Thursday, May 13, 2010

April 2010 - Coloradoan Xplore Column

One of my favorite local photography playgrounds is springing to life again. That being the botanical garden in front of the old Ft Collins High School on College Avenue. There’s a little bit of color to play with now, but in the coming weeks there will be enough to keep you busy for hours. For anyone interested in flower photography, in particular macro photography, it’s hard to beat this location.

Macro photography is simply close up photography. In the purist sense macro photography is capturing images life size or at 1:1. If you open a photography catalogue you’ll find equipment specifically designed for macro work. However to simply go out, have fun and make some beautiful images most of your existing gear will work just fine. In fact, most point and shoot camera do a great job with macro.

I separate images into two camps, documentary and abstract. Documentary is useful if you are cataloguing subjects. However, in my mind, the real fun is abstract or creative images where no rules apply. The two most challenging parts of macro are managing depth of field (DOF) and managing light.

DOF was a real headache for me until I stopped fighting it. For instance, a shooting distance of 10 inches, at f8 and a focal length of 100mm will give you DOF of 0.05 inches. That’s not much to work with. So you have to make some choices on what your subject will be and how you want to present it. To begin with explore the scene through your camera and compose the image hand held. Pay attention to the background in your image. Try to achieve uniform color and tones. Moving even a few inches can simplify and eliminate distracting shapes or stark contrast. Once you have the shot you want, place your camera on a tripod (this is when you’ll appreciate a tripod that folds nearly flat to the ground). Make sure the back of your camera (actually the digital sensor) is parallel and in the same plane as your subject. With extreme shallow DOF if your camera is even slightly angled it can be enough to cause part of your intended subject to be soft and out of focus. Turn your autofocus to the manual setting. I do this for a couple of reasons. First most cameras autofocus systems struggle at this working distance. Second, what you choose to place in focus is part of the creative process. Also set your shutter release to self timer. This will help to eliminate any vibration from pressing the shutter.

One of the cool things with macro is with a couple of ‘tools’ you can do it all day long, regardless of light conditions. I carry a small umbrella and a small reflector. By placing the umbrella around or over my subject I can soften light during intense times of day. Adding the reflector allows me to re-direct light brightening the subject.

Now comes the fun part. Use the narrow DOF to your advantage. Move up, down, in and around your subjects. Try shooting through leaves or flower petals to create a filtered effect. A couple weeks ago I learned about a technique called ‘focusing with your toes’. Lay on the ground with your elbows acting as a tripod. Push yourself forward and backward using only your feet. As you do you’ll see different images created as the plane of focus travels. Moving only a couple of inches will completely change the image. There are endless possibilities as our landscape continues to wake up to spring. Your only limitation is the number of memory cards you carry in your camera bag.

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