Maybe it’s time to think small, macro small. September and October in the Pacific Northwest present wet dew laden mornings which are perfect for photographing tiny intimate landscapes, insects in your garden, abstracting details of a flower into a wash of color, or a spider’s web suspending drops of dew.
When I talk about “macro photography” I’m not limiting myself to 1:1 or greater magnification. Macro to me is really anything that might fit in my 2 hands. A clump of clover or a close-up of a Macaw’s back showing detail in the feathers, fall into my definition of “macro photography” as does a butterfly’s wing or dandelion seed head filling the entire frame.
People often ask me what I would recommend for a macro lens and honestly I don’t generally carry one; they add too much weight for how often I find myself using one. Instead, I carry a set of extension tubes, practically weightless when compared to adding another lens to my bag, and at my age, less is definitely more (as in more walking, more shooting and more time out of the chiropractors office!)
I’ve asked Jay Goodrich to provide a few technical details on macro lenses and how extension tubes work:
To understand macro lenses you must first understand how a lens focuses on a subject. As you twist the focus ring, the glass optics inside move forward and back. Want to focus closer? Move the glass further from the sensor. Want to focus at 1:1 magnification? (1:1 happens when the object you are shooting is the same size on the sensor as it is in real life such as a quarter or butterfly’s wing filling the frame) Then your lens must be able to move the optics away from the sensor a distance equal to the focal length of your lens (This will vary based on the crop factor of your sensor). In other words if your 100mm lens can move 100mm from the sensor, you have a ‘macro lens’ able to focus close enough for objects to appear life size on the sensor. A 100mm macro lens will be able to achieve 1:1 (lifesize) at twice the distance from your subject than a 50mm macro lens would.
But what if your 100mm lens is not a “macro lens”? That simply means it is not able to move the optics a full 100mm from the sensor. Perhaps it can only move them 75mm and thus it can’t quite focus close enough to fill the frame with the butterfly’s wing. An extension tube is spacer that fits between your camera and lens and they come in various thicknesses. Having no glass at all they do not impact your image quality as a magnifying filter (also used for macro photography) would. So if you were to put a 25mm extension tube on the back of your “non macro” 100mm lens – you would then be able to achieve the full 100mm (75+25) of extension necessary to photograph your subject at 1:1 or 1x magnification.
So what does Art use in the field? He will add extension tubes between his 70-200 f4 lens. Without them, the lens has a minimum focusing distance of 1.2m and a magnification of .21x (about 1/5th life size). Adding a 25mm extension tube allows him to move in closer and achieve .42x life size. Stack additional extension tubes behind the lens and he’s able to focus even closer yet – all without adding an additional lens to his bag.
If you enjoy shooting macro subjects, an investment in a true macro lens is worthwhile. While extension tubes allow you to “make one” on the fly, they must be removed to allow the lens to again focus on distant objects and to infinity. You can even purchase a macro lens with enough extension built in to achieve up to 5x magnification – filling the frame with the eye of a praying mantis.
Most of the time stopping down to f22 and keeping your sensor plane parallel to your subject will give you enough depth of field to cover your subject. If not, you may need to “rack focus”, shooting several images with the focus point first on the leading edge of the subject with each subsequent image focusing a little further into the composition until you reach the furthest point you want in focus. Later you combine the images with Photoshop or Helicon Focus; the combined image will then look sharp across the entire scene from front to back.
I use macro photography to abstract the patterns, lines and texture found in nature; to give the viewer a different taken on an old subject. We’ve all seen photographs of flowers, force your audience to think a little, to tilt their head as they wrap their imaginations around your composition.
You can abstract just about anything you find in nature and even man-made objects. By framing tight on your subject you are able to show a pattern that is lost when looking at the whole. Your image allows a new appreciation for the subject which is unavailable without the photograph to isolate and show only what you, the artist behind the camera, is allowing the viewer to see.
