Learn all about how I take my photos of tiny worlds
1. Start with the gear you have
One of the first questions I get asked is: what camera are you using?
While I think you can take a good photo with about any camera, the gear is of course still important, as it informs/limits the set of artistic decisions you can make.
Macro without macro lens
I use the Sony Alpha 58, which is an entry level DSLR, together with the 18-55mm kit lens. That's right - it's actually not a macro lens I'm using! While it came down to cost in the beginning to not use a "proper" macro lens, I think those restrictions also gave me an interesting input on my process - with such a lens you tend to capture more of the environment around your subject. If I'd have used a macro lens, I might be just taking the cliche super-closeups with blurry background. I'm not saying those kind of images are bad, but it certainly is interesting to detach yourself from established photography cliches and find your own thing.
"Tiny Worlds" started with a digicam
And to further the argument that you can shoot good photos with about any camera, here is the photo which started the Tiny Worlds photography series, shot back in 2012.
This was shot with a consumer level digicam. While this gave me of course limitations in terms of what I could capture and how it was a great starting point. My suggestion is to start with the gear you have at hand and build from there.
You don't even have to buy a digicam, most phone cameras nowadays have a way better image quality than my old digicam used to have.
Other gear I use
So much for my choice of camera and lens. Besides that some gear I regularly use include:
2. Macro motifs are everywhere
Now that we got the gear out of the way - let's talk about the - in my opinion - most important part: finding a motif and seeing to what ideas and feelings it relates to for you.
The nice thing about macro photography is that interesting motives can be found about anywhere. Even little plants growing out of cracks in a sidewalk may offer an interesting motif, a tiny ecosystem. For example, the photo above was taken on the bottom of an empty flooding basin. That said, I usually prefer to take my photos in the forest or garden though, as you can imagine :P But if you have nothing like that nearby, don't let it keep you down - you just will need to search a bit harder.
See the world with other eyes
And if you don't find something, it's not so bad either. I try to keep in mind that there is always also the process that matters getting to the motif. Photography is a great excuse to explore the world and see it with other eyes. The resulting photos are just a great way to share those new views and maybe inspire people to look differently at things too!
How to find little animals
That said here are some practical tips to find little animals when exploring the garden or forest:
3. How I capture a motif
Ok, now that I gave you some tips for looking for motives, let's talk about how I actually go about capturing them. I'll try to give you some key-points to how I do it. Note that you shouldn't just copy it 1:1, but rather use it as inspiration and a starting point to find your own approach.
Here is the image I'm gonna break down:
I shot this image during a time where a lot of mushrooms were growing in the forest. Those ones stood out to me as they were growing out of a decaying pinecone - wonderfully symbolizing the circle of death and life you can find in nature (hence the title "New Life").
I shot this photo during "golden hour". As you can see everything has a soft glow to it and there are no harsh shadows. I like to work with backlight during this time of the day, especially on translucent objects such as the fungi or moss. Another thing that is great about this time of day is the interesting background it usually allows for. I love those little points of light, called "bokeh". If you want to get "bokeh"/achieve a blurry background you have two factors that influence that. One is your f/Stop, the lower it is the greater the effect will be. The other is (if you are using a zoom lens) how much you are zoomed in to your motif. I usually try to max those both variables out while still keeping composition etc. in mind.
Composition "like you are standing there"
Talking about composition one thing I really like to do is to place my camera as close to the forest floor as possible and get a perspective on my object slightly from below - making it seem huge. Then I often combine it with a strong (blurry) foreground, giving you the sense as if you could actually be standing there. In this image, I used the moss for that. The rest of the composition process is largely intuition while keeping some principles in mind (empty space, leading lines, etc.). It definitively is good to know some composition principles, so you can use them consciously in your images to communicate a certain feeling.
Manual focus and white balance
Last but not least, two more things on my process of this image. This was shot in manual focusing mode, as my camera's autofocus sometimes has problems with focusing on the exact thing I want it to. But for many other motifs, I tend to rely on autofocus, as it often is hard to see if the focus is perfect on the tiny LCD screen.
The other thing I want to mention beside the focus is how I approach the colors/white balance in my images. I already mentioned the gray card in my gear section. Basically what you do is take a photo of the card in the light of the scene, so the camera knows how to balance the other colors based on that. With my camera, it usually works way better than the automatic white balance modes. However how good this works, is largely dependent on the software in your camera. Usually, you want to do the whitebalance using post-processing software, as it gives you more control. That's something I still am getting accustomed to.
I hope you found this look behind the scenes of my photography helpful! If you have any more questions or follow-up questions on what I wrote, feel free to ask them in the comments!
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