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Tip of the Month

Ant tending aphid, which it will 'milk' to extract honeydew (a
sweet sugary fluid). The ants will protect the aphids from predators,
as the honeydew is a source of food!

Macro Accessories

If you shoot macro, especially at big magnifications like half life-size or greater, camera/lens positioning can be a real issue, as can subject motion, particularly if you are photographing outdoors. Here's two accessories that I think will make your macro shooting far more effective and enjoyable, the Wimberley Plamp and Stake System, and the Really Right Stuff Focusing Rails.

I have a video that shows this setup in operation

The Wimberley Plamp and Stake System supports and holds a plant or prop. The Stake rig is composed of a hollow plastic tube and a Screw Driver, that fits inside, with the blade secured inside the tube. To use, pull out the Screw Driver and insert the handle-end into the tube, and push the tube (Screw Driver point down, obviously) into the ground. You'll attach a Plamp to the tube, with the Plampy-end clamped onto a plant stem. You can get tube extensions to make the Stake taller, if necessary.

One Stake is usually all you need, but for a pretty motionless plant you may wish to use two Plamps, positioned at different locations on the plant. I usually place one near the subject, and another on the plant stem. If you're really into macro, it would be handy to have two Stakes, and a couple of Plamps, making an outdoor macro setup very stable.

If I'm working a subject in the yard that I'll want to visit frequently, I'll keep a Stake/Plamp rig attached for the duration of the shoot. In that way, if a spider, for example, shows itself from the cover of a leaf, I'm half way there to getting the shot -- now I just need to get my camera. I find that having two Stake systems and several Plamps are worthwhile.

Stake and Plamp accessories.

The other extremely handy accessory for macro photography are the
Really Right Stuff Focusing Rails. If you've tried to move in a bit closer, by shifting your tripod, you know how difficult this can be. Often, I've ended up bumping in to my plant and shaking the whole thing, often frightening my subject into fleeing.

Really Right Stuff Focusing Rail

With a Focusing Rail, I can adjust the distance by racking the rail in or out, positioning my lens precisely by doing so. If you really want to get precise, you can mount two Focusing Rails, the second atop the first and at a right angle, so that you'll have forward/back and left/right precise movements. If you do any focus staking, these Focusing Rails are a must. If you simply refocus, changing the focus down the length of a subject, you're actually changing the focal length a bit, too, and the match up in a focus stack will not be as precise as it is if you maintain one focus and change what is in focus by adjusting the position, via the Focusing Rail.

Really Right Stuff B150-B Ultimate Package

I find it most useful to use flash for my lighting, which freezes any subject movement (ants move FAST at macro size!) and gives me great depth of field -- which is miniscule, regardless, at high magnification. For video work, these two accessories are life-savers.

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