Last week I assisted Don Smith's Big Sur workshop, always a summer highlight for me. As with all workshops, my priority wasn't taking pictures--I didn't even fill a single 4 Gb memory card during the workshop, but that didn't make the experience any less enjoyable. Our deserving group was treated to a perfect mix of sunshine and fog that provided a wonderful variety of photo opportunities that ranged from expansive landscapes to intimate macros.
On the workshop's final morning we explored the south part of Point Lobos in a dense fog that saturated the air with tangible flecks of moisture. Every exposed surface was wet, and the entire scene was cast in gray, shadowless light. Recognizing a unique opportunity I grabbed my extension tubes and 100mm macro, inviting anyone interested in looking for macro possibilities to join me.
I was looking for individual water droplets and didn't search long before finding this little jewel clinging to a pine needle above China Cove. The droplet was quite small, so to enlarge it as much as possible I stacked all three extension tubes (for 68mm of extension) between my camera and lens. I wanted the background completely soft, but thought f2.8 wouldn't give me enough depth of field in the drop itself, so I opened up to f4.
The downside of this much extension is the loss of light in an already dark scene. A soft breeze swayed the branch very slightly, but when viewed through the extreme magnification of my viewfinder, my subject jiggled like jello on a train. Needing to maximize my shutter speed without adjusting my aperture, I bumped up to ISO 400 and underexposed slightly.
In a macro image precise focus is as essential as it is difficult. I'm generally not much of a live view user (it's a new trick and I'm an old dog), but the ability to ensure focus precision makes me a huge fan of live view for macro photography. Switching to live view mode, I maneuvered the view rectangle over the water droplet and went to 5x magnification (10x was too close). With my frame filled by my subject, I dialed in the exact focus I wanted. (Enlarging this image on my 27" monitor reveals a little softness in the droplet, but that's motion blur caused by the breeze. If I had to do this over again I'd probably dial up to 800 ISO. Next time....)
A particular joy of macro photography is the opportunity to view a foreign world. I love that instant when a macro frame snaps into focus to reveal microscopic detail usually invisible. Here I could see movement inside the droplet--what I at first thought were tiny organisms on closer scrutiny turned out (I think) to be small dirt particles swirling in micro-currents. Pretty cool.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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