Blog entry January 24, 2011
by Zach Schierl (with photos by Renee Rusler)
While warmer temperature have ushered away the snow for the time being, here at Whitman Mission the memory of the cold icy conditions from last month is still fresh in our minds. Given the often monotonous appearance of snow and fog, gray winter days present some interesting opportunities for close-up, or "macro" photography.
While landscapes cloaked in a blanket of snow and fog may sometimes seem unappealing at first glance, if you've ever looked at a picture taken with the camera lens pressed right up against a snowy leaf or ice-encrusted grass blade, you know that there is a whole other world of shapes and patterns waiting to be discovered. Macro photography is technically defined as photography where your subject appears as large (or larger) in the picture than it does in real life. Images of objects that are slightly smaller than "life-size" would be termed close-up photography. Technicalities aside, one of the great things about macro and close-up photography is that it's actually easier to do with small point and shoot cameras than professional DSLR's that cost thousands of dollars because of the size of the image sensor in the camera. Even the most basic digital camera tends to have a "macro" setting, which means that this is an area of photography that anyone can experiment with.
Macro photography presents some interesting technical challenges, first and foremost of which is focusing. Obviously, if you want to get a good image of an ice crystal, you're going to need to get your camera lens pretty close to the object. In normal shooting mode, your camera will not want to focus on something that's only a foot or even a few inches away. Switching to the aforementioned "macro" mode will fix this and allow you to focus on things only a foot or so away from your lens. My compact Canon digital camera even has a "super macro" mode where I can literally press the lens right up to the object I'm shooting and still be able to get a sharp image.
Because you are going to have the camera so close to the subject, lighting is one of the other main concerns. Just make sure you position yourself in such a way as to not be blocking the main source of light, whether that's the sun or artificial lights if you're indoors. A flash will often be unhelpful at such short range unless you have some sort of device to diffuse the light. The internet contains many websites that will show you how to build a simple DIY flash diffuser for macro photography.
Finally, the best hint is just to experiment and have fun. Just like shooting in black and white, close-up photography is a genre that really forces you to adopt a completely different perspective on the world around you. As someone who shoots predominantly landscapes, and is therefore normally looking at the big picture, I probably don't notice the finer details that make for good close-up photos as often as I should, but when I do I am always amazed at what I see!