When I posted a macro image recently, I was asked to provide some detail and photos of the desktop macro setup that I use. This is my response.
The attached picture shows the two elements of the setup Ė a homemade lightbox and the computer running controlling software. The lightbox is just a crude prototype at this stage, when making things like this I usually make a prototype first and then refine it over a period of use before making the final version. Iím pretty happy with this so it is nearly ready to go final.
The lightbox is made from offcuts of melamine coated pineboard, left over from some cupboards I was making. All the pieces are joined using cam-locks so I can fold it down flat and take it to our holiday home if necessary. The bases are cut from white Carrera marble Ė just some old sheets salvaged from a bathroom which I cut to size with a angle grinder. The best way to control vibration is to use as heavier things as possible mounted on the squishyist material possible. Carrera marble is very heavy so the whole setup probably weighs about 15kg, and I use sorbothene furniture bumpers. I also have various sticks, platforms and other mounting things to put the subject on. These all have marble bases and are made fairly solidly to resist vibration. There is a slot at the back of the top which allows me to slide various coloured backgrounds into place Ė just pieces of cardboard bought at the newsagent.
The clip-on lamps are $13 cheapies from Kmart. I have found the best globes to use without buying specialised photographic ones are Osram halogen energy savers Ďnatural lightí, which are very close to sunlight and donít really need much compensation in-camera. This is them http://www.osram.com.au/osram_au/Consum ... /Screw_(ES)_and_Bayonet_(BC)_bases/ENERGY_SAVER/HALOGEN_ENERGY_SAVER_Classic_A/index.html - get them at Kmart. I use three 42watt (60 watt equivalent) which seems to be not quite enough, 4 would be better. The lamps shine through diffusers, which are just panels cut out of the sides and top and covered with some thin, opaque white plastic Ė cut from a plastic tablecloth bought from The Reject Shop. I have a small reflector made of mirror glass on a flexible stem which I put in the light box where necessary to highlight areas
The camera is mounted on a piece of marble, then a three way tripod head, then one of those inexpensive 4 way focusing rails (http://cgi.ebay.com.au/4-way-Macro-Focu ... 1e585e3ee4). The lens is Nikon 50mm f1.8 fitted to Kenko extension tubes. This gives me about 1.4:1 magnification, although such measures are becoming meaningless with digital technology. All the camera settings are always manual.
Moving the base
The base of the light box is made so that it can be moved towards or away from the camera in very fine increments. Its just a screw-in/screw-out setup crudely made from threaded rod, a T-nut and a plastic knob. The knob is visible immediately to the left of the camera base. One full turn of the knob moves the base about 1.1mm. Aluminium rails on either of the base make sure it doesnít track to left or right.
The controlling software
The controlling software I use is running on the left of the screen Ė download it from here http://www.diyphotobits.com/2009/10/02/ ... -dog-food/ . It works very well though my camera does not have live-view Ė things would be vastly improved if it did. I set it up so each image is displayed in Bridge immediately they are taken as you can see in the photo. The controlling software means I do not have to touch the camera, which provides more stable images, and most importantly it allows time lapse. I can check the camera settings on the computer but have had mixed success actually controlling them from the computer. Newer cameras are probably better.
Most of the images I present are stacks. Thatís because I donít like macro images that donít show the whole beastie in focus. The methodology I use to do stacks is as follows.
Set up the camera and subject in the lightbox. Make coarse adjustments using the focusing rails. Set up the camera control software and Bridge. Take a couple of test shots and check them as they download to Bridge. Set camera to subject distance so the focal plane is immediately in front of the subject. Use the camera control software to start a time lapse, with an interval of 3 seconds between each photo. After each photo, use the screw-in/screw-out mechanism to move the base (and therefore the subject) towards the camera, usually by about 0.2mm per frame, though it depends on the f stop. Stop the time lapse immediately after the focal plane moves behind the subject. Usually I take about 20 shots. These are then stacked together using stacking software. I have found Zerene Stacker to be the best for this work, although I believe PS has something as of CS4. Here is zerene http://zerenesystems.com/stacker/ . If the subject is large I do multiple stacks using the focusing rail to move the camera sideways, then join the resultant stacked images together as a panorama in PS.
I hope Iíve covered everything. If not, question away.
You can see some images taken using this setup here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arronsmacros