Challenges of Outdoor Macro Photography
Last time I discussed some of the problems of outdoor macro photography. Most importantly, it is often difficult to find a satisfactory balance between a small aperture to provide good depth of field and a short shutter speed to freeze motion. This can be especially challenging in low light situations, but bright light can cause its own problems with stark shadows and blown-out highlights. Photography is all about finding the best compromises, and with care and patience great images of nature’s fine detail can be obtained outdoors. But since we have been told to isolate, I thought it would be helpful to discuss the advantages of bringing macro photography indoors.
My Spring Floral Cheat
It is usually about this time every “normal” year that I head out for my springflower photography “cheat”. I go to my favorite local greenhouse (Walker’s Farm in Dummerston Vermont) and, while Susan buys plants for the garden, I shoot an amazing variety of healthy flora, all indoors with soft diffuse light and no problems with the wind.
The only major difficulty is keeping people from tripping on my tripod. I always get great shots and the plants are all labeled for easy identification. It is simple, and I am never the least bit ashamed of my lazy deceit. Sadly, this year the damn Covid 19 has prevented me from visiting the greenhouse, and I have been forced to create my own special environment.
|My Sunroom "Studio"|
A few years ago, I decided to bring a selection of autumn leaves indoors to use trans-illumination to highlight their brilliant colors. My setup was simple, a bright light, a piece of black mat board and my macro lens. In that situation, I was shooting with the light shining through thin leaves and the effects were stunning. To avoid difficulty with depth of field, I pressed the leaves flat before shooting, and with the camera on a tripod, I could shoot with a small aperture. My only real challenge was to get Susan to allow me to clutter half of our sunroom for the project.
Over the last week I have worked to reproduce my indoor lighting to shoot the developing spring flora, and Susan is happy that I can set things up in my barn studio. I do not have the focused tensor lamp that worked so well for my autumn leaves, but I found that the intense trans-illumination was not as important.
Unlike the flattened autumn leaves, spring buds and flowers have greater dimension and are more opaque. To achieve balance illumination, I found that I needed to add a variable amount of front lighting, with one of my LED studio lights. I kept the large light source close, allowing the light to wrap around the subjects.
In the controlled Indoor setting, focus was much easier to manage. I could enlarge the depth of field with small apertures, routinely shooting at f32. The diffraction associated with such small apertures can cause softening of image detail, but much of this can be corrected with sharpening in post-processing.
|Single Image f 5.6|
Even with small apertures, macro photography is associated with shallow depth of field, but a restricted DOF can be used to direct attention to a small area of the image. Quite often this means leading the eye to the stamen. A single exposure, with a small aperture, can be a pleasant solution, but when you want the entire subject to be sharp, focus stacking is a great solution.
|Six Image Focus Stack|
|Six Image Focus Stack with Blended and Touch-up Layers|
Focus stacking involves blending multiple images taken at different plains of focus. I have discussed the details of this procedure in previous articles. The technique is not complicated but does require the use of image editing software. If you are using Adobe software, Lightroom will not allow the required manipulation of layers, but Photoshop simplifies the process of aligning, blending and touching up the images.
Although variably focused images can be obtained in the field, it is much easier and more precise when in the controlled studio environment. When both the subject and the camera are held stationary, a sufficient number of pictures can be obtained to result in sharply focused macro images. Indoors, I routinely obtained six or more images each with subtle differences in focus and with greater numbers of layers the post-blending touch-up process was much less difficult.
Whether indoors or out, there are great photographic opportunities as our New England spring progresses. Images captured in natural settings can be great, but consider experimenting with the control that comes with bringing those flowers and buds inside. With a few simple tools, you will discover an exciting new world of detail and beauty.
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Jeffrey Newcomer NEPG