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Compound Eye

Compound Eye

The many facets of science photography

Thrifty Thursday: lighting is more important than camera

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Thrifty Thursdays feature photographs taken with equipment costing less than $500.

An acorn weevil takes off, and the Canon Powershot was there

[ Canon Powershot SX10 IS - $210; off-camera Canon 430EX II flash- $200; Raynox DCR 250 macro converter - $60; Cowboy Studio NPT-04 wireless remote strobe trigger - $22; DIY white box - free]

If you're wondering why Compound Eye has been quiet this week, the hiatus is because I've been off instructing the BugShot insect photography workshop. Great fun! But I digress. Participants brought a variety of cameras, from inexpensive point-and-shoots to professional SLRs. A concept I tried to reiterate during the event was that a camera itself is merely a recording device, and the key to creating compelling images lies more with the subject matter.

A photograph that brilliantly illustrates this point is the above acorn weevil launching itself into the air, captured at the workshop by Crystal Ernst with a Canon Powershot SX10.

Why does the photo look as though it came from the professional gear of a seasoned National Geographic photographer instead of a consumer-grade digicam? There's the obvious bit about exceptional timing, framing, and a charismatic subject. But the lighting is also important. Crystal disabled the on-camera flash, instead using a cheap radio trigger to fire a small, off-camera flash upward into a white box. The quick strobe crisply froze the subject in mid-leap, and the box diffused the flash into an even white glow. Crystal also stayed up until 2:00 am to get this winning shot, but patience & persistence are subjects for another post!

Photography records light, and flexibility with light leads to huge gains in photographic aesthetics. Moving the light source off the camera is a key step towards achieving creative freedom, more so than simply upgrading to a higher-resolution camera.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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