Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Death of Macro


June Bug series 1-2
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
No, macro isn’t dead –far from it! It seems to me that there are more people shooting macro, and interested in macro photography, than ever before. But the wave of excitement might just hit the beach and flatten out if the quality of macro images doesn’t improve…

In other disciplines, like birding, it’s very difficult to be at the top and the difference between being in the upper ten percent or the lower ninety is marginal –the “competition” is fierce! If you look at the photographers that are at the top they all have some similar things in common: They compose their images well, they know the difference between good light and bad, they understand how a flash works and how to use it, and they learn about the behavior of the subjects that they shoot so they can take advantage of it to get better photos. When they post their work and ask for constructive criticism then they get it –and most take what they are told and apply the advice to better their work.

But for some odd reason the same standards are not used in macro photography, and it’s killing our discipline! If I had a dollar for every time someone posted an out of focus, centered, image of an insect’s back side I’d have all the money I need for new gear. But if I had a dollar for every time someone told the photographer of that poorly composed, poorly focused image that they were doing a good job I could retire…

Giving someone positive feedback on a bad image is one of the most self serving and selfish things an experience photographer can do! It might make you popular with the masses, but you’re not helping anyone improve their work by being dishonest. If the people in the upper ten percent in macro really care about macro photography and really want to see the discipline get the respect it deserves then they are going to have to start giving honest, constructive criticism. Odds are you won’t be on too many Christmas card lists, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re making a difference –and you can point to the success of macro photography and claim that you had a part in making it happen…

Since I care about macro photography and I want to see it taken seriously as a photographic discipline I’ll give you honest, constructive criticism on your work if you ask me for it –but don’t ask me to critique your photos if you’re just looking for a pat on the back. I’ve also taken on a few people as their mentor, and I’m looking for new students, so if you need help with your macro photography contact me and I’ll start working with you to improve your photos. I challenge all of the top macro photographers to do the same…

One final note: I’ve stopped participating in “Barney Forums” –I love you, you love me web sites where you’ll get positive feedback on a photo no matter how bad it is. I can’t lend my support to those sites by being active on them when, IMHO, they are part of the reason why macro is not taken seriously as a photographic discipline…

27 comments:

Spook said...

*Pats Dalantech on his back*

I LOVE YOU!

No seriously, It needed to be said. I left a Danish barney-forum for the exact same reasons, after people going ape over my constructive criticism. When the out-of-focus backside is somebodys child, things get ugly real quick... I got 3 pages of flames on my blog when I wrote a post about why I left. I published all their comments as the only thing they did was proving me right.

The only forum I use now is FredMiranda (where I bumped into your pictures, followed the link to your blog, signed up for the RSS and here I am...).

On FM there is a TON of talented people posting out-of-this-world images. More importantly: Most of them are really nice guys that will answer your questions or just tell you why your OOF image of a bee's behind is not that great.

Thanks again for saying what needed to be said. When I get to be dictator of the world (Now accepting henchmen applications) there will be a law stating that everyone that buys a camera signs a piece of paper where the officially acknowledge that owning the camera does not instantly turn them into photographic artists.

Dalantech said...

@ spook: Even at Fred's there are a few people who are more concerned about being popular than being honest. I had left Fred's for several months at one point and when I came back it to had degenerated into a "Barney Forum" and I caught all kinds of hell trying to get it back on course...

I'm not perfect, and that's why I want people to be honest with me when they see my work. I wouldn't be half the photographer I am today if my mentor, Mark Plonsky, had just told me what he thought I wanted to hear...

What really drives me crazy is when people ask for C&C but they really don't want it, and get mad at me when I don't give them that pat on the back that they are really looking for...

macroinstantes said...

Wow, you not only do good pictures! You say some of the most lucid things I've read recently!

I have a weblog in which I published photos of insects and flowers. Firstly, 95% of the photos are not real macro photos, I will say macro sensu lato (very 'lato'). Secondly, I post lots of bad photos (but I know they are bad, I think this is important LOL) and a few 'more correct'.

Why?

I try to publish a daily post. Honestly, since I can not spend all the time to photography, it is impossible for me to make 30 photos 'correct' per month. On the other hand, a bad photo from a photographic point of view, can have documentary value. I think the problem is in deciding whether my blog is a blog about photography or a blog about Nature. And I think this happens in many sites and forums, people share insects, not photographs.

But after reading your article, I feel guilty and I will think about all this ... ;-)

Best regards.

Mstic said...

Hey dalantech. All I can really say is I absolutely agree with you. I'll be sure to get in contact with you when I get my macro gear together. Appreciate the fact that you're willing to help/assist people out. Thanks.

Dalantech said...

@ macroinstantes: I've published a few bad photos as well, but it's when I'm writing a tutorial and I'm trying to show why something is wrong (using my own mistakes as examples).

You wanna hear something funny: Most people think that I'm good at macro because I don't post the outtakes. I could be the worst shooter on the planet, but if I only publish my best images no one will ever know... ;)

There is, IMHO, a big difference between documentary macro and photographic art. I know a lot of shooters who take images of insects just for the sake of capturing them on the camera and for no other reason. I see nothing wrong with it -it's just one style of many. But the problem with documentary macro photographers is that they don't stress composition in their work, and it shows. A war correspondent is a documentary photographer, and even their images are correctly composed. Why should macro be any different?...

Dalantech said...

@ mstic: Just drop me an email when you're ready to get started :)

Spook said...

