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Another Look with Frans Lanting

Lesson 3 of 4

Macro Critique

Frans Lanting

Another Look with Frans Lanting

Frans Lanting

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Lesson Info

3. Macro Critique

Lesson Info

Macro Critique

The first image comes from Hawaii and Yukian, I hope I spell your name correctly, describes that he made this image with an iPhone. And I'm so happy to hear that because these are the best cameras we have these days. Sorry, Nikon and Canon and Sony, this is the camera that is always with me and yet I can capture impressions and impulses and anything else with it. So, it also blurs the line between what is landscape photography, macro photography and wildlife photography and people photography because those traditional boundaries were drawn in the days when we were working with other kinds of cameras. Is this a macro photo? I would say so because we're seeing an ant up close but we're also seeing a landscape behind it. So could it be a landscape image? I would say so. Or is it a wildlife photograph? I think it's all three. But yeah, we're presenting it here in the macro category and I would say I wouldn't change a thing about this. Yeah. So I would say Yukian, really well done and to al...

l of you, don't forget this amazing camera. So this image is of monarch butterflies and it was actually made Chris, in my hometown of Santa Cruz. Yeah, it's one place where monarch butterflies come together every fall and then they spend the winter there. In good years we have many thousands of them but you don't need a thousand monarch butterflies to make an interesting image and that's what Scott has done here. He found a handful of butterflies, created a really nice smooth background by using a telephoto lens and then keeping the aperture wide open. And then this is what makes the image. Can have one butterfly in the air that complements all the others on these chewed up leaves. So, I wouldn't change a thing about it except maybe tone down a little bit of the highlights in those two butterflies, for the rest I'd say it's picture perfect. This is a cool dude, right? I think we're not lacking in the subject department for this image. It's really well found, it's really well composed. I like the slight blur in the foreground. I like the smooth background that really makes you focus on the subject and there's no distractions. It's all about the subject and there's nothing else. I wonder if the photographer might have used a reflector to bounce some light back into the subject because everything is so beautifully illuminated that we don't have to do anything. As you've seen in the course of this critique quite often we end up pulling out more details from the shadows. In this case, you don't have to do that. All the detail has already been revealed. I would say this is picture perfect unless you think Ross, that we can do anything else. Yeah, it looks pretty good to me. I would say the only thing is this is a little distracting as it's not uniform with this antler but it is in the sun so. But other than that I think this is a pretty good image. You can see that Ross is really picky. (audience laughs) All right, Ross. Let's look at the next one. Now, this I like what... Let's ask ourselves the question. What are we seeing here? We're seeing shadow. What else are we seeing? An insect. We're seeing an insect. What are we seeing? Flower. We're seeing a flower. Okay. So, maybe there's more than we need to see because that's a tall order, right? A dragonfly and a shadow and a flower. I think this is a really interesting combination. The exaggeration of the shape of the dragonfly on the leaf. I think that's where the image is at. This is a different kind of image. I think the photographer probably saw this, well, let me consult the notes because we may get an answer right here. The photographer refers to the shadow of the dragonfly but didn't notice it until she or he did a post-processing at a RAW image. So this is incidental and with that information I think we have our cue. Ross, let's see if we can take the flower out of the composition. If we wanna retain the native aspect ratio that means a pretty radical crop. So, we may have to go into a little bit more of a vertical adjustment here which I think is not a bad thing to do because now we are really getting the effect of the shadow coming all the way through. So, I like this better. You know, less is more. There's a real tension between the subject and a shadow reflection. I think this is a little bit hot right here and we may be able to tone this down a little bit as RAW but let's do this. We don't have to see that, that shadow is enough. Sarah. A hoverfly on her peach tree. She likes to capture the beauty of nature that may be ordinarily overlooked such as a tiny little hoverfly. And I'm gonna refer back to the criteria one more time. Do we have a subject here? Yes. Do we have a point of view here? I would say yes because this is really personalized with the way she captured this. Do we have a composition here? I would argue yes. Look how beautifully expressed that is. Do we have light here? I would say so, it's really transparent. And is there a moment? Yeah, the gesture of that hoverfly holding that little thing there. It's all there so I think this image scores in all the departments that make you stare at the result, yeah, time and again. The lighting is exquisite. This is really difficult because this is a subject the size of a fingernail and I wouldn't know what to do to improve on it. I would say Sarah, beautifully done and keep at it. So, the previous example was a showcase for technical execution. It doesn't get harder than to focus on a tiny insect and then to create a whole world with it. This is what I call freeform macro photography. I love playing with out of focus shapes and turning them into colors. I know for many people macro photography involves all kinds of technical accessories but I call this playing with plants. We do that in our local arboretum in Santa Cruz during our workshops and all you have to do is aim at a patch of flowers with a moderate telephoto lens. Keep the lens wide open, F2.8 or F and then you just start searching for beautiful shapes in the foreground. The key is to look for flowers in the foreground. Those become a veil that you wrap around that one subject that you see right here which is one flower in focus. I think this is beautifully done. I like the way the stem is highlighted by a specular highlight in the background. I think this is picture perfect. This was an image made by Liana and it came all the way from Melbourne, Australia. Liana, well done. So, Chris was in Colorado and he missed the super moon eclipse because of cloud cover, wasn't in the right spot, so he went looking for smaller details. And he looked for these water bubbles here and I think there's something really interesting going on. Chris, I don't know what the specifics were that you were looking at, by the way I see your own