Photography is a wonderful art form. It offers such a wide variety of specialties to choose from, that nearly anyone can find something that speaks to them. Capturing specific moments in time is both exciting and peaceful at the same time. While beginning photographers are excited to explore new genres, the experienced photographers find peace just being in the moment. But sometimes, even the most experienced photographers look for a new creative challenge, and beginning photographers want to learn how to express a unique view. Let me introduce you to the world of Macro photography.
Macro Photography is all about seeing the finest details and showing your viewer another way of looking at the world. It is a perspective that is all together, challenging, expressive, and uniquely beautiful.
On a recent Saturday morning, I met with seven excited photographers at our Aperture Academy studio in San Jose, California, to explore the wonderfully creative world of Macro photography. We had a great mix of new students and familiar faces, and everyone was anxious to get started.
I started the day with some brief introductions, to get to know my students a little better, and let them know what they could expect from the day's activities. After the introductions were completed, it was time for a brief presentation introducing Macro Photography.
I talked about macro photography vs. "close-up" photography, introduced some of the types of equipment that is available, and went over 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.
With 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 following two hours, I worked with each student to set up shots and explore different angles of their subjects. Sometimes photographers that are new to macro photography find that their creativity is challenged, and it can be hard to "see" an image. This is where the workshop environment is so helpful. I helped my students look at the subjects differently. I changed the light position to deepen shadows and make texture more prominent. I showed students how to adjust angles to help capture the character of the subject. The goal here was to push limits and try to showcase common objects in a new way, and help each student find subjects that they connect with, to create stunning images. I knew we were on the right track when I heard choruses of "that is so cool!" throughout the class.
Focus-stacking is a very useful technique for macro photographers to learn. 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 in others.
This challenge can be overcome by focus-stacking images, which involves taking a series of several images, each one with a different plane of the image in focus. Then, when the images are "stacked" in Photoshop, you get one image that is sharp all the way through. So, we took a bit of time and I worked with each student to get their series of images taken, so that we could "stack" later during processing.
After I had gone through each of the planned subjects, we still had a little time before lunch break. We took advantage of that time, and I announced it was time for "recess," and told everyone 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 was delighted to see that my students' creativity had been unlocked and they were adventurously trying all kinds of combinations of subject matter. I continued to work with everyone to help them capture their visions, and it was clear from their actions and choices that the concepts were becoming more familiar to them.
While the students were off in search of something yummy to eat for lunch, 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 the results of the morning's efforts.
The processing portion of our workshop starts with how to import, review and select favorite images in the Lightroom Library module. Then, we move to the Develop Module. This is where I cover how to crop an image, adjust exposure, contrast and white balance. That is always followed by showing my students how to sharpen an image and add some slight vignetting, just to emphasize the focal point of an image. Finally, this class, as all of them, I covered how to export their finished images, highlighting the settings designed for either web posting or printing.
We had made quite a bit of progress, but I felt like there was something still missing.... Oh, yeah! We still hadn't done anything with the images we prepared for stacking.
For the big finale, I showed them how to select those images and open them in Photoshop layers, to align and blend for a final image that is sharp and crisp edge to edge. The final results were really wonderful to see! This is a technique that takes some practice, but now they had one more tool in their photographic tool bags.
We spent a bit more time addressing specific questions, but all too soon our time had come to an end. After one final thank you to my students for letting me share their day, I said farewell, and sent them on their way to enjoy their new-found 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.