my bet was that this new 50 years ago or 30 years ago, whenever they built it, it probably would have cost 600 or 700 dollars for that piece and I bought it for 50 bucks. And I bought more than one of them. So there's plenty of them around. - Well, this is fascinating Bob, we're gonna get into exactly what it is you're doing here to shoot these bugs.
I think it's important for people to understand that you are not an engineer, you're not a lighting professional, you just are buying cheap stuff and finding ways of hacking them into really usable gear. - Right. - For those of you who are interested in doing this this is a great time to be doing it, because maker culture has taken off, there are so many resources that can teach you a lot of the stuff that Bob already knows, not just because he's an architect, but because you've plainly just got some facilities you've picked up along the way. If there's a makerspace in your town you'll find the kind of tools you'll need for drilling large pieces of metal.
Makezine.com is actually a great resource for learning just the basics of electronics if you do wanna wire up some lights to a transformer, you can buy simple guides that'll walk you through it, they'll teach you how to solder things, all that kind of stuff. Youtube is full of videos that'll handle that kind of stuff. There's really no need to be afraid of this kind of engineering, is there? - Absolutely not, absolutely not. I've got some pretty crude equipment that I'm working with too that if I wanted to spend a few more bucks I could have some more sophisticated equipment, like a soldering iron that will hold a specific temperature and mine is the 30 year old piece that you could use for a wood burning set if you wanted to.
But it works. - Great, coming up in a future Practicing Photographer we're gonna see Bob using his crude equipment to shoot some really giant bugs.