The opportunity came up to attend a two day course in macro photography locally so, as these sort of things do not happen often, I jumped at the chance. The course, held over the weekend of 9th and 10th July 2016 was led by James Dunbar (*1) , an experienced wildlife photographer and film maker from Bristol, and involved both indoor theoretical and practical work and outdoor field work in the surrounding area. The latter was particularly challenging given the damp and windy conditions throughout much of the weekend and the habit of the invertebrates that we were photographing of either hurrying about their business or resting and feeding on wildly waving plant heads and stems. For this work I used a Canon 7D body with a Canon Macro EF 100 mm 1:2.8 L IS USM lens either hand held or mounted on a tripod. As conditions and subject required I also used Canon EF 12 and EF 25 extension tubes and a Canon Macro MR-14EX ring light.
The theoretical work reinforced the need to be constantly aware of the balance required between aperture, shutter speed, iso settings and magnification, etc. in order to achieve correct depth of field, sharpness and exposure. Awareness of changing light conditions, background and composition were stressed as was the need to know and understand the habits and food/ habitat preferences of the subjects so that shoots could be planned with greater precision. We were shown some tricks of the trade including the construction of cheap and effective diffusers to reduce the harshness of flash, lighting techniques to achieve different effects, the reversal of standard lenses to achieve greater magnification, and the setting up of indoor photography sets for shooting under artificial conditions.
The importance of pre-planning in order to achieve best results was stressed. This included developing an awareness of the camera settings that would be required for a particular subject in advance so that the image can be shot as soon as possible after getting into position as insects have a tendency to disappear as soon as a lens is pointed at them! A knowledge of a particular insect’s food plant or resting preferences enables one to attempt to stabilise the plant in some way to reduce wind shake and to set up one’s camera and lighting in advance to await the arrival of the subject. In the light of the number of elements of the photographic process that need to be addressed when shooting small living subjects, the message was to control as many of the variables as possible so that the balance of probability of a successful result was tipped in one’s favour!
I found this course and the process of macro photography to be very absorbing and rewarding and it also helped to reinforce much of the technique and technical knowledge that will be of use to me in other photographic fields. I also found it helpful and enjoyable to be working with others on the course to bounce ideas around and to share in the experience. Photography can often be a lonely business and this was a valuable reminder that working with others can provide a deeper learning experience as well as being fun. Thank you to James and my fellow course members for a valuable weekend.
I recognise that many within the OCA and within the field of contemporary photography will no doubt consider this branch of photography to be of little interest or relevance in artistic terms. In its defence I would suggest that it does introduce a new way of looking to those who are otherwise unaware. How often do we really look at the things around us? How much do we just take for granted? I see considerable value in opening peoples’ eyes to the variety and complexity of the living world on their doorstep and to the wonder and new understanding that can be gained by seeing the fine detail of what might otherwise just be seen as another boring bug. I hope that some might agree although I am not expecting to pass any Assessments on the strength of these images!
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(*1 ) James Dunbar Wildlife Photographer http://jamesdunbarphotography.com/#home
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