As photographers, we are constantly challenged to find unique subjects to shoot. Many times that means venturing out to find an undiscovered location that few have ever seen.
Some beginning photographers get discouraged because they think there is nothing new to take pictures of. Well, I am here to tell you that is simply not true! Sometimes, you just have to look at what is around you in a completely different way.
That's where macro photography comes in. Part of the reason I love it so much is that I can take something my viewer may have seen a million times, and show it to them in a unique way. Yes, it is challenging, but when it comes together, it is amazing!
On a recent Saturday morning, I met with three curious photographers at our Aperture Academy studio in San Jose, Ca., to explore this wonderfully creative world of macro photography. Since this was a small class, I knew I would be able to spend real quality time with each student.
Our day began with quick introductions, where I got a chance to know a little about my students, tell them what to expect from the day, and they could get to know a little bit about me.
After the introductions were complete, it was time for a brief presentation introducing macro photography. I defined macro photography vs. "close-up" photography, introduced some of the types of equipment that is available, and what characteristics make a macro lens unique. Next, I moved on to the more technical aspects of macro photography involving the exposure triangle: Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed.
I spent a significant portion of time reviewing how depth of field impacts macro photography, which is important to understand because minor adjustments can make a big impact on the finished image. Finally, I reviewed some of the creative aspects of composition, reminding students that the use of leading lines, and rule of thirds principles, are just as important in macro photography as in any other genre. I also showed some examples of macro photography from my own portfolio, so the students could get an idea of the endless possibilities.
Once we had the basics covered, it was time to let the fun begin and start shooting. Each student set up their tripods and cameras at their own individual light stations. I described the three main subjects we would be working with and then I helped everyone get set up for the first round, and the fun began!
Over the next two hours, as we changed from subject to subject, I challenged my students to really try and "see" an image. I wanted them to see how a subject changes depending on where the light source is, what angle you are shooting from, etc. Changing the direction of the light source can highlight details that were otherwise unseen. Changing the angle from which you shoot can showcase character details that would be otherwise unseen.
But more than anything, I wanted my students to just have fun discovering what worked for them. This is why I really love the workshop environment. Students can try all kinds of different settings and adjustments and get immediate feedback and critique, which can really help solidify the new principles and techniques.
Everyone was asking great questions, and I could tell that things were starting to click (pun intended).
A very useful technique for macro photographers to learn is that of focus-stacking. We often find ourselves in situations that require us to shoot in shallow depths of field, either due to lack of light, or because we want a certain softness or tone to our images. Under those conditions, it can be difficult to get an image that is crisp and sharp all the way through, and we end up with images that are sharp in some areas but not others.
This challenge can be overcome by focus-stacking images. This technique involves taking a series of several images, each one with a different plane of the image in focus, so that when "stacked" in Photoshop, you get one image that is sharp all the way through. I took a bit of time and worked with each student to get their series of images that we could "stack" later during processing.
After I had gone through each of the pre-set subjects, we still had a little time before lunch break. This is the part of the class that I most enjoy. With no further planned subjects to shoot, I told everyone it was time for "recess" and that they could pick their own subject and let their creativity loose!
It was really fun to see what everyone picked and connected to. Some went back to the flowers to try other angles, other students picked peacock feathers, or pine cones, or purple cabbage! I had even found some gorgeous fall leaves that were just starting to turn from green to red.
I was delighted to see that my students creativity had been unlocked and they were adventurously trying all kind of combinations of subject matter. I continued to work with everyone to help them capture their vision, and it was clear that the concepts were becoming more familiar.
Soon it was time to break for lunch, and while my students went off in search of something yummy to eat, I transformed the studio into the processing lab. After lunch, everyone settled around the table and quickly got to importing their images into Lightroom, so that we could see what our creative minds had come up with.
The processing portion of our workshop starts with how to import, review and select favorite images in the Lightroom Library Module. Then, we moved to the Develop Module, where I covered how to crop an image, adjust exposure, contrast and white balance. Next, I showed my students how to sharpen an image and add some slight vignetting, just to emphasize the focal point of an image. Finally, I covered how to export their finished images, highlighting the settings designed for either web posting or printing.
We were very quickly approaching the end of our time together, and I spent a bit more time addressing specific questions, and making some equipment and further workshop recommendations. But soon, with a final thank you, I sent my students on their way to enjoy the rest of their day, ready to practice their new macro photography skills.
Until next time,
DeAnna, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team!
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.