Many of us are lacking a reliable subject to practice our photography. Maybe our children are grown or our pets won't sit still. Macro photography can be a really fun genre to practice. It might even become your favorite subject!
Kelly Cormier (@kcphotography.27) is an AMAZING macro photographer. I met Kelly via The Big Girl School's Instagram page. I started following her and her macro images were so stunning I asked if she would write a guest blog post on the subject and she said "yes!" I hope you are inspired to go shoot some macro after you read this. I know I was!
All photos: Kelly Cormier
macro photography (a.k.a. macro-therapy)
Have you ever heard the term “macro therapy”? A few years ago I hadn’t, and I wouldn’t have guessed this phrase would eventually be such a huge part of my life and my photography journey. In a world of hustle and bustle, finding tiny details to photograph can be cathartic and create stunning images that you’ll be excited to share and display.
My approach to macro is different than some. Early on I took a macro class that allowed me to be whomever I wanted to be. No need for a tripod, small aperture and focus stacking (not that there’s anything wrong with that approach!), but instead taking a conscious, creative and fun approach to what I wanted the image to look like. For me, that is what “macro therapy” is. Allowing yourself 10, 15, 30 minutes with your camera and your subject(s) -no rules or restrictions. When you’re up-close and focusing on every little detail through the viewfinder, you’re in your own world.
To begin exploring the magic of creative macro, I’m sharing how I apply five common elements of photography to macro.
My macro lenses consist of a 100mm f/2.8, the Lensbaby Velvet 56, and Lensbaby macro converters, which allow close focusing with any optic. You can also purchase inexpensive extension tubes for your camera mount. When stacked with a lens you already have, these extension tubes also allow a closer focusing distance.
With macro, it’s important to shoot with a manual lens. You simply can’t rely on the camera’s focusing system to focus exactly where you want. When you’re shooting macro, the depth of field is often so slight that the camera can’t do the job. But please don’t allow the thought of focusing manually to turn you away from macro! While it is an art, you will get it and you’ll be so excited to see the results when you upload your images!
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My favorite macro subjects are flowers. They are readily available, come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors. And when you’re done they look pretty on your table. Win, win. Because this is such a common subject, I consider it an extra challenge to try to make my flower images unique. But flowers are just one subject in a sea of thousands. Literally anything can make for a stunning macro image. Think outside of the box. Mystery macro (aka abstract). Macro food. Macro pets. Macro insects. Macro anything you can imagine! That’s the beauty of this genre. Everything can be something special.
Remember, this is therapy - it shouldn’t be stressful, and if it is, you just stop until tomorrow, or the next time you have a few minutes free and try again.
The dish holding the water is on top of a colorful picture that happens to be a print of another image of mine. You could simply use a magazine or book cover that has colors you’re drawn to.
As with all genres of photography, composition is a key element to a stunning macro image. When working with up close detail, you want to carefully consider how you want the viewer's eye to travel through the image. I’m always considering compositional rules when shooting. While looking at macro images, notice how the photographer uses composition (rule of thirds, golden spiral and golden triangle) to enhance the final image.
Very often I shoot with what is considered a shallow depth of field for macro. With my 100mm, I am anywhere between f/5.6 and f/8. With a creative lens, like the Velvet 56, I might be around f/4. (You’ll see in the images here that are taken with a Lensbaby, some do not have an aperture listed. That’s because the camera does not record that data with a Lensbaby… and neither does my brain sometimes). Because I tend towards a shallow depth of field, I am very aware of the exact area I want most in focus. It may be a certain petal or water droplet, it may be whatever is closest the the lens, but in all images, what is in focus is because it was my choice, not the camera’s.
We tend to shoot from the most common angle we view things, straight ahead. This can be a very flattering angle, but it’s good to try to mix things up. In order to make my compositions unique, I will take various shots from different angles - over, under, tilted and twisted. If I don’t feel like moving around or I love my light in one spot, I’ll move my subject up, down, sideways and every which way possible. When you are looking through your camera, you just may see something amazing, from a perspective you never expected.
I generally shoot exclusively with natural light. I know what windows in my house have perfect (or imperfect) light and at what time. If it’s an overcast day, it’s not unusual to find me sitting on my driveway with a flower propped up, or if the setting sun is just right, I’ll attempt some backlit macro. While lighting is important through all genres of photography, I think that macro is one where you can really make the best out of any lighting. You can move your subject to the perfect place - and it stays there! Often, if the lighting is just right, it can actually be the focal point of the image.
One challenge with lighting and shooting macro handheld is getting the right exposure in camera. Opening your aperture isn’t always the answer like it may be in other genres, because we want the added depth of field in macro, and it’s important to use a shutter speed that will ensure there is no camera shake (think reciprocal rule!), if you’re not using a tripod. Here’s the trick…. Embrace your ISO. Bump it up. There has never been a macro image that I felt was a failure because it’s grainy. Either it’s not that bad, I don’t notice it, or the rest of the image compensates for it. Do what you have to do to get the shot. Words I live by.
In the world of digital photography, post processing is part of the experience. I am just as excited, if not more, to edit my images as I am to shoot them. When I’m in post, I first work on cropping (though I personally tend to keep it to a minimum) and angles. I will flip an image horizontally and vertically to see if that improves the viewer experience (this trick often saves an image that may have been culled). I apply similar adjustments to every image and then take liberties with it depending on what I’m trying to achieve. The image below was taken on a sunny and warm November day, right before the holidays. I knew I wanted this image to have a wintery feel as I was prepping for some holiday spirit.
Study images of macro photographers you admire. Make notes of what draws you to certain images. I am drawn to color and tiny details, and you’ll see that throughout my images. As with all photography, developing your style takes some time, but it does come. The images we take today are not going to be the same as the images we take a year from now. What matters, though, is that we took them.
Bonus! Consider creative accessories
Macro is fun and addicting, but it can be spiced up even more with some creative accessories. Some of my favorites include a small triangle prism, a small copper pipe, tin foil (to create bokeh) and my all time favorite, a spray bottle and water. Once you get warmed up with macro and get all the feels from seeing your images come to life, you can start adding in these creative elements to bring your macro photography to the next level.
elements of macro photography
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