Wildlife photographer Paul Hobson and three AP readers explore the possibilities of studio-based macro in our macro still life masterclass
There is no end to the kinds of objects that can be explored through still life. The natural world is composed of thousands of patterns and textures to be explored, and the ability to study these in a studio environment offers the possibility of producing some captivating images.
‘You can easily find all kinds of interesting subjects in the countryside or even in your own back garden,’ says Paul. ‘One of the most obvious and easily obtained subjects is leaves. If you photograph sycamore leaves, for example, you have a lot to work with, such as the vivid greens and the vein patterns. A particularly interesting leaf is from the fern
tree. The leaves are lined with sporangium, which are the spore-bearing bodies. They can make for some really interesting shapes and patterns.’
One subject that is particularly interesting, but one that can prove difficult to photograph, is dandelions.
‘If you are able to photograph a dandelion clock in a studio environment then you’re likely to produce some great shots,’ says Paul. ‘But due to their fragile nature they can be difficult to transport. A good tip is to spray them with hairspray, which will firm them up and prevent the seed spores separating from the head. Once you’ve picked them, put them
in some water so they don’t wilt.’
A less obvious object to photograph can be found in supermarkets up and down the country – fish.
Photo by Alan Wilson
‘You can buy fish anytime,’ says Paul. ‘An interesting and cheap option is mackerel, which is very common around the British Isles. You can photograph the skin to reveal the silvery white colours and fascinating patterns of the body. You’ll need to freeze it and then wait for it to thaw out before you photograph it so that requires you to plan ahead. You’ll also need to skin it so that you can get it as flat as possible. Fish obviously have rounded bodies and that’s likely to cause problems when using a macro lens due to the limited depth of field.’
One subject that Paul suggests is worthy of attention, yet one that some people may find a little gruesome, is bird wings.
‘I have a small collection of bird wings that I like to photograph,’ says Paul. ‘All of them are from roadkill that I’ve come across over the years. They include jay, barn owl, tawny owl, pheasant and mallard. Shooting these in a studio allows us to get some close up details of the feathers, which would be near impossible to achieve in the wild. You could never get that close.’
But, as Paul says, there are thousands of natural objects that can be photographed. Therefore, the possibilities are limitless.
Working with Macro
Macro photography in the studio opens up the possibilities of still life and allows the photographer to close in on details that would otherwise be difficult to capture in the wild.
‘Macro photography takes your work to another level,’ says Paul. ‘It takes you closer to the subject and reveals all the beautiful little details that you wouldn’t otherwise notice using a standard lens.’
It can sometimes be tricky shooting objects that aren’t entirely flat when working with macro photography. The depth of field is incredibly narrow, so surfaces that are even slightly undulated can be thrown out of focus.
‘If you’re looking to produce images of surfaces such as leaves or feathers, you have to ensure that the surface is completely flat,’ says Paul. ‘That’s why it’s important to point your camera straight down onto the surface using a tripod. If your camera is at an angle, even slightly, then the distance from each part of the image to the focus plane is going to be different. Either put the object on a small table or on the floor. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a band of sharpness moving away into a blur.’
Taking the example of feathers, Paul suggests some settings to experiment with. ‘If you look at a bird’s wing or an arrangement of feathers, you can see that they’re not completely flat,’ he says. ‘It’s not extreme, but in macro it makes
all the difference. I’d recommend using an aperture of f/5.6 to f/8. That should give you the coverage you need.’
When dealing with more three-dimensional subjects, such as flowers or dandelions, Paul recommends pushing the f-stop up even further.
‘You have to be careful because a dandelion has a round head,’ he explains. ‘That means you’re going to need a larger depth of field, and an aperture such as f/22. That’s going to give you much more coverage and get more of the
head in focus to reveal its complex structure.’