My first macro pictures

Withered roses

A couple of years ago somebody showed me some pictures of macro photography. They looked interesting, however, it did not resonate with me. Now, many years later, I read the book Praktijkboek Macrofotografie (in Dutch) and looked at videos on Youtube. It turns out that macro photography is a lot more than taking pictures of plants and insects and laying on the ground. So, there was a growing interest.
After realising that my regular lenses would not suffice, I looked at possible cheap adjustments:

  • close-up filters are put on a regular lens and they magnify. The disadvantage is the you add more glass between the subject and the sensor, thereby reducing the quality of the picture substantially;
  • extension tubes are put between your regular lens and the body of the camera. They are used to reduce the focal distance and thereby increase the magnification. The disadvantage is that it mainly helps up to roughly 50mm, beyond that the reduction of the focal distance is not substantial anymore.

So I decided to look for a macro lens (Nikon calls it a micro lens). They are expensive. The Nikon 200mm micro lens costs something like €1500. Beyond my budget for a hobby. So I settled for a secondhand Nikon 105mm. And I am very pleased with it. Very sharp pictures.
My first experiments with macro photography immediately showed that getting the subject in focus is quite a challenge. Even more than I expected. For example, at a distance of 40cm the 105mm lens at f/8 has a Depth of Field (DoF) of only 0.5cm. Handheld this is not going to work. Even by breathing you move more than 0.5cm. So, you need a tripod. Although I am not very fond of a tripod for macro photography it is an essential tool.

Macro photography in action

Like I said, with f/8 the DoF is only 0.5cm. In some cases this is fine,  however, if you take a picture of a flower, maybe you want a larger DoF, like 1.5cm. In this case the aperture should be f/22. This means that if you are indoors, you need to use flashes. Below you see my set up in the garage. It consists of two flashes and a camera, all three on a tripod. I had set the shutter speed at 1/100th of a second, and the camera in Command Mode using TTL and a -1 compensation for both flashes. The subject are roses I gave to my wife for our 35 year wedding anniversary. I used them just before they were thrown away.
The next step is to get the right part of the roses in focus. I set the aperture to f/3.8 to get enough light in the camera. Autofocus does not always work, so I use Live View to visually focus. You can even magnify the screen to better focus. After that I set the aperture back to  f/22 and take a picture.
At the top and below you see two of my first pictures. I am satisfied with the quality of the picture, however, I still need to learn more about composition in macro photography.
Withered roses

Photoshoot for Crocheting Webshop

Last week my daughter asked me to take some pictures of crocheting she makes and sells via her Etsy webshop, DC crochet Design. She was facing some shortcomings of smartphones to do product photography. So, yesterday I grabbed my equipment and turned one of our bedrooms into a small photo studio. I have done something similar before so the first steps were easy.

  • To put all the focus on the crocheting I used white paper as a background. I used the same equipment as for model shooting, only I used a more narrow roll of paper.
  • To avoid sharp shadows I used two compact flashes flashing from two different sides through white umbrellas (TTL-mode). 
  • To avoid incoming daylight I set the Exposure Time to 1/160th of a second.

This is the way it looked like.

Studio for product photography

As a camera I used my Nikon D800 and the Nikkor 28-300mm as a lens. I set the Commander Mode such that the two compact flashes on the side flashed and that the built-in flash did not.
During the shoot my daughter and I checked the pictures to make sure that things were working out the way we wanted it. Here are some of the challenges I was facing:

  • The white background is not white at all Compact flashes are of course not as powerful as studio flashes. I have only one studio flash, so I decided to use two almost identical compact flashes. In Lightroom it is very simple with the adjustment brush to increase the exposure to make sure that the white background is really white.
    White background puts focus on crocheting
  • Not the whole embroidery is sharp In most of the pictures the whole crocheting had the same distance from the camera. In this case f/8 suffices. However, I did not realise that the Depth of Field was pretty small. Afterwards, I calculated that at 115 mm and with f/8 or f/10 the DoF is only a few centimeters. Too small as you can see here. The bottom of the iPhone is not sharp.
    Too small DoF to get the whole crocheting sharp

    From this I learned that I have to shoot a bit further away, with a wider angle than 115mm (for example, 50mm, and crop later), and at least f/16 or f/22 (all increase DoF).
  • Colours are not identical to original I fiddled around a bit with the  temperature to match the colours of the original.
    Slightly lower temperature to get the right colour

So, next time I am better prepared.

Lighting: moods

In the series Understanding lighting: from physics to moods, I will now discuss the relationship between lighting and moods. In the previous blogs I discussed several techniques to get a specific kind of lighting. In this blog I am going in the direction of art.

