The Importance of Light

 

The Art of Seeing: Macro Techniques for Flowers and Plants

 

Lesson Info

The Importance of Light

In the first lesson, we dealt with selective focus. Now we're gonna change course and I'm gonna talk with you about light, and especially how you can influence the quality of the light that you can capture with your cameras. So shall we start rolling the first video? It's getting hot Doug. It is. It's only nine o'clock and already the light's getting harsh. Yes. Look at all the shadows. There's only way we could get rid of the shadows. I think you're thinking the same thing. Yes. Look at this. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Asters. Gorgeous purple color, nice yellow heart, but what the sun is doing to the color, it's not so nice. You know, with our eyes we can appreciate the color Yup Cause our mind is kind of getting rid of the shadows and the highlights Yes. But the camera is on flinching. Yup. It does capture the highlights and the shadows. Yes. But we've got something with us that will make it look a lot nicer. Oh good. So let's put our gear down and see...

what we can do. When we started of this morning, the light was beautiful. It was nice and soft. But now it's getting contrasty, sun's higher in the sky, we're getting deep shadows in the plants. And it's time to change our approach. I'm gonna put the long lens away and out comes my macro lens. This is a 105 2.8. I have another 60 millimeter macro lens, which is especially good for things that are really close but for what I'm gonna do here, this one is the perfect tool. This is a wonderful device that you can apply to plants when the light is not as good as you would like it to be. It's a reflector. It's got different surfaces. This is the silver surface and this is a warming coating. I've got two of these devices with me. This is the smaller version. It's got the same surfaces and when I turn it inside out, I can show you that there's a matte white inside and that there's a really warm gold surface as well. And this becomes the diffuser. This is my shade maker. When I put this between the sun and the plants that we're gonna photograph, it changes something that looks really harsh into something that is soft again. As if a cloud magically appeared in front of the sun. When we look at it with our own eyes, we automatically compensate for the highlights and the shadows. But the camera doesn't do that. So when we out the diffuser in between, the light becomes even. Yes. And now when I aim the reflector, or may be you can give me a hand, so I'll put the diffuser here and then bring it up a little high, higher because the trick is to bounce the light from the sun back into the plants. So depending on how you hold it, you can create a more directional light, or we can turn it into a very even illumination. But there's still some contrast here, but now it's manageable. And switch the other surface and aim it a light higher, can you see the different color? Now it's a little cooler, so what do you think would be the most appropriate surface to aim at these gorgeous purple flowers? Something cool or something warm? I think something a little warmer. Sound. So let's try that for starters. But when we set up, we're gonna experiment the different surfaces because the nuances become kinda settle and it's better to get it right, you know, by capturing the different possibilities and then we go indoors, we'll start analyzing the differences when we can look at the pictures on screen. So this helps, this works best, and we help each other out, cause I only have two arms but between the three of us, we have six arms, so some of us are gonna do duty while the others are gonna take the pictures and then we gonna mix it over. Okay. Sounds good. Alright so that's the toolkit, but we still have to look for an interesting subject. So let's look around the plant, the way we always do before we bring the camera out, we gonna start looking at it and observe what the different possibilities are. So Kate, when you look at this plant, kind of what strikes you? I really like the patterns of the petals over-crossing. So maybe something looking a little bit more straight down, and then we can use the diffuser what you just said to kinda diffuse the, so we have the petals crossing over, not so much the shadows crossing over. Okay. I hear you say pattern. And when I hear pattern, then indeed you wanna kind of look at it almost in a perpendicular fashion, to make the most of the pattern that shows itself here. So let's look for a side of the plant where the pattern is really even. So we don't want any deep.. You hear me tease out from Kate what she was looking at? And that's the key part of the photographic process for me. You wanna go into a dialogue with yourself. What is it that I'm looking at? Is it color? Is it texture? Is it something else? And only when you have clarity for yourself, what it is that interest you in that situation, can you begin to put together the technical pieces that lead to the execution of an image? And when Kate told me, I see a pattern, then I begin to think of a technical solution but if she tells me color then I will nudge her in a different direction. So my role as teacher, when I'm with you in a workshop or when I'm here with you, is to make you think more explicitly about what it is that interest you. When I'm not with you, you gonna have to do that yourself. You have to go into the dialogue constantly. And note to this is another point, we arrived at that bush with these asters, these wonderful plants from South Africa, and your verge is kind of working a way around it. Just like we did in the first section, when we worked around these wonderful lucas perm flowers, as