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Holding small shells in place for macro photography

Posted: Feb 6, 2011 on LTS forum (a discussion on Conch-L):

2/5/11 James Cheshire asked:

"I am wondering about the best way to hold small shells in place for macro photography. Adhesive putty seems like an ideal choice, but I'm not sure if this would leave a residue on shells. What are your thoughts?"

David Kirsh: "Someone advised me that Elmer's Tak 'N Stik works well--and it does. No residue that I can tell."

Rick Negus: "I use museum putty every day with no problems. When it gets a little discolored I replace it."

Arie W. Janssen: "In my experience putty, or similar stuff, would indeed leave a residue on the shells. Better is trying to use a fine grained, preferably dark coloured sand (glauconite !), on which you can position your specimens easily in any desired position and there will be no contamination on the specimen!"

Sue Hobbs: "I had a photographer visit me, and she used a box of very fine bird shot to position shells in."

Martin: "Adding to the bird shot - bags about a half loaf of bread size can be bought at many outdoor shops. They are used to reload shotgun shells. Larger the number, the smaller the shot. One around 8 or 10 would be available."

Lynn Gaulin: "A friend of mine who is a Museum curator told me about museum wax. I found it works great and doesn't stick to the shells like the putty I've used in the past."

Dennis Sargent: "I have been using the wax earplugs that are available from CVS Drugs and other drug stores. It comes off the shell very cleanly leaving no residue. You can use as much or as little as you need for small to medium sized shells.

I shoot many of my photos for technical articles and/or book using black velvet as the background. I have a couple of photo backgrounds made up with either a protruding nail or finish nail that I can use to elevate smaller shells from the background I use the wax to stick them to the top of the nail. Lighting is with umbrella reflectors and strobes, the camera is mounted on a copystand and I shoot with the self timer to eliminate camera movement."

Marlo: "I use premo, a polymer clay available a hobby stores. The main reason is because it is available in black. It will leave a residue if the shell is pressed too hard into it. However, it readily cleans off. In difficult cases, a little isopropyl alcohol does the trick. The nice thing about it is that you can cut it into small blocks that you can adjust to whatever angles you need. And, obviously as reflected in my presentations, being black facilitates blacking out the background."

Tom Eichhorst: "I have found that when photographing micros you can use Scotch Tape to advantage. Lay a strip down sticky side up and tape the two ends to secure it. Then position the shell as you like on the tape. A shell up to 10mm will easily be held in any position desired. Of course the background will have to be removed, but I do that will all of the photos anyway."

Marcus Coltro: "We have been using white putty since we started taking pictures in the 80's and never had any problems - I am not particularly fond of colored putty since it can stain some shells.
We only take care not to use it after it gets gooey due to contact with baby oil - other than that the results are ok."

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