Beautiful brunette putting gloss on her lips
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

We all know that when we tell our subject that we are going to take a picture, we get automatically a pose with a nice smile. Most of the time all emotions are gone. Therefore, I prefer to take pictures when people are not aware of the camera to tell a story. Then, they express their genuine emotions (reportage photography).
In a studio setting this is quite a challenge. So, I first talk to my models to make them relax. I am in a lucky position that I knew my models before I started with portrait photography. So, there is enough to talk about. I quite often use props, like an iPhone or an iPad. It helps them to focus on what they would normally do with e.g. an iPad and not to pose.
Two types of lightening are high key and low key. A high-key picture is bright, has hardly any contrast, and lacks shadows; it expresses happiness and joy. A low-key picture, on the other hand, is dark, has many black areas, and has a lot of contrast; it expresses drama, tension, or mysteriousness.
A high-key picture is made by overexposing the background and having main and fill lights with a high exposure. Make sure not to overexpose. A low-key picture is made with a dark background and main light that acts like a kicker light (only lighting a specific area of the subject). Furthermore, the settings of the camera should be close to underexposure.
Beautiful latin girl with curly hair
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

My experience with lighting is mainly in the area between high and low key, actually a bit closer to high. In the near future I am going to experiment with the two extremes.
There are many type of moods, which require a different lighting. By experimenting you will find out what the right combination of posture, light, color (look at this overview for the relationship between color and emotions), and angle for the different moods is.
This ends the series on Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods. It was inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest. Please, enjoy!
Stock Images

Lighting: studio lighting setup – several lights

4-light setup
4-light setup

In the previous blog in the series on Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods, we discussed studio lighting using only one light (the main light). The essence of lighting is to play with light and shadow. The same is of course true if we use more than one light.
Using one bare light produces harsh shadows. This can be overcome by making the light bigger by using an umbrella or a softbox. However, this does not change the darkness of the shadows, it only softens the edges.
To get rid of the darkness of the shadows we need an additional light source. This might be another light, or it might also be a reflector. Note, in a sense a reflector is another source of light, however, a reflector does not produce more light than the light source of the incoming light. So, we cannot fully control it.
Besides the main light there are the following additional lights:

  • Fill light These are used to lighten up the shadows. Do not make them too strong otherwise the shadows completely disappear, making the picture flat.
  • Background light To create more depth we need to separate the subject from the background. This is done by placing a light behind the subject directed towards the background. If the backdrop is white it is better to use a color, if it is black a white light can be used.
  • Rim light To highlight the subject we use a rim light. It is placed behind the subject directed towards the subject. It gives a halo effect around the head and shoulders.
  • Hair light Sometimes it is nice to highlight a specific spot of the hair. This is done by placing a small, focussed light at a high position directed towards the hair.
  • Kickers They are very similar as hair light, however, they are directed towards a specific part of the subject.

The picture at the top shows a 4-light step bringing most of the above together. One main light on the left, a fill light on the right, a rim light in the rear, and a hair light on the far right. I again used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork.

Main light, reflector, and background light (blue)
Main light (left), reflector (right), and background light (rear, blue)

My own experience with a studio lighting setup until now is limited to a main light and several fills, lights and reflectors. In the near future I hope to experiment with the full setup.
This series of blogs on understanding lighting is inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest.
In the next blog we will discuss the right lighting setup for specific moods.
Stock Images

Lighting: studio lighting setup – one light

Self-Portrait, 1658
Self-Portrait, 1658

In the previous blog in the series on  Understanding Lighting: from physics to moods the physics of light was discussed, now the focus is on the various lighting setups for portrait photography. Again, inspired by Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua and Sculpting with Light by Earnest and many blogs and tutorials I try to focus on the essence. Here is one link to an explanation I really liked, it is simple and clear: several basic lighting patterns by Darlene Hildebrandt.
The essence in my opinion is to get the right balance between light and shadows for what we have in mind. See these drawings of Palle Schmidt to understand the interplay between light and shadows.
Let me start with one light and vary the position relative to the person. Note below I used a bare light (so no soft box), this explains the harsh shadows. This gives the following lighting patterns (I used the Virtual Lighting Studio by Oliver Prat of Zvork so simulate the various patterns) :

  • frontal lighting This is the situation where the flash is in or on the camera and the person is facing the camera. The result is a picture with no shadows in the face. It looks flat. Most snapshots are like this.frontal
  • butterfly lighting If we lift the light up a small shadow appears under the nose and sometimes also under the cheeks. butterfly
  • split lighting If I now move the light to the side of the person (90 degrees), the result is a split face: one side lighted and the other one dark.split
  • Rembrandt lighting If I move the light back to 45 degrees off the camera and up a bit, we get something called Rembrandt lighting (see the self-portrait of Rembrandt). Typical is the light triangle on the cheek on the other side of the light. The sides of the triangle are: the eyebrow, the shadow of the nose and the shadow of the cheek. It can be smaller or larger depending on the position of the light.Rembrandt
  • loop lighting If I place the light a little closer to the the camera (30 degrees), the triangle opens up, this means that the shadow of the nose does not touch the shadow of the cheek anymore.loop

For all of these lighting patterns (except the frontal one) I can use broad and short lighting. Broad lighting means that the visible ear is lighted and short lighting is that the visible ear is in the shade.
Here is a nice YouTube video by Ed Verosky that explains the various lighting patterns with one light.
In the next blog I will continue the studio lighting setup with several lights and reflectors.