Lessons from the Shot: Macro Photography by Stanley Leary


by Stanley Leary

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One of those memories burned into my brain was my trumpet teacher. I remember the moment clearly. I had just finished playing Hyden’s Concerto In E-Flat Major For Trumpet for the first time without any mistakes. “Now you’re ready to start working on it,” my teacher said. I thought I had nailed the piece and was ready to move on to something else. 
While I had played each note on the page correctly, I had just learned that it is in the details that make it not sound like a robot that played the piece.
Artists look at things differently than non-artists do. We notice detail; we appreciate nuance and beauty. Artists respond differently to things than non-artists do. We tend to be more sensitive.
It is not uncommon for the artist to be reminded to pay attention to the nuances of the music. I think of the famous singer Bing Crosby who sounded so effortless when he sang that you just enjoyed the melody.
Nothing can sharpen your understanding about the nuances of photography more than macro photography. This is where you photograph objects extremely close, where the image projected on the "film plane" (i.e film or a digital sensor) is close to the same size as the subject. We would say the image is a 1:1 ratio.
There are a few ways to get this close to the subject with a camera. You can buy a macro lens, which gives you, 1:1 or even closer. You can buy a set of close-up filters that screw onto the front of the lens that allow closer focusing. There are also extension tubes that go between your lens and camera to let you get even closer. Another tool is a bellows that acts like a zooming extension tube. The last way to get closer is using a teleconverter. These teleconverters increase the magnification of the lens and come in 1.4 or 2.0 powers. They go between the lens and the camera to work.
Once you choose the way you want to do macro photography you will soon discover the closer you get to the subject the less depth-of-field you have. This is to say the amount of area that is sharp in front of the point you choose to focus on to the space behind that point is quite shallow.
You typically will need a ƒ/number of ƒ/11, ƒ/16 or even greater for just the subject to look like it is in focus.
Since you will be working with such a small aperture (ƒ/number) you will need a lot of light or a good tripod to keep the camera from moving while taking the photo.
Today’s flashes, which you can buy for your camera, are so advanced that they can make this a lot of fun. Before you had to be a physicist to understand all the math to make a good exposure. Now just buy the flash with TTL feature and the camera and flash together will give you the perfect amount of light to make your photo.
I recommend buying the extension cord, which lets you take the flash off the camera and put it where you need the light— right in front of the lens.
Once you have all the equipment you will be at the place I was when I finally understood how to play all the notes of Hyden’s trumpet concerto—ready unleash the artist within by discovering the nuances of a subject.