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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.
Throughout this course, I've been defining shallow depth of field as a problem, as something that you are kind of constantly fighting when you are working at macro scale. Now that you've seen focus stacking, you have a solution to that shallow depth of field problem. But does that mean that every image you shoot, when you're working macro, needs to be really deep depth of field? Obviously, if you are shooting a moving subject, or if you are out in the field, focus stacking is not always an option, but here in the studio it is something you could try to do on every shot. But should you? Take a look at this.
Our Director, Jacob Cunningham, shot this great shot of a bee, and I was looking at it, and thinking, "That's a really great shot of a bee." But I love the texture on the ball, whatever that is, that seed pod think that the bee is standing on. And, I thought, "Well, it would be cool if there was some more depth of field underneath the bee." So, I started to rebuild the shot, and came up with this -- and obviously I don't have the lighting right, here -- but here is one with really deep depth of field, and it doesn't work as well. So, I started fiddling with the lighting some more, and as I did, I found that actually going back to a shallower depth of field, having less of the ball, and focus was creating a more evocative image.
What this picture really needs is the backlighting that Jacob had in his shot. I ran out of time before I got to there. But you can see this as an example of shallower depth of field creating a more evocative image. As I had more deep depth of field, it's almost like there was too much information. There was less for the viewer to do, and the image became less mysterious and evocative. Now, here is the opposite problem. I was shooting this rose, and as you can see, I was just shooting it head on. And, as I was looking at it more, I was thinking, "What does this image need? Maybe I need to soften some of those darker shadows in there. Get some light in there to make the image less contrasty." And then, I realized what was actually really striking me about this image, or about this rose, was how soft and pillowy those folded-over petals are.
So, I went in closer. So, here is a single shot. And, here I am in real close to just one bit of form within the rose, and I have got very, very shallow depth of field here. And, I began to wonder if I should focus stack it to get deeper depth of field. I did that, and I came up with this. Now, this doesn't have completely deep depth of field. I could do that. I could continue to merge them. I just had to merge these in batches, because there were so many of them. I could take the depth of field all the way to the back, or I could go softer. And, it raises an interesting question.
What had struck me about the image was the softness of the petals, the pillowy texture, how gentle they were. So, you could think, "Well, I need shallow depth of field there, because that's going to create an even softer image. It's going to smear the texture off of the image, and create a really gentle, soft, pillowy scene." The thing is the rose has that inherently. I don't need to add to it. I don't need to simulate it. I don't need to exaggerate it. This is a case where I think going to the deeper depth of field image actually works better, because the rose itself is the soft, pillowy thing that I was trying to capture.
I don't need to soften it further with shallow depth of field. However, I don't think I want to go to the full, deep depth that I could, because there is also a scale characteristic involved in shallow depth of field. If I go to deep depth of field all the way through this rose, I'm going to lose the sense of how small the scene is, because our eyes read shallow depth of field as something very small. That's why this trick works. This was shot with a tilt shift lens, which allows me to really play with depth of field. You've probably seen this effect. It's this little toy effect.
So, what was actually a landscape ends up looking very, very small, because our eye is used to shallow depth of field, meaning small scale. So, if I keep the shallow depth, some shallow depth of field in the rose, I will keep that, sense of correct scale about the size of the object that I was working with. But I don't want to go so shallow that I'm now kind of editorializing. The rose itself is soft. It doesn't need any more depth of field. This is the exact opposite solution to what I found with the bee, where too much depth of field gave me too much information, and I didn't need it.
So, just because you have the power to shoot extremely deep depth of field doesn't mean you should do it all the time. You're going to be facing a lot of aesthetic choices as you work with this new skill set.
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