Going eye-to-eye with a praying mantis can be a trip and a half, but understandably, not everybody shares my enthusiasm for creepy crawlies. This doesn't mean you cannot enjoy the visual treats afforded by peering at everyday objects at life-size or greater magnifications. To illustrate my point, I pulled a half dozen spice jars out of my cupboard along with a few herbs from our spring garden and photographed them with full confidence that none of them would bite or sting me.
Photographs © Allan Weitz 2021
My setup was quite simple. My camera and lens combination was a Sony a7R III and a ZEISS 100mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar T* lens adapted with a Novoflex Contax/Yashica to Sony NEX lens adapter, which enabled focusing down to life-size (1:1). For additional magnification, I added a set of Vello EXT-SFED2 AF extension tubes (10mm and 16mm), which, together, added approximately 25% additional magnification to my existing camera/lens combination.
I extended the legs of my tripod to clear the narrow shooting platform and reversed the center column of my tripod. This configuration enabled me to shoot straight down at the spices, which were scattered just below the lens on colorful sheets of construction paper and poster board.
Two light sources were used to photograph these spices and herbs: a Genaray SP-E-365B SpectroLED Bi-Color lamp mounted on a floor stand and a small generic LED flashlight. The Genaray lamp output a broader, softer light than the flashlight, which output a harder, more focused light with more defined shadows. In a few instances, I used both lights together. The camera's AWB setting kept the colors well in check with a bit of tweaking, as usual, post capture.
In most cases, the light was positioned off to one side at a low angle about 12" from the live area of my frame lines to avoid casting shadows onto the live area of the frame. When using the handheld flashlight, I still kept to a low angle but moved the light around to maximize the "drama" of the shadows.
Focus and depth of field (DoF) should be considered carefully when shooting macro photographs. Some images look better when stopped down to minimum apertures for maximum DoF, while other images are far more interesting when captured at wider apertures for limited DoF. It's all a matter of aesthetics—there's no right or wrong. For maximum depth of field, focus stacking can be incorporated into the workflow process.
In addition to dried spices and herbs, I also photographed a few live herbs we had growing in starter pots. For these photographs I used the same setup, albeit from a higher camera position to allow for the additional height of the plants.
Sprigs of fresh dill (above) and oregano (below) are both fascinating to look at in their own ways in proximity. Shooting at wider apertures adds to the visual mystique of the photograph, especially in the photograph of the tip of the dill leaf, which in the above macro photograph resembles the toes of a green lizard.
Finding subjects to photograph at life-size or greater is rewarding regardless of subject matter: Shooting close-ups is fun. Period.
To learn more about macrophotography, check out some of the many macro-related articles available on the B&H Explora website, including:
Essential Gear for Nailing Focus in Macro Photography, by Todd Vorenkamp
Effective Aperture and Macro, by Bjorn Petersen
Exploring the World of Ultra-Wide Macro Photography, by yours truly.
And read more articles during Food Week, on Explora.
Do you have a favorite subject you enjoy taking macrophotographs of? If so, let us know about it in the Comments section, below.