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Managing backgrounds in the field

From: Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

Video: Managing backgrounds in the field

No matter what type of macro subject matter you like to shoot, once you get out in the field, you're going to have to be prepared for this kind of thing, for actually laying in the dirt. A lot of times the small things in the world are close to the ground. And, to get the angle that you want, you're really going to have to get down your hands and knees, or lay down. If you are going to be shooting flowers, or insects, or other things that are moving on their own, or being moved by the wind, you may be laying there for a long time waiting for exactly the right moment. So, just be prepared for that. Before you go out, don't go out macro shooting in your Armani or something, because you're very likely going to get it messed up.

Managing backgrounds in the field

No matter what type of macro subject matter you like to shoot, once you get out in the field, you're going to have to be prepared for this kind of thing, for actually laying in the dirt. A lot of times the small things in the world are close to the ground. And, to get the angle that you want, you're really going to have to get down your hands and knees, or lay down. If you are going to be shooting flowers, or insects, or other things that are moving on their own, or being moved by the wind, you may be laying there for a long time waiting for exactly the right moment. So, just be prepared for that. Before you go out, don't go out macro shooting in your Armani or something, because you're very likely going to get it messed up.

I've seen this little daffodil here, and decided that I want to try and take a look at it. Something we haven't talked about in the studio is just how significant the background in your scene is, and how sometimes difficult it is to manage the background in your scene. Once you frame up the shot, the camera position that you take is going to have a dramatic impact on exactly what your background looks like, what's in it. That's true, of course, in regular scale photography, but in macro, a change of just a millimeter or two can make a big difference.

But before you even get to that point, background is a significant thing to think about. One of the difficulties that you have when you're starting to shoot macro is you simply don't know what makes good macro subject matter. Moving through the world at normal size scale, it's difficult to understand that, "Oh! That little flower down there might actually be really interesting." I think one of the reasons it's difficult to understand that is that when you look down at it, you see all this other stuff behind it. You see I've got dirt clods, and leaves, and slimy caterpillar thing down here. And, when I look down at that, I think "Well there is no good composition there, because the background is too cluttered." What's difficult to remember and pre- visualize is that at the macro scale, your background is going to go so soft, and potentially some detail is that all those problems may vanish.

So, that's something that you'll get better at understanding as you start shooting more. And very often, I'll find that well, maybe there's an interesting macro shot there. I'll look through the camera and immediately go, "Oh! There is a very interesting macro shot here." Because now that the background is out of play, my compositional options change. This is going to be a very simple composition. I am just going to grab the flower, and fill as much of the frame with it as I can, which of course, is all about getting, figuring out what my closest focusing distance is, and I can actually get pretty close.

I don't have any extension tubes with me. So, let me just show you the first framing that I'm working with. I am shooting here at ISO 100 at f/5.6. So, I am just at a mid-range aperture, and I get something like this. Right off the bat, I can see that I've got some depth of field issues. First thing I need to do is decide where do I want in focus on this flower? And ideally, I think I like to have the whole thing. It's pretty small, it's not too deep, and I am not super close up.

So, I think I can get the whole thing in focus. I've got the edge of that middle structure in focus, but the petels are soft, and I think I'd like to see them sharper. So, I am going to go ahead and dial down to f/11. And when I do that, I am going to run into some potential shutter speed problems here. I am down to 25th of a second. My lens is stabilized, so I can probably hand-hold at 25th of a second. Okay, but there is a tiny bit of a breeze here. It's moving the flower just a little bit. You may not even be able to see it happening, but at macro scale, it's pretty pronounced. So, I am going to go ahead and bump my ISO up, and let's see, 1600. I am now seeing at 200th of a second.

That's actually a little more than I need. So, for the sake of noise reduction, I am going to go down to ISO 800, which gets me at about 100th of a second. I think that will be enough motion-stopping power. So, I am going to focus on the front of the flower. Now, you may be used to at, when you're shooting landscapes, that you follow the rule that a third of your depth of field is in front of your focus point, and two-thirds is behind. At macro distances, it's pretty much half and half. So, I am going to focus on the . . . actually, I am not going to focus on the front of the flower. I am going to focus on the middle of the flower, hoping that my depth of field will be more evenly distributed in front, and behind that focus point, and I am going to take a shot.

And, I think I've got better depth of field there. Of course, it's hard to tell on the camera's viewfinder, so I might bracket my focus a little bit, focus at a few different depths, and see what I can come up with. But, look what's happened at the background. Just that little bit of aperture change is bringing in more detail into the background, and I am getting some visible green patches, and things like that. So, I need to be maybe use my depth of field preview button a little more, and try to predict what my aperture changes are going to do to my background, and decide how smooth, and empty I need my background. Because if I need it a little more blurred out than that, then I am going to have to give up some of my depth of field.

