Archives For macro
As we hiked down from a ridge overlooking Lanikai Beach on Oahu, I noticed a small cactus flower blooming beside the trail. The mid-day light was shining through the flower, creating a subtle glow inside. When I got close, I could see brilliant, red veins scribbled across the thin membrane inside the flower – so I pulled out my macro lens to take a shot. By the time I finished, I was sweating… but I had the shot I wanted.
I got in as close as I could for this shot – pushing my macro lens to its focusing limit, and cropping the finished image to get in even closer. The repeating patterns are particularly appealing to me. They remind me of writing… I think it’s poetry. Don’t you?
All right. It’s not another planet. It’s tiny spots of lichen growing on rocks on a beach in California. I loved the brilliant color and the repeating pattern of spots. I have to admit that lichen always draws my eye. So very tiny – and usually unnoticed – and yet there’s a whole little world here on the rocks by the sea. This is some prime real estate, and they have a heck of a view!
This is a shot I took on the Big Island of Hawai’i. We were driving along the road, and we noticed a small road way down below us in a beautiful valley full. So, we pulled off the main drag and found the road we’d seen from above. I’m glad we did. We found ourselves in a gorgeous spot – waves pounding the rocky shore on one side, and lush rain forest on the other.
I noticed these lovely water droplets strung like pearls on a spider’s web. So, of course, I pulled out my macro lens and got down to business.
Capturing a shot like this is tough. Even with a macro lens, it was hard to get in close enough for the shot I wanted. And the slightest breeze is enough to keep the web dancing… so getting a sharp picture required patience.
I took several shots – hoping that I could get one that was sharp. Thanks to a few moments of stillness, the photo I took with a 1.6 second shutter speed (ISO 100) is cleaner than another I took with a 1/6 second shutter speed (ISO 400. :) Sometimes, you just get lucky. :)
A few tips for shooting spider webs.
1. Look for a clean background. Here, I used an aperture of 7.1. That setting gave me just a bit of depth of field to work with, and left my background completely blurred out. I was VERY close for this shot… just at the focus limit of my lens, so my depth of field is incredibly narrow.
2. Look for patterns. Notice that I included only a few strands of the web in this shot. I looked at it carefully to find repeating patterns that were appealing to me. The Y-shaped strands give me the patterns I want, and the single strands break up the pattern just enough to keep things interesting… in my opinion, anyway. :)
3. Align the objects you want in focus on a flat plane – and keep that plane parallel to your camera’s sensor. As I mentioned before, I was working with a ridiculously narrow depth of field here, so anything outside my narrow plane of focus would be blurred. I adjusted my camera very carefully to be sure it was aligned as accurately as possible.
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My dad used to tell me to “get in close” when I was taking pictures with his sturdy little Pentax, K1000. It was good advice! When I’m shooting, I’m often thinking about how I can get close and fill my frame with my subject. I took this shot with a Canon 180mm macro lens. The greatest challenge when shooting macro is getting the focus just right – especially when you are outdoors and working with windy conditions – or a moving subject. In this case, I used a wide aperture (f/5) to capture a very narrow depth of field. This serves to eliminate the details in the background for a simpler image.
In post processing, I check my color balance carefully to make sure the greens looked natural. Then, I used my Wacom graphics tablet and stylus to draw a really quick selection around the tip of the grass and the water droplet. I feathered the selection, created a mask on a duplicated layer, and then sharpened the layer. The mask let me target my sharpening to the areas that needed it – leaving the background nice and soft.
This is a great place to use a circular polarizer filter.
This little guy is going to be famous! :) He will be featured in our next Workflow Series eBook! I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a detail shot that would show the effect of a circular polarizer, and this was perfect. I took two shots – one with and one without the polarizer filter. This is the filtered shot. The colors are nice and clean and bright, and you can see lots of details on the surface of the lily pads. Without the filter, the lily pads reflect too much light toward my camera, so all that nice color and detail is lost. I’m sorry to say that you’ll have to wait for the eBook to see the unfiltered shot (mostly because I haven’t processed it yet.) ;) I guess this is just the teaser.
So there you go! Now you can say you knew him before he was famous!
