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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Macro Magic

Find nature’s secrets in the world of the very small

Labels: How-ToOn LandscapeColumn
When using the wide-aperture, soft-focus effect, your camera angle is just as important. Besides focusing on the main object, such as a flower, it's vital to look for potential distractions around it. Bright areas in front of or behind the flower can draw the viewer's eye away from what you're trying to show them. Whether handholding my camera or using a tripod, I maneuver around the object while watching carefully to see how the graphic elements fill the frame. As I framed the plum blossom, I moved my position so the branch arched gracefully through the frame without conflicting with the flower's shape. Once I found the best angle, I focused by moving the camera rather than trying to focus while handholding at high magnifications and/or long focal lengths.

In terms of processing this blossom photograph, I added a second background layer, which I blurred in Photoshop to heighten the soft-focus, glowing effect. I've rarely used this technique, known as the Orton Effect, but found it to be a useful tool in this case.

With either the soft or sharp approach mentioned, your choice of aperture is critical. It's often the case that no one ƒ-stop is perfect, and you must balance the need for sharpness of the main subject against the need for a soft, out-of-focus background. Because of this, I almost always "bracket" my captures with a range of aperture settings. For the plum blossom photograph, I used the lens' widest aperture, which was ƒ/2.8, to give the softest possible effect. Had I wanted more sharpness in the flower, I would have tried exposures at smaller openings. By bracketing while in the field, I could later find the optimum balance of focus on the flower, but without too much sharpness that gave me a distracting background. I'm able to see the subtle variations much more easily on my computer monitor. For this specific image, I was after a very soft, impressionistic effect, so I used my 90mm Tilt-Shift lens, plus the 25mm extension tube. The tube allowed for macro focus, and I actually tilted the lens to increase the softness, much like using a Lensbaby.

Whether you use a macro lens, or extension tubes or other macro options, learning the basics of close-up photography can add depth to your portfolio, as well as offer new excitement about and exploration of the wondrous details of nature all around us!

To learn about William Neill’s his one-on-one workshops, ebooks (William Neill’s Yosemite, Meditations in Monochrome, Impressions of Light and Landscapes of the Spirit) and online courses with BetterPhoto.com, and to visit his PhotoBlog, go to www.williamneill.com.


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