Thursday, May 21, 2009

In-Your-Face Macro Photography

With a new wide-angle lens (Nikkor 18-35mm zoom), and a couple of new flashes (Nikon SB-900 and SB-600), I’ve been having a great time refining my wide-angle macro photography technique. Until now, I had been relying on ambient light and very long exposures to make wide-angle shots in this ein. Although there are a few pioneering macro photographers who have used this technique very well –Mark Moffett, Piotr Naskrecki, for example– the implementation takes some time to refine and the settings really vary based on what gear you choose to use. There are a few different ways to make this style of macro work and personal preferences vary.

Although it is common to use a ring-flash for macro-photography, I prefer to use the more flexible Nikon speedlights (just about any variable setting off-camera flashes will do) because they allow me to be more creative in terms of how I light each scene. I have also found that, because of the reflective nature of some species, it is nice to be able to pull the light source further back to reduce highlights. One of the downsides to using the larger ‘strobes’ is that they can be heavy. Because I hand hold the camera gear, this weight can make it somewhat difficult to remain steady and keep within the very limited area of sharp focus that is inherent in macro-photography. However, this isn’t that big of a deal because the flash is firing at such a rapid rate (and set at rear-curtain) that the image usually comes out sharp. The question is: Which part of the subject is sharp? Sharp grasshopper eyes are usually preferred to sharp grasshopper knees!

The minimal working distance can be threatening to more timid species so field-craft and an understanding of animal behavior is really required. Some species feel more comfortable if approached slowly, while others are best approached in a rapid fashion followed up with sudden stillness. This is where experimentation and research come into play. Once you get close to subject, you then have to throw composition into the whole juggling act. I don’t believe that the image above is exactly an amazing photograph but I like the direction that it is going in. This theatrical, in your face, and well-lit approach to macro photography is really appealing to me in a storybook kind of way and I’m having a great time exploring the possibilities.

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