My Thoughts on Macro Photography

Macro Photography

What is Macro Photography and is it really what most people want to do when they think “I want to do Macro Photography”. I’ve proposed doing two series of photography that could be done using Macro Photography, but more likely what we will really use is Close Up Photography (CUP). Technically Macro starts when an object is represented at a 1:1 ratio on the film or sensor. But for things like wildflowers we will be mostly in the realm of CUP, but may at times we may be imaging at 1:1. The Arachnids of Oregon project will probably be more of a very CUP or Macro effort.

There are lots of ways to do Maco, some suited for field work, some for studio work. I am going to discuss the ways I do field work, both technique and equipment used. There are of course many ways to do MP, but I’ve found what works for me and that is what I am going to discuss.

I’ve always had a “true” macro lens in the range of 100mm that was capable of providing the 1:1 ratio on the sensor or film. This type of lens has always been my sharpest lens, so sharp that it required some photoshop (PS) work if I imaged people who were sensitive to “flaws”.
Benefits of a Macro lens is that they are often “small to normal” sized lens and not as heavy as faster lenses (most Macro Lenses are f2.8 to F32/64). The down side is they are expensive and single focal length.
However there are several ways to make normal lenses focus more closely. I am only going to talk about the one macro tool I have used for the past 20 years besides a true macro lens. That tool is the diopter filter(DF) – which come in single and dual element. The single element diopter filters are significantly less expensive but are optically much inferior.

The benefit of DF is that you can purchase threaded adapter rings so a larger DF can fit a smaller lens. This has several benefits , the biggest is that since the dual element DF are somewhat expensive (but not compared to a real macro lens).
Because I a small herd of lenses I have two DF. The special ones I use are the Canon D500/D250. A normal lens (say 55 to 58mm) Canon will cost around $80. For large zoom lenses (72/77mm) the cost is close to $200.

I’ve included some macro images which I think shows the performance of these DF’s. The D500 is for lenses longer than 100mm (most zooms) and the D250 is for lenses less than 100mm. Because most lenses are very good now, yes you can use your “normal” zoom to take good to great macro images of flowers and bugs.

The big benefit of a zoom lens and a DF is the same benefit you get from a zoom – you can get different magnifications without having to change lenses. When I shoot macro images in the field its often because I had a DF in my bag or pocket. A DF means you don’t have to change lenses to image macro, just attach it and you are in business.

The second most import tool to have for any macro imaging is a flash and diffuser. Even the built-in flash if your camera has one can be used with something like a piece of cloth over the flash to diffuse it. Of course, on a bright day or with high ISO in the shade you might not need a flash, but it’s an image saver when you do need it.

Buds are forming on plants as I right this. So we are going to have a “Macro School” at a selected botanical garden so those who have never tried this kind of imaging can learn before the flowers are blooming and the critters are running around. For this test you might want to consider buying an inexpensive single element diopter if you are unsure if you really need macro especially if flowers are your image target. Some lenses do focus to ¼ life size and for flowers that can be “close enough”.
Besides Diopters and Flash, this next tip will make your macro life so much easier. It doesn’t make what macro setup you are using in the field, but for single shot macro images don’t be afraid of diffraction which on large sensors can start at f22/32 and around F11 for smaller sensors. Why? Because unless you stack images you need all of the Depth of Field (DOF) you can get. Images greater than ¼ life size have very, very shallow DOF. Seriously, no one will ever see the diffraction caused by the small F stop, but they will notice key parts of the image that are out of focus.

I hope you will join me on this outing if you have never done this type of imaging or are just “rusty”. Once we’ve had our “tune up and learning” session, our first real outing will be close, but probably will still need to have some car pooling.
Bursting with color in late April and early May, the Camassia Natural Area in West Linn was carved out thousands of years ago by the great floods, but it’s a natural work of art that’s stood the test of time. A 16-mile drive south of downtown Portland, the 26-acre preserve can get muddy in the springtime, but from its trails you’ll see more than 300 different plant species and plenty of familiar birds flocking overhead.
Many folks do use tripods, rail focusing, and softbox lights for flowers, but that would be for an advanced program I think.