reflection in there so we have a sense of what you look like. But you made a really good decision by being perpendicular to the subject and that will increase your depth of field no matter what shutter speed and what kind of aperture you utilize. When I look at the composition and I specially look at the sharpness it begins to drop off a little bit here. Is there information about the settings, Ross? Let's see here. Yes. Now, aha! Here's the culprit, F2.8. He used 100 milli, no, sorry. It's F11, so that was not the culprit. So at F11 you get a reasonable depth of field but it wasn't enough to keep this as sharp as what we see here on the left side. And also for compositional reasons I would say let's try to slice this off a little bit from the right. And I would say in this case we may not need to keep the aspect ratio in which the image was delivered because that's already cropped from the original I would say. So, let's keep the top in and the bottom in and just kind of slide in from the right. Okay. I find this a little bit more dynamic. So, the main part of the bubbles are now kind of covering more than the left part of the frame and look as a side bonus, we have the photographer more or less in the center of it. What else can we do here, Ross? Tone it down a little bit because it looks just a tiny bit overexposed. Yeah, bring the exposure down overall. Yes. Can we look at this? Well, let's look at the settings. It's 160th at F4.5 so that means a very limited depth of field. Nancy did something interesting in her garden in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She likes the abstract quality of the caterpillar in the spiral but in the flower. Nancy, did you put that caterpillar there? And you don't have to be shy about it because I actually like the effect and I like playing with subjects in nature. You know, I put sticks together, I put feathers together and I create my own arrangements. You don't always have to keep, you don't always have to accept nature at face value is what I'm saying at. You can play with different components and create still lives. It's a bit unusual to see a caterpillar resting in a flower like that, that's what made me think that she may have put it there. But regardless, whether she found it or whether it was there by nature, what is it that the composition really does? There's a symmetry there, right? I would say let's see if we can emphasize that a bit more by turning this into a square crop with the heart of the caterpillar dead center. I know one of the rules in composition is that you keep your subject out of the center but for every rule in composition I'm gonna show you some images that break those rules and are very effectively done, and I think this is one example. If there's symmetry and you can enhance symmetry by you're creating a square composition. I like this a little bit better and for the rest I would not do a thing about this image. Kathrina calls this nature's jewel box. It's a pasque flower seed head, bits and drops of water during the rain and it was captured in her garden. One of the nice things about macro photography is you don't have to leave home to practice it. And in fact, I would go a step further and say that you can practice micro photography on your kitchen table. And on a Saturday morning you'll go out to the floors, get a bouquet of flowers and set it up on your kitchen table. Grab a couple of colored backdrops and you're off to the races. But back to what Kathrina was showing us, I love this. There's nice composition, there's a twinkle of highlights that comes from the water droplets and I just love that pink color. And are we seeing the settings here, a thousand at F4. She used a macro lens and with a thousandth of a second you don't need a tripod, and that is another lesson that I pass on doing our macro photography workshops. And yet macro photography becomes really tedious if you have to do everything when you're tethered to a tripod or when you start using bellows or when you start using fill flash to illuminate the tiniest details. The opposite approach is to get loose in the shoulders and to use one camera and a moderate telephoto lens, maybe apply a set of extension tubes and then you go play with plants or you go play with insects. And as long as you keep your shutter speed at a thousandth of a second or in this case with a 105 millimeter lens, you can easily take the shutter speed down to 250th of a second. You don't have to worry about a tripod and then you can lose yourself in the beauty of what you're seeing through the lens. This is not about the specifics, this is not a picture for a textbook, this is really soothing to your eyes. And the less you have to struggle with your equipment and worry about the settings, yeah, the closer you are to satisfying your eyes and isn't that what photography is all about is to, you look for beauty in the world of nature? So, beautifully done Kathrina. This image comes to us courtesy of Vladimir Dobretich. He's very succinct. Leaf like water on waterlily leaf. Water looks like mercury or liquid silver on black and white. It's a perfect description of what we're looking at, right? I imagine there is a lot more going on than what he's telling us here. It looks to me like this was cropped from a bigger image and it was probably converted from a color image to a black and white as well and that's all good. It means that he made creative decisions that led us to this really simple subject. And yeah, I like everything he says about it and I think it's a perfect match with what we're looking at. And I wouldn't know what to do about this image that gets closer to the photographer's intention and again that is what I'm trying to do here. I'm not here to create something that is totally different from what the photographer wanted to do. I'm here to enhance their vision. So, I think this is beautiful, utterly simple. John gave us a whole mission statement, Chris. (laughing) All right. He says, "Keep close to nature "and enjoy her gift and she will reveal "her heart and beauty to you." I say amen to that, right? But let's take a look at the image. Thanks for your lines John but let's look at the image. It looks a little bit dark to me and so, my first instinct is to lighten the exposure and when we do that we're beginning to see some artifacts that come from processing. Ross, what are we seeing here? Looks like there is some noise reduction and just a little bit of over processing in my opinion. Especially in here, right? Mm-hmm, you can see all these minute details, it almost looks like a painting. Yeah, so it's possible that he used one of the software programs or one of the settings that translates something that is a straight photograph towards any paint or style that has been evolved in the course of history. Nothing wrong with that but I like it when it's a little bit higher key than the way it was delivered to us. And it still looks painterly but it makes us appreciate a little bit more of what is lurking there in the shadows. What else would we