Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Still Life Macro Photography

Welcome to Macro Photography for Beginners. My last post was all about macro lenses. In this post I am going to write about still life and macro photography. Still life is a form of art that captures or creates images of stationary, still or static objects. This can be achieved in several different ways and by using all kinds of techniques. Many still life images are actually taken as close-up rather than true macro. Remember that images taken at the ratio of 1:1 and above are true macro and images taken below this ratio are considered “close-up”. Many photographers are very particular about this and will condemn close-up photography for not being true macro. In my opinion photography should be judged on other factors and not the ratio at which the photograph was taken. On the other hand I can understand how macro photographers get annoyed when their complex art is confused with a less technically difficult one.

If you understand composition and know how to set up your camera, you should find still life relatively easy. This being the main reason that students of photography become involved in this type of art. Almost any nondescript object can be brought into the limelight and become a point of fascinating interest.

Why is Still Life Macro Photography So Simple?
The answer to this question is within the title itself, the subject is still. Therefore there is no prospect of any movement. Motion blur is caused when the subject moves during the exposure. This is much less likely to happen when you are not outdoors fighting with the elements. When you arrange a still life composition the set-up can be left in position for as long as required. The camera can be supported on a tripod or attached to a frame using a bracket. A remote switch is an inexpensive way to reduce any chance of camera shake. This will enable you to get consistently sharp still life images. If you do not have a remote switch you can use the cameras self-timer function. Even the action of depressing the shutter button can introduce enough camera shake to ruin your images. Try not to introduce any vibrations as these will be magnified. The key to sharp still life macro photography is (perhaps ironically) keeping the camera still.

Incandescent and Fluorescent Light
When photography takes place in a studio environment natural light (also called ambient light) is not used as the primary light source. This means that an artificial light source must be used in its place. Most studio close-up or macro still life photography is composed against a clean white background and lit by a number of diffused lamps. This gives a soft even light for the subject and eliminates colour casts from the background. An incandescent lamp or light bulb has an element that gives out light when it is heated by an electrical current passing through it. Fluorescent lamps or light bulbs (often in the form of tubes) are more efficient. They are also known as gas discharge lamps because of the way that they work. In basic terms, when an electrical current heats the gas inside the bulb it causes it to fluoresce (glow brightly). The problem with artificial lighting is that it does not replicate white light naturally and the camera picks up the difference. Light has a colour temperature measured in Kelvin. A combination of the colour temperature of the lighting and the cameras white balance setting that can create an unwanted colour cast. Warm temperatures are seen as yellow or orange whilst cold temperatures are seen as blue or green. One way to combat unwanted colour casts is to add corrective filters to your camera lenses. You can buy expensive studio lamps that are designed to provide continuous light. Although they can be expensive to buy, continuous studio lighting is more reliable, flexible and generally safer than home made systems. If you’re planning on taking a lot of product or table top studio photographs it is going to be well worth the initial financial outlay.

It can be difficult finding the right lighting for a home made macro studio. Many amateur photographers use 500W halogen work lamps (or site lamps) to provide the lighting for their home made (self-build) light-boxes and light tents. The lamps are free standing which makes them easy to position at either side of the light-box or tent and they will provide an even diffused light. You can find this type of lamp at hardware/DIY stores or building merchants. They are relatively inexpensive to buy.

Squidoo and Hubpages
I recently visited an internet hubpage that used Macro Photography for a competition. It was very similar to those well known magazine competitions where you are invited to guess the identity of an obscure object in the photograph.

Hub pages (if you are wondering) are a type of internet community with social networking. To become a member you need to sign-up and create your own profile. When you have logged in you can begin creating your own hub pages on any subject you can imagine. It is very similar to Squidoo, another online community where you create your own web pages called lenses. This is done by adding and editing selectable modules. If the pages that you create are popular you can make a small amount of money for your efforts. Obviously to make successful lens or hub page means putting in some hard work. Pages and lenses need to be kept up to date and routinely maintained to retain popularity. Obviously you stand a greater chance of success if you write an original and entertaining page. So you need to put your creative thinking caps on! I’ve dabbled with Squidoo in the past but have as yet ventured into the realms of hub pages. Hubpages have a good reputation for showing up in search engine results and this has increased their popularity.

Squidoo, Hubpages and all other similar Internet communities or social networking websites can be written on any subject imaginable. Digital Photography is a very popular subject and therefore an ideal subject to cover. If you are interested in writing Squidoo lenses or Hubpages I would recommend reading some of the most popular pages for inspiration and to find out what is required. It appears that making your lens or page popular will involve entering into the social networking side of these websites. In essence you have to actively make friends and influence people. If your creation is successful you will gain a percentage of advertising revenue or affiliate sales.



