Photographer A : takes a close-up/macro photo and uploads it on social media platform.
Photographer B : “Hey! That is a great photo. Can you please share your EXIF?”
Photographer A : “Sure. It is XYZ.”
Photog B in his mind, now that I have the EXIF I will implement it on my next photo. The person goes in the field and starts taking photos of subjects. But he/she is unable to match or come close to the style or perception of the photo that was on the social media platform.
Frustrated with the results, the macro gear takes a back seat and normal style of photography resumes.
The question now arises is, does EXIF really matter in macro? Difficult to answer certainly. There is a YES part and there is a NO part. Sadly many incline on the YES side and forget how it affects their photography.
YES applies for the ground rules of macrography. Example a certain aperture is required for a certain depth. Lower shutter speed will result in blurred photos and so on. The basic rules are spread out.
YES also applies when you are inside the exposure triangle and physics constraints. You go beyond these constraints and the photos start to go down in terms of quality.
People ignore the NO part. I also was in the same boat. I was rushing to apply what the other photographer did to replicate in my photos.
The frustration levels were high, outputs were low. It’s after due consideration, I realized that the NO part plays a very big role. Why do you ask?
Enter the concept of “Corresponding Sweet Spots”.
Before I explain further, STOP. Are you posting macro images on social media platforms to generate likes and comments without really understanding the subjects? Yes? Don’t read further. What I say below requires efforts, study and determination and belief in your own creative self. Forget you ever read this article. Your click bait Orkut style followers will be puzzled about the sudden change of style in your macrography.
Ahh… Still interested eh?? Read on…
Corresponding sweet spots concept is of prime importance in macrography. It does not need heavy investment or attending a pro class at the start. What it requires is understanding. Understanding of:
- Your own gear.
- The subjects that you photograph.
- How you light your subject.
- What you see on the net.
In today’s social media stigma, people are running behind what the photographer on the screen has captured. Let me give a quick example that my fellow friend told me the other day.
He recently had posted a photo of an ongoing trend of a lizard on social media platform. The photo went sort of viral and he was approached about the details of location, spotting areas etc. the next day, my friend visited the same spot where he had got the photo and was amazed to see, a dozen photographers sitting in a circle surrounding the specie.
The specie had nowhere to run and the camera shutters were buzzing. Now you can tell me where the creativity in the photo has gone? I have not found the answer till today.
The same scenario comes into play when asking for EXIF. The person who has posted the photo on the platform had his own gear/conditions/subject/scenario that derived the photo that you are looking at.
The next biggest hurdle in viewing photos online is there is no standardized way to judge how much the photo has been edited out. I have seen photos on social media which had a chunk of likes and one liner comments as “Superb”. “Amazing”. All of us have become super lazy in appreciating photos.
Another topic, another day. With intense competition in the social media platform where friends turn foes, photos are stolen without credit, it’s now safe to say, “Looks can be deceiving”.
Let me break up the concept of “corresponding sweet spots”.
- YOUR own gear – Do not be perplexed when you see photos taken with space age macro rigs. You have to concentrate on your OWN macro gear. Extremely important. Yes certain situations require certain style of equipment. But we are not talking on those terms. You have a simple DSLR say canon 550D and a kit lens. You purchased your first reversing ring/extension tube and are eager to try out macrography. You head out in the field and don’t know how things work. This keeps repeating and you lose interest in macro because it does not give you results in first go. How much time did you spend in understanding how the reverse lens works? Or what is the problem with extension tubes? Which lens are you using for your reverse ring or extension tube? How sharp is YOUR kit lens at any given aperture? Using Raynox? On what are you using Raynox? Zoom lens? Dedicated macro lens? Getting where I am going? Different equipment will have its OWN peak performance levels. You have to devise those peak levels yourself pure by practice. There is no other way around this. If the EXIF on the photo says F22 does not mean F22 is the golden standard across equipment. F22 may give acceptable DOF on one equipment but will give pure shit quality on other. In my case when I upgraded from Raynox to MPE, I had to study hard to see how the MPE behaves with MY camera on the field. It is not necessary that if the reading on Raynox is F13, it means MPE reading also should be F13. The optics are different. Start taking your own notes as how YOUR own equipment performs in the field and what are its restrictions. Can these restrictions be overcome by other methods? These small baby steps will push your style and you will start noticing your progress in your macrography world. Many a times when people ask if they can buy Raynox just because they saw some photos on the net and now want to achieve on those levels. I always advise them to try/rent the unit first instead of outright purchase. Photogs who are taking photos with a macro lens just cannot equate macro lens style shooting = Raynox style shooting. So to conclude point 1, Understand and practice and learn YOUR equipment.
- Subjects – The second most important aspect of corresponding sweet spot. The trend in general macrography has shifted from observation to appreciation to documentation to becoming the top photog running on the platform. What needs to be understood is we do not live in a simulated world. Your backyard and my backyard are not the same. Your forests and my forests may not be the same. Borneo and Amboli/Agumbe while being proper eco rainforests have their own signature charm and characteristics. So when you see those beautiful photos from South East Asia, remember, it’s their rain forest. The flora-fauna has the possibility of being different than back here. Watching photos of other photographers online and scouting them where you have chosen the place also matters. If the photog who you follow posted a clear parallel photo of a scorpion fly, obviously you will try to replicate the same. You find the beauty scorpion fly, but it is hidden under a small leaf. This is where you have to improvise your shooting style with keeping Point 1 in mind. Subjects also vary in size and style. Some beetles’ armor are shiny in nature. In these cases, your flash is going to over-expose the subject. Things get complicated if the beetle is hiding on a small twig or leaf. Reverse this situation when you are taking a photo of a dragonfly. You have to ensure your working distance and light intensity is adequate. You arrive at the second part of the corresponding sweet spot where you have studied the environment of the subject and what will be best settings of your gear to derive an excellent photo.
- Light – I will be brief in this one. It is a big and major topic with lot of sub topics. To simplify for this reading, you have to understand, research and practice your lighting gear. Your diffuser designs will work differently on pop up flash, hot shoe flash, off camera flash lighting etc. Add to this any obstacles the diffusers face, will impact the light fall off on the subject etc. You have to study, research, and redesign your diffusers to your own liking. Some diffusers may work some may not. Take notes why it works or not in the field and make suitable adjustments. Light whether direct or indirect ultimately decides the mood of your photo. It can make or break your shot.
- Social media photos – many fall prey to the photos that they see on social media platforms. Seldom photographers reveal how the shot was really taken. Some famous macro photographers, document how they photograph and walk you through it. The same is not the case with pomp show photogs on some social media platforms. If the photo is taken and then the exposure is reduced by -1EV, gradients are added in, dodging and burning are done, and the look of the photo gets changed. This impacts other people/newbies in understanding the reality behind the shot. Many think their diffuser or style is not working without having proper information. So in the end, ask questions to the photographers whom you follow. Some respond in good faith, some do not. But in no case should photos from a certain person be kept as a standard and rules should be made to achieve only that. It creates problems and ultimately your creativity in macrography is affected.
When you start to combine the four elements, the entirety of the sweet spot comes into picture. Understanding this will definitely take time.
Have patience and determination for it. As you start to understand your gear and why you go wrong, accept that there is room for improvement, come back to base, research and note down new things, revisit the field and apply your new findings.
Doing these steps will slowly and gradually push you to do new things, see the same things from a new perspective and in the end will create your own signature “sweet spot”.