do here, Ross? This looks pretty good. I'd say that the main focal point is this leaf or bulb. Other than that I kind of like this. Yeah, so what we can do is kind of depress the highlights in there just a little bit because they've been so over-processed and then it becomes more of a pattern. But we don't wanna lose too much of it because otherwise we're losing something that the eye goes to in the center of the image. Allan. Allan delivered a statement that's a little bit different from what John gave us. He's very casual about it. He says, "I was walking down the beach "and just looked down into the water "and I saw this leaf." (audience laughs) A very low key but that's the essence, right? Walking down a beach and seeing a leaf. And what I like about this is we're not seeing anything else, you know? His statement matches with the image that he delivered to us and I like that. When you can make a statement that matches with what is being seen in the image then I think the photographer arrives at the perfect visual conclusion. So, there's a stillness here. I like the fact that the leaf has pushed all the way to the left of the image, the tiny ripples in the water gives it a little bit more emphasis. I would not change a thing in this image. I accept it just as it is and it's an inspiration for all of us to go walk down a beach and look for a leaf. That's all you need. (audience laughs) Nancy saw an anemone in a tide pool in Half Moon Bay. And that's pretty close to home because I live just half an hour down the coast from Half Moon Bay. And I know exactly what she was seeing in this case and I also know how hard it is to express photographically when you're looking into a tide pool because all these shimmering details of anemones and shells and seaweeds, et cetera are not easy to capture. Because when you aim your camera into water you suddenly have to deal with all kinds of optical issues. The water doesn't render the subjects kind of out of the water in the same way as your eyes can compensate for them. And I think this image suffers a little bit from that and so, I would offer up to Nancy and to all of us the next time we go down to a tide pool, Nancy, first of all I noticed in your settings, Ross, if we can take a look at those. You captured this at F3. which gives you only a very slight depth of field and that is the reason that the image is very soft. And I would suggest that when it comes to all these details in this anemone because I think it is an anemone, isn't it? It's so abstract I'm almost not sure. If you close down your aperture you can express more details by extending your depth of field but there are couple of other tricks that you can apply. If you apply a polarizer to your lens then you can penetrate into the water much more effectively. The other thing you can do is apply a reflector and an even better solution is to hold a diffuser above the tide pool and then aim some light from a reflector into the tide pool. Now that means you need to go to the beach with your whole family but it's a great excuse for a family outing, right? Or if you join us on one of our workshops then you know that that is what we do. You know, one of us is the photographer and two others are playing assistants. But if you do that then what you're gonna see is a lot more detail. You're gonna see more color and you can create more directionality in the light as well, and then the same situation is gonna glow with light and is gonna have much more detail expressed. Now Nancy, I wanna see what you do the next time when you go back to that same tide pool. Jeffrey. Under the big top. I think he deserves compliments for that title alone. And yeah, he says the beauty of macro photography is you don't have to go to exotic locations. He was in his backyard and he didn't even see the spider or the mite until he looked at the image on his computer. And I must admit the first time I looked at this image on my monitor I didn't notice that either. But of course, that is the detail that really makes our eyes go into this world and it provides a sense of scale that turns this into a universe and this little insect becomes the actor. The only thing I would change here is I would either tone down the highlights in here so that it becomes equal to the density that we see in the rest of the mushroom. So, we would have to clone the color. Say what Ross is doing here is he is toning it down but there's another selective tool, we can just clone a little bit of this color and then apply it selectively here. Now, some of you may be purist and say no, that is not natural. So in that case, the other solution is you just crop in a little bit from the lower right. But here we bring it down in that case from the top because we do not want that insect to get too close to the edge of the frame but this is really beautiful. I'm really happy to look at this image and it's one of several that confirm that macro photography is something that you can practice in your front yard or in your backyard or at your kitchen table. And what better excuse to go out and be inspired by all of these, and to do it for yourself. Cool, so we've got some comments coming in here. I do wanna read one that came from Nancy. You had mentioned Nancy earlier about asking if she had moved that caterpillar into that tightly. Yeah. And she did confirm that she did. She said, "Frans, thank you so much "for critiquing my caterpillar. "The caterpillar was in a more open flower, "I took some shots of that then I saw this bloom "that was barely open "and I liked how tightly "it would wrap around the caterpillar "so I very carefully moved it over there." And no caterpillars were hurt in the course of the making? No caterpillars were harmed in any of these photos. A question came up, Nikon Shooter posted this one. Do you ever clone out any brown or dead spots on a flower like if you find maybe a dead leaf, do you think that that adds to the image or do you ever get rid of those to make it look a little bit more pristine? Well, I think we saw a little bit of that when I suggested that one way to deal with imperfections in a subject is to borrow a little bit of color from another part of the composition and then apply it selectively. But I saw somebody in the audience say. Yeah. I don't like to do that so in that case you just have to re-crop. So, I think, first of all I like the question, I appreciate it. Sure. And of course, we can do so much these days with these magical software tools that you really want to be conscious of the effects of what you're doing. And the golden rule is that if you feel a little bit secretive about your methods and you don't wanna really talk about it and explain it afterwards then I'd say you're on a slippery ground. So, be honest with your audience. No matter whether you have an audience of two or whether it is an audience of millions. And that'll keep you close to your own values and for the rest I would say experiment. There are many different pathways from an original situation to an artistic expression.