soon as you put a camera in your hand with a lens on it, and you do this, you are not thinking any more. Cause you are already locked into a position. And even more so when you put a camera on a tripod, that's why you see us kind of work around with, first without the cameras, and then with the cameras and the tripods are only there as a helping, as a tool at the tail end when it comes to the final execution of an image. It's a different approach. Let's roll the rest of the video. It's in the middle of it, so let's just look around. And if you find a good spot, let me know then we'll start setting up. This looks nice but it's a little bit difficult to get the camera right.. Yeah.. On top of it. Do you see anything on the side there? This over here looks nice to me. This part in here was better when he was stand there with diffuser.. Ya. Okay. So yes right in there, it's a possibility. And this too could work.. Right in here? What do you think? Right in this area.. Right in there. Ya. How about this right here? Cause you can raise your tripod up this much, and then we're looking down on it. So you have a 105 too right? I do. Ya. Then what if you put the 105 up and the.. so what I'd do before ya I put the camera on the tripod, I try to approximate a view. I would say maybe something this high. And then we get in pretty close, maybe try to frame it this way. Ya. I see that as well. Let's set up and then we start applying the, our toolkit. So Kate.. We stop the video one more time. Let's roll it for two more seconds so we're looking at something else on the screen.. What's your ISO? I'm at 400.. Let's stop it right here. Thank you. So what you saw us do there, proves the point that I made just a minute ago. If you put your camera on the tripod when you first approach a subject like this, you'll spend 10-15 minutes struggling with it, you'd get entangled in the bushes and you feel you have to make something work from a specific position, whereas the way we did it, we just fluidly worked around it. You can have mentally, can have approximate the perspective of the lens that you may use and everything is still easy. You don't have to commit yourself to any particular vantage point, so I like to apply that as well to the height of my tripod. This is my tripod of choice, by the way. This is, you know, legs made by Gitzo. This is a medium size tripod. And then I use a tripod head, a mono ball, made by company called Really Right Stuff, which are super well engineered. This head is a bh 55, will allow me to even put a three or a 400 millimeter on this tripod. And another nice feature of this particular set of legs is that the center column is a bit flexible, so I can adjust it, ya, for different angles without having to move the legs again. So this is my work horse. For, if I can find it still here, it's a little bit of an over kill to use that big tripod for a small macro lens, like we're using there. When I travel on short trips, I also use, ya, a more compact tripod. This is also made by Gitzo but it is much much lighter and you see the legs fold together more easily and I just have a much smaller ball head on it. Let's roll the video again. So? 400, sure. Your da 10 can, can handle that, without creating any noises. I'm at three, two and 800. Okay, so, Doug, could you create some shade for us here? Go between the sun and the subject. And that's looking more interesting. And Kate, you tell me, Hmm.. okay. Ya. How does that look? That looks good. I'm applying the, the semi-gold surface now. And I'm gonna change the angels and this is the maximum glow that I can vary it a little bit so that's a little bit more settled, tell me what you like best? I'm just gonna wave it back and forth. Could we maybe try having a little bit more of side light? Little bit more of a side light. Ya. I can do that. So sidelight create a different effect. When I do it like this, then I'm bouncing light. Now we're creating front light. Front lighting emphasizes color. But then I hold it off to the side, we're creating side lighting. And what a side lighting emphasize. Shape. Shape especially texture. Ya. The surface of things. Yup. So maybe if we go somewhere in between, between front lighting and side lighting, we get the best combination of highlighting the color and getting a little of the surface texture. How about something like this? Perfect. Okay. Now we can also create top lighting here, we can raise it above the diffuser, Doug, can you take your diffuser down a little bit? Okay. Ya. That looks a little bland. I like it better to the side a bit. = it's a little a flat. Now let's switch to the silver surface. = okay. Because.. That purple color.. Makes it more blue. Ya indeed. It's silver surface, the purple turns towards blue. And that could a nice combination that the yellow hearts are the flowers. So we'll do both. And we can turn the surface inside out, did you got some frames? Yup. Now let's take a look. Let's see what you've got here. I am gonna bring the loop out. What you think? You like it? Ya. I'd like to get a little closer to be honest. Wanna get closer? So. Let's scroll through the other frames as well. I like the lighting in this. And now oh you can definitely see the difference Ya. Between the silver surface and the warmer surface. I like the cooler surface a little better myself. I'm also seeing that you could have changed your composition of it. In this composition, the pattern is not as evenly expressed. No. So I'm seeing something drop off on the left. It's not totally in focus, so I think we could do a little better here if you recompose and maybe look for a denser area of the flowers, maybe right in here. That's right. That's where I'd moved to. Ya. Cause there's no gaps. Would