So, these are the issues that I am constantly battling in shooting macro. So, look at the difference in these. Just I am making tiny little movements, and I am getting big changes in blobs of color in my background. I want to keep my deep depth of field. I am still not sure where my point of focus should be. But, I really want to keep my deep depth of field, and I'm not willing to open up my aperture to lose some of that background. So, I am going to try something else now. I am going to try and eliminate the background using my flash.

I have here just an off-camera, all-manual flash. If you don't have a flash, this particular flash that I am working with is a great option. it's a Yongnuo. Y-O-N-G-N-U-O. It's a very nice, very powerful flash, all-manual that you can get for about 75 bucks off of Amazon. I've got an off-camera flash cord here, so I am going to put this on. And, the way that I am going to work this is I am going to just go ahead and set my shutter speed at about 200th of a second, actually exactly at 200th of a second.

And, I am going to underexpose here. The idea being if I underexpose, I will darken the background, and that will allow me to not see all that stuff in the background that I always see. And, the flash is going to serve to light up my flowers. So, let me get my shot framed here. Now, I am in Manual Mode, just using my meter here. All right! Last time I was using Manual Exposure, I was using a very, very slow shutter speed. Okay.

So, I am going to dial down my exposure some, and see what I can come up with here in the way of a darker background. Okay. So, now my whole image is too dark. So, what I want to do now . . . . I like that. That's going to be the color of the background or the tone of the background. I am just turning on my flash. I have a soft box on the front of my flash. This is just a cheap soft box that gives me a lot of diffusion. I don't want to point it down at the ground, because that's going to just put back in all the light that I just took out. And, I am just going to flash it here from the side. And, there we go! Now, I have my flower nice and illuminated, and my background darkened up.

So, I've got a number of different ways of manipulating my background here. I can change my depth of field to blur or soften the background. I can change my camera position by teeny, tiny little amounts to change what's in the background, or I can underexpose the background, and use the flash to light up the foreground to create isolation that way. The important lesson here is to understand that you really need to pay attention to background in your macro shots, because with your everyday eyes, it can be very difficult to predict exactly what the background is going to look like.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up
Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

47 video lessons · 15156 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 3m 54s
    1. Welcome
      2m 17s
    2. What you need to know for this course
      1m 37s
  2. 20m 33s
    1. What is close up?
      2m 21s
    2. Understanding minimum focus distance
      3m 55s
    3. Comparing wide lens and telephoto
      1m 55s
    4. Understanding depth of field and focus
      2m 11s
    5. Working with extension tubes
      4m 30s
    6. Working with close-up lenses
      5m 41s
  3. 28m 7s
    1. What is a macro photo?
      4m 15s
    2. Understanding how to shoot macro with a reversed lens
      5m 37s
    3. Using a point-and-shoot camera for macro
      1m 55s
    4. Working with backdrops for macro
      3m 45s
    5. Practicing macro by shooting in the kitchen
      12m 35s
  4. 58m 38s
    1. Choosing a macro lens
      2m 4s
    2. Exploring macro lens features: Focal length
      3m 16s
    3. Understanding macro lens shutter speed
      7m 6s
    4. Shooting basics with a macro lens
      8m 24s
    5. Getting closer with macro lenses and extension tubes
      11m 13s
    6. Working with depth of field and macro
      5m 1s
    7. Understanding depth and composition in macro
      6m 43s
    8. Working with subject holders and support
      6m 36s
    9. Shooting with the Canon 65 mm
      8m 15s
  5. 13m 12s
    1. Working with macro stabilizing options
      5m 45s
    2. Working with sliders for macro
      2m 44s
    3. Working with a bellows
      1m 55s
    4. Working with viewfinders in macro
      2m 48s
  6. 52m 59s
    1. Working with direct light
      6m 13s
    2. Macro and the angle of light
      2m 24s
    3. Augmenting direct light with reflectors
      6m 42s
    4. Continuous lighting to add fill to a macro shot
      5m 55s
    5. Lighting your macro scene with continuous light
      4m 50s
    6. Lighting the macro scene with strobes
      4m 59s
    7. Setting up a macro-specific flash unit
      3m 21s
    8. Shooting with the Canon Macro Twin Lite
      7m 56s
    9. Shooting macro in a light tent
      3m 31s
    10. Shooting macro on a light table
      7m 8s
  7. 19m 44s
    1. Field shooting for macro, starting at home
      7m 5s
    2. Managing backgrounds in the field
      7m 39s
    3. Shooting macro water droplets
      5m 0s
  8. 56m 19s
    1. Creating a simple manual focus stack
      4m 40s
    2. Creating a focus stacked image with manual merge
      6m 17s
    3. Creating a focus stacked image using Helicon Remote
      11m 6s
    4. Working with a StackShot rail for focus stacking
      11m 46s
    5. Merging a focus stack with Photoshop
      11m 12s
    6. Merging photo stacks with Helicon
      6m 53s
    7. Understanding the aesthetics of depth of field
      4m 25s
  9. 1m 5s
    1. Next steps
      1m 5s

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