The Macro Gourmet, with Ruby Frei

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Macro photography is discovery. Even better, it's rediscovery. With selected focus and tight framing, the photographer guides us to see what we would otherwise not, even to reimagine what we think we know so well, common items otherwise overlooked.

To me, finding magic in the everyday is what makes macro photography so enjoyable, and with this thought in mind, we present the work of Ruby Frei. Frei works in a bakery that I frequent and, when I met her, I knew nothing of the magic she was cooking up with a Nikon D800 DSLR and the Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens. In truth, she has been shooting macro since her days at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She earned a degree in photography and is versed in a range of styles and formats, but macro photography of walking, talking models was less interesting (and harder) for a photographer who likes to tinker with shapes, lights, and colors.

It’s not necessarily because she works in a bakery that she took to photographing kitchen items, but it didn't hurt. Her home studio is centered around the morning light that pours into her kitchen window. When she began to photograph ink and paint abstractions there, she noticed what was close at hand, “lots of glass, liquids, and things that reflect light," and she began to incorporate these items into her work. She even turned the aluminum foil she was using as a reflector into a subject of its own.

Above photograph: Teaspoon
Photographs © Ruby Frei

Aluminum foil

When I asked Frei what she liked most about macro photography, she answered, “You never know what you’ll find,” and her laid-back response is backed up by her patient, experimental style. Before using the 105mm lens, she had a 60mm macro lens that wasn't “tele-enough,” so she added all varieties of magnifying glasses in front of the lens to get the look she was after. Situated at her primary work table of a keyboard stand with clear plexiglass on top, Frei regularly shines lights through clear disposable plastic plates, and uses glow sticks as a soft (and bendable) light source. Although she has light stands with LED panels at the ready, the “morning sunlight, when it comes through my window,” is still her inspiration.

Cheese grater
Bubbly glass
Produce bag
Soap bubbles

I recently asked Frei a few questions about macro photography and her technique. No surprise, her answers were as simple as her images are beautiful.

JH: What’s the hardest part about macro photography?

RF: Maintaining focus where you want it. I have to remind myself to go slow and take several shots at every turn of the lens ring. I’ll usually take two or three shots, then move focus, and I don’t use a continuous shooting mode; I find that makes me move too fast and I overlook angles I may have wanted.

JH: Do you always shoot on a tripod?

RF: Pretty much all the time, I have a basic Manfrotto that I really love. It’s easy to move it around my small apartment.

JH: What are your normal camera settings?

RF: It depends, of course, but I try to use the most fine—the lowest—ISO that I can, and to have as much depth of field as possible, for a buffer on what’s in focus. The camera rarely agrees with me as to a point of focus so I never use autofocus and I’m comfortable using the standard viewfinder on my Nikon. I have a remote control but rarely use it or the self-timer, my shutter speeds are usually high enough to avoid shake-related blur.

JH: What other subjects are you shooting in macro?

RF: Well, I’m finally looking at what many macro shooters start with: flowers. I really feel that flower photographs need natural sunlight, so I’m shooting them exclusively with window light. I also may be going back and trying a wide-angle macro lens.

Flowers

You can learn more about Ruby Frei by by visiting her website.

And, for more on macro photography, visit Explora’s Macro Photography Week page, where you’ll find plenty of tips, informative articles, and gear reviews.

5 Comments

I'm planning on buying a Macro lens for my D750, though I can't decide which lens to get the Sigma 105mm OS or this same lens that Ruby is using, 105mm Micro-Nikkor? Hope you guys can help.

Both lenses are great for macro photography, but if you’re on a budget, the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens would be just fine.

I use the 105mm macro also. What the best f stop for depth of field. I go nuts trying to find a focus. 

A short, sweet and informative article.. Thank you!  Just purchased the 105 2.5 and it is revealing many hidden treasures.. Keep up the beautiful photography..

Thank you Dan...  lets see those treasures the 105 digs up!  

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