Year Two (03) – Studio Creatures

I was back at the Old Bakery photostudio this week with the chance to photograph some stick insects, millipedes, scorpion and giant spider, it was a great evening, but this time I felt much more in control.

For Christmas, I got a rather large tool box – it is amazing… it fits in the boot of the car, has a lid strong enough to me to stand or sit on, has wheels so I can pull it along and amazingly is big enough for me to pop in my light stands, several flashes, my flash diffusers and various props .. so can actually take my stuff along to a session, so I was able to set up my area.

My last session with animals left me thinking about making sure I includes a sense of scale and I wanted to personalise the images more, so the fact that we could take along props and I had an idea in my head about creating something magical, with the creatures.


My magical set up – a potion bottle, a red book of spells and an authentic Harry Potter wand.

This was my idea of a magical setup, I used my camera in manual to darken the scene the studio lights were on, and with the flash to create shadows and provide the focus point.  I had a 24-70mm lens on my camera for most of the session, but I wish I had switched to macro.


Add a stick insect and a directed flash

Add a large stick insect and hope he stays still…  we had a few problems, the stick insect was really clingy and got stuck in the fabric, so I added a sheet of glass under the book which made it more reflective, as you can see the light is strong and from the left … I like the harsh shadows.


Add some millipedes and a skull

Someone had brought a skull and suggested adding it to the shot … it made a great focal point… however adding the millipede to the inside of jar was not my best idea … it curled up and did not want to come back out!

By now I had discovered that working with bugs brings out the best in my fellow photographers… some of the brave individuals hid behind their cameras and were unable to move or touch the creatures in anyway… and if the bug did decide to make a run for it – they were racing out the door ahead of it!

I remembered that the challenge for the year is to push myself out of my comfort zone so was able to handle the millipedes, the grasping stick insect, the jumping cricket … although I did resort to using the wand as a directional tool and a lid for the scorpion (which bites) and the spider! However much to the entertainment of everyone else – I squealed like a girl when touching them, my mouth gave a running commentary and I had no control…

The bugs however were very co-operative and even crawled out of the skull…. I felt this scene needed a little smoke and so that no animals were harmed… I added it in post processing.


Experimenting with the lighting and add some smoke

I had not realised how green the glass jar was … so  I then experimented by converting the image to black and white. I just love the way the millipede has moved round and is not spilling out of the skulls mouth!


Post shoot editing in photoshop

Taking it further I did some extreme editing with HDR effects to bring our the textures. I have picked up a little bit too much noise just above the skull, as it was shoot at 100iso I think it is partly the texture of the curtain behind… it is not my normal style image but it is how I would imagine a witch has left her spell book in the corner of her cave.


Extreme Editing to bring out the textures.

A change of creature – a different skull, a different surface – this time a mirror, which made it really hard to position the light so that it lit the subject but did reflect back to much and an amazingly huge, fast and scary tarantula. I love the way the lighting casts a shadow of the spiders legs back onto his body.


Change the background – a mirror and a skull

I never knew until today just how far a cricket can jump (OK, and how loud I squeal when that happens) but he was quite happy to be settled on this plant that someone brought in. I did not manage to get my focal point right for any of these images.. so I want to revisit again at some point.


Different view – a cricket on a plant

This is a closer view if the cricket with my 100mm macro lens – I wish I had thought about using this lens earlier in the session. He did not sit on the crystal ball for very long, and it was quite tricky to balance the light reflections at the same time… but I love how you are left wondering what is the object he has landed on and how it is a different more unexpected view of a cricket.


A cricket on a crystal ball

My scorpion photos were awful. It was a small scorpion and I had an idea of photographing him in a mini bath tub and then a tea cup – but none of the shots made it through my culling process…  I think I was too worried about it biting/pinching me to concentrate!

However I did decide to brave the spider again and was curious to see whether it worked with the crystal ball.  We used glass cubes to hold the ball in place and put the spider on it … he did not sit still for long… but it did create a different image. I could imagine this spider crawling across the side in the witches cave trying to escape being dropped in the cooking pot!


The Crystal ball with a spider

It was really hard to get the light and the spider where I wanted it when using off camera flash, some photographers in the group were using ambient lighting, others a ring flash, so we are all going to get very different results – which will be interesting to see.

At this point the spider flipped on his back, and then rolled back over and died. OMG… we killed it! Richard, whose £90 spider it was prodded it gently and it did not move …  I did not know what to say.  It was a real reminder that what we are shooting whether human or animal has feelings too, as photographers we have to learn to recognise when they (our client / model) are under stress and stop shooting.  We were all stood looking … the spider that had rushed around was now lying there dead!! What do you do? What do you say? Who pays for it? How do we compensate?  I just felt the fun drain out of the session.

What do you do under those circumstances….

It then moved its leg, I admit I called Richard something that I can not type on my blog… but it was even less lady like than my squealing when the insects moved as the spider was not really dead ….  I think it was just exhausted so we quickly returned him to his home for a rest …

After a rest, the spider was happy to explore the black acrylic surface we put down… and he was fine … the glass ice cubes just added some interest and sense of scale. I like how the surface once again causes a reflection underneath and how the colour of the spider echos in the ice cubes.


Spider on Ice

I came home and realised that I had only shot images with a dark background – low light… and really in only one set – although other sets had been set up … but I am happy with the images I took – they are very different from what I have done before and I feel that they fulfilled the brief in my head … but seeing them in post processing has reminded me that if I am not sure how I am going to use the final edits, it is important to remember to be more versatile when shooting.

I would love to know what you thought of this blog post? Was Richard kind with the spider? Would you have stepped out of your comfort zone? What would be a challenging for you to photograph… it might inspire me this year!