#359. Cappuccino macro portraits (the correct recipe for macro)

By pascaljappy | How-To

Jun 02

To the photographer used to forests, rolling landscapes and the occasional street life, it comes as surprise to learn that some focus on the teeny-weeny rather than the huge. But it appears there is such a select group of enthusiasts and that they have developed a real know-how about lighting, depth of focus and other technicalities.

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Two’s company

Well, the idea appealed and, after at least 20 minutes of experimentation and full of modesty, I’m here to tell them they have it all wrong ! The keyword-rich link-bait title of this post combined with the invaluable lessons it contains are bound to firmly establish me as a reference for future generations. Please bow when you have finished reading !

Macro protrait of an ant on a garden wild flower, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Ant on a plant

It appears the specialists of macro photography go to inordinate lengths to increase depth of field in shooting conditions that are not naturally conducive to it. And that’s probably why their results are so bad (hit me now 😉 ).

Where they begin to go wrong is with lens selection, using slow & discreet instead of huge and fast, like a certain 85/1.4 portrait lens that will remain nameless.

Macro protrait of wild orchids, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Gissa cuddle

Then, there’s the lighting. All those flashes, rings, umbrellas … it scares the little beasties away. Whereas look at the smiley faces you get by simply relying on the midday sun !

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Singin’ orchid

At least, they get something right: the use of extension tubes. I used a 25mm tube from an old Micro-Nikkor 55, certain that the OTUS was ISO-lab-certified for very close-up use.

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Thistle man, he played one

Then, there’s the whole issue of tripods. Crikey, how many mistakes can a single person make? Ditch the carbon legs, get on your knees and be in communion with nature.

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Dots

Aperture. f/16? f/22? f/32? Think again. f/1.4, get some light and fresh air into your picture. Summer is coming (well, not in ZA, sorry Paul 😉 )

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Stretching belle

OK, enough teasing.

I get that great macro is spectacular. But it often seems like an achievement to me. The goal appears to be the conquest of technical difficulty. But isn’t photographing life in a slightly lifeless way a bit of a paradox?

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Bugging me

What’s wrong with keeping the subject in its original location and use the common man’s techniques to create portraits rather than forensics?

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Bloom

Isn’t there more intimacy in shallow depth of field than in computer enhanced full-depth imaging?

At such close range with a slightly long focal length, depth of field becomes absolutely minute.

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Bud

And when you have in your hands one of the lenses that most impressively separate subject from foreground (which I am, but not for much longer, sob) what you get is intricate detail in a slice of the universe as thin as a hair and total creaminess all around it.

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Rosebud

Why not use that? In fact, why not enhance that? (thank you LightRoom for making that so easy)

Give in to the rich blend of detail and cappuccino. Photographs that look more like paintings than scientific papers.

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Soft Totem

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Red lace

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Crimson Crown

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Shyris

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Sea of yellow

Side benefit: the technique is so utterly simple that I made all of these photographs in less than 20 minutes.

The only point to check out for is that at least one important zone – however small – of the photograph is really in critically sharp focus. The composition then hinges around that island of detail as much as  it uses the colour masses of the creamy oceans surrounding it.

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Pink exotic

At the end of the day, the images you create in this way are a great way of playing with colour palettes and contrasts. And your subject seems bathed in atmosphere rather than laid on an examination table.

Macro protrait of garden wild flowers, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

Red on Green

OK, so both approaches have their place and I’m pretty certain the traditional method will have more supporters. But what other technique can turn a 4mm snail into a space shuttle flying to Mars on its plume of smoke, I ask you.

In other words, if dream land appeals to you more than Scientific American, follow me 😉

Macro protrait of a snail on a wild flower, Sony A7r and Zeiss OTUS 85/1.4

To infinity and beyond !

 


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  • Leonard says:

    These are very sweet. . . Really!
    Makes me want to rush out right now and try my luck. Blast it, I don’t have a lens longer than 35 mm at present. Must do something about that. . . really.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Leonard. If you can find an extension tube for your 35mm you should be able to do similar things (provided the lens is at least f/2.8 wide open). It’s a lot of fun 😉

  • Paul Perton says:

    Winter has arrived here this week with a huge clatter and lots of rain/wind. See here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153003589772149&set=a.10150313773262149.340798.638247148&type=1&theater

    That said, I’m off to Stellenbosch for a meeting this morning and will have the Fuji in my pocket – the InSight guide to Paarl and Stellenbosch won’t compile itself…

    • pascaljappy says:

      I know, I saw your photograph on Facebook and that made me insert the unkind comment in the first place. You’ll have ample opportunity to get back at me after my next post. You’ll understand, ha ha. Good hunting in Stellenbosh. Can’t wait to see the results.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascal,

    I really am impressed with the way how expertly you have crafted these images.

    Regards

    Sean

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks a lot, Sean. To be honest, I’m proud of some photographs but, in this instance, the lens is doing 90% of the work … Don’t tell anyone 😉 Regards, Pascal

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