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I got hooked on macro at a class I took with the late, great Ernie Braun almost 20 years ago, and have been smitten ever since.  To me, this is the closest that photography comes to imitating painting without using tricks like extra-long shutter speeds of moving objects, panning with moving objects, and/or image manipulation software.

I love the dreamy quality that macro imparts to an otherwise ordinary object.  To me, good macro images are abstract, yet recognizable.  You can tell  that the image above is a flower.  At least, I hope you can.

Macro photography is almost a meditation.  It involves a certain amount of preparation as far as setting up equipment goes.  A tripod is a necessity, a two-way focusing rail is helpful, and a sturdy, four-way focusing rail is an expensive luxury (albeit one I easily convinced myself I couldn’t live without).  A high quality, fixed focal length macro lens was my first big equipment splurge after a midrange, wide-angle, and telephoto lens were all acquired.  All three were zooms, which saved me money and made the camera bag lighter, although I sacrifice some sharpness in my images because of that.  Many years later, I still carry only these four lenses.

I was lucky that many years ago,  some extraordinarily trusting and/or foolish photography instructors allowed their students to borrow their macro lenses during workshops.  Thanks to their generosity, I discovered that a long macro lens was what I coveted.  Short and medium length macro lenses didn’t quite give me the thrill (or the images) I sought.  This was a good thing to discover before I bought said lenses and found out that they weren’t exactly what I wanted.  As in some other aspects of life, I found the adage “size matters” applicable.

Once I find a good subject in good light, and set up the camera and the focusing rail on the tripod, the fun begins.  Creating a good macro composition is much harder than you would think.  There’s almost always some distraction in the frame–an overly-bright highlight, a too-deep shadow, a twig, an insect–some of which can be easily removed in the field, and some which can’t.  Having cut my chops on film, I prefer to take a clean image from the get-go, rather than having to “clean it up” using software.

Then come the matters of depth of field and point of focus.  Often macro photographers strive for minimal depth of field, but there’s a balancing act between having too many elements in the image in focus versus too few.  Using depth of field preview is imperative to ensure you get the effect you’re after.  Also, I play with which part of the image I want to be the sharpest.  That becomes the focal point of the image:  where the viewer’s eyes are first drawn, and where they keep returning.  Another reason to keep distracting elements out of the image, or at least blur them beyond recognition if (literally) removing them from the frame isn’t possible.

The above image was made during harsh midday light in Arizona.  Not a time of day one seeks to make great images outdoors, generally…unless one wishes one’s subject to be backlit.  The sunlight coming through this prickly pear blossom’s petals makes them glow, and casts the shadow of the stamen onto the petal in the lower right.  The edges of the petals are in sharp focus in the foreground, and gently blur into a haze of yellow in the back of the image.

Magic indeed!

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4 Comments

  1. Wow! What a wonderful piece of information for my brain to digest, and wonderful shot for my eyes to digest. Love it!

    • Thanks Angie.

      There is much more to macro photography than meets the eye! Happy exploring!!!

      RPRT Photo

  2. Would you mind sharing what kind of macro lens you have. I’ve been on the lookout for one of those, and a wide angle. I have a Canon 40D. I love this shot. So dreamy.

    • Hi Laura,

      I don’t mind sharing at all. I shoot with only Canon lenses. The macros they currently make include the 50, 60, 65, 100, and 180 mm lenses. I have the 180, the longest of the bunch. In addition to being a great macro lens, it’s also a good mid-range tele lens. This is the only fixed focal length lens I own.

      Since you mentioned shopping for a wide-angle, Canon currently makes the 10-22, 8-15, 16-35 and 17-40 mm wide-angle zoom lenses. I have the 10-22, but am seriously coveting the 8-15…I don’t really NEED a fisheye lens, their uses are limited, but they are so much FUN to play with….

      I’m glad you like this image. It’s one of my favorite macro shots.

      Cheers,
      RPRT Photo


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