To photograph insects in the field the way the Meet Your Neighbours Project does, you need a way to support them against a white background. The DIY light table is a perfect field studio that you can take everywhere. Let's see how it is done.
A studio field light table lets you have a portable white background to photograph invertebrates and more in the field, the MYN way.
The original idea for this field studio table came from Clay Bolt, co-founder of the international project, Meet Your Neighbours. The project promotes nature and conservation by examine the wildlife around you. Bolt wanted to have a portable table, easy to carry everywhere and assemble without the need for tools. It had to be light and fit in his backpack.
Clay Bolt used the table for the first time at the National Geographic BioBlitz in Rock Mountain Park, Colorado, to shoot the in the Meet Your Neighbours style, and wrote a note about it in MYN's blog. This was last August and I was hooked when I looked at it. But I wanted something different. Before telling you how I built it, though, let me explain you, through the words of Niall Benvie, the other co-founder of the project, the MYN concept when it comes to photography.
Niall Benvie is responsible for the MYN concept when it comes to photography. He has perfected the technique of photographing against white backgrounds for over five years. Intrigued by the look of images shot in the studio against white backgrounds he wanted to apply the idea with something else: backlighting. For that he needed a translucent background, and a portable one, as he did not want to move his subjects to the studio, but rather shoot them in their environment.
To photograph subjects like flowers you can use a reflector/diffuser as the background.
The white surface of a diffuser or softbox with a flash behind it can be used to obtain the result, and the system works well with plants and animals that can be photographed where they are found, but for small invertebrates that you need to move the soft tissue of a diffuser would not be a good solution. So a piece of acrylic is used.
The exact specifications of the material used are explained in the technical documents available at Meet Your Neighbours website. And Niall Benvie even wrote, recently, a long explanation of the method and how the technique has been refined with the introduction of new solutions that make it easier for various photographers to explore the MYN way of photographing the world.
Besides the simplicity that exhales from the images, and that was what first struck me, there is a unique advantage in the process: as the white background is a pure white, the images can easily be used directly on a white page, which makes them suitable for educational books and other materials that need to show a clear image of the subject.
Also, as shown on various presentations from MYN, the different pictures can easily be mixed in a composite image. And this is not a Photoshop cutout but a final image made in the field and simply retouched in Adobe Lightroom.
Although MYN images are shot in the field, the protocol does suggest that you can move specimens to a "field studio" under the condition that "any subjects that require to be handled must be returned as soon as possible to the spot from which they were collected. Photographers are expected to observe the normal ethical standards of their discipline."
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