Platypod Max Meets the Wild, Wild West

By Ian Spanier

“You called down the thunder, well now you’ve got it.” This is the famous line from the movie Tombstone, when Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russel) calls out Ike and the Red Legs Gang. One very cool thing about living in California is the hidden gems all around. Paramount Ranch, a famous film and television western town turned state park is just a bit down the road and, as of recent, has had a resurgence with the popularity of HBO’s Westworld. I’ve always had an affinity toward westerns — yes, I used to dress up as a cowboy as a kid all the time, six-shooters and all.

When considering interesting uses for the Platypod Max and Platypod Ultra, the mindset I have is always toward how I can find unique ways to make my images. Without real cowboys at my disposal — sure, I could cast one in this town — but, instead I came across some cool tin figures while doing a little research online. As soon as I saw this little painted set from Tombstone, I knew this could be a fun project for Max.

As soon as I saw this little painted set from the movie Tombstone, I knew this could be a fun project for Max!
— Ian Spanier
  Using low depth of feel kept the cinematic feel I was going for, even though I had to settle for my Canon Lens over my custom lens. Using my air rocket, I was able to kick a little dust into the scene to complete the feel. Credit: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Using low depth of feel kept the cinematic feel I was going for, even though I had to settle for my Canon Lens over my custom lens. Using my air rocket, I was able to kick a little dust into the scene to complete the feel. Credit: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

I have this custom-made lens a friend made for me and initially, I thought this would be the right way to shoot this mini-set. The lens has a bit of a cinematographic quality to it, so I grabbed it along with my ‘lite’ gear. The walk into Paramount is easy, but it’s hot there, and without a full set, I wanted to travel light. Anytime I am thinking light, even when know I may need a tripod, Max is a great solution. The “lite” kit inside my Lowepro Flipside backpack is:

  • Canon 5D Mark IV

  • Canon 24-70 II

  • Canon Battery x2

  • Platypod Max and accessory kit

  • Canon 85mm 1.8 Lens (I always bring a spare just in case)

  • Custom-made 4x5 Lens

  • Hoodman H-Rav (L shaped viewer accessory)

  • Hoodman HoodLoupe (Bright out there!)

  • Joby Ballhead

  • Benro Ballhead (slightly larger just in case)

  • Canon G7X Point & Shoot

  • Giotto Air Rocket

  • ND Polarizor Filter

  • Water Bottle

  • Gaffer’s tape (always smart to have on hand)

  Credit: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Credit: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Upon arrival, I put my custom-made lens on the Canon 5D Mark IV only to find out that it just wasn’t going to work for what I wanted, which is why I always have my go-to Canon 24-70mm II. I tried a few times to make it work with the custom lens, but with the light moving quickly, I wanted to get to shooting. The concept was to make it look like a realistic scene from a cowboy film. Knowing that I wanted to be very low to make “Wyatt Earp” seem larger, I used the Platypod 1/2-inch riser to attach my Canon. The spiked feet work perfectly to not only hold Max in place, but also to raise and lower the plate since I can’t use my ballhead.  

  Credit: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Credit: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

To keep the “look” I was planning to shoot at a really low depth of field. Of course, this meant that even at 100 ISO, I’d be at a high shutter speed, easy for hand holding. Regardless, Max was the perfect accessory to use as otherwise I’d be lying in the dirt to get the ultra-low angle. I set up the first shot, and I was instantly brought back to my early days as a photographer. When I was about 10, I’d make airplane models, string them up with fishing line and photograph them in the sky as if I was a plane-to-plane photographer; yes — this was the days around Top Gun for me.

Using the Hoodman H-Rav, I could kneel above the camera rather than lay in the dirt. Then with the bright day, I could use the Hoodloupe to check my exposure. To add a little drama, I used my dust blower to kick up some dirt and give the feel of a dry, dusty western town. After a number of frames, I switched out my Mark IV for the Canon GX7. With its flip-up LCD, I could focus and frame easily from above.

Now, I am not one to accept “can’t” so I went back to that custom lens. I felt as if I had the shot I wanted in the dirt, so I moved over to one of the many wooden porches and placed Wyatt above my Mark IV. I made a couple frames from here and thought this could be a nice silhouette. Looking for a better background, I went over to the town church and a wooden bridge to see if I could make something work. With only a couple inches of rail to work with Max and my ballhead, I placed Wyatt slightly higher than my lens, using whatever I had in my bag.

This would be a case where I absolutely needed a steady camera, as with the bellows, my exposes was 1/15” – 1/40” even at ISO 400. In reality, I wish I had my cable release with me- that would have helped for sure. Instead, I set my camera to lock the mirror up just to cut vibration a bit. There was just enough room to place Wyatt just to the right of the cross, but in order to do so, I had to be a little creative and used my memory cards as one would use a matchbox to balance a wobbly table — now there’s something you don’t see every day!

All in all, the custom lens presented more of a challenge than anything else, but as the lesson always goes: get your main shot, then have some fun with other ideas. Accessories like Max and the accompanying Accessory Kit are a go-to item for any camera kit. You never know when you can use it, but the options to steady your camera are ridiculously increased when you have it with you. Fade to me walking into the sunset.

  Credit: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Credit: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Ian Spanier is an award-winning, LA-based photographer. Check him out on Instagram and at ianspanier.com

Ajna Adams