Photography is such 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 exciting and peaceful at the same time. Beginning photographers are excited to explore new genres, and 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. The world of 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 challenging, expressive, and uniquely beautiful.
On a recent Saturday morning, I met with two excited photographers to explore the world of Macro photography. In our Aperture Academy Studio in San Jose, CA, I had set up everything we would need to learn a few things and hopefully have a lot of fun.
I started the day with some brief introductions so I could get to know my students a little better, and let them know what they expect from the day's activities.
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.
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 next 2+ hours, I worked with each student to set up shots and explore different angles of their subjects. I wanted them to see how the character of 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 didn't show up before. 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 one of the best aspects of 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.
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 planned subjects, we still had a little time before lunch break, so I told everyone it was time for "recess" and that they could pick their own subject and let their creativity loose! This is the part of the class that I most enjoy. I can never predict what subjects the students will choose, and it is always fun to see what everyone picked and connected to. It is challenging to me as well as I try to help each student bring their vision to life. I was delighted to see that my student's creativity had been unlocked and they were adventurously trying all kind of combinations of subject matter. I continued to work with them to help them capture their vision and it was clear that the concepts were becoming more familiar.
Soon it was time to break while I transformed the studio into the lab to review LightRoom processing.
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 how my students how to sharpen an image, minimize noise, 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 had made quite a bit of progress, but we still had one more thing to cover... Remember that series of images we captured? We still needed to process them with the focus stacking technique. I showed my students how to select those images in the LightRoom catalog and open them in PhotoShop layers to align and blend for a final image that is sharp and crisp edge to edge. This is a technique that takes some practice, but now my students had one more tool in their photographic toolbag.
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.