The Practicing Photographer

with Ben Long
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The Practicing Photographer
Video duration: 0s 17h 15m Appropriate for all Updated Jul 21, 2016

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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.

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IOS macro photography gear

- If you've seen my Foundations of Photography: Macro course, then you've seen me showing images like this, and this, and this. If you've watched that course, you've also seen that getting shots like that can involve very complex hardware, long setup times, lengthy shoots and a lot of post production. Now, what you didn't see in that course were images like this, or this, or this, images that are fine, technically, but that don't work as aesthetically, and it required the same complex setup and time as the good images, so, why would I bother with a complex setup for these images that turn out to be lousy compositions? Partly it's because of that weird thing where you don't always recognize a composition as bad until you see the final image, but more often than not, it's because pre-visualizing a marco image is really hard.

It's hard to look from above at a small subject and see where a good composition is, or even recognize that a small subject might make a good composition. Greatly complicating this is the fact that macro images have such insanely shallow depth of field. A lot of times I'll get an idea for a macro image, I'll set up, I'll shoot it, and I'll find that the composition was good but that the images doesn't work, because the shallow depth of field ruins it. For me, the biggest obstacle with macro shooting is that I'm simply not good at recognizing macro subject matter.

Now, recognizing a weird looking insect or a pretty flower as good subject matter, that's easy, but there aren't weird looking bugs around, fortunately, and I'd like to shoot more than just insects and flowers. So, the answer to this is practice and experience. As I've discussed before in this series, the more you shoot with a particular lens, the more you learn to visualize in the way that that lens sees. But the problem with macro is that there can be such a big investment in time and energy, just to get one shot that you might learn something from.

So, learning can be very slow, and if you're like me you can tend not to spend a lot of time doing it. So, in an effort to get macro practice, I have turned to my smartphone. There are some macro lens attachments for smart phones that yield very good results. I always have my phone with me, and these attachments are small enough that they're easy to shove in a coat pocket. So when I'm sitting idle in a restaurant or at the park, if I can remember to, I'll pull out my phone and lens and just fiddle a little bit and take shots.

Most of the results don't amount to anything good, but that's not the point, my goal is to learn to see an object with my eyes and understand how it might look at the macro scale. I also want to learn more about the relationship and arrangements of objects, how that translates into the macro world. Mostly I just want to shoot and shoot until I've trained my eye to understand what something in the real world might look like through a macro lens. Now, occasionally I get a nice shot, like this ladybug that landed on my lunch in the park, or this lovely water I was drinking during a meeting.

But again, for this to be a useful pursuit, you have to set the goal to be simply to learn, otherwise, you could get discouraged by lots of bad pictures. So, I have here an iPhone. This is an iPhone 6, but you can probably find a macro attachment to fit any smartphone that you might have, I have two here. And I've chose to show you two for a couple different reasons. First thing I've got is a little macro kit, it's actually a little lens attachment kit, it's not just macro lenses. This is made by a company.

The company has a name, and honestly I'm not sure how to pronounce the name. It's spelled N-E-E-W-E-R, so it's, it's Neewer. Which I guess is not as old as just newer. But anyway. I don't mean to make fun of them, they've made a very, very nice product here. This is a cool little bracket that will fit on any phone with any case, and that's very often the problem with these macro attachments, is if you have a case on your phone, they won't work with it. Now, there are some cases that have built in macro, or have the option for macro attachments or lens attachments to go with them.

This just clamps on. So here's the lens of my phone. I just put the lens of the macro thing over that, and this rubber bit holds it right here, that's all there is to it now. I just fire up my camera and use it as normal. So what I've got here... Is, I gotta look this up here, it's written on the side. This is a .67x wide angle. So this is not actually macro, but it is letting me get in close. You know, first thing is I realize, oh it's cool that there's this reflection in the sunglasses.

This is the kinda thing that shooting experience gets you, from now on, hopefully, when I see a pair of glasses I'm gonna go, oh, actually it may not be the glasses, it may be the reflection that's interesting, there could be something worthwhile in getting in close and looking in here. But still, this isn't real macro yet. I'm not really down at the macro scale. This is the kinda thing I can kind of usually visualize just by getting down and looking. So I would like to go to an actual macro. Most of these lens attachments work the same way.

This white thing is the mount for the lens, this is the lens right here and it's got marking on it, it says .67x wide, and then it says 10x macro. That's because this is actually two lenses. I can get to the second lens by unscrewing this. So what's really going on here is this is the lens and this is an additional attachment for this lens. So when I take this off, now I believe, and then the 10x macro, let's just see here. So I fit that over, and the way you tell you're in macro is if I'm out here where I was before things are out of focus because a macro lens has a very, very small minimum focusing distance.