Class Description

Join legendary nature photographer Frans Lanting, as he critiques a select group of outdoor and wildlife photographs. In this curated review, you'll get expert insight into improving your work in the field and through post-processing so you can begin capturing unforgettable images of the world.

Want to see your work critiqued by Frans Lanting live on air? Here are the details you need in order to be considered:

  • We’re looking specifically for photos that fall into the following categories:
    • Wildlife
    • Landscapes
    • Macro
  • Images should be at least 4k pixels on the long side, but keep files under 10MB
  • Label your JPG files: yourfullname.jpg
  • Upload your images via the form on the CreativeLive Blog.


Lisa C. Alvarez

This is a terrific class for photographers seeking a straightforward explanation of what makes a photo stand out from the pack. Despite all the amazing technological innovations in recent years to the way we take photos, the elements of what makes a powerful photo remains the same. Every year it gets easier to get it right technically, but what about aesthetically? If this is your concern, this is the class for you. Frans explains the elements of a exceptional photo in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. Then he applies these principles to photos submitted for review by Creative Live viewers. His use of the submitted photos as illustrations strengthens the understanding of these principles. Finally, another quality I like about Frans as a teacher is the genuine respect and appreciation he has for the photographer's vision. He takes great pains to propose edits that preserve the original style and message but relate back to the basic elements which must be present for a photo to be truly outstanding.


This review is more about the teacher than the material. As for the material, it is thorough, complete and covers 95% of everything that makes you curious and all without suffering the pain of having your own work critiqued and making you feel like a noob. However, greater than 50% of photography teachers have egos the size of Alaska, perhaps 100% and may even include Frans, however, most of them have no problem in letting you know how good they are, how much you have to learn and how their view and not yours is important. Spend these few hours with Frans and you will find none of that. He starts his critiques asking the photographer what they were trying to achieve, then he explains how much they did and didn't do that, and then he demonstrates by showing one or more ways you could have improved on that vision. He also talks to the fact that based on their vision, he may have shot the photo differently. Then he ends by asking the audience what they think of his changes and what they would have done differently and finally, incorporates their changes also. Incredibly enlightening, respectful, and of course, he is incredibly visionary and you can almost always see how his ideas are better, how beautiful is his ability to envision and create and his mastery of creating the vision he forms in his mind. Don't miss a chance to watch any and all of the classes by Frans Lanting, he will change your way of planning and executing photography and improve your post processing skills to best present your vision.

Melissa Lear

Really enjoyed the class, thanks Frans! Also grateful for the replay as I'm located in Dubai so the live class is too late for us (midnight!). Love the opening comments about Subject, Composition, Light, Moment and Meaning.. a good reminder to apply when taking photos. Really enjoyed the critique.. very insightful and amazing to see how a different crop can bring out the image more. Ha ha.. just disappointed I did not get an image critiqued. However, thanks for helping us photogs out there!