During the pandemic I have sworn to myself that I would not let my photography skills atrophy despite the fact that I cannot get out and do my regular job, i.e. photograph birds.
So far this year, I’ve missed two trips to Texas, two to Arizona, two to Florida, two to Alaska, one to Ohio, one to New Jersey, one to Asia, and coming up, I’ll miss my annual trip to Bosque del Apache, New Mexico. These are just the major expeditions I will miss. It boils down to me needing to make a complete change in the way I do things so as many of you now know, I built a product studio in my new house. I have been learning more and more about product photography with an emphasis on photographing my guitar collection.
The next natural step for me was to start doing some macro work in my studio. Guitars offer up many possibilities as a macro subject. Once you get small (as one of my mostly macro shooting pals calls it) you’ve entered into a whole new realm of possibility. You need to learn to “see” in a new way, and if you can explore with a beginner’s mind (Shoshin) you may be surprised (and even delighted) at what you can achieve.
Having developed a general “style” if you will in regards to my guitar photography, I decided to branch out into macro.
Fortunately, Olympus makes a very good macro lens. The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens weighs less than seven ounces and is very sharp. With an effective focal length of 120mm, it’s good for getting in close very easily.
I decided to try making a few macro images with my Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay short scale bass. I used the Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK III body with the 60mm macro. This is a very lightweight combo that is easy to work with.
I started looking at the guitar with my naked eye, focusing in on generally interesting areas that might offer up some macro bounty. I found that by then moving the camera to my eye, scoping things out in a macro view, I was more easily able to do the most important thing when you make macro images. Choose a point of focus, look for the most important detail, decide what you want to emphasize or take focus away from and start framing what will be your final picture from there.
I guarantee you that if you look closely enough, long enough, when using a macro lens you will absolutely find something that you want to photograph.
For these two images I didn’t go crazy. I just wanted to focus on the branding and the surrounding tuning peg and strings as well as the fretboard. These are things that we generally take for granted or don’t really notice because we are trying to accomplish something that doesn’t require us to pay attention there. For instance, when I pick up the bass I intend to play it so I don’t stare at the fretboard.
When making macro photographs you get to study and see and illustrate those fine details and it may give you or someone else a special appreciation for the subject.
If you are bored with your photography or circumstances leave you unable to do the things you normally do, give macro a try.
Here are seven quick tips for macro newbies
- Depth-of-field is VERY, VERY, VERY narrow when you are in macro mode. Stop way down and you still may have a fraction of a fraction of an inch in terms of depth-of-field.
- Keeping in mind tip one, be sure of your focus. Manual focus is usually best in macro. If your camera has manual focusing tools like focus peaking, use them and put the focus on the exact point where you want the viewer’s attention.
- Make sure your camera is locked down tight. Tripod, Platypod, bean bag, whatever – find a way to steady the camera.
- Compose in the camera. You may have fewer options to crop in post when working in macro.
- Pay strict attention to both your foreground and background and eliminate clutter or distracting objects.
- Most modern Olympus cameras offer focus stacking. If your camera offers focus stacking use this to defeat the very narrow depth-of-field you find in macro work.
- Make sure to light the subject. You need light that you can put directly on the pinpoint of focus in the frame, not the background or foreground (unless you are looking for some sort of special creative effect.