Micro-landscapes are way too much fun! I love tiny scenes like this one that I took near Panther Creek in Washington. This is a wee pine tree just beginning to make it’s way in the big world. It’s growing on a giant downed tree trunk. To me, it looks like a tiny little island in the middle of the ocean – are you sure that’s not a palm tree? ;)
I think the hardest part of a shot like this is just getting the focus where I want it. I knew that I wanted the very top of the “palm tree” to be in sharp focus – so I zoomed in close and used the auto focus function in live-view mode to make sure it was really sharp. It took a few tries, since there was a bit of a breeze. I wanted everything else to be soft and fluid – like something out of a daydream. So I chose a wide aperture of f/4.0 to get a really narrow DOF. I’m working with maybe eight or ten mm of DOF here – so even the ends of the pine needles are soft. Little bits of detail in the moss give your eye something to play with… but not enough to grab your attention. And the bark of the fallen tree seems watery.
I converted to black and white in post-processing – for no better reason than because I wanted to. :) I just liked it better that way. Sometimes color is a distraction.
In today’s digital world, good photography seems almost synonymous with good Photoshop skills. When someone takes a look at a brilliant photograph, they often assume that the photographer made the photograph look good in Photoshop. And then there’s the problem of “gadget envy”. This is the belief that having the latest and best gear will make your photographs better. That leads to the belief that the equipment is somehow responsible for capturing the image. One of the most common questions we get… What equipment do you use?
While proper equipment and photoshop skills are definitely helpful… what matter the most is creativity and workflow.
Take a look at this shot of sea anemones from Olympic Nationa Park in Washington. Jay took this shot with a macro lens, a crop-factor camera, and a tripod. It required minimal processing in photoshop.
What it did require is a solid in-the-field workflow. First, he spent a bit of time searching the shoreline for sea anemones with brilliant colors. But not just any pretty anemone would do. He needed to find one that was in a tide pool not too deep and not too shallow. Too much, and the water would distort the creatures and dull their brilliant colors. Too little, and the tentacles would break the surface, which would add a distracting element to the photograph. The water around the anemones mattered too – for the best results, Jay wanted still water that was free of floating debris.
When he found what he was looking for, he positioned his camera so that light reflecting off the surface of the water bounced away from his lens… leaving him with nearly perfect view underwater.
Field work is important – and so is creativity. Technical skills are important – there’s no doubt about that. More important though, is the ability to think through a situation, consider the problems you might run into, and find solutions to them as you work
If you are interested in learning more about the techniques we use in the field – and in post-processing – check out our popular workflow series eBooks. The Workflow Series includes three books: Mountain, Coastlines, and Waterfalls.
So, here’s something a little bit out of the ordinary from my collection. I took this shot on a beach in Florida a few years ago. It’s nothing more than a bit of a branch that I found in the sand, but I loved it’s smooth form and the cracked patterns that covered it. I wanted a clean and simple portrait.
I took the stick and pushed one end into a little hole in a log nearby and set up my camera so that I could shoot the stick straight on. I used a 180mm macro lens to get nice and close, so I could bring attention to the interesting cracks and details. And I chose a shutter speed carefully – making sure that the background was completely blown out and that the stick was exposed correctly. I wanted it to look as though I had placed the stick in front of a white background… but of course, I didn’t have one out there on the beach… so I just set the stick in front of the bright sky. It’s a really simple technique, and the finished image looks as though it was photographed in studio.
Obviously, this look won’t work for every photo – but in this case, I like it. :) The stick seems to be reaching for something just out of the frame. Or maybe it’s doing T’ai Chi.
Here’s a shot from Glacier National Park. I took this one while waiting for sunset on the shore of St. Mary Lake. Driftwood is always fascinating. I loved the curve in this little twig – and the image of a tiny bird caught in the wood. I’m sure some of you will be able to see his long, curving neck, his big eye, his patterned wing, and his sharp, curved beak pointed upward… perhaps into the mouth of a snake? If you don’t see my bird, what DO you see?
This is a macro shot – taken with my Canon 180mm macro. High winds made it difficult to keep everything steady… but I pulled it off in the end. :)