Wow, it's really small. I can get all the way in here and see that these sunglasses are very dirty. Now, it's just a process of looking around. And this is what I mean, it's hard to pre-visualize what might be interesting in a macro shot. Some kind of interesting geometry in here. I'm not seeing a tremendous amount. I'm going to switch over and look at this camera, because it's got a bunch of textures on it. This is kinda cool.

Somewhere in here. And this is, this is the kinda thing I'm talking about, I don't even know right off hand what's gonna be a great place to go and where to start, and so just... Fiddling like this gives me a chance to easily... Start to develop an eye for small subject matter. Oh, these are neat in here. So, I've got another macro attachment here. Again, this is the Neewer lens attachment. I believe this whole little kit, which is three lenses, this 10x macro, the wide angle lens and then this thing which is a fish eye and the fish eye's pretty fun.

I think this whole thing's only like $15, and it yields very good quality. This I wanted to show you for a couple of reasons: it gives me more macro power, but it's also a more expensive option, and you get slightly better image quality. This is Olloclip. This is their four-in-one, I think this is four, macro lens. They make other four-in-one kits that give you a couple macros, a fish eye, a wide angle, they make some that give you a wide angle and a telephoto. So what I've got here is 21x macro, 14x macro and 7x macro.

So this is actually just three lenses. If I take this off, this is the 7x macro, this is the 14, and then this is just 21. Let's just really go for the whole thing here and see just how ludicrous 21x macro is. Again, this is cool because it works, it works on my caseless phone. They give you other adapters for different thicknesses of phone. This is specifically for the iPhone, I'm pretty sure they make separate ones for various Android devices.

Obviously the kicker there is you're gonna have to see if it works if you have a case on your phone. Wow, looky there. I'm in really close now, and can see that... My lens is dirty. This is interesting. I'm actually getting a surprising amount of depth of field there. Normally at the macro level depth of field is down to within millimeters. Notice also that with all of these lenses the way I'm focusing is just moving in and out, taking the camera closer and further from my subject.

There's something interesting in here. Now, there're kind of two approaches to macro, there's, oh look at the interesting detail that I normally don't see that's kind of interesting looking when it's close up like these numbers. What I'm more interested in getting an eye for is understanding perspective, and point of view and vantage point. What are the, what are the compositions and scenes that I don't recognize up here from my full scale world that actually become more interesting down at the macro scale. Oh, that's an interesting texture.

Now one of the things... That's a little bit tricky about working with the phone as a macro, it's great that it's got it's got this huge viewfinder, it's great that I can just position it wherever I want, what I have to be careful is the phone starts casting shadows. Now, I'm not having as big a problem, oh wow, that's just a nice color and stuff. I'm not having as big a problem with that now as I do normally, because I'm on a lit set and I'm lit really evenly, so it's great, there's light coming from everywhere and I'm not having a terrible problem getting good illumination on my subject. But, I brought along a couple of options just in case.

This is the Pocket Spotlight by Photojojo. That's, P-H-O-T-O-J-O-J-O. Photojojo, they, their website's a lot of fun is a lot of fun to just spend some time on because it's all these great photo accessories for the iPhone and normal photo accessories also. This is a tiny little LED light panel. It's rechargeable, it charges off of USB. It's got a power button on the back, I'm not gonna point this at the camera but when I turn it on, I get this really nice, fairly bright light.

It's got this headphone jack here because the idea is I plug it in here. It doesn't take power, but it just gives me a place to mount. This is great when you're shooting video because it gives you a nice fill light. It's positioned pretty far from the camera, so it looks a little bit like it's coming to the side. What I want to use it for is just, it's something I can, I can put in here to get more light on my subject. That does two things: it eliminates shadow, it gives me... Kinda highlighting effects I can play with, and it will also keep my shutter speed at a more reasonable speed which is important because at macro, any tiny little jittering of the phone is going to be obvious.

This has two brightness levels, I can turn it down a notch if I'm getting too much glare, and if I find myself shooting macro and ending up lost on a desert island, I've got this great kind of a strobing feature that will attract attention, otherwise I'm not really sure what that's for. I've one other lighting option. This is a Lume Cube. This is an extremely bright little LED rechargeable, but it's got... A lot of variation and intensity. I can dial it up and down, I can also control the brightness from the phone, and it's got this nice little stand so I can really just sit this out here.

It's very portable, very easy to carry around with the rest of my macro kit here, but this macro kit is just barely a kit. As you can see these attachments are very, very small, and look at that texture. Very easy to carry around with my phone, and so far I'm only showing you one of the three lenses, this is the most, the most magnified. I can dial this back a lot by switching to one of the others. So if you're interested in macro I really recommend this approach for practice. It's much easier than setting up a focus stacking rig, or trying to remember to bring your heavy macro lens with you with your SLR, which you may or may not use so you're probably going to leave it at home.

I carry these with me all the time now, and I've gotten some nice images but mostly I'm just, I feel like my eye is changing and developing, and I think it's been because of this kind of practice.

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