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It's a small world, and capturing it with a photograph can be challenging. In this course, photographer, author, and teacher Ben Long takes you on a fantastic voyage into the realm of the tiny, detailing the gear and shooting techniques necessary to capture extreme close-ups of everything from products to posies.
After touring the possibilities of macro photography, the course details essential gear at several price levels, including lenses, flashes, and other accessories. Next, Ben explores the special challenges of macro photography: dealing with moving subjects, working with extremely shallow depth of field, focusing, lighting, and more.
The course also explores advanced close-up tools and post-processing techniques, such as using Adobe Photoshop to "stack" multiple shots to yield wider depth of field than a single shot can convey.
For subjects that can have some translucency, like flowers, maybe some insects, feathers, some glass, or plastic things, there is another interesting way to light your macro shots, and that's with a light table. Now, a light table is what we used to have in a dark room for looking at negatives. You might have also used one for tracing things in art class. It's basically just a box with a semi-translucent covering, and a bunch of lights inside. Now, in the old days, light tables were a lot of different light bulbs, or maybe some fluorescent lights inside. You can still by those kinds of light tables, and they are very inexpensive.
But now we have a new option, which are these LED light pads. This is something called a light pad. It's the model A940 made by Artograph. It's one of their smaller ones. And, the beauty of macro shootings, we don't need a lot of space. What's great about it is its LED lighting. So, when I turn it on, it has a few advantages over a traditional light table. First of all, it's perfectly even lighting, which is really nice. I don't have to worry about a change in illumination that's going to register in my image. It also doesn't get hot, and it is daylight balanced, so it fits in with a lot of my other lighting that I might choose to use.
I've taken a couple of flowers here, and stuck them on the light pad, and I want to shoot them. Now, I'm working with my hundred millimeter macro lens. This is not actually something that you have to do with a macro lens. In fact, it's fun to take the light table, and completely cover it with things, and cover it with flowers, and get further back maybe with your regular walk-around lens. To get the camera into this position, I have had to arrange my tripod, so that its center column is going parallel to the ground, so that I can get the camera pointing straight down. As you saw earlier, that's one of the features of this tripod. It's one of the reasons I chose this for macro shooting. Not all tripods do this, and I can very easily get the camera into this configuration.
So, after getting my camera set up, and the light pad in place -- and it obviously runs off electricity, -- I had to find a place to plug it all in. And, I'm still kind of working with my . . . or I'm still absolutely working with my window here. Because while the light pad is throwing a bunch of light from behind, I still want some from the front, so I am in my nice, soft, diffused lighting. After getting all that set up, the next thing was to find something to shoot. I took a couple of flowers. I want them to sit flat so I had to trim them, trim the stems off completely. So, these flowers aren't going to last that long. Right as I said that a petal fell off, so it's even worse than I thought.
Anyway, I got them on the light pad, just trying to arrange some kind of pleasing composition. They are kind of pointy when you cut the stems off, so they wobble, and tilt, and fall over. So, I got out my museum wax again, and made up a little ball, and used that to try to stick them in place. The museum wax doesn't stick that well to the backs of flower petals, so you've really got to mash it in there. It sticks very well to the light pad; you'll probably find that you are going to scrape it off with your finger nail when you're done. So, I spent some time arranging those, and framing up my shot, and built a composition. I'm ready now to actually take my shot.
I am at a macro distance here, so I'm glad that I've got the macro lens on. Again, there is no reason I couldn't have put the tripod up higher, and worked with another lens, except that my tripod doesn't go any higher. But I could put the light pad on the floor. I'm going to just go into live view mode here, because I can't see through the view finder from this position. I'm at ISO 400; that's going to give me pretty reasonable shutter speed. And, on this camera, it's completely clean. I won't have any noise problems. Now I'm shooting at f/8. And, I'm not quite sure how much depth of field I need. These flowers do have some depth in them.
But at this distance, I think f/8 is probably going to cover it. The issue that you mainly face when working with a light table is that you usually need to overexpose. Let's take a look at what I've got when I shoot with just regular exposure, which is putting me in at a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second. Some motion stopping isn't too bad. Here is what I came up with. I like the composition. It's not mind-numbing, but it's still a nice picture. But look at my exposure. You can see what the light pad is starting to do that's cool, which is I'm really getting the texture of the flowers. And, I like where the flowers overlap. You get particularly the white flowers; you get a build-up of their tonality.
So, two white flowers lying on top of each other give you a darker gray where they overlap. But I've really underexposed the fronts. The middle of the flowers have gone to complete black. I'm not really seeing a tremendous amount of texture. So, I'm going to -- with my Exposure Compensation Control, -- just dial in one stop of overexposure. I am in Aperture Priority Mode, so that means that Exposure Compensation is not going to fiddle with my aperture setting; it's going to stay at f/8. That bumps my shutter speed down to 1/50 of a second. I am going to take that shot, and this is much better.
I have now really got a lot more of the translucency in the structure and the flower. You know, I'm curious though. Just looking at it right now, I wonder if there is even some more, so I'm going to overexpose up another stop. I'm going to go two stops over. Now, what I'm risking here is losing the edge detail in the white flower altogether. Let's see what happens. Yeah, I think that's maybe too much. I'm starting to now wash out some of the white flower, so I'm going to back off to maybe 1 and 1/3, and see what it does. Now, when you're working with your camera in this position, you have to wait for it to settle down after you handle it, because this horizontal arm over here really swings back and forth, and I'm at 1/40 of a second.
That's looking pretty good. I think that's the amount of exposure that I want. Now, that's the image as it was shot straight out of the camera. That middle bit is still underexposed; it's a little too dark. So, I'm going to want to brighten that up in my image editor later to really pull some of that detail back out. There is plenty of detail there. I can just even out the exposure that way. If I wanted, I could try bringing in a reflector, or something to get more light in there. There is really no need. That's a very simple edit to make in my image editor.
So, the last thing that I might want to do is try an HDR set. I do have some dark tones, and some very light tones. This is something of a high dynamic range situation. So, I'm going to just shoot a bracketed set of images. That is, I'm going to shoot an image at regular exposure, one underexposed by a stop, and one overexposed by a stop. If you're not familiar with HDR, take a look at my HDR course. It will walk you through the whole thing, and fill you in on exactly what's going on here.
I've got actually just an HDR mode built into my camera that automatically dials in all the right settings, so I can just quickly knock off three shots. And, there we have them. I am going to bump that whole bracket up to be a little bit brighter. And, I shoot those. And, I get this. Now, I did a Julia Child thing earlier, and actually prepared the HDR shot. So, here you can see this is what the HDR image looks like when it's merged, and put together.
Here is what my single shot looks like after I've done that edit to the middle of them. I actually think I prefer the single shot. But the HDR has some promise. I think with certain types of subject matter, the light pad and the HDR could be really interesting. So, this particular light pad I think was around $120. It's a lot of fun to play with if you're working with translucent objects. If you like flowers, if you like that sort of thing, you might want to look in to getting one of these.
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