It’s true, you know, what they say : The smaller the size, the greater the pleasure!
Those of you familiar with DearSusan will have read my review of the Laowa 100mm f:2.8 super macro, a.k.a. Jonathan. From that perspective, this post brings nothing new, so readers seeking technical insights can skip right along. But, as the title suggests, this lens is all about pleasure, and is it really ever possible to get too much of that?
Jonathan and I have been family for almost 2 years now and, to be honest, it is not my go-to, walkabout lens. It is the heaviest to carry around, and probably the one that is the hardest to use, yet it is also the one that produces the highest yield of keepers (more later on that subject), and probably the one that produces my most pleasureable images
I suspect that the main reason for that is the large personal component in any such image. If one is wants to shoot a glorious landscape, or monument, or human face, there are only so many great images to be made. By comparison, when you shoot small-to-minute objects, you have a lot more freedom for your inspiration to roam. First because, all things being equal, there are so many more small objects around us, soon to be made into subjects, than there are glorious landscapes etc. Just think how many flowers there are in a mixed border, how many leaves on a tree, how many doors, hinges, locks, ropes, knots, amid countless other victims of my proclivity… So each photographer creating such images is -or can be, if he/she so wishes- a lot more individual and personal than 2 photographers placing their tripods right next to each other in front of a landscape icon, and who are more than likely to come back with similar images.
The second reason I so enjoy really-close-up shots is the element of discovery. Such shots incorporate not only a large percentage of bokeh in the image, but also said bokeh is of the highly defocused kind. Yet the human eye does not naturally see bokeh. What we perceive naturally is an almost-always-all-sharp image. Which means that when my camera produces a bokeh-rich shot, there is an element of discovery, because I can’t previsualize the bokeh component, and so I discover it on the LCD first, and then on the computer screen.
I confess, when looking for “a lot of bokeh in the image” to illustrate the point I made above, I used an unfair advantage. The picture above is one of the smallest objects I have ever shot as a main subject, and, no, it is not cropped except to square. But Jonathan magnifies up to 2:1, and that one is 1.7:1. To give you scale, that flower is smaller than my smallest toenail. So, by necessity, it incorporates a lot of highy defocused bokeh…
So, as you can see, the only “advantages” so to speak I derive from shooting small sujects are that there are lots of them if we care to look, and that they generate bokeh-rich creation-images. From that point on, it is a matter of discovery. What have I just mined, just dirt, of with precious metal in it? So, in a way, you could accuse me of just “spraying and praying”, which is enough to get a photographer tarred and feathered by his better peers. Well, guilty as charged!
But, be it “spray and pray” as it may, if there is an element of discovery, it is because there is indeed some precious metal mixed with the tons of dross. Because, make no mistake, the dross far, far outweighs the useful result. One shot on this page is the result of 170 attempts. Yes, this is not a typo, we are well into neurosis territory. But with a razor-thin DOF, not much light, a contorted shooting position, and a fair breeze, it is not all that easy to get right… So when I say a high rate of keepers, it is relative to how many subjects I attempt, that eventually yield a satisfying image, not how many shots are required to get one that is really as it ought to be.
But this is where it gets delightful. You take a small, unassuming subject, like the sage above. With the help of the narrow-dof photographic process, you get a result which is both un-manipulated, and yet a creation. And when that creation is to your liking, you -at least I- get satisfaction in no small measure.
Here I have to inject a caveat. Not all such “good shots” are actually good. Yes, if one gets the DOF and the focus right, and if the subject is small enough, it could well be a Wow! shot, and those are the ones that often get the nod at photo competitions. But I am not going for the Wow!, I prefer to go for meaning, for the story, which in my view has a much more lasting effect. Of course YMMV.
At his stage I have to say, the lens does play a part in what the images look like, but not in the usual way. It is not so much sharpness, distortion or aberrations, as it is bokeh, how structured or smooth, or rough, and roll-off from sharp to blurred. In the respect, Jonathan really shines, with less contrast than other, super-contrasty macro lenses that want to emphasize detail, a very gradual roll-off, a pleasant balance between structured and smooth bokeh, and mild, pastel colours.
Once you “get the shot”, such images lend themselves to a lot of latitude in PP. Personally, I sometimes enjoy very dark backgrounds, all the way to black if possible, but this can be achieved with adjustments rather than manipulation, and others are free to pull their shots in totally different directions.
How do I know that an image incorporates a story? Well, there is a good tell-tale: if some of the friendly ‘togs I share this image with, beginning with Pascal J, see something completely different than what I see, then the image takes on meaning…. This is/was the case with the image above, for example….
I hope this leads to you to as much pleasure in this small compartment of photography as I derive from it. Small is indeed beautiful!
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