Stage a tabletop
The settings are limited only by your imaginatioion props are everywhere, and you don’t have to wait for the weather
HEY THERE, you with the camera! May we assume that you may not be using it just now for any one of several reasons: lack of new subject material, especially if you are a color enthusiast, lack of ideas, or just plain between-scason lethargy? And may we offer a colorful, inspirational, year-round solution for your temporary inactivity? Try shooting tabletops on color film.
Any standard size (including 35mm) camera with a fast lens and a bulb or time shutter setting can be used, along with a portrait attachment, necessary for getting in close to your subject. And (Continued on page 117)
(Continued from page 70)
we suggest that you construct the simple stage illustrated and diagrammed here so that you can work on your projects more efficiently and expertly and come up with fine results. The size of the stage is based on a depth of field of from seven to thirteen inches with a lens aperture of //16 and focusing scale set at 13 inches. These settings provide good time-exposure control, with the length of exposure varying from one half to several seconds, depending on intensity of light and color. Your stage should be 20 inches wide, 22 inches long, and 16 inches high (see diagram for all exact measurements). The floor of the stage is V4-inch plywood, as is the front panel of the backdrop support, which is backed by a 1%-inch block. The bases (20V4 inches long) of the two upi-ight side supports, the supports themselves (16 inches high), the connecting piece (20 inches long), and the two projecting arms (IOV2 inches long) are all 1% inches wide and % inches thick. The side supports are hinged at the bottom; oneinch screen-door hooks lock them in an upright position. The extending arms can be detached by removing the pin by which they are hinged to the sides. While in position, the arms can be used to support photofloods, small flashlight spots, and parts of scenery. Various-size blocks of 1-inch plywood and odd-size pieces of Yi-inch plywood will serve to back and support different types of props. The horizontal connecting piece is primarily for use as a support to which photofloods can be clamped.
A few basic props are all you need for your scenes. Aluminum foil realistically simulates water; salt is a perfect stand-in for snow; and small bits of rock and stones from the backyard expand into cliffs and mountains in a Lilliputian setting. A supply of thumb tacks, varioussize spring clamps, and Scotch tape should be kept on hand to hold props in place.
For your backgrounds, foregrounds, walls, etc., paper and cardboard in a variety of colors are available at any artist supply store. A file of finely detailed color photographs, including shots of skies, clipped from magazines and mounted on thin cardboard, adds to your background possibilities. Of course you’re unlimited in your choice of subject matter —your imagination can be virtually unrestricted. Miniature china and plastic figures and miniature trees, leaves, flowers, and shrubs like those used in the accompanying illustrations are readily purchasable and lend themselves to any number of arrangements. Spring and summer seasons will enlarge your supply of weeds, flowers, and grasses; dried they’ll be available year round. A look around the house will uncover all sorts of further ideas.
Before designing and laying out your sets, make permanent marks on the floor of the stage indicating the range and depth of field of your camera lens. The width of the background need not be more than 10 inches if you are using a 35-mm camera set for 13 inches distance. These tabletops were shot with a Vito II equipped with a 3-plus portrait attachment.
When you’ve decided on a scene, really think out your lighting plan. The time you spend experimenting, blocking out unwanted light with mounted cardboard, using pencil flashlights for spotting, will be amply rewarding. A switchbox will cut down the voltage while you are positioning the lamps—or use 100-watt household bulbs, then replace them when you’re ready to shoot.
To add more color, colored cellophane can be taped onto 12-inch square cardboard frames tacked onto plywood blocks for support and set in front of the lights. Blue, red, and yellow (and maybe green) alone or in combination will provide you with a full range of colors. The color can be intensified by either doubling the amounts of one color or decreasing the length of exposure. Be sure to keep the frames a reasonable distance away from the floods to prevent disaster (especially if you’re not using the switchbox or lowvoltage temporary bulbs). If you want to use a solid background color, as was done in the shot of the frightened chipmunks, clamp an 18x24-inch sheet of colored paper to the front edge of the stage, bring it back, and curve it at the juncture of the stage and backdrop support, clamping it again at the top of the support. Using one single sheet this way eliminates distracting lines.
Even after you’ve shot several rolls of tabletops in color, you won’t find yourself at a loss for new material. And you’ll have a new outlet for your creativeness and ingenuity and an enthusiasm that will snowball no matter what the season.—