you like to take a look? So let's see, Ya. They.. It's still dropping off a little bit on the left. Can you recompose to the right a little bit? What happens when you do that? Cause we want the pattern to be as even as possible. Ya it's... It's.. I don't.. I'm gonna drop off of either. I'm gonna end up dropping off somewhere. Ya. Find the best balance between the right and the left. We can always crop it off after the fact. Okay. So Doug is diffusing the light, now I'm gonna come in with my magic wand and we, even, if we could already seen it, if you find it that the cooler light looks a little better. So let's go back to the silver surface, and we're gonna apply that side lighting, what do you think? How's this? Looks good. So what your aperture? I actually opened it up to f5. F5 so.. So I wanna to.. I wanna to get them.. You're going.. you're backing off from your texture and you're going back to a softer rendition. The more of.. i was just being able to see all of the patterns a little bit more. The petals, Oh now we're getting more light. Now I just went back to three two. I suggest that while you're in that position, that you rattle off a number of frames with different apertures. Okay. So take it from wide open and take it all the way to close down that 16 so that we can examine your effects afterwards, means it's more easier to do. Pixels are free right? Yes. So working closely with Kate there, and I still had the idea in my mind that she was photographing a pattern and pattern in order to be rendered well, requires definition and definition requires an extended adapt feel. So when she suddenly told me, my aperture is now five, oh something else is slipped into her mind. She must be seeing something else then what I thought was pursuing through her view finder. And I wanted to be sure that she was capturing the pattern as well, and that's why I suggest okay let's just kind of work on both ends of spectrum, close your aperture all the way, and also use you it wide open. And in this frame you can see that the adapted feel doesn't extend all the way. So I just wanted to make sure that she had it covered. She had all her basis covered. Let's see the rest of the video. And we're getting a little bit of repry from the wind. So what's your shutter speed? It's at 320 right now. 320 at f 16? No I'm at 6.. 3 I was going through now I'm at 7 1 200. Okay when you close your aperture down to 16, what it shows? Speed turning into? It's like 50. When you're at a 50th of a second, you really want.. Ya increase my ISO.. No wait for the breeze to disappear. Okay right now things are still. You wanna start paying attention to the breeze does to the plant. So when you're at the 50th of a second, if the breeze kind of moves the plant, you know, you're not gonna get a sharp picture. Moment. You hear us talk about shutter speeds. And remember what I said earlier this morning, that your three main valuables that you wanna have in the back of your head constantly as to how you would adjust to any particular situation, you start with your ISO, that is your enabler and your shutter speed give you a safety margin. It gives you safety margin when you're shooting hand held as we saw on the first, in the first lesson. In this case, the shutter speed, it was going down to a 50th of a second, and you may have noticed that there was a bit of a breeze. The plant started moving, and when I see plants move, and a breeze, and I hear that there's a shutter speed of a 50th of a second as in, this is becoming problematic. You have to raise, you have to increase your shutter speed again in order to rendered your picture sharp. So let's go back to the video. Some questions if you don't mind. Fantastic. So this one comes from Frederick in South Africa, goes by Rick, and he has a major problem about when he's out and about, we have lot's of folks asking about it using reflector when you are all alone. Any best practices? (laughs) That's a very good question Rick and ya sympathize with that. And of course it's a lot easier when you are with friends or with photo buddies, or with your family and you can ask them to hold your devices for you. What do you do when you're all by yourself? Well there are other kinds of reflectors that you can attach to tripod or to light stands, of course it means lugging more stuff with you, but if you really wanna do precise work, and I know there's a lot of phenomenal plant situations in South Africa, you're lucky Rick. You wanna slept more things with you. I'm gonna show you once device that will help you a little bit when you are photographing smaller plant. This thing is a plant clamp and ya also known as plamp, by the company that sells it called Kirk Enterprises. And you can add a very small reflector to this, on the one side and then clamp this thing to your tripod with the other end. And it's originally designed to hold a plant in place, and we'll demonstrate that later on. But you could also use it to apply very small reflector or diffuser with and you can imagine if you do that with the other side, you don't need your extended family. You can make this all happen yourself. But in actuality when I do this, I bring in extra tripod alone cause that makes it a lot easier to position the reflectors and the diffusers away from my shooting tripod. Shall we roll the video again? It's want to be sharp. Okay. All right let me vary the lighting again a little bit, so I'm giving you more options. So let's try maximum collar and I'm gonna see if I can bring it in on the other side a little bit. We haven't tried it yet. So how's this? I like that one. This one? Okay. You've got it. Okay went all the way down to 36. Okay now what's your shutter speed. ISO 500, 800th second of 35 Oh