My love of macro photography goes way, way, way back! At that time, my dive buddy Reg Clark of Oceanair Scuba and I got teased on one of our trips about not seeing anything because our heads were buried in the reef. Not only by other guests, but the dive masters also. This predates resorts having their own processing facilities. So, we brought our own processing equipment with us. Oh how times have changed!!! Back to the point…we processed our film so we could make sure all our settings and distances were correct and there we were the next day at it again. After the dives they were really giving it to us.
So, Reg and I decided to give everyone a slide show that night and need I say, we were completely vindicated…in a huge way. Our audience went nuts over the images. They had no idea that this other world existed. The next day after the dives, other divers and the crew came to us with stories about how they spotted this, noticed that.Wow! I saw the little polyps on that gorgonian coral. I saw the tentacles on the large cluster of pillar coral.
How do you find your subjects? Easy. Look down. The world of macro is all around you. The featured image is a Christmas tree worm burrowed into hard star coral. Sometimes they are found in large numbers, almost a colony of them. At dusk, a lot of corals open up their polyps to feed on the arriving plankton. Shoot everything. Take a very close look at the reef and you’ll discover branches of minute corals, tentacles of animals hiding in the reef. Check out those sea anemones. Even in the Atlantic and Caribbean, there can be shrimp or blennies living in symbiosis in these anemones. Look at tube sponges. Brittle starfish and cleaner shrimp live inside them and then when night falls, they get brave and come out to feed while their predators sleep. I shot with film and still do.
I love the look of shadowing creating more shapes and giving the image that “wow” factor. That is not to say digital is bad. There are many award winning macro images taken with digital cameras. To me, it’s a preference.
Shooting digital … you will need to set your camera in the macro setting (it looks like a small flower on the dial) and you will want to manually control your aperture setting. The wider it is open, the less your depth of field. In plain talk, that means your distance has to be smack on the money or it will not be in focus. The larger numbers give the larger depth of field which gives you a greater margin of error. You will want to also keep your attention to the screen to compose your image. Not everything has to be centered. It’s that old “Rule of Thirds”. Look closely at your image on the LCD screen and experiment with different aperture settings, camera angles and even the probability of lighting the image with a strobe. I emphasize this because this where it becomes an art. You are adding shadows, shadows create shapes, shapes add impact to the photos. Sometimes the strobe can be harsh. Over expose you picture. Some strobes have power settings. I find myself shooting on low power a lot. Sometimes you may even have to use a diffuser. I correct for this by the distance of the strobe to the subject. Obviously, the farther away, the less intense the light.
Shooting with film … I have 5 Nikonis III cameras. Due to the limitations of not being able to simply flip a switch to shoot macro, I carry three cameras with me all set up for different preferences. Shooting wide angle, macro 3:1, 2:1, or 1:1. Or just a 35MM or 28MM lens on the body for fish portraits. This set-up entails using extension tubes. It is a tube that pushes the lens farther away from the camera body. Sometimes there’s a framer attached. I only use the extension bar for the distance. I remove the left and right uprights as they are springs and can sometimes get in your picture, ruining it. I have E/O connectors to each camera allowing me to disconnect one camera and attach it to another, thus the convenience of only having one strobe. I switch from high to low power when shooting macro. The strobe has a long arm on it so I can move it around a lot to change lighting angles. My lens is always on f22 to give me the largest depth of field. At he end of the 3:1 bar, my depth of field is 1/8″ on either side of it, giving me a whopping 1/4″ focal plane. the 1:1 is only 1/16″ totally. So when you shoot macro, you subject is in focus and the rest of the field drops off in focus, again adding an artistic flair to the photos. Just as I mentioned in the digital segment, move the camera around and bracket. Play with the distance and flash angles.
Film development and quality played into this, heavily. Shooting with Kodachrome 64 ASA and 25 ASA was the standard. Then Fugi came out and developed Fugi Chrome and then Fugi Velvia. The list goes on.
In film, you get what you pay for. PERIOD!!! Macro is not easy. But, it does come easier to some than others. Do not get frustrated. Keep shooting, keep practicing. When I look at pictures I took early in my career vs now, I can’t believe how bad they were. Persistence will pay off.