Saturday, 13 December 2008

Black and White Macro Photography

Welcome to Macro Photography for Beginners. My last post concentrated on a specialised way of capturing small objects using the "pedestal technique". In this post I will be discussing the benefits of using Black and White photography for Macro shots. When photography first began it was only possible to take monotone images. In actual fact the images do not consist of just black and white but are made up with various shades of grey. In image editing terminology this might be described as greyscale. The more precise term for this type of photography is monotone. A benefit of digital photography is that image can be manipulated afterwards. Colour images can be made monotone and then be made more authentic by adding tone and grain. This can make a photograph taken today look like it was taken in the earliest days of photography.

Black and White was once the only type of photography available and is still the one of the most powerful way to portray many subjects. To remove the colour from an image can have a very dramatic effect. In many images it makes them appear timeless, in that they could have been taken in any decade. In image editing software further pseudo effects can be added including dust, grain, scratches and small surface damage.

Many rules that apply to conventional photography do not always apply to macro photography. In terms of photography, Macro has always been the odd one out. Maybe this is what makes it appeal to a certain type of person rather than to everybody. Black and White (or Monotone) is accepted and extensively used for popular forms of photography including landscape, wedding, fashion, fine art, abstract, portrait and creative. It is rare to find outstanding black and white macro photography now that most photographers shoot in colour only. It seems that photographers are reluctant to strip out the colour or perhaps when you get very close - colour is more important to the composition. So this begs the question, is macro photography dependant on colour or can it be just as effective in black and white monotone? I recently did a couple of internet searches for the term “monotone macro” and “black and white macro” and was quite surprised at the results. The images that I did find were actually quite impressive but it also has to be noted that they were actually close-up rather than true macro shots. I’m usually not bothered about this distinction between these two terms but today I want to look at shots taken at 1:1 (true macro shots).

As a photographer I am always on the lookout for unusual subject to photograph. Luckily (and at great expense) I recently came into the possession of a brand new road racing bicycle. It is a very impressive piece of equipment . I actually use a bicycle to get around a lot of the time and find it a great way to find photographic opportunities. The great aspect of this bicycle being brand new is that it is allowed to "live" in the house. I’ve been looking it at most days very closely and decided to write a review about it for another website. Then I thought maybe I should take a few photographs of it as well - and perhaps get some close-up shots of the important bits. There are some details that are important but are very small and hard to see. This is when I realised that this would make an ideal subject for this macro photography experiment. So I took several macro photography shots at 1:1 of different parts of the bicycle. Most of the shots I would use for the review that I am writing for another website. The spare shots (that might otherwise have been deleted) have been salvaged and converted into monotone. All the pictures were taken on location (in my kitchen) and the ambient light can only be described as dismal.

Macro of Bicycle ValveFigure 1. A Bicycle Valve in Monotone (Left) and Colour (Right) – I’m sure you could have worked this out for yourselves but I’ve got to write something under the pictures! In my opinion this is a poor composition and looking at it in monotone or colour makes no difference. Unless of course you have a strong passion for bicycle valves.

macro of bicycle hexnutFigure 2: This is a hex nut(I think!) - this image is over-exposed but has a more interesting composition than the valve due to greater differences in contrast.

Macro of Bicycle Brake CableFigure 3. This image of a brake cable has been included simply to add some much needed tension.

Macro of Bicycle SprocketFigure 4. This image is the gear cassette or to put it another way a bunch of cogs (or sprockets).

I soon discovered that taking images of a bicycle at 1:1 ratio is quite a difficult task. It was not long before my Benbo tripod, bicycle and my limbs were intertwined. Somewhere amongst it all there was a man sprawled on the floor trying to operate the camera. I don’t know why but no matter what I set out to do there is never quite enough space. There is always an obstacle such as chair leg, hairy Labrador or other immovable object where my tripod needs to stand. Despite these difficult circumstances and the normal household disharmony (fighting and shouting) in the background, I managed to get all the shots that I needed for my project. It has to be remembered that all this images featured here have been taken from the cutting room floor. They are the out-takes from a productive photo-shoot. Macro Photographers delete a much higher percentage of their images depending on their standards of acceptance. I got all the images for my bicycle review and normally all these extra images would have been surplus to my requirements and deleted. My point being that you should always consider carefully which images you keep and which images you delete. If you are uncertain keep the images and review them in a few days time. Preview all your images in monotone as well as colour if your software allows this option.

There are some macro images that convert to black and white or monotone better than others. This is generally images that contain a lot of contrast or where large differences in levels can be seen. I believe that the best black and white photographers actually see the world in monotone. When done correctly and with the right image it can be very powerful. I often convert images to black and white but usually return them to colour or use duotone! I found that only a few of the 1:1 macro images converted made good viewing. The problems seems to be that when you get very close to most subjects you need the colour differences to assist in isolating the main point of focus. In most cases converting to black and white or monotone will distract from this effect and make the image less convincing. Images that have a large difference of contrast should convert to monotone with better results.

Converting to monotone does not just have to be a last minute rescue attempt for the landscape photographer. There is definitely a place for the monotone macro image even when taken at a very close range. On reflection I have learned that close-up photography tends to make for better monotone images due to the large areas of negative space around the subject. In a good composition this should help to draw the observer to the focal point of the image. I tried composing frames that I thought would convert into good monotone images. The whole season was spent thinking about the conversion to monotone. I didn’t feel too well on the day and I was surrounded with general household chaos at the time. My concentration was therefore not as sharp it should have been. It has been difficult finding time to get these pictures done because I am very busy writing articles for other websites.

Macro Photography for Beginners - Feedback and News
I've had quite a few technical problems with my website recently. In addition my computer will be celebrating it's seventh birthday soon! You can only imagine the amount of noise that it makes when it is running... all the cooling fans are broken and it produces more heat than most ovens! The good news is that a new machine is on the way but I might vanish for a short time during the cross-over period. Please note that I'm not ignoring you if you do not get a response by email or in the comments.

I’ve had some interesting feed back recently and found some new friends and cool places to hang out.

Thanks to Larry Hnetka for dropping by, if you want to read an interesting weblog direct yourself to this place on the internet.

Larry Hnetka Goes HMmmm

...and I got an amusing email from Roz

I like Roz, she has a great sense of humour and is also an excellent photographer and digital artist. I wanted to post this email because it came at time when I was feeling a bit low and it cheered me up. It was only a few words but it really lifted my spirits after a really tough week.

Hey Marvin,
Just thought I'd send you a quick email to say I thoroughly enjoyed your Macro Photography for Beginners
particularly loved the bit about the chocolate underpants .. lol ..!!
anyhoooooooo .. have a good weekend ..
from roz ..

If you want to know more about Roz follow these links here:-




I also landed at this website recently:- nicholas-hendrickx where images of flies have been manipulated. If you like pictures of flies playing the piano or riding bicycles this might be a good site for you to visit.

Please note that this artist has used image manipulation and assures his readers that no flies where harmed in the making of his images. I think he needs to read my website to get those images a bit sharper and then he may be on to a good thing!

Just a quick word – I’m not an expert on SEO (obviously) but if anyone wants different anchor text in their links to suit their keywords please just ask. I don’t mind changing the anchor text. For the uninitiated, anchor text is the words that the link is applied too, for example some people will use “click here”. In terms of SEO links that use relevant words for the website they link to are more valuable. In return please choose a reasonable keyword if you want to provide a link to my website.

Well that’s another post…

Thanks for visiting my Macro Photography for Beginners website.

Marvin Africa