Cheap Macro Photography
I am proud of this one. By combining two cheap accessories I managed to solve more than one problem and found a way into truly cheap macro photography that not only equaled extremely expensive solutions but actually gave me a depth of field way above that which is normally possible.
Autumn Colors - 1 of 6 Submitted Images illustrating large macro depth of field
The Guardian Camera Club
I use the website Flickr as both a photograph dump of last resort, as it allows unlimited storage with a paid account (around $25 pa), and as a place to interact with other photographers and artists. The principle means of interaction is through groups where photographs can be posted and discussions had. Around a month ago I came across a group called the Guardian Camera Club. This caught my eye because the Guardian was my newspaper of choice for around 25 years before I moved to the States. It gained it’s reputation as a good solid left of center broadsheet with the best arts coverage of any of the Nationals. It also contained the best war reporting to be found anywhere.
At the core of the Guardian Camera Club’s activity is a monthly assignment where a subject is set by the powers that be and the members submit six photographs with a possibility of having them posted and reviewed on the Guardian website. Seperate to this, one of the six photographs can be submitted as an entry for a fairly substantial prize but this is not compulsory.
Hosta Leaf - another image submitted for the assignment
Last months assignment was entitled, ‘Autumn Colours” which is about as far away from my comfort zone as it is possible to get, all those random non geometric lines and vibrant, clashing, non- monochromatic colors – ugh! Seriously though, I preach that minimalist photography is an approach that can be applied to any subject matter and any genre and this seemed like a great test of that idea.
The single prize winner hasn’t been chosen yet but the assignments are being critiqued by the Guardian staff and I was amazed to find that mine was chosen as one of the ones to be critiqued and that is not false modesty, believe me. It has to be said that I do not know how many submissions were made overall. In a nutshell, their critique agreed with my assessment with one possible exception. They certainly zeroed in on the best work. In retrospect I made the mistake of trying to submit a broad range of images to show versatility whereas I should have just selected my six best regardless of whether they were in the same style or not. The successful shots were macros and the unsuccessful ones took in a larger view. Hardly surprising as macro makes it possible to see the patterns and reduce the randomness.
This barberry and leaf was submitted as one of the six and as an entry for the competition. The reviewer liked this and the previous two images.
This assignment taught me a lot, both aesthetically and technically. Aesthetically it made me put more in the frame than I am comfortable with and technically it forced me to develop a new technique that I haven’t seen anywhere else and this perhaps should have been the headline of this post. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to shoot macro for this assignment and that bringing out the colors and achieving a decent depth of field while controlling the light was going to be the problem. I do not possess expensive gear and this is especially true of my macro options which are basically kit zoom lenses with a $10 magnifying glass attached to the front.
I worked inside because I have a studio with great natural lighting from two directions and really wanted to avoid using flash for this assignment as a warm soft light would provide the richness of colors required. The biggest problem with macro photography is depth of field and I needed all the dof that I could get to emphasize the colors. Depth of field is determined by the size of the aperture, the smaller the aperture the greature the depth of field but, with macro, optical problems become very apparent if the aperture is too small. This becomes a major problem when using cheap non matched lenses. If I remember correctly, f22 is meant to be about the smallest the aperture should be even with decent kit.
A Cheap Polarizing Filter Saves the Day
I solved the problems set by the challenge of cheap macro photography by inserting a cheap (surprise surprise) but adequate polarizing filter $16 between the lens and these macro attachments. $14 (Affiliate Links). This worked far better than I had even dared hope – it solved every problem in one fell swoop. The light became very manageable and highlights were not only bought under control but could be managed to an extremely fine degree. The photographs here were shot with an aperture set at f29 but I have since taken photographs at f36 without problem. As an added bonus the filter imparts a really nice warming effect. The one minor issue with this setup is that it gives a lot of rings to control, focal length, focus and the polarizer. Saying that, with these really small apertures and subjects, working without a tripod is not a viable option so the setting of the lens assembly is not a showstopper.
Plug for my free minimalist photography ebook
This was one of the images that didn't go over so well. I thought that it had some merit with the clouds mirroring the leaves. This was shot with a compact camera.
My next reasonably substantial post will address the subject of choosing subject matter after the first wave of enthusiasm has worn off, when the sunsets and flowers are starting to come out a bit samey and the realization sinks in that the shiny new $700 camera is not actually going to help solve the problem. In other words I want to hit the make or break moment where a potential photographer either consigns the Powershot or Coolpix to the drawer forever or takes the next step. One thing that I absolutely promise is that it will not be another “10 things to photograph when you run out of ideas” type list written for Google and not people. If you have read this far you deserve much better!
Guardian review of My assignment
Guardian summary of competition with one of my images and complimentary description
Flickr Guardian Camera Club group page
Flickr My own Page (This is not a portfolio but rather an image dump).