How I Got That Shot: Jeffrey Tseng
APRIL 04, 2011
Interview by Dan Havlik
Client: Intel Labs
Photographing something as small as a microchip is not easy, especially figuring out a way to make it interesting. Jeffrey Tseng of InTouch Studios had just such an assignment when he was asked to photograph a chip for Intel Labs as part of a PR campaign. The catch was that this innovative chip was even smaller than the tiniest microchips on the market at the time.
“The microchip represented a breakthrough innovation and it needed to be supported by breakthrough photography to tell a compelling visual story with broad appeal,” Tseng tells PDN. “The image needed to be shot with the same type of innovation that would allow for both a sense of scale and vibrancy.”
Tseng was asked to come up with an intriguing creative concept while still capturing the micro scale of Intel’s technology. He was also asked to break from the traditional approach of shooting microelectronics through a microscope, which “limits flexibility for artistic angles and textural lighting.”
But how to do it in a creative way while providing scale?
“I began to think about what could be a universal symbol for tiny: ants. I actually went out into the park and began collecting ants only to discover that their sizes varied too much. What we really needed was a bug with more structural dimension, consistent size and that was actually cute: the ladybug!”
Logistics: Because Tseng was going to use a live bug to show off the Intel chip, the challenges were greater than using an inanimate object for scale such as a pencil or a coin, which are the de rigueur objects in close-up tech photography.
To find a suitable bug for the shoot, he decided to have an insect “casting call.”
“We literally had to hold ladybug auditions to find just the right one for the role: one with strong color, texture and character. What we didn’t anticipate were some of the ladybugs were not camera ready,” because of varying degrees of lackluster color and texture.
The ladybug auditions were a form of organized chaos, with bugs flying all over his studio and not, of course, walking across the chip as he had wanted.
“We literally had to herd ladybugs. Eventually we decided to catch and position [with a dab of honey paste]the ladybug into place, giving me very precise control of the focus.”
Camera Gear: Canon EOS 5D with 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens. Shot at f/16 at 1/160th of a second at ISO 125.
Lights: A mixture of Visatec and Speedotron lights and reflectors held by microarms.
“Lighting was the second challenge,” Tseng says. “I custom-made the light modifiers to fit into a tight space. An overhead softbox was placed for overall fill and also to light up the top of the ladybug. To the right side of the camera, there is another softbox to provide the highlight for the bug’s head. A miniature spotlight was put on the opposite direction of the camera to ‘glide’ off the chip. This provided highlights on the metal rings and also provided a rim light for the ladybug. Two separate miniature spotlights were used on the front and right of the camera to bring out other features on the chip.
“Because I pumped so much light into such a tiny space, the ladybug and I had to take regular breaks for water and to cool down a bit.”
Post-Production: Because he requires very precise control of the focus, Tseng does all his own post-production work. This shot is a composed of 11 separate images.
“Due to the very shallow depth of field, it’s almost impossible to get a whole image in focus in one exposure,” he says. “Eleven exposures were taken with focus on different parts of the image. A macro focus rail was used to help in fine tuning the focus. Those images were later composed into one final shot in Photoshop manually.”