A few months ago, I saw an article in Nikon magazine (April 2013 issue) about taking pin-sharp macro shots. The subject was a tiny car model. The idea was to take a very sharp photo of a tiny car model using macro lens. I remember how I glanced at it and quickly shrugged it off thinking what’s so special about it? Well, this blatant ignorance to this possible new knowledge was due to 1) my lack of lens; yes, I don’t own a macro lens, and 2) my lack of knowledge about how a macro lens works, which I thought can easily shoot anything small and tiny so it can look bigger and sharp in one single shoot. Moronic. I know.
Not long after I skim-read that article, a friend of mine, Kylie (howwemontessori.com), approached me with a project in mind. She was about to launch her new business, an on-line shop that sells some home materials for children’s early life development, and she needed help in taking photographs of small animal models. The photos would be printed on cards and be a part of a Montessori learning based product she’s developing. She wanted identical photographs of the models; a sharp close-up of the animal models, with no shadows, clean colours and no blur. As we sat in a cafe discussing this, my mind went straight to the article I mentioned earlier.
Cut the story short, I set myself ready to do the project. I hired a macro lens, and got all the props I needed. Not until I actually sat behind the camera and looked at my model through the lens, it finally clicked in my head what I did not get when I first reading that article! I finally understood what the lovely people at Nikon magazine actually tried to explain. Yes, I surprise myself sometimes of how slow my mind works in connecting facts and informations, but bear with me, now that everything clicked, it got so much better.
Anyhow, the article says;“It doesn’t matter how good your macro lens is or even how small your aperture is, when you’re working with extreme close-ups it’s challenging to create a deep enough depth of field to get your subject in focus from front to back”.
The shooting part of the models turned out to be more technical and more time consuming than what I first thought. This was where it got interested. Basically what I needed to do was to take several shots (10 to 15 shots for each animal, they were about 5-6 cm tall) with a different point of focus in each one, then combine them in Photoshop before the final edit. Provided all the lighting was fantastic, the camera and lens were ready to go (with the right set-up), and perfect surface for the (tiny animal) models.
First, here’s my set up: (look how teeny weeny the model was)
I created a small studio here, using an empty cardbox (bought in a $2 shop), some white cardboards, and two light boxes. Perfect lighting was easy to do for a studio this small!
I sat half crouched on my kids’ step, after I made sure the camera set-up was right (ISO-f/stop-shutter speed), I set the focus to manual, and I pointed the focus on the model’s nose. I used a remote to reduce shake, then ever so slowly and carefully, I turned the lens, so the focus turned to the space just one or two millimeter behind the nose, got my focus, click the remote, and continued on until the last pointy end of the tail was shot. That’s to make ONE image of that model from that angle (I took at least two different angles to make sure the position of the model emphasised the model’s unique features). A slight shake on the camera/tripod would jeopardise the image, one millimetre slide too far on the lens when I moved the focus point, could lose me one ear, or an eye in the final image. It was a meticulous process.
Next step was processing in Photoshop. First I opened all 10 or 15 images in PS Bridge, to open all 10 to 15 images in layers in Photoshop, then I did Auto-Align Layers (even with tripod it’s very hard to shoot each image in perfect alignment), continued by Auto-Blend Layers to make ONE image, where everything -from nose to tail- was sharp. Like I said before, a slight shake in one image would ruin the whole thing. When an image was ruined, there was no other way but to re-shoot.
I had a week, which was the duration of my lens rental, to finish the shooting of all animals, and additional tiny musical instruments, that came to about 28 pieces or so. This was a crucial week, because I had to make sure I got all the shots needed before I had to return the lens. Then followed a couple of weeks of post-editing.
Here are some of the final images:
I found the job very challenging, but I felt it was a good challenge. This type of photography is not going to be the type I would pursue in the future, but I really appreciate the opportunity to this. I learned a lot. I learned not only the technical side of doing macro shots, I also learned how to finally get my toes a bit wet to start my photography business. I got my business number registered, and knew how to invoice people now, learned how to negotiate/discuss/dealing with a client. It’s a precious baby step towards the right direction.
If you are interested to buy the product that use these images, please go to How We Montessori Shop straight away!