There have been three main setups for the ‘Weed’ project to date. Each with very different pros and cons so I would not say anyone was the most successful.
The big tank:
A 900 litre monster tank weighing close to one tonne when full. It’s size and location (at Massey University) makes it impractical to regularly use salt water which mean only the most robust seaweed can go in it. Fantastic for large algae like Kelp – see earlier post. The seaweed I shoot in this tank is usually taken off the beach so I am not killing any coming fresh from the sea.
In the setup shown in this photo it was “crazy upside-down day” in the studio as I tried hanging the seaweed, and therefore the entire set, upside down in an effort to get the weed to hang as I wanted. Mixed success – I am not happy with this shot at all but lots of learnings. The tank is setup so I can light directly from below. I also installed a modified garden irrigation hose in the base of the tank to create movement in the tank.
The small tank:
Relocated to my garden shed for summer this was the tank I originally used for proof-of-concept but now is perfect for macro shots of smaller seaweed.
It’s size and being at the ‘home studio’ by the sea allows it to be filled with fresh seawater which is much better for the algae and allows me to include small animals in the shot. After shooting the seaweed is returned back to the sea asap.
As you can see in this shot the sets may be small (those white bottles are only about 70mm high) but the can also be quite complex with textured/painted backgrounds diffusers, masks, and multiple flash units usually fitted with home-made snoots, barn-doors and other gobos. The average shoot in the project uses 3 or 4 flashes.
This is a typical example of the complexity of the lighting rigs. A snooted flash above, a very low-power diffused keylight to the side and a barn-doored rear flash behind shooting directly behind the bottle through a large diffuser. You can see that the set can be made of pretty humble materials – in this case the bottle is sitting on a cheap baking dish from The Warehouse.
The copy-camera rig:
The latest experiments have used a modified copy-camera stand to allow me to shoot straight down through layers of clear acrylic trays. I made a base (looks a bit like a Mondrian chair) to hold layer of trays and allow me to light things from all angles.
This rig allows the use of seawater and lets me arrange the algae relatively precisely but reflections are the enemy in this setup so I use black fabric all over the place.