Last week while browsing photos on a photo sharing site I frequent, I noticed work by a photographer in the US that I thought might be fun to try out. Buck Christensen has taken some great travel, landscape, and wildlife pictures, but it was his floral photos that I wanted to emulate. Before buying flowers and having them die while I figured out the setup, I went outside to grab some dead plants to practise on. After a bit of fiddling, I figured out the technical aspects of the shots.
I used a large softbox as the background (similar to my food shot), and a beauty dish (the one I made :-D) from a variety of angles to the subject. For those not familiar with a softbox, it is a thing you put on a studio light that creates a large rectangle of soft light. A beauty dish’s light is soft but more directional than the softbox. These photos were primarily shot using one or more extension tubes with my 70-200 F2.8L or 24-70 F2.8L lenses. An extension tube is a short metal cylinder that is placed between the lens and the camera body, and allows a lens to focus on objects much closer than its natural minimum focal distance. Extension tubes have no optics inside, so they don’t change the image quality, in theory. In practise, this might not be the case. The extension tubes I have are a cheap after-market brand (Aputure), which I have to say are not very good. One would think that the brand shouldn’t matter much for a couple metal cylinders, however I think true Canon brand tubes would be better made. The problem is the fit: the Aputure extension tubes have a very loose fit to both the lens and body mounts. This means that there is a very noticeable wiggle between the camera and the lens when the tube is in place. And when you stack 2 or 3 extension tubes (to get even closer to the subject), the wiggle is amplified each time. As a result, the lens may not be properly aligned with the sensor, so that the focal plane isn’t parallel to it, and you can have one part of the image in focus while another part is not. I haven’t carried out any experiments on this, so possibly the wiggle is only axial (i.e., doesn’t angle the path of light), but my feeling is that it is angled, which is annoying.
Other technical details: I shot these photos with my PCB Einstein 640 lights, on a tripod, and with a remote shutter release, at small apertures (usually smaller than F18), low ISO (100-400), and 1/160 shutter speed. In some of the images I experimented with a technique known as focus stacking, to extend the depth of field. In macro photography (and other styles), the depth of field can be shallow, meaning that only the focal plane will be sharp and anything in front and behind it will be blurry. Sometimes that is exactly what you want, but when you don’t, you can take several shots, focusing on parts closer and further from the camera in each one, and merge them in Photoshop to extend the depth of field. I had never done this before, so it was a good exercise.
After getting the lighting right, I started to take photos of my first subject, dead leaves on a twig. I aimlessly rotated it, moved the light around, and was generally unsatisfied with the result. I realized I needed to examine the subject carefully even before setting up the photo. What part of the flower or leaf am I really interested in? The back? The curve of two leaves just touching each other? The way the leaf’s ‘skin’ is tight between ribs? It’s important to identify exactly what characteristic of the subject you want to photograph, and then it’s much easier to find the best way of capturing it with respect to arrangement, lighting, angle, etc. (kind of like physics, actually: once you understand the physics of a problem and you can draw a picture, the equations fall out naturally! 😛 ) Though I’d already realized this technique for wedding décor photography, it was great to be reminded of it and practise it in a controlled setting, since it can be applied to any photography, like portraits (study the person to determine best angle and light), landscapes (what is the unique characteristic of the scene), travel (what in the scene would make someone want to go there), sports (how can I best arrange the athlete for the desired effect with the setting I have), etc.
I think the pictures turned out alright. What do you think? Of the pictures that are both black and white and colour, which do you prefer? What’s your favourite shot? I’d love to get some comments!
For next week, I’ve decided to take a break. I’m getting ready to go on a trip first to Paris, and then to Tasmania in Australia (for a family vacation plus bike tour), so there’s a lot on my mind at the moment. If I can get stuff done quickly, I may still take a photo before I head off, but we’ll see (and yes I’m aware that I’ve already fallen behind one week…I’m just gonna go with it ). I hope to be able to continue with my projects while on my trip, but we’ll see how that goes!