Patterns come from the repetition of shape and textures, thus it is possible to get too close and not show enough of your subject, losing the magic of the pattern you had intended to show. If you love ferns for their delicate pattern of leaves, get in close, focus your attention on just one frond and enjoy the gentle curve of the main stem while playing with the beauty of the individual leaves branching out while ever decreasing in size to either side. A fully symmetric composition with the frond in the center makes a different, but equally effective statement as drawing the frond out of a corner diagonally, try it both ways to see what you like.
Sometimes if I am lacking for inspiration I’ll create a little vignette, a story, with the elements around me. On a beach I may grab some bits of seaweed, a shell, perhaps a dead crab or some muscles, and a bit of drift wood. I’ll loosely arrange these so as not to appear too deliberate or forced and play with the composition. This exercise can help to open me up to other options around me as I begin to see line and form that I may not have seen otherwise.
A good exercise for anyone, whether you are feeling stuck or full of inspiration, is to walk to a random spot, in your back yard, in the country, in the forest… and just stand there and take in the scene. Look all around you. It may take 15 min or it may take an hour, but you will begin to see opportunities on a macro, close up scale, which you may have overlooked in the past. The stained glass effect of a dragon fly’s wing, the rainbow of colors in a puddle, a sewer grate, the wabi sabi qualities of a dead leaf as it curls and browns. Photographic opportunities are all around if you open yourself to the possibility of seeing them.
Always keep a sharp eye for any distracting elements in the composition. Check each of the four corners for bright areas on the edges, twigs, dead leaves, hard edges. A grouping of pine needles close-up can make for an abstract of Japanese writing; a single pine needle in the corner can blow the whole composition.
As you head out to photograph the macro landscape, ask yourself about the difference between a tight shot of a flower that could be used in a botanical textbook as “figure 7.2”, and an artist’s abstract of that same flower. When you get in really close, can you start to see a Georgia O’Keefe or Claude Monet’s influence on the composition? Does the texture make you think of a pointillism painting where the entire scene is composed of dots of color? Go back and photograph those same flowers, mosses, and leaves you have shot so many times before, even those in your own yard, but do so through a new set of eyes, not looking to record nature but to abstract and challenge the senses of your viewer.
Seal. Crazy. 4:00am. I think it has been my ring tone for 15 years now, way before the iPhone was even a concept. It is this song that closely reflects the life of a photographer. I mean who in their right mind would wake up at 4am? The beauty of my current situation is that Art is as much of a morning person as I am. We firmly believe that waking up this early should be minimized on all accounts. Seriously, the coffee shops aren’t even open yet. The flip side is that we have no problem staying up well into the evening to photograph stars. I guess that justifies sleeping in way past sunrise. At least in summer.
We were in Moab. It was the first day of leading ten people around with a certain and much different workshop challenge. Discover the subjects beyond the obvious. Yes, if you have never been to Moab you can shoot those icons, but after that we wanted our participants to move beyond and work not only their subjects, but their minds too. As a participant you are restricted to keeping those iconic images to yourself. We all know that they are already good compositions. During our critiques we want to see the other images. The ones you have questions about. Or the ones you struggled with until you thought you failed. Those are inevitably the ones that are most successful.
If this sounds like a duality of common sense, it probably is. Those images that you struggle with force you to work, and when you work at your composition, you put thought into it. This thought process always comes through in the images you produce, even if you don’t realize it at the time.
The desert is a magical place. The colors are extremely brilliant and complimentary. Unbelievably clear and dry blue skies complimented with deep reds and oranges as the sun comes up. This time of year though, it only lasts about an hour after sunrise, so timing is of the essence. And lesson number one is to illustrate this on morning one, day one, without any prior instruction. The forthcoming discussions will change this ideal and then we will progress to make you think even harder. Once you are challenged with trying to find subjects beyond the icons, we are going to take you an abandoned town. At Noon. With one request, find us subjects.
