Inexpensive Lighting for Close-Field Photography
Outdoor Ontario

Inexpensive Lighting for Close-Field Photography

Shortsighted

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I expressed a view that my support of this forum is unsustainable with no vent for raw exploration of the GTA parks within my reach. Little likelihood of posting sightings or featuring new photography when house-bound seemed like a definition of futile. Despite this view, I was asked to write something about nature photography by Dinu. Let’s face it, it is hard to disappoint a demigod lest there be consequences beyond the immediate grasp of my impoverished imagination. Ally seemed apoplectic by my decision but she’s an artist and you know how they can be, effervescent outbursts of emotional fireworks even when they are making toast, and I don’t even know if Ally likes toast. So, here I am, fated to continue in a futile endeavor posting craft opinion to members that are already resplendent in the regalia of technical enlightenment. I feel so pretentious and I’m afraid I may get to like it. The demigods must be crazy! So, with obligatory enthusiasm (isn’t that an oxymoron?) I’ll bring up the subject of ancillary lighting for near field photography of everyone’s best friends … fungi. Without them we wouldn’t be here and we certainly would never enjoy beer, so Axeman would be very upset.

INEXPENSIVE LIGHTING FOR CLOSE FIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
There are excellent and very effective lighting solutions available, at a price, for almost any near field photographic situation within the realm of a controlled working environment. For many amateur photographers these clever and quite exquisite solutions may only be a credit card tap away from mitigating that dismal proposition of photographing an interesting subject that is discovered wallowing in gloom by default. What kind of subject might this be? Any number of things (even persons) could be so implicated but I’m specifically thinking of fungi. Fungi are found everywhere and serve to decompose organic casualties. Their fruiting bodies emerge above ground as forms worthy of imaging even though these taxonomically challenging manifestations are like denizens of the dark, found in damp shady locations, or under expired and rotting wood. Discovering fungal subjects is a task more meretricious than the work required to photograph them, although an artistic execution of that work is not to be overlooked when points are awarded.
Photogenic fungal fruiting bodies are not nearly so easy to find despite the ubiquity of fungi as a life form. Impressive displays of different species of fungi may hang out together. Once you have devined their collective sanctuary you may set to work lighting the stage because there will very likely be several potential stages within a few meters of each other. A good site trove is like a multiplex gallery where you can view different still-life subjects without quitting the vicinity.
The feeble light from the sky is unlikely to flatter fungal architecture. Obscurity is not the preferred condition for successful photography so deploying high tech macro lighting tools can disclose unseen delights. There are cheap lighting solutions for this kind of application and they too serve to feature the beauty of these ephemeral and facile subjects. Super-bright LED devices have long been available and hence their cost has fallen to pedestrian levels. These devices also tend to be compact and therefore portable.


If cheap LED lights are not available then highly reflective surfaces can be substituted in order to redirect the light from the sky into places where the sun don’t shine. No, not there! Strategically positioning a small mirror, or other less efficacious reflector, such as aluminum foil, or gold foil for the bourgeoisie set, installed near the subject but outside the field of view can divulge previously hidden shadow-shrouded detail in your chosen subject. This direct technique eliminates the need to take multiple exposures at different shutter speeds for layering in Photoshop, a protocol that can be very tedious and best reserved for more spectacular subject material. Hands up for those with spectacular subject material. OK, not what I expected … most of you then. I must find a less spectacular forum to haunt.


Positioning tactics for reflective gobos include ground placement under the subject with a slight cant toward the gloomiest recesses, attachment to a mini-tripod, or even clamped to a well-placed stick in the mud, perhaps hand-held by your lugubrious assistant (aka … well-placed stick-in-the-mud), either way the goal is to bounce available light to where it is most needed. Ever heard of a goose-necked clamp? A perfectly acceptable placement tool that does not run a-fowl of the rules of engagement. Moreover, those rules have been relaxed in order to allow you to utilize both LED and reflective gobos. How’s that for artifice? The mind boggles!


Filters can even be placed over the LED device to create mood and these filters need not be the expensive optical variety because any cheap acetate will suffice. Filters are more of a B&W technique but that is now all achieved digitally with PS.


