I took this photo in (I think) 1973 with a Hasselblad 500 C/M and a Planar F/4 120mm macro lens. I had developed a small freelance sideline (I was still a sportswriter back then) taking macrophotographs of nuts, bolts, and screws for tool company catalogs. The original image was taken with Ektachrome transparency film. To do this, I attached all three of the varied length Hasselblad extension tubes and Hasselblad’s bellows extension. I built a twin-headed wooden platform on which to mount this monstrosity of camera and extension. To focus, I slid the whole platform back and forth on a table.
I stopped the lens down to f/22 to obtain more depth of field. That, and the 200 or so millimeters of lens extension, created a lighting problem. (Physics and math are involved in calculating exposure compensation. I’m “digital” now, so I’ve forgotten all that.) The ‘Blad has a focal plane shutter, so I needed a focal-plane flashbulb — a really big one, similar to the one pictured. As you can see from the highlights on the marbles, I placed the flashbulb just above and slightly to the right of the marbles on the horizontal plane. It is barely out of frame — that’s how close the bulb needed to be to light the setup.
If you look closely at the base of the marbles in the foreground, you’ll see what looks like, well, goo. It’s modeling clay. It held the marbles in place; it also held the marbles on the vertical plane in the background. The marbles are placed on a reflector I made. A second one was just out of frame to the right to reflect the flash into the shadows. I still use a reflector for macro work outside. It provides more shadow detail on brightly lit days. And they’re easy to make: Two pieces of cardboard, aluminum foil (be sure to “crumple” it to get softer lighting), Elmer’s spray glue, and duct tape.
I had only six of these light-bulb-size flashbulbs (they were pricey). I used four and Polaroid film to nail down the exposure time. Out of this setup, I produced two transparencies. I had a few prints made. The transparencies and all but one of the prints have vanished in the vagaries of time and distance. What you’re looking at is a photo I took of a print that’s nearly 40 years old.
Setting up this shot took most of an afternoon. Today, I shoot with a Canon 60D and Canon’s 100mm macro lens. I could replicate this setup and take as many shots as I wanted in perhaps half an hour. The difference between digital and film — 40 years ago vs. today — is still striking to me. Yet I miss working with film. I even did macro work with large-format cameras and sheet film. But … I enjoy the productivity I can accomplish with digital equipment. I have a day job; shooting macro remains a satisfying hobby for which I don’t have much time.
And the Hasselblad? Stolen. I took the insurance check, never replaced the gear, and ended my brief career as a professional photographer.