Stock Photography Libraries
If this has whetted your appetite for making money from your digital photography I will briefly draw your attention to stock libraries. Stock photography libraries accept images from photographers and display them in a researchable on-line database. Methods of payment vary between different stock libraries but you can usually find payment rates somewhere on their own websites. I have only recently decided to get involved with stock photography libraries myself and have not formed an opinion as to whether or not they are worthwhile from a financial revenue point of view. It is surprising how popular stock photography has become with webmasters. It is obviously much easier to grab a couple of images from a library rather than set off down the high street with a digital camera in hand. Looking at this realistically it does make quite a lot of sense. Stock Photography is probably not going to make you into a millionaire but equally there is no reason not to get involved and see how it all pans out. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

One point to consider is that the quality of the images has to be very high. The images need to be of a subject that will be popular. If you can specialize into an untapped niche here you may be onto something. I’m not known for posting many outward links in case my loyal readers venture off and fail to come back. I will chance it this time and post a couple of links for a couple of popular stock photography websites. Don’t forget to come back to read the rest of my post. It is not just photographs that are popular with webmasters. Vector art is also a sought after product for stock libraries. So if you’re good with graphics you could find a way to supplement your income. There is always a slim chance that you will be spotted and become the next “big thing” in this lucrative industry!

Here are few links to some popular stock photography libraries.




There are plenty of others out there too!

White Balance (WB)
If you are taking still life macro images of any type you will need to understand white balance. Luckily the concept of white balance is not difficult to comprehend. White balance (WB) is the term used to describe the process of correcting unwanted colour casts.

One of the most considerable advantages of shooting in RAW format is that you can adjust the white balance afterwards. However to gain confidence as a photographer it is important to know how to get the white balance right without using image editing software for corrections and adjustment. Remember that changes to the white balance during post processing affect the entire image. This means that you may not be able to edit the background without altering the subject to some level as well.

The aim of studio still life photography is to get a clean image without any colour cast. To do this you can set the white balance to compensate, add a corrective filter to the end of the camera lens or select a source of lighting that does not produce a colour-cast. It may be possible to eliminate the unwanted cast by re-positioning the lights, using a different type of light bulb in your lamps or using a gray card to adjust the camera’s white balance setting. The gray card can also be used in post processing for RAW files and in some cases JPEG files as well.

The problem of colour cast is likely to be seen with home built or experimental macro studio systems. If you plan to take a lot of close up studio macro or product shots it may be a good idea to invest in a macro studio and an adequate continuous lighting system. As I said earlier, this will be expensive but as you know, photography is an expensive business.

Gray Cards
This is an inexpensive and extremely useful piece of photographic equipment. It is in fact exactly as the name suggests a gray piece of card or material. However it will remain neutral gray under any type of illumination. It is used to set a custom white balance for the lighting conditions that you are using. Gray cards are described as 18% gray and often referred to as the last gray card. This is the cause of much entertainment between photographers as they all pertain to have the last gray card! Digital cameras have sensitive light meters and their is some evidence that a higher reflectance is required. There are specific gray cards available that have been designed to be used for digital photography that have a higher percentage. (approximately 36%.

The use of gray cards will yield far better results than depending on the camera’s default or automatic settings. It may sound complicated at first but let me assure that using a neutral gray card is very simple indeed. Place the gray card within the area of your light source and ensure that it fills the frame. Take a shot of the neutral gray card and use the resulting image to set a custom white balance in your camera settings menu. The camera will now use this new setting for all subsequent images until you input a different or default white balance setting. It really is that simple. It is also possible to use the neutral gray card during the post processing of images to adjust the white balance of a batch of images.

Macro Photography for Beginners
Thank you for visiting my macro photography for beginners website. It has been a long time since my post due to some problems that I have recently encountered. I would like to thank readers for their feedback in the way of comments. Talking of feedback, it is a well known way of promoting your website or blog to leave comments on other peoples websites. This became a problem for webmasters because spammers began to use this method to promote their scams. In response to this the “no follow” attribute was introduced. To put it another way these comments and the link they create are now totally pointless. In the past I’ve ignored some of these comments on my own website but will now delete them as soon as they are posted. Genuine comments are obviously welcome as always and I’m sorry to have bored you with the tedium of dealing with spam comments, which has sadly become one of my recent pass-times. I hope that this article will prove to be useful and insightful, despite it spanning quite a large array of topics not all of which include Macro Photography.

Marvin Africa