Fungi photography usually demands a down-to-earth perspective so it might be best to pack a mat for resting upon. Cameras that are equipped with swing-out live-view screens preclude belly down scrutiny but the camera needs a platform. A bean bag could work, thus providing a modest measure of angle adjustment but also having a pocketful of shim-sticks is very useful. Fungi fruiting bodies are usually discovered in late autumn and once you have located a good spot it may prove fruitful in most years. Look for steep wooded slopes (drainage) with detritus at the bottom. Examine rotting logs even though fungi may be found on branches situated well above the ground and even on bark. Check out amputated tree stumps (I relish in redundant syntax) even if they are located part way up the slope. Not all the action is in the gutter. October should be a good time for fungal portraiture. I feel you might succumb to frustration when you try to identify your subject(s).


On-board electronic flash can certainly be used in close-field work but the output of the emitter must be reined-in, either by dialing down the output on the camera, if it allows that sort of adjustment, or by damping the emitter lens with a diffusing screen, Fresnel screen, or makeshift material, such as a layer of tissue. Most of the time I just use a tissue wrapped around the extended emitter frame tucking the excess tissue around the support arms. When prepared, I use a diffusing plate originating from a colour transparency viewer (colour slides) called a Guckie, (German word for something to look through). I might alternatively tape on a Fresnel disc from an antediluvian Honeywell electronic flash unit.


Some cameras also have a digital neutral density filter that reduces the sensors sensitivity to an ultra-low ISO setting but without the added resolution. My old Canon G9 had such a setting and a minimum ISO of 80. Where money is no object you could use an actual high-quality ND filter, which come in a limited range of intensity to suit the application. These are great when taking long exposures that would allow too much light on the sensor even when the f-stop and ISO setting has been taken to their respective limits.


I must admit that I have never seen a fungal shot on this forum beyond the few that I may have posted before I knew better than to pass-off fungus to the spectacular set. “How was Rondeau. my dear?” “Oh, it was marvelous, darling”. “I have an absolutely smashing idea. Let’s all go to the estuary and pretend we are roughing it … whot?”
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 pm by Guest »


Ally

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Yes, I like toasts. And your mushrooms look delicious :D  :D
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 pm by Guest »


Shortsighted

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Well in that case I will have a glass of wine tonight and toast the wonders of toast.
A hobo kipping out in a tourist town was asked what he was doing running his lighter up and down the seams of
his jacket and why he was seen doing it every day? He said it was a ritual. He liked
to toast the visitors.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 pm by Guest »


Dinusaur

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There you go SS, that's a great piece. Thank you for the write-up. Though I am not a fan of mushrooms or fungi I do appreciate their role in nature, unfortunately they most often lurk in the dark corners or hidden from plain view. Using your technique of lighting I may even give it a try one day. For 'down-to-earth' photography I bought this little gadget (C-clamp, tripod combo) during one of may many trips to Hamburg, Germany in the early 90s. Besides photography this served me well for placing an audio recorder for recording of folk singers in my ancestral village.

[attachment=0:30dv74n9]IMG_3271.jpg[/attachment:30dv74n9]
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 pm by Guest »


Ally

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Quote from: "Dinusaur"
There you go SS, that's a great piece. Thank you for the write-up. Though I am not a fan of mushrooms or fungi I do appreciate their role in nature, unfortunately they most often lurk in the dark corners or hidden from plain view. Using your technique of lighting I may even give it a try one day. For 'down-to-earth' photography I bought this little gadget (C-clamp, tripod combo) during one of may many trips to Hamburg, Germany in the early 90s. Besides photography this served me well for placing an audio recorder for recording of folk singers in my ancestral village.

[attachment=0:39dzlhj6]IMG_3271.jpg[/attachment:39dzlhj6]
Wow, you must have lots of stories to tell as well. Please do write it out. :D
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 pm by Guest »


Shortsighted

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That's a handy attachment. Is it Made in Germany? If so, by whom? Linhof? I love their stuff. My old tripod from late 1960’s, I think, was made by Linhof and it is so beautifully constructed that its action remains smooth even 50 years later.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 pm by Guest »


Shortsighted

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You recorded folk music from your ancestral haunts!
You're like Alan Lomax who did the same thing throughout
the American midwest and southern states in an attempt
to capture what would have otherwise been lost. Did you
record in stereo (double mic)? I imagine you are equipped
to perform audio editing with Pro-Tools.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 pm by Guest »