The above photograph was made with a 180mm macro lens with a 2X tele-converter attached and Canon's 24XT twin-light flash system. The twin lights provided fairly even illumination around the insects -- a ladybird beetle (ladybug) and the aphids that both adult and larvae ladybird beetles feed upon. The background is somewhat dark because of the light fall off (the inverse square law at work). However, there was a BREEZE.
If you have ever tried filming macro subjects in the field, you know how difficult it can be to acheive critical focus, especially if your subject is swaying in even the slightest of winds. In fact, on windy days it is virtually impossible to shoot insects atop tall plant stalks because of this. Even on a relatively still day, distant thermals move the air and air movement barely noticeable on your skin can create huge changes in focus as a plant sways back and forth.
When I filmed this ladybird beetle there was a light breeze, one I could barely feel but one I could clearly detect via my viewfinder. Even though flash will freeze motion, and even though I was shooting at f22 or so, with the breeze I was still not assured of good depth of field and razor-tack focus. In fact, the opposite was probably true -- I'd have a lot of misses trying to time my shots for when my plant swayed back into focus.
To solve the problem, I used the Wimberley PLAMP, which is their name for a nifty Plant Clamp that allows you to shoot plants on somewhat breezy days. The Plamp consists of two clamps -- one that attaches to a sturdy, immobile support, like a tripod leg, and another to the plant. The plant end's clamp is beveled to accommodate different sized plant stems, so that the stem fits within the clamp's jaws but are not crushed by the clamp in doing so.
Between each clamp is an articulating series of joints that provides a large amount of flexibility in positioning the Plamp.
The Plamp measures almost 24 inches long, so, when it is attached to a tripod, you'll have a plant-clamping range of nearly that length, depending upon where you clamp the Plamp to your tripod and to the plant. If you are using an auxiilary support (perhaps a sturdy sapling nearby) , you'll have greater freedom in your working distance.
I've found the Plamp most useful when it is attached to the plant I'm photographing at a position just on the stem just out of camera range. For example, with the ladybird beetles the Plamp was just an inch or two out of camera view.
You'll have to be careful NOT to move the camer/tripod assembly after you have the Plamp in place, assuming it is attached to your tripod, otherwise you'll bend, break, or shake off your subject. When I use the Plamp I first set up my composition as best I can (remember, there may be a breeze), then, once everything is in place, my basic composition is set and my focus is set, I attach the Plamp. Doing so, it is possible that I'll torque my plant and move it slightly, but a slight adjustment of the Plamp or a little fine-tuing with my composition solves that problem.
Besides macro insects and flowers, the Plamp is also a useful accessory if you do hummingbird photography. I'll often use a Plamp to attach a flower prop to a set, and, on rare occasions, I've used the Plamp to hold and position a slave sensor for my flash.
If you've tried shooting long-stemmed plants, you know all about these difficulties, and I think you'll find the Plamp an inexpensive but very useful accessory for this type of photography. I'll caution you -- there might be a learning curve as you start using it. I've goofed a couple of times, moving my tripod for a different angle and forgetting that the Plamp was holding my subject, and I suspect you'll do so too. But once you get the hang of it (and we're talking a mistake or two and only minutes of field use to get accustomed to the Plamp), you'll find it indispensible for the times wind or breezes create problems.
For more information on the Plamp, please visit www.tripodheads.com and check out the Plamp and Wimberley's other products.
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