“We the few, who have done so much with so little, now attempt the impossible with nothing.”
My week long road trip has returned me to a seemingly impossible problem: producing professional looking closeup and macro photography. I have located many fine rocks, gems and minerals to illustrate my book but none of them possess any value unless I can photograph them in sharp focus.
On the positive side, my recent purchase of a light tent is allowing me to take publishable photographs of larger specimens, those three to five inches and bigger. Success! But the world of macro photography is a dark art. It requires specialized equipment and patience beyond that of art restorers working on bringing back the Last Supper.
I do have some right equipment, a macro lens bought at great expense some time ago. And a tripod that should be steady enough. Even with the right tools, however, this process is like handing professional equipment to a beginning woodworker and asking them to produce fine cabinetry in a week. Money can’t buy experience.
Taking a close up shot of a minuscule mineral requires multiple photographs of the object at different focal points or ranges and then blending them all together in Photoshop. I’ve produced images I can tolerate myself, perhaps good enough for the web, but nothing approaching what I see in the rock and gem magazines.
I’m thinking of taking two weeks off from writing to devote myself solely to photography. I’ve considered hiring a professional photographer to give me pointers but this is a labor intensive pursuit and the cost of a consultant for even one day would be prohibitive. Check out the photo below.
Notice how the dark crystal is in focus, more or less? And the feldspar closest to the lens, the material closest to the camera, is in best focus? In the ideal photograph, all surfaces of this crystal cluster would be in focus.
The idea is to take ten or twelve shots of different points, each of these in sharp focus, neglecting the rest of the subject. Then, Photoshop merges all of the images, resulting in a photo that combines every sharply focused point into one glorious photograph, everything well defined. Unlike the photograph above.
I am trying to be positive.
Update! I may have a way to make smoother progress. My current light box is great but there is no way for me to reach through the small openings to take a photo of a specimen in the middle of the box. My head would get in the way of the lights and the reflective interior of the box, even if I could manage to get my head through.
But, using a horizontal arm on my tripod, I could easily slide my camera in to get as close as needed to the specimen. I’ve just ordered such an arm. How, then, might you ask, will I be able to see anything through the viewfinder, since the camera will be inside the box?
Canon makes an app for remote shooting. I can view an image through my phone and take shots from it. Previously, when I got my camera two years ago, the app was balky and unpredictable and a general pain. But they have improved it tremendously and this morning I was getting good, predictable results. Between these two developments I may be on my way toward my goal.
Update! Smartphone not needed. Nor the fancy horizontal arm I ordered. Using the slider mechanism below and my backup cameral I have managed to take a series of good photos using just the lightbox. Here’s a post where you can see my best image. (external link)
Keep in mind, however, that photo stacking is not point and shoot. I may have to take a dozen individual shots just to produce a finished, publishable photo. A real time thief. To aid in this precise, individual shooting, I’ve also ordered an inexpensive rail slider. It fits on the horizontal arm and allows precise back and forth movement for the camera. With all this fiddling, I may be heading in the right direction to make macro a manageable feat.
What’s a professional’s setup? They use what are called full sensor DSLRs, not mirrorless cameras like the one I have. (I bought my EOS M3 for its compact size, low cost, and low weight.) For a professional, a standard camera body, Canon, used, starts at $600. The recognized Canon macro lens for such a full sensor DSLR is the EF 100 f 2.8L. That’s $650 to $700. The enabling industry recognized software is from Helicon, and license packages go up to $200. ‘Course, these are all minimum costs. While passable photography can be had from a camera phone, publishable macro photography is the province of the well heeled or the supremely inventive.