Sometimes in a museum or other exhibit, you see something in a display case that you'd like to photograph. The problem is that you need a steady camera to make it work. This might be because the light is too low, as is sometimes the case in formal exhibitions, so working with a camera sans tripod can be a problem if you need a longer exposure time.Â Many cameras now come with features that dampen the effects of vibration, which can help.
When I was much, much younger I was at some kind of exhibition in a dimly-lit room.Â At the center of the room was a glass display case containing a stuffed and mounted bat. I was fascinated by the creature and wanted to take a picture, but the light meter insisted that I'd need an exposure of a full second.Â I didn't have a tripod, so I was at a loss of how to take the shot.Â Then I hit on the idea of pressing the lens of the camera directly against the glass and bracing it there for the duration of the exposure. My Dad stood nearby and was clearly dubious that this would work. The lens was such that I could press the camera against the display case without the objective lens touching the case, so I tried it. Remarkably, the shot came out quite well; I could pick out individual hairs in the coat of the bat. Sadly, the picture has gone missing, cooked down in the compost of my childhood.
But I remembered the technique a couple of years ago during a visit to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. One display was a wall-mounted aquarium filled with brine shrimp. I use using an Olympus SP-350 digital camera that was equipped with a screw-in collar that enclosed the lens. The collar extends slightly beyond the full extent of the lens and is threaded to allow adding various filters.
Setting the camera to the appropriate macro setting, I tried the "press against the glass" trick but this time it wasn't to get a firm setting for an exposure, it was to get a shot of the shrimp that were just a few millimeters long.
As you can see, they photo came out fairly well. Not as sharp as I would have liked, but still plenty of detail.
Digital cameras may well be the most significant tool available to the amateur scientist since the personal computer. One reason for this is that they lend themselves to being used in lots of unusual ways. It's worth taking some time to play around with this technology and develop new ways of using it.