Macro for Creative Ruts | by Shannon Douglas
Beauty is all around us, but some days it is hard to see. If you’ve ever been stuck in a creative rut, you know how frustrating it can be to look around and not feel that spark of inspiration. Macro photography offers a glimpse into hidden worlds, tiny details that are easy to overlook. You don’t always have to travel or set up a styled shoot to find your inspiration again, sometimes it’s as simple as going in your backyard! Maybe taking a closer look at the life around you is just what you need to re-ignite your creativity.
To clarify, the true definition of Macro photography is an image that is a 1:1 ratio, meaning the subject is life size on greater than on the sensor (or film negative). The broader term covers all close-up photography and that’s what we will be discussing. Although a true Macro lens is fun to have in your bag, you can use a variety of lenses to capture great close-up images! My favorites are a nifty fifty or a vintage lens!
When selecting a subject to shoot, try to find one that has a bit of distance between it and the other objects in the image. Although it is tempting to head to the center of a bunch of flowers, look for an outlier to increase the softness of your background. Since you are using a smaller aperture this will help isolate your main subject and decrease distractions. Also try to find a new angle, a new, not conventional take on your subject to add interest to your final image.
Most of us are wide aperture shooters, but for close-up photography, closing down will help you get more of your subject in focus. Although your lens’ AF may be tack sharp, when you are photographing something so small with such great detail it is easy to miss focus. Using manual focus gives you total control of which point exactly is sharpest. Turning on Live View will allow you to zoom in on what exactly you want to be sharp and help you when manually focusing. In the following image I locked my focus manually and changed my aperture to give you an example of how the details change as you close down your aperture. Although I prefer the image at f 4.5, the f 7.1 keeps the majority of the flower in focus but still gives you a nice background. Play around and decide what you like the best!
Another great part of Macro photography is you don’t need a fancy lighting set up. Most hours of the day offer plenty of sunlight for photographing outdoors plus if there is too much sun, simply reposition yourself to cast your shadow on your subject! Ring lights and reflectors can come in handy but unless you want to dive into the deep end of true Macro, they aren’t needed.
If you’ve gone out into your yard and you haven’t felt that spark, a trip to a plant nursery or Botanical Garden will do wonders for you! Low on time? Grab a bouquet of flowers at the supermarket to brighten your day and bring you inspiration! Remember, Macro doesn’t have to be limited to florals. Try ferns, mushrooms, or bugs! When I first started Macro I shot anything and everything because suddenly the smallest patterns where fascinating! Contrasting colors and textures make for more intriguing image!
I have found that after an afternoon shooting close-up photography I have a renewed appreciation for all the little details in life. Practicing Macro will help you document the teeniest lashes on a newborn or that one rouge curl on your toddler’s neck. Be kind to yourself and enjoy the process!