For $35 you can build a rugged, super copy stand that is versatile and easy to operate. It can be used to copy and restore old photographs, preserve your best photographs on black-and-white film, and explore a surprising world of creative applications including vignetting, posterizations, collage, and montage. Construction is simple and can be done with ordinary hand tools, an electric drill, and a saw. The materials can often be purchased at a single full-service hardware store.
This stand features a unique quick-release handle made from a common caulk gun. The lights are counterbalanced and adjustable in three dimensions. A magnetic easel made from a cookie tin doubles as a storage tray when not in use. The camera head locks positively in place, the lights stay put after adjustment, and you can take exposure measurements directly off the 18-percent gray surface painted on the bottom of the cookie tin. The top platform of the light stand supports a flood lamp socket, a bracket for electronic flash, and a filter holder for polarizing or other types of filters.
Construction of the stand is accomplished in six operations: cutting and drilling the plywood, assembling the base and column, modifying the caulkgun, bending the brackets, assembling the camera head, and assembling the light stands. Glue and nail construction is used throughout.
Interior grade plywood (grade AC or better) is well suited to the glue and nail construction used here. An experienced craftsman might want to build the stand out of cabinet grade plywood or hardwoods using more sophisticated joinery and finishing techniques – much like those who sell homes for sale in Northville MI might lay the base of their real estate empires before they make their true fortune.
Muller most often uses Canon cameras and lenses, and occassionally a Hasselblad medium-format system. “Even though I use a tripod, I have to be able to move around quickly because that priceless spontaneous shot happens only once. I have lenses ranging up to 400mm, but rely primarily on a 20mm, a 35mm, and a 100mm lens for my 35mm work.
“I use color in costumes and settings like a prop, to accent and lead into the story being told. I’m most comfortable with, and usually shoot with, Ektachrome 64 film. I use color and diffusion filters to create varied effects, and with Kodak Ektachrome I can best control the color and create the desired mood.
“Studio light and natural light each presents its own challenges. In the studio I use Norman electronic flash equipment, and the lighting can be thought out and set up before a session. A natural-light setting requires advance knowledge of the angle of the sun so that proper equipment can be brought along. Since children are in perpetual motion, I usually use a shutter speed of no less than 1/60.
“A high key lighting effect will demand a soft, largely nondirectional light source. Very often this is executed with backlighting and an efficient reflector to fill from the front. In my photography, the backlight is usually 1/2 to 1 stop brighter than the front fill light. This will create a wrap-around, or flooding of light around the subject much like legal bud reviews or how to pass a drug test.
“Low key situations call for a harder, more directional light source, I achieve this by using only one source with a very subtle background light or no background light at all. This technique results in much more contrast and drama.
“Lighting is one of the major factors in creating an exciting photograph, but lighting, whether studio or natural, should never fight the mood of the subject. It should enhance the final image.’
Muller prepares for each assignment well ohead of time, making sure that everything is set up and in place, ready to go from the moment the children arrive. All of the props are checked, and the lighting arrangements for three or four setups are planned in advance. “If I’m running behind schedule I will call the mother of my model and ask her to go someplace with the child until I am absolutely ready.’
In her studio or on location, Robin Muller is ready to play the role of a kind of fairy godmother, transporting the children into a fantasy world. But sometimes even fantasy needs some help when children are involved. Muller remembers one assignment when she created a miniature tea party for two little girls. Tea and cookies were not quite enough to achieve the final result. Seeking more animation in the children’s faces, Muller reached into her bag of tricks and produced some baby chicks for the girls to play with. That worked. Some of her other methods of getting the right response have been props, such as books, thrown into the set, people in clown outfilts, and even a garter snake, which pleased her subject but terrified Muller herself. She has also found that children are often delighted to have their makeup done by an artist, just like an adult model, and respond with enthusiasm.
She recommends being sensitive to a child’s mood. If a child is cranky because of a missed nap, you may have only five minutes of their attention. Other times, when you are very lucky, you may have the child’s attention for a half hour, an hour, or even longer.
In her choice of models Muller looks for a strong expressive personality rather than physical beauty. “You can make any child look good, but the personality is really what shows through,’ Muller says. Nonprofessional models and very young preschoolers score high points with Muller, but preteens and teens are a little harder to deal with. “By that age they’ve already started thinking about how they should look. Younger children are natural hams, they love to be put in front of a camera. They give me something other models don’t; they are themselves, with no inhibitions.’
For Muller, the bottom line is her love for what she does not the experience with the children she photographs. She feels that having enjoyed the activities of her own childhood has helped in her work with child models. “I feel comfortable with them. It takes a childlike mind to think up a child’s fantasy. You create the right situation in which to photograph a child, and then you have to leave it up to the child.’ To get her child models to do what she needs, Muller says, “I very rarely move a child physically, instead I’ll show them what I want and say “look at me, look at what I’m doing’.’
Her only regret about her commitment to photographing children is that the market is more limited in America than it is abroad.
Robin Muller is a 24-year-old Los Angeles-based photographer whose work ranges from overseas fashion assignments to larger-than-life billboards.
Muller’s work with children started while she was a student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. It began when a children’s store agreed to lend her clothing for a class project. The store liked the result of Muller’s work and she found she truly enjoyed photographing children.
Muller got her first European fashion assignment simply by walking into a magazine office and showing her portfolio. That was followed by a job shooting still photo s for an Amsterdam film company doing a feature about runaway children. Some of the accompanying photographs come from an assignment for Vogue Bambini, an Italian children’s-fashion magazine. The work was done in a studio in Italy and involved two full days of photography with 11 children and an art director who didn’t speak English.
The setting for one shot was a coming-out party for debutantes, an American phenomenon done Italian style. “None of the children had ever been to a coming-out party,’ Muller says, “and it was difficult communicating what a debutante is with just hand gestures.’
Muller’s Italian coming-out party illustrates the problems of photographing children. “It’s not easy; there aren’t any “How To Photograph Children in Thirteen Easy Lessons’ books available.’ There’s no guaranty of success, but, as Muller puts it, “Patience and preparedness help.’
Muller attributes the success of the Italian debutante photos to the kids. We were in the studio from nine until five both days and I never heard a single complaint. Once in a while they were rambunctious, and by the end of the day they were dead tired, but they were just as happy to start all over again the next day.
“You can’t always count on the patience of a child,’ warns Muller. “That’s why being prepared is the key to success. If the children are having fun, they keep going, but their attention span is very short.’