There are times when you're out photographing and you wish you had an assistant. For me it's most likely to happen when I'm photographing flowers, but also when shooting close-ups in general. For flower photography you're trying to get a number of elements to come together just right. Positioning the camera to capture the best perspective. Avoiding distractions in the background. Precisely focusing. Making sure the subject's not moving. And what about the light? Do you need to soften the harsh sunlight with a diffuser? Perhaps use a reflector to bounce in some fill light. Whew! I need a third arm. Since my assistant never shows up (maybe because I haven't hired one), and I haven't grown another arm, I use a mini clamp system, something like this:
I've used a few flavors of this clamp concept over the years. Here's the anatomy of the clamp system:
- Small hinged clamp at one end. This is for holding your subject or a small reflector/diffuser. The clamp jaws are sturdy but won't crush a plant stem. They can hold a flower in just the right position, but could also be used to hold something out of the way that you don't want in your picture. And it frees up your hands if you use it to hold a small reflector or diffuser.
- Long bendy neck in the middle which allows you flexibility in positioning the small clamp.
- At the base of the bendy neck is either a large clamp (ex: Wimberley Plamp) or a stake (ex: FMS Clamp System pictured above) which is used for securing the clamp system.
At the base of the clamp system I prefer a stake over a large clamp because when I'm photographing in a garden it gives me more flexibility. In the field a large clamp has to attach to your tripod leg which limits how far from your tripod you can position the clamp and at what angle. Watch out if you've got the small clamp on the subject and the big clamp on your tripod...if you move the tripod too far you could snap the flower off the stem. I've had some close calls, but luckily have kept all flowers intact. On the other hand, with a stake at the base your tripod is not a factor because you just stick it in the ground. This gives me the freedom to position the clamp system how I want it and not have to worry about what will happen if I move my tripod.
The nice thing about the FMS Clamp System compared to other stake clamps I've used is that it's designed not to twist in the ground. The metal stake has a V-shape, making it less prone to twisting than a dowel-like stake. Here's the clamp in action:
You can't see the stake because it's doing its job in the ground. It creates a secure base so that I can bend the neck to position the poppy right where I want it.
If you're looking for an extra hand (for those days your assistant doesn't show up) I highly recommend the FMS Clamp System.
Here are some links for the clamp at Hunt's Photo & Video: