Gadget Bag: Macro Anywhere

Expand your possibilities of capturing the smaller world

One of close-up photography's great attributes is its ability to draw attention to the beauty of nature's smallest creations. By using a close-up lens, extension tube or macro lens, we delve into a world that, although small, is as stunning and complex as any expansive landscape.

Once involved in close-up photography, you'll discover the multitude of opportunities that exist for creating exceptional images. Yet it also can pose its own set of challenges, and that's why a wide variety of products have been designed for this type of photography. These tools increase the likelihood of coming away with stunning images of a very small world.

Getting Down Low
While the majority of traditional photographs are created while we're standing upright, many close-up images require us to hunker down, if not be completely prone on the ground. This can be awkward, and if you've tried to take a picture in a crouched position, you know how difficult it is to keep the camera steady.

Many tripods offer features for low-angle photography. The Giottos Universal tripod, for example, features a low-angle adapter arm that serves as an extension away from the tripod head, offering movement and clearance for subjects that are very close to the ground. Other tripods feature a reversible center column to which the camera can be mounted. In either case, they deliver the stability and clearance needed for shooting small objects, especially in confined quarters.

There are other alternatives if your current tripod doesn't offer such features or if you don't like working with an upside-down camera. The Sunpak ClampPod Pro provides a way to mount a lightweight camera virtually anywhere. It supports up to 2.1 pounds and features a flexible steel neck that ensures a secure grip while protecting surfaces.
List Price: $24.95.

The Manfrotto 2900 Super Clamp is a heavy-duty support that offers a load capacity of up to 33.1 pounds. The clamp's wide jaw can be secured to virtually anything with a diameter range from 0.5 to 2.1 inches. It includes a wedge insert for clamping onto flat surfaces. List Price: $38.

The Slik Clamp Head 38 is a smaller alternative that can accommodate diameters up to 1.5 inches. The all-metal clamp includes a two-way pan head for providing movement of a mounted camera. List Price: $79.90.

Whether these clamps are attached to a tripod leg or some other solid object, each can serve as a solid base for creating outstanding macro images.

Since you're working outdoors and close to the ground, it's inevitable that you'll encounter wet or moist conditions. The Laird Macro Ground Cloth helps to keep both you and your gear dry. The waterproof ground cloth covers an area of 60x26 inches and is made of 100% washable nylon. When you're done, roll it up and conveniently store it in your camera bag or jacket pocket. List Price: $39.95.

Challenging Lighting

Good lighting is as essential to close-up photography as it is to landscape or wildlife work. Although ambient light may be sufficient to get acceptable shots much of the time, the existing light often can be less than ideal. An overcast day creates flat lighting and an uninspiring photograph. A bright noon sun will result in high contrast that may obscure a telling detail in shadow. For such situations, supplemental lighting in the form of reflectors or flash is necessary.

A simple tool that can make a major difference in lighting is the Adorama Macro Flecta Reflector, a specially designed reflector that includes a center hole through which you place your lens. Light that hits the reflector is redirected to your subject, creating a pleasant "fill light" that brings out colors and shadow details. The collapsible reflector attaches to a camera using Velcro straps. List Price: $19.95.

The use of flash offers another option for changing the look of your images. While helpful, a built-in and camera-mounted flash may not provide the flexibility for creative lighting. This is especially the case when you're only inches away from your subject, which often results in a built-in flash overshooting or overpowering your subject.

Devices such as the Manfrotto 3278 Macro Flash bracket allow two flash heads to be conveniently attached to a single camera. By utilizing two flash heads, you can create a lighting ratio that provides a sense of depth in your images. Using dedicated TTL cables, you can maintain communication between the flashes and the camera. The bracket allows for both horizontal and vertical movement of the individual flash units. List Price: $56.

The ability to vary the distance and position of the flash head allows you to affect the lighting ratio and the direction in which the light is hitting your subject. You can position the flash equidistantly for even illumination or pull one farther back for use as fill.

The Kirk Enterprises Macro Flash bracket allows you to vary the positioning of your dedicated auxiliary flash. Available in versions that attach to a camera body or lens collar, the bracket lets you change the overhead orientation of the flash to the left or right of your subject to create dramatic side lighting. A dual-flash model also is available. List Price: $69.95.

With the uniquely designed B87-B flash arm from Really Right Stuff, you easily can change the position of the flash by rotating it along the natural curvature of the bracket. Ideally suited for lenses with a tripod collar, this bracket allows for the flash to be in close proximity to the subject. An optional secondary flash arm provides a convenient dual-flash setup. List Price: $240.

On The Rails

Close-up photography is as much about precision as it is magnification. The increased magnification necessary for close-up work often results in a significant reduction of depth of field, making accurate focus critical. A slight shift easily will result in the wrong portion of the image being rendered in sharp focus while the rest of the image is soft.

While a tripod helps create a stable platform for macro work, it's quite cumbersome and awkward when you need to shift the camera in minute increments. What may only require a fraction of an inch adjustment is difficult to achieve when shifting an entire tripod. Focusing rails can be used with virtually any tripod and provide the ease and precision you need.

Attached to your tripod's existing head, focusing rails consist of a single or dual rail along which the camera moves. Focusing rails provide forward/back movement and, with some models, lateral shifting as well. These may be identified as single-or dual-axis focusing rails, respectively. The tripod is placed in the approximate position while the camera is adjusted using the focusing rail itself. This provides the fine-tuning often needed for macro work.

The Manfrotto 3419 Micro Positioning Plate can be adjusted precisely just by using your fingertips. Two plates can be connected at 90 degrees for full lateral forward/back movement for a range of up to 4.7 inches. It supports up to 17.6 pounds and includes a quick-release mechanism. List Price: $104.

The Hakuba Magnesium Macro Slider provides smooth forward and back movement as well as lateral positioning. Its dual-rail system delivers added stability and precision. List Price: $169.95.

Adorama's Macro Focusing Rail set uses a rack-and-pinion system for precise camera adjustments in four directions. Two six-inch rails provide smooth forward, back and lateral movements. Positive locking knobs allow for precise focus. List Price: $159.95.

The Kirk Enterprises Focusing Rail is designed using a gear-tracked system. It's compatible with the Arca-Swiss attachment system, providing rapid attachment and removal of a camera. List Price: $269.95.

Really Right Stuff's B150 Focusing Rail includes an integrated level release clamp with an optional adapter that accommodates collared lenses. It's compatible with the Arca-Swiss attachment system and comes with a neoprene OP/TECH USA soft case with belt clip. List Price: $350.

Getting A Hand

While there are clamps for your camera, there also are clamps that keep your subjects steady and safely move distracting elements away from your lens. When shooting plant life or insects, leaves or branches can obscure the lens' field of view. Rather than damaging the plant, these devices conveniently move such elements aside or steady plants that are being blown by the wind.

The Wimberley Plant Clamp (The Plamp) is an articulated arm, with one end connecting to a tripod leg and the other grasping your subject or obstruction. It extends to 18 inches and can be manipulated into virtually any position. The clamp also can hold small reflectors. List Price: $36.95.

The McClamp is a similar device that features a 12-inch clamp that can be inserted into the ground, eliminating the dependency on a tripod. The articulated arm provides a maximum length of 26 inches. A version with clamps on both ends also is available. List Price: $39.95.

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