We had quite a lot of feedback on the image that appears on page 62 of our 2010 catalog (if you don't already have your copy, give us a call or download your own). So we decided it would make an excellent case study.
Shooting the Anemone Images for our 2010 Catalog by Joe Johnson, owner of Really Right Stuff
I made this image under a bit of time pressure for a “product in action” shot to introduce the macro photography gear section in our 2010 catalog. I thought a good macro-pano shot of some fascinating tide pool subject would be the perfect solution. On a Saturday afternoon at low tide, I took the family out to Cayucos, one of many neat little coastal towns nearby. We wandered about the tide pools, but the light and subject matter just didn’t cooperate and I ran out of sunlight. We had fun, but the photo results were uninspiring. Even though we needed to get the catalog shipped before Thanksgiving and I only had a couple more low tides before the deadline, I decided to give it another try.
On the following Monday I went to Palisades Bluff in Shell Beach (about 15 minutes south of our office in San Luis Obispo, California). The lowest low tide was around 5 pm and sunset was about 6 pm, giving me a 2-hour window to find my subject, setup, shoot the tide pool creature image (image at top of this page) and shoot the gear setup image (at left). Luckily the tide pools were literally no more than 100 feet from the parking spot. I say luckily because I was shooting by myself and had to carry two complete sets of camera gear and tripods to get both shots. I scrambled about looking for subjects and found a number of anemones in pools of water shallow enough to let me get a good shot. I set up about 4 different shots; the one we chose was the last set-up which I shot just before the light was totally gone.
Tech Notes about the Gear Setup Image
The photo gear shown in the image is crouched around the anemone like a robotic metal bird waiting to pounce. This surreal setting plus the fact that the anemone is lit-up is what makes the image intriguing to me. I used a circular polarizer on both cameras to cut the glare on the water surfaces. The polarizer also allowed a longer shutter speed, which helped me time firing the Camera A strobes pointing at the anemone at the same time the shutter was open on Camera B. I set Camera A to fire using the 10-second self-timer. I tripped the shutter on Camera A, counted 8 seconds, then tripped the shutter on Camera B. Because I was making an HDR image, I repeated the process two more times, bracketing the exposure on Camera B. The shutter speed on Camera B was slow enough that the image review on the back of Camera A also appeared in the capture, which I also think is kind of cool. Timing the strobes in this crude way was a bit hit or miss, so I had to repeat the whole process a few times. As luck would have it, it started drizzling before I finished, and you can see the misty water droplets on the photo gear. For me, this also adds to the image.
Tech Notes about Shooting the Anemone
I didn’t use any of the images shot on Camera A as described above for the actual macro-pano stitched image of the anemone (Image 2); they were taken purely to light up the anemone for Image 1. For Image 2, I used the gear set-up exactly as shown in Image 1 with one exception. I was shooting at a 1:1 image size using the full-frame image sensor on the Canon 5D Mark II. To get as much of the anemone as possible in the image from the top of the frame to the bottom, I oriented the camera in vertical aspect. You can see in Image 1 that the film plane on Camera A is parallel to the face of the anemone. This helps keep as much of the anemone in focus as possible as you shift the camera laterally across the subject. I set the lens to 1:1 focus distance, then used the bottom B150-B focusing rail to actually focus the image. Because I was shooting at 1:1 and the image sensor is 24mm x 36mm, I knew I could shift laterally 10 mm between shots and still have 20% overlap. To the naked eye, the anemone tentacles are barely moving, but when you stitch 5 separate images together, those small movements make trouble. Therefore, it is best to shoot the sequence as fast as possible. I did not lock the top B150-B down between each shot and did not use the fine focus knobs to move the camera gear laterally. Rather, I just let the weight of the gear hold itself against a loosely tightened stage lock and then depressed the gross positioning button and shifted 10mm between each shot by sliding the stage and then releasing the gross positioning button. The five images were stitched together using Photoshop.