Create stunning macro photography at home
Or to put it another way, a creative approach to the subject with the Irix 150mm macro f2.8 1:1 lens
Article is prepared by Iwona Sikorka , Irix brand Photographer
We often associate macrophotography with scenes from a meadow, insects or flowers. This spring and summer period is a period of very intensive activity because, undoubtedly, this is the most fertile time in this field.
Sometimes, however, there are those occasions where there is little or no opportunity of shooting in field conditions, with indifferent weather contributing to the lack of time being outside at the right period, and this time of the year generally offers very little assistance to macro photography. There’s those winter evenings that go on forever, and are generally gray and gloomy. But there’s nothing to worry about; you don’t have to put down your equipment for months on end or wait for the weather to improve.
Here, I’ll try to show you that shooting at home can not be only pleasant, but also effective.
There are several benefits of shooting at home. We have full control over the entire exposition – both subject and camera – and the time and conditions to set everything up precisely. And there’s no wind! Everyone who’s attempted to take those outdoor shots knows that even the minimal amount of grass or flower movement results in a blurred photograph.
Now in home conditions you’ve got better control over the light. You don’t have to worry about very harsh sunlight that can effectively hinder your photography.
You can use the fanciest and strangest gadgets available that support shooting, and no one will look at you strangely. ☺
So, what to photograph?
Well, you can take lots of pictures, of course, but it all depends on what’s playing in your soul.
These can be various items: textures, flowers collected from the pot or bought in a flower shop, water drops, ice cubes, fruit, various delicacies, the list is endless. All you need to do is just look around the house a little; you’ll certainly find many interesting subjects there! ☺
In this article, I would like to tell you how to photograph flowers at home. Regardless of whether it’s day or night, you’ll be able to achieve a very similar effect to the soft morning light.
Equipment. The equipment that I used to take all the photographs is a Pentax K3, plus an Irix Lens 150mm f2.8 . A tripod is also absolutely essential in home conditions, and it’s important that it is solid and stable.
Lighting. If someone has a macro lamp then that’s a great thing; but if not, well, it’s not a significant problem as it’s enough to use two or three desk lamps, preferably with a power switch.
Diffusion material. This is needed on lamps to diffuse the light. The light emitted from the lamps is often too harsh; ugly reflections and unsightly hard shadows are created, and too much contrast causes the photograph to lose its detail. Diffusers can be made at very little cost; they can be sheets of white paper, cups of large yogurt, polypropylene material such as an apron that is easy to get from any workplace safety equipment shop, or polypropylene films that add interesting colour effects to the background in addition to softening light. I used foam in which I put in Nashi pears… and theses are available in your local grocery store. ☺ I know, from my own experience and many photographers, that my own home-made diffusers work best, and any additional materials literally cost pennies. But some of these materials can easily melt, so remember to fix them at a safe distance from the light bulb.
Diaphragm. This only needs to be something small – which you can also put together yourself by sticking a slightly creased piece of aluminium foil onto a piece of paper, for example. A white sheet of paper or a mirror works well.
Background. This can be a wall or any other hand made backgrounds such as something that suggests gradient, glitter paper, coloured papers, all shiny decorations, and so on – there are loads of things that can be placed into the background for a nice colourful bokeh effect.
A floristic sponge. Also known as an Oasis, these are easily available in florists or garden stores. This is a very useful block of light porous material in which you put flowers, and you can create compositions at your discretion. The hard sponge should be soaked with water so that fresh flowers can last longer.
Flowers. At winter time, fresh flowers can only be purchased at the florist’s, with the larger outlets often having quite a wide choice. Dry flowers are best in autumn; maybe the house will also have some dried flower arrangements.
Flower washer to obtain the dew effect
A place to shoot. You’ll get great results in the morning, shooting the window glass when the light is still soft and delicate. During the day there’s a lot of light at home and you can easily afford to take pictures. The place doesn’t matter, but it is important that the light isn’t too harsh. In the evening you can choose any corner for the photo – the only thing you need to consider is access to the plug socket for connecting the lamps!
Here’ is my way of photographing, evening time! ☺
Here’s what I do with my photography in the evening.
As you can see in the examples above, you don’t need to have a professional photographic studio at home to take a delicate and subtle photo that’s been suitably illuminated with the appropriate lighting.
For the background – and using dry pastels (available in any art shop) – I coloured a page myself bought from shop. I highly recommend pastels; these just cost pennies, and thanks to them you can conjure up the effect of a gradient background. And best of all, you can paint several colour combinations in just a few moments on just a few pages.
I also set a Christmas glitter decoration in the background, thanks to which a lot of delicate glitters were created. I put the flower into a floristic sponge (oasis floral foam), and placed a gypsum branch behind.