I'm eager to get started as well, but I am currently looking at two different macro lenses:

1) Canon EF 100 F/2.8 USM
2) Sigma 150mm F/2.8 DG HSM Macro

Which one to start with? SOMEBODY just blew my money on a 24-70L so I wont be buying today... just wondering which one to go for when the oppotunity arises.

Dalantech said...

@ spook: Both are excellent lenses and you can't go wrong with either one...

Jason said...

Great little piece here - I do find that this holds true for non-macro photography as well, I think too many people are afraid of hurting other peoples feelings with comments and the like... heck even when I've blatantly ASKED for constructive criticism on my shots, it rarely comes...

Chaval ^^ said...

I post my photos on Flickr, yes, it's rare to get honest feedback there, people is mostly looking to be popular and get selected in explore page... one will comment and fave other people photos expecting they will do the same in his stream.

The only feedback you have is that usually the photos with more views/comments/faves are your best.

You can also post on critique groups, members are forced to critique bad points on a specific shot, sometimes you get good feedback, but would be better if your gallery is considered, not a single photo.

Ah, I would appreciate your menthoring :)

My Flickr

kwest said...

Now that is an article right up my street. We have been in contact before but I lost your email address when I changed computers. Looking for a willing student then I am offering myself as a victim. All I really shoot is macro and would love to get critique from you. Please advise what is my next step to sign up!

Dalantech said...

@ Jason: In macro the problem is really bad...

@ Chaval: We'll get started soon! I think you have a lot of talent -we just need to make some minor adjustments to get your work to the next level...

@ kwest: Send me a link to your gallery -you just signed up :)

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll admit to being a person who takes centered images, that are out of foucs, of bugs (and their backs)..but I have an excuse! I still need a macro flash...trying to hand-hold macro shots that are above 1x is hard :(

I do o.k on occasion though :)

macro junkie said...

I really appreciate all the help you have giving me over the past 8 months..I wont foeget it:)

Coppertop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coppertop said...

Well said John!

You've always been a strong support for macro photographers and I can only hope that I have the opportunity to pass on all the advice and help you've given me over the past year.

Tyler said...

Hi Dalantech,
I recently stumbled on your blog and have already learned alot from some of your old posts, pics and recommended readings. I am pretty new to photography but have always appreciated macro photography and am trying to improve my photographic skills. I would love to have you as my mentor. I can't seem to find your email address so I am just replyig to this post. Let me know how to get in contact with you.
Thanks,
Tyler

BoštjanS said...

I am pretty new to macro and photography, I am shooting macro only about half a year. I am alway open for critics even the hard ones, but I usually don't get them a lot. You helped me pretty much on FM. I would be real honored if you would sometimes criticize my photos on my blog, so I could improve my macro photos.
Thanks, Boštjan

Dalantech said...

Thanks for all the feedback folks!!

markop said...

I, too, started out two years ago by posting the classic centered photos of insect's backs and, although I like a pat in the back as the next guy (and I've admittedly received plenty of that), truth is I wouldn't have made any progress since then, had I not received help and constructive criticism from experienced photographers, especially those who practice macro.

So, you really have a point there and I agree 100% with what you say. I'm still looking for constructive criticism (I'd love to hear your opinion on my work anytime, good or bad) but most important I owe to rethink how I treat other photographers as well. I should start being more selective on other people's photos (as I have become with my own), and give back the help I got in the first place...

Well said, John!

Dalantech said...

@ markop: Send me a link to your work and I'll take a look :)

markop said...

You've already seen my work :-)

I'm Stavros, from flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/markop/

Sorry it wasn't evident in my previous comment :-)

niagaragirl said...

Good post. I have been contemplating one for my own blog titled "How Do You Tell Someone They Suck?" I have an acquaintance who tries to shoot flowers, and his stuff is just really, really bad. Plus he tries to machine gun everything and winds up with a thousand frames of crap. It's snow and cold here, but come spring, rest assured I'll be sent hundreds of bad flower pics again ;-)

Well enough venting. Just rooting around your blog again. Wonderful images and great insight into what you do.

Elliotte Rusty Harold said...

There's a big difference between bird and macro (especially insect macro) photography you need to keep in mind: the world really doesn't need another photograph of a Great Blue Heron or a Bald Eagle, no matter how well composed. But it does need photographs of many, probably most, insect species. For scientific purposes a centered, fuzzy top-down photo of a beetle or moth may be superior to a 5x macro in-focus close-up of the insects's face. Not everyone in the macro space is trying for art. Much of it is simply about documentation and exploration.

Dalantech said...

@ Elliot: I'd argue that macro doesn't need any more top down, centered, fuzzy images ;)

HansW said...

Hello,

I just got a 100mm macrolens and try to discover the field. I know I'm not one of the specimen-collectors but I haven't found out my focus yet.
Could I get some feedback on a couple of try-outs? Please forget the sensor-dust, I'm working on that. If I have to post them elsewhere, please let me know. I put 4 pictures on http://www.boomklever.com/sv2_close_up/index.html

regards,
Hans Willemsen
hans@boomklever.com

CeeMariePhotography said...

Hello... I am new to photography and I currently use a canon Power Shot, I know it's far from anything great but for now it does what I need it to do. I will admit I do take photo's of bugs from above and they aren't all that great but for someone like me who has taught themselves everything they know so far about photography and editing I think I've done a good job so far. I really enjoy photography and I want to learn as much as I can but cannot afford the camera that I want at the moment. I also look for advice and criticism for my work but no one is willing to give any... I take everything people say about my art in a good way. I want to know what I've done wrong and how I could fix it.. :) I am learning how to use a tripod right now. So far I really like using one. Can't wait to get a better camera. :) Thanks for this post I enjoyed reading it. :)