We continue by highlighting specific techniques. Specific ways of processing images utilizing Adobe Lightroom 4. Adding in creative options here as well, so that you realize that every image shouldn’t be super-saturated color, a perfect blend of multiple exposures, or even produced in the 2 by 3 format. This is were your ideas are taken into reality. The creative juices are beginning to flow at this point and you are beginning to see. To see less like a recorder and more like an artist. You begin to realize that you are in control of what your viewer perceives and almost understand that the image you create becomes your viewer’s reality.
Then we add different perspectives into the mix. How to create composite panoramics, star trails, and nighttime compositions. We do this by taking you to different eco-systems and different environments continuously throughout the day. The main rule here is if you can find something of merit to photograph at high noon in the summer desert, you can find a subject just about anywhere at any time. And then, all of a sudden, everything clicks, (figuratively and literally) you become a creative. The word photographer only has meaning to you because you choose that as your mechanism to display your vision.
You in fact become a little crazy and like the song says, “But we’re never gonna survive, unless, we are a little crazy.” Now you want only one thing. MORE. Stay tuned we will give you that real soon. — Jay Goodrich
This is the last chance to sign up for Art Wolfe’s Composing Effective Images – Field Edition.
If you have procrastinated down to the last moment, fear not, because there are just 3 slots left before we cap it. The weather is looking to be fantastic this weekend and you will learn a ton that will surely take you further with your photography. Seattle is fortunate to have such a great teacher as well as hosting this worthwhile workshop. Add a Friday night at Art Wolfe’s home, then getting class time and field time in the beautiful arboretum. Sprinkle in a little Lightroom tutorial with Jay Goodrich, and critiques where we all learn from one-another and Wow!
Call our office tomorrow and then grab your coat and hat, because the workshop begins at Art Wolfe’s home at 6:00pm.
>>CLICK HERE to register and/or call our office at 206-332-0993. We will get maps and information to you.
September 12, 2011 – Port Angeles, WA – With Jay Goodrich.
This 1-Day class follows Art Wolfe’s Olympic National Park Workshop. This is a great way to take what has just been taught in the field and learn to improve your process of development and managing large volumes of images with Lightroom 3.
As the popularity of digital image making grows, so does a photographer’s image catalog. How do we manage a hundred, thousand, or even 10,000 images? With the latest edition of Lightroom 3, Adobe is making the life of the photographer much, much easier. Photographer and writer Jay Goodrich has been using the Lightroom package since the first version, and is now offering a class to help those who are in need of a management solution for their collection of photographs. This one-day addition to our Olympic Peninsula workshop will begin with an overview of the Library and Develop Modules. Jay will then spend the rest of the time working with each participant to help catalog and maximize the images they created during the previous three days.
Yesterday I arrived on the Olympic Peninsula to prepare for my workshop this weekend. Jay Goodrich, Gavriel Jecan, and I headed up to the top of Hurricane Ridge on a scouting mission to see if this would be a good location to bring students to in the coming days. I did find some remarkable subjects, but also found the deepest snowpack that I have ever seen in my 40 years of photographing in this region. There was a ton of rockfall, huge avalanche run-outs, and below freezing temperatures as we approached closer and closer to the summit. I decided that this wouldn’t be the greatest location to bring a group of 25, but was rewarded with a great photo session of a raven.
Today we will be heading to the Sol Duc and then tomorrow to the Hoh Rain Forest and the coast for sunset. More coming soon.
Michael Rainwater just got back from China with Art. His reflections:
Over thirteen days, we travelled to some of the most spectacular scenery in southeastern China – from the Yellow Mountains (Huang Shan) to the rice terraces of Yuan Yang to the Li River, near Guilin. We all came back with images that we are very happy with. I, for one, am ready to go back again, especially to the Yellow Mountains. Though we were able to catch glimpses of rural life in the hill tribe communities, it is obvious that China is changing and modernizing much faster than any of us expected. The time is approaching when it will be difficult to find the “old” China at all. This has been a wonderful experience that was greatly enriched by the instruction and guidance we received from both Art and Jay. These guys are masters.