The Studio Is Right Now

weevil on window frame

Weevil a la “Studio” style

In insect macro photography, inevitably one runs across the “studio” shot. Essentially a subject is highlighted by isolation against a solid backdrop — typically white, sometimes black, and, especially in focus-stacked images, color. I suppose commercial photographers have a similar aim in mind  when shooting material products, and many of the bug folks certainly “sell” their subject with this technique.

“Studio” in this case is a little nebulous. Typically, it would refer to the room or place where an artist practices her craft, but I’m not sure a patch of the forest floor or a dry mound in the middle of a swamp would ring true for the uninitiated. The traditional dedicated space is certainly available and used by insect photographers (though this could very well be one half of the dining table), but the miniature subjects allow for “traveling studios.” A backdrop is as easy as a sheet of paper. Or forget the paper, just use a sheet. A clip or two to hold the background in place might be necessary. That’s about it. Extra lighting equipment, tools to sedate subjects, etc. might also come along for the ride, but in many cases such things are part of the usual arsenal anyway.

I, for one, am not much of studio guy. A good background is the next best thing to a good bug, and I like color in my backgrounds. I have not really attempted it much, and it’s not high on my things-to-explore list, but once in a while I get an opportunity. Usually it is an unintentional opportunity, as I catch bugs on doors, windows, and other bright, uniformly white substrates. I photographed the weevil featured in this post on a vinyl window frame. My magnification fetish caught up with me as I cut off the bottom end of its abdomen, though depending on the angle of the shot zooming out can introduce other, non-white parts of the environment into the background. In any event, I ended up with a fairly classic shot. And I say “ended up” pointedly: being on the outside of a window, it wasn’t a spotless environment; the debris and dirt originally captured need to be cleaned up in post-processing (see the photo below for a comparison).

Using GIMP (version 2.8.6), I heightened the colors using the Brightness and Contrast tool (in the Colors menu). This removed the bluish color cast at the bottom of the image for the most part. I’m not sure how the studio pros handle the white balance aspect, but I imagine they manipulate the lighting  and camera’s white balance to prevent the problem, or they have a better way of dealing with white balance in their post-processing software. (Let’s just say, I am not particularly fond of the Nikon software’s white balance controls. GIMP has some possibilities, but they involve adjusting the levels of individual colors as far as I am aware (which might not be that far, admittedly).) But so…the brightness and contrast worked well enough to bleach most of the non-weevil background. For the remaining non-white areas, spots and specks, I simply used the Eraser tool to clear them.I felt the shadows off the mid- and hind-leg on the left side had become too distracting, so I smoothed out the irregularities using the Heal tool. Apart from the usual NEF file adjustments and sharpening in GIMP, that was about it for this putative studio shot.

I’m not sure which one I like better, but I’m leaning towards the dirty shot. It doesn’t pop as much, but I like the cue of the debris. It reminds me it was nosing around the house.

weevil on a window frame

The “dirty” Weevil, no GIMP cleaning on this one.


4 thoughts on “The Studio Is Right Now

    1. What types of subjects do you think you might photograph during the winter? I kind of go into withdrawal because I’m so bug-oriented, but I’m hoping to do something different. Possibly action figures. It would be a good time to learn focus-stacking, too, come to think of it.

      I’m not sure I’ll have anything small (and interesting) enough to compare to insects though. Being so tiny, it’s easy to create backdrops. Here’s another shot on white — this one I actually set up purposefully using a single piece of plain printer paper. (The weevil wasn’t as cooperative as the one above however.)

      The White Wizard

      1. Not an unimportant consideration. I bought some Nikon bellows for a steal and an enlarger lens (missing a connecting tube at the moment it in the mail). I have no idea how to use them.In the meantime I am collecting moss and lichen to see what I can do. If this works then I can buy a 45 dollar chines version bellows for next summer in the field. My only attempt with the bellows so far has been a disaster. So at the very least, I have a challenge. You can get bellows for as little as $45. But for the bellows I need a subject platform and a background solution, should be fun work.


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