Wildlife photographer Paul Hobson and three AP readers explore the possibilities of studio-based macro in our macro still life masterclass

Composition

The greatest virtue of shooting natural objects such as leaves, flowers and eggs is in the apparent simplicity of the shots can be produced.

‘If you take something as simple as some quail’s eggs, you can produce a quite classical shot that harkens back to the
kinds of images that the term “still life” evokes in your mind,’ says Paul. ‘Just arranging them in a little pyramid or in a row gives you a really effective image. It’s the simplicity of the arrangement and of the objects themselves that makes them so photogenic.’

Objects such as leaves and feathers are simple to shoot and offer some interesting choices in terms of composition.

Photo by Alan Wilson

‘Having an item like a leaf to work with is great because you can move it around without changing the position of the camera,’ says Paul. ‘The veins can give you some really pleasing compositions, for example by having the veins running diagonally through the picture from the bottom left to the top right.

‘You should also consider how close you want to get to the leaf,’ he continues. ‘The closer you are, the bigger
the veins and segments of the leaf will appear. That will change your composition dramatically.’

When shooting wings and feathers it’s worth noticing how colours can be used within the composition.

‘If we take the example of using the wing of a blue jay then there are some beautiful colours that can be used,’ says Paul. ‘You have three strong colours to play with: blue, white and black. You should study how the colours interact with each other. How much of each one do you want in your shot?’

An obvious, yet often neglected, element of composition comes in the rule of thirds, a compositional rule of thumb
that suggests that you should view your image as a nine-square grid and place your subject(s) along the lines or their intersections.

‘With something like dandelions you can really use this to your advantage,’ says Paul. ‘Having three of them in a row can make for an incredibly interesting image, particularly if you place each one higher than the other. If you have
one dandelion then there’s nothing wrong with placing it in the centre of your image, so that it is surrounded by empty space. However, due to the presence of the stalk you may find it beneficial to move your camera to the portrait position so that you can fit everything in. ‘

Ethics

While collecting and shooting natural objects is a straightforward task, the ethical implications are something that must be considered by the photographer.

‘Some people may feel unsure about the fact that we’ve used the wings from dead birds,’ says Paul. ‘But there is nothing
illegal about taking roadkill or animals that have died a natural death. Using these subjects allows the photographer to achieve shots that they would not be able to get while the subject is alive. They also allow you to make a beautiful image, which means you can celebrate the life of the bird through a stunning photograph.’

On the opposite end of the scale, Paul points out that it is illegal to collect wild bird’s eggs. ‘I would strongly advise people not to do this,’ says Paul. ‘We worked with quail’s eggs, but these were purchased legally from a breeder on the internet. Quail are bred in captivity for their eggs and meat. The eggs themselves are incredibly attractive and can be brought from some supermarkets or directly from breeders.’

But these issues do not stop at animals – flowers and plants are also subjects that must be respected.

‘I believe that you should never pick wild flowers just to create some photographs for yourself,’ says Paul. ‘For many species it’s just plain illegal but for others it’s a question of ethics. If it’s a flower from your garden that you’re going to cut anyway, then that’s fine. The same applies if it’s a weed. But if it’s a wild specimen, then I’m against any kind of interference.’

  1. 1. Macro Still Life Masterclass with Paul Hobson
  2. 2. Objects
  3. 3. Lighting
  4. 4. Backlighting, Rim Lighting and Silhouettes
  5. 5. Composition
  6. 6. White Balance
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