Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Whole Picture


Mason Bee at 5x
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
A little over a year ago I was trying to push the limits of what I could do in a single frame when I took the shot included with this post. It’s a Mason Bee portrait taken hand held at five times life size with a 40D, an MPE-65mm macro lens, and an MT-24EX macro twin flash. At the time I had three years of experience shooting macro images so I knew where the depth of field was, how thick (or thin) it was, and how to place it against the subject to make the most of it. The important bits are in focus, the out of focus bits aren’t in an area that would make them distracting, and I chose to shoot it with a black background to bring out the yellow hair. It took me a few frames to get the image I wanted, but I got it.

But after posting the shot on the Fred Miranda Macro Forum one of the other macro shooters who posts there, Phil (aka Goldenorfe -a shooter I respect for his mad skills), asked a very simple but extremely relevant question: “Why didn’t you shoot it with something in the background?”. Granted I wanted the background to be black –it’s a good contrast choice against all that yellow. But then again so is green and that’s what bothered me about Phil’s question: I could have taken that shot with just about any color in the background other than black since it was early in the morning and the critter was sleeping. From a macro shooter’s perspective I had all the time in the world to make that image and had pushed myself on all the other aspects of getting the shot except the background. I simply let the flash fall off into the abyss so the area behind the critter would be dark, in effect taking the easy way out in an area of the frame that’s just as important as any other. Not good…

One of the reasons why I shoot macro is because it is hard, and by pushing myself I end up with images that are uniquely mine. So since that late March day a year ago I’ve been working on my backgrounds and looking for ways to make them other than black. All I’m doing here is holding the twig the bee is on in front of a grape leaf -there’s no natural light in this one folks, it’s all flash:

Gymnast

Recently while out shooting in a vineyard (testing changes to my lighting -the subject of a future post) I stumbled upon a lethargic honeybee. I really don’t know why, but for some odd reason bees will just slow down. Low temperatures will sometimes drag solitary bees to a crawl, but it was in the upper teens C (high 60s F) so that shouldn’t have made any difference for this honeybee since they normally function well in cool weather. But for whatever reason she just sat there on a flower looking “confused” (either you understand that or you think I’m nuts). Seeing an opportunity I put some honey on the flower to keep her busy and then I picked the flower she was on because it was just too low to the ground. It was only then that I realized that I needed something to use as a backdrop. The poles that were being used to hold up the grapes looked like a decent choice, and they’d allow me to steady my left hand as well.

Honeybee Nom

Important bits in focus? Check. Decent framing? Check. A pleasing background? Well, it’s not black, but it’s not that great either and that’s pretty much the feedback I got from Mark Plonsky (my mentor and the reason I shoot at the level I do today). Hindsight being what it is I should have taken the time to setup something to use as a backdrop, just in case I found a critter to shoot.

*sigh*

Still learning, still pushing myself, and I just don’t see any of that ending any time soon…
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