Using the FishEye Lens as a Normal Wide Angle

Using the FishEye Lens as a normal wide angle

One of the most creative tools in photography is the FishEye Lens. It often provides that unique vision which takes an image from ordinary to extraordinary. However, sometimes a FishEye can be used as a rectilinear normal Wide Angle lens. Many programs provide a “de-fish” tool which crops and straightens a FishEye image into a traditional rectilinear image. Here is an example of where the different (in FF FOV) a 15mm FishEye was the only way I could get this image as my 18mm “normal” WA was not wide enough.

Perspective in Photography

Perspective in Photography drives the perception in your viewer’s mind.

A corrected Fish Eye perspective can bring vista like views to enclosed spaces.

Learn to view scenes as if you were going to paint them and then select the proper lenses to give your image the perspective that you see in your mind. Go high, go low, which angle and perspective captures the scene you wish to create as an artist.

Cell Phone Photography

Cell Phone Photography

I am a pretty old guy and started imaging a very long time ago (but in the same galaxy). For a long time I was obsessed with the quality of my image, namely because Ansel Adams produced such fine images, both in content and technical quality. Working the darkroom and making great prints was a very hard thing to do. I also shot a lot of slides and always was concerned about the zone system to get properly exposed slides.
Then came digital and with the first Epson pigment printers, my prints looked like I wanted them. After my first DSLR technical concerns became less and I focused on obtaining “fine glass”. A funny thing happened when I went to M43 format – the kit and small primes were very good, and them the “PRO” glass came and while better, they were not light years better.

During that time came the rise of the cell phones as point and shoot alternative imaging devices. At first I must admit that I thought they were ok for personal history images but not for fine art. Recently I had to replace both my wife and my phones. Then I shot some images on a trip where I had a camera but I left it home to enjoy the experience in real time with the folks I was with.
I shot some images with the phone and during some down time I used the android version of Lightroom and photoshop to work with some images. I think I can say this (BTW I bought refurbished phone and both phones combined cost less than $600, so you can pickup a really good cell phone camera refurbished now days for about $300 or less).
Here are the Images:

Edge S7 Android PS lte IR filter

Edge S7 PSlte B&W filter

I believe I could print these 11 x 14 or 16 x 20 and be very happy with the resulting prints. Here is what this means for photography: today it is possible for folks to acquire a imaging device that can produce fine art prints and stock images good enough to sell. Many folks who instruct photography like to see folks start out with a single, none zoom lens. I have always liked semi-wide normal lenses, and most cell phone have an equivalent 35mm field of view to around 28 or 30mm.

There are many free programs to process images on a cell phone. So with a device most of us use for communication if you have the desire you can become a fine art or photo journalistic photographer. There will always be folks who question new things in photographer – just read a photographic history book to see the various conflicts over time in photography.

The most important part of photography is a photographer’s point of view and his/her ability to capture an image the stirs the emotions through that point of view. Cell phones camera’s in my opinion are now a viable photographic tool which can be used to produce fine art images.

The Depth of Focus as a brush

Street Talkers

Using The Depth of Focus as a brush to impart focus of subject matter

As an artistic photographer one has many tools, both software and hardware, to help create the key message of an image use focus. You can use very fast lenses to create shallow focus or you can use what ever lens you have and software to modify the focal plane of your images. Simple things such as the angle in which you hold the camera can critically alter your plane of focus when creating an image. Many software programs allow you work with blur which can be used to simulate fast lenses or go beyond that by changing the actual dimensional plane of your focus.

Get out of your comfort zone

As an Artists you need to get out of your comfort zone to drive your creativity.

To enhance your creativity you may have to go to the dark side.

We all have those things we feel comfortable doing. And doing those things may put the bread and butter on the table. But to grow as an artist you should force yourself to do things that don’t fit into your portfolio, expand your efforts to find creativity.

Black and White for emotion

I find that using Black and White for emotion is one way to create new meaning in your images. I shoot in color and then do HDR (high dynamic range) before I convert to B&W to drive more contrast. The range of light in a B&W photo is what for me drives the image to show emotion, Adam’s zone system as shown in his book “The Range of Light” has been a tool I use to visualize how an image will look in black and white. Try losing color and see what your images say.