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Friday Foto Talk: Macro & Close-up Photography, Part IV   12 comments

A sunny meadow is home to a large spider in New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 21 mm., 1/250 sec. @ f/22, ISO 200.

A sunny meadow is home to a large spider in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 21 mm., 1/250 sec. @ f/22, ISO 200.

This post will explore ways to incorporate your macro photography into regular shooting.  I’m of the belief that the human brain naturally desires to order the world.  So we all categorize, some more than others.  While this isn’t in itself a bad thing, it can lead to a sort of tunnel vision (really several tunnels).  All it takes to broaden your perspective is to realize that all our categories lie on a continuum.  Putting that into practice of course is a bit tougher.

So how does this apply to photography, and in particular macro & close-up photography?  Well, once you are comfortable getting close with a macro lens, extension tubes or close-up filter, consider attempting to get super close to subjects while also showing much of the surroundings.  In nature and landscape photography, this can be a powerful way to highlight one small part of nature while showing the landscape as well.

I’m calling this one Flying Duck Kiss. 100 mm. macro lens, 1/6 sec. @ f/14, ISO 200.

I captured the image at the top of this post last month in northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  I’ve sort of fallen in love with these mountains over the past couple of years.  Waking for sunrise a thick fog greeted me, so not much chance at a big landscape image.  But I stayed out well past sunup, wandering through a lovely meadow.  I was fascinated by the tall blooming mule’s ear all around.  It was quite a bright scene, but I used my tripod anyway.

The lens I used, a Zeiss 21 mm., focuses extremely close.  So close in fact that I consider it a “wide-angle macro” lens.  Most macro lenses are of much longer focal length.  But if your goal is to show much of the environment around your subject, a wide angle lens that focuses close is the ticket.  If you don’t have that lens, consider getting the Canon 500D close-up filter.  More on that accessory in Part V of this series.  I think it’s much easier to use than extension tubes, especially with wide-angle lenses.

I was able to get very close to the spider web, making an already large web look even bigger.  At 21 mm. not only were the silhouetted mule’s ears prominent, the landscape beyond – the morning sun filtered through the fog-shrouded forest – is highlighted as well.

A closer look at that spider web, using the 100 mm. macro lens: 1/125 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 100.

A closer look at that spider web, using the 100 mm. macro lens: 1/125 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 100.

One challenge to these sorts of photos is depth of field.  You’ll want to focus right on your subject, and since it’s very close, you’re almost guaranteed to blur the background to a certain extent.  You can use f/22, which is the smallest aperture for most lenses.  But diffraction effects introduce some softness at tiny apertures.  How much softness depends on the lens.  The Zeiss happens to be pretty darn sharp at f/22, though not nearly as much as it is at f/8.  A tradeoff.

You could also focus-stack, taking several images (at an intermediate aperture like f/8 or f/11), focusing on things at ever-increasing distances from you.  You then combine those images using Photoshop to get a picture with sharp focus front to back.  Currently I don’t have Photoshop, so I’ve been collecting focus-stacked sequences and saving them for possible use later.

Of course you don’t have to have everything in focus.  Even wide-angle lenses will blur things to one degree or another.  If you get super-close to your main subject and use your largest aperture (f/2.8 for e.g.), you’ll blur much of the background, even if it’s not that far away.  You won’t blur it as much as using, say a 200 mm. focal length at f/2.8, but that’s okay.  When you do this it helps to have a very strong subject.

I’ve also used the ever-versatile 50 mm. lens with my Canon 500D close-up filter and found I’m able to limit the amount of background while also blurring it.  What I suppose I’m saying is that you should never limit yourself.  Use the gear you have in all possible combinations.  Vary the distance to subject and point of view.  Experiment!

After you’ve become somewhat familiar with operating in the space between macro and ‘normal’ landscape shooting, you should have a better ability to match the techniques you use to your goals for the images; that is, what you want to say about your subjects.

Though I’ve described combining macro and landscape here, it should apply to other subject matter as well.  Can you think of ways to do this with portrait?  Or sports?  Other subjects?  Leave a comment, don’t be shy!  Okay, that’s it for today.  Next week I’ll conclude the series with a look at gear and accessories for macro & close-up photography.    Have a fun weekend!

Fading blooms of summer, Garden of the Gods, Colorado. 21 mm., 1/125 sec. @ f/22, ISO 200.

“We will become…silhouettes when our bodies finally go”:  Colorado.  21 mm., 1/125 sec. @ f/22, ISO 200.


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