In order for the pictures to present the illusion of being taken in natural light, it’s very important to have the lamps set correctly. The general rule is not to illuminate the photographed motif from the front because the image you get may look quite artificial. It’s better that the object is slightly underexposed, but the result is that it does look natural.
I placed one lamp in the background to highlight it, the result creating an effect similar to a sunlit area of a meadow. I placed a second lamp behind the object, highlighting it from the base. In this way I obtain the effect of shooting against the sun. With such a setting, larger or smaller shadows can be created at the front of the object, and therefore becomes necessary to fill them with a lamp or a reflector.
The strength of the light in the background and its brightness determine the strength – which becomes necessary – of illumination of the object at the front. Due to the fact that I’ve illuminated the background considerably, the use of a blender wasn’t very effective, and in this particular case it required the use of a third lamp to fill the shadows. You can also light up the built-in flash in the camera, but then it becomes necessary to put on a diffuser, which will soften this. You also have to remember to correct the white balance because artificial light often gives distorted colours.
The object distance, that is, the distance from the plane of the lens to the object being photographed (here, the flower), was about 70 cm, and the distance from the object to the background was less than half a metre. So, in order to obtain a nice, fairly round and sharp enough image, I could close the aperture to a maximum of f / 5.6. A closer stop would allow me more depth of field, but this would result in clutter in the background. The closer you are to the subject, the shallower the GO. This allows you to obtain a more blurred background, even with a solid aperture. Unfortunately, the flower would have occupied almost the entire frame and the picture would have been more atlas.
All these pictures were taken using a tripod, although shooting in the evening requires setting long exposures. In addition, I recommend using the remote control, with the option of pre-raising the mirror or if someone doesn’t have the use of a self-timer in order to obtain still images. Set the ISO sensitivity at its lowest; while working on a tripod there’s no need to raise this parameter. I also encourage you to use the “M” manual mode – it will allow you to have full control over the photographed scene.
Almost all of these photos were taken late at night as the window served as a background, onto which I could paste on various Christmas decorations. I really like it when something’s going on in the distance. I don’t like having a sterile background behind the scene very much and I love bokeh. If you want to achieve a similar effect, then any trinkets, dry flowers or pots will do just that.
When we want to photograph flowers or larger flower arrangements, we should go a little further. The Irix 150 mm f / 2.8 lens allows you at least 31cm of the minimum focusing distance at 1:1 scale, but sometimes it’s worth using a 1:2 or 1:3 scale. However, you then have to find yourself a larger room for working in, with at least a two-metre distance from the lens to the object, plus – more or less – the same distance from the object to the background. This will allow you a wider spectrum of activities in the field of aperture and for the whole scene. By closing the aperture, the background will not lose its ‘plasticity’; while opening the maximum aperture, it’s even possible to fit the whole object within the depth of field. Working on a fully open aperture (or f / 2.8 in the case of the Irix 150 mm) gives both a soft (outside the focus area) and a sharp drawing (where you want it), so you can conjure up really magical images while maintaining a very good quality image. With the Irix 150 mm f / 2.8 Macro 1:1 lens we have to focus manually, but this really isn’t a problem. In macro photography, the autofocus is often useless – it’s often fooled and ends up wandering, more so when used for photography at home, at night. The focus ring is extremely precise which allows very accurate focusing, but most importantly, you have full control over the scene being photographed.
In terms of lighting, the principle remains the same as in the first example, that is, the light of the lamp on the background, the second light behind the object and highlighting it from below, plus filling the shadows with a lamp or blend in the front. In the case of the above photographs, the background was illuminated with a little weaker light, thanks to which I was able to lighten up the flowers with a blend without any problem. Often I’m also having to assist in adjusting the exposure upwards by one or two plots. When taking pictures against the window, you can also use an additional light source such as a flashlight. The light of the flashlight will reflect off the pane in the form of a large circle, thus imitating the sun or moon in this way. In order to obtain beautiful patch of reflected light in the picture, you can spray the window with water.
The use of lighting in photography can be a tough nut to crack, but it’s much easier to tame it when you’re in home conditions. It allows you to better understand all this, and in addition you can play with the light and create the most intuitive effects.
Finally, let me make it clear that it isn’t my intention to play tricks with nature. I think there’s nothing around that’s able to create an accurate effect. Nothing can replace the real sun, a meadow, the dew – quite simply, there’s nothing like being outdoors taking photos and enjoying the beauty of nature. It’s about having fun, about the need to photograph, and not to find oneself out of practice before the season hits.
And for those who are just learning, it’s great photo training.