you're going soft again. Where would you like me to go? You can go wherever you wanna go. I would just like you to vary your settings. Cause it's so easy to do in this position if you like to composition and if you like the lighting, then let's go from soft to detailed and then back again. Okay I've already gone from 3, 2 through to 36. So you've got the range. I need to improve my yoga technique a little bit. While I'm standing in this position. All right let's see what you got. All right Doug, relax. Break time. Oh. Come on over Doug. You played a role in this as well. Oh first let's give Kate a chance as the maker of the image. Do you like this? I like it. Okay, so this was with the aperture closed all the way. So let's see what, rolling through the rest of the frames. And now I'm looking at some softer ones, and i'm seeing a few frames where some of the petals have a little bit more of a highlight on them. So they are reflecting more light than the others, which we can deal with after the fact in light room but I would like you to be aware of it. Maybe we need to change the lighting angle a little bit to make it more even. I'm looking at some of the frames where you didn't close your aperture. And it's good to have that full comparison but personally I like the ones where you're close all the way. Okay. But let's give Doug, a chance to see this as well. Okay. What do you think Doug? Oh it's very nice. the theme is patterning. So I'm looking at perfect expression of the pattern of all these lovely purple flower with their yellow heart. I think I found the good spot here. But now I need to improve the lighting, I'm at 30th at F 36. So my adapt feel is gonna cover the whole scene. And with the first frame I'm exposing, let's take the diffuser and the reflector away. So that makes it easier to see, how much we can influence? The situation.. You saw just two seconds ago, you saw that the original situation, you saw how contrasty those flowers were. And just to think back what we're doing here. Let's summarize it here for a moment, if we're working with light, trying to come up with a solution for a situation that has too much contrast to render a pleasing imagine. So we're bring in that tool, the reflector. That enables us to, we're bringing in the diffuser, that lessens the contrast and then we're applying a reflector which enables us to kind of change the directionality of the light. You saw me maneuver that reflector around from this side to the top and that kind of influences where the light come from. And then you heard me and Kate talk about the patterning, and then we're going beyond the light decisions, we're going into compositional issues. The different surfaces of the reflector, will give a different hue to the light. Now theoretically you could deal with all of those things after the fact cause you have adobe. Has created photoshop in light room and you can change with color and even with contrast after the fact but still by applying these tools you give yourself a much better starting point for optimizing your image after the fact. Let's roll.. oh I have one more comment to make.. You saw that Kate got a 105 macro lens that is the current incarnation of that lens. I'm still using the old one. Why? Because I don't need an autofocus macro lens. Most of the time this macro lens is used in manual focus setting with your macro adjustments to putting the focal point, little bit closer little bit farther. So I save my money to invest in higher quality optics where autofocus really does matter more. From the internet over here, folks are wanting to know, you haven't mentioned ND filters or polarizing filters yet. Is now a good time for that? Yes we could talk about that. I've got them here. And it relates back a little bit to what I was just saying about the tremendous tool kit that adobe provide with light room. And since photoshop came along, light room came along, most of the filters that I used to carry with me, have been abandoned. All the warming and the cooling filters, no need for them anymore. The one filter that is still indispensable, is a polarizing filter. Adobe has not come up yet, we a good replication for this amazing tool that you can apply after the fact in a digitized fashion. So polarizer is a must. What does it do? It helps reduce the reflectivity of any subject. Not just of reflections of light on water. It also helps to increase kind of contrast between cloud and sky. It helps reduce the sheen, the surface, the reflection, on flowers and on plants. And it is a magical tool to apply in a forest after rain. Cause if you do not have a polarizer with you, you are looking at lots of sheen on wet foliage when you apply polarizer, everything becomes much saturated win. So this is a must have. No matter whether you are a macro photographer or not. Neutral density filters are also still an indispensable part of my kit. There is no way to extend your exposure from a 30th of a second to a full second after the fact. But you can realize that by applying a neutral density filter, I have about half a dozen of them. With different kinds of density, and then I also have a variable neutral density filter. It's not here, somewhere else in my tool kit. So depending on the density, you're holding more light back from reaching your sensor. Now in macro photography I don't use neutral density filters all that much because typically you want to get the most light on your subject. Ya I use them more often for landscapes, when there's something in motion that I want to emphasize, whether it is waves hitting the shore line, sometimes I use for wildlife in motion, for macro not so much. Should we see the rest of the video? Turning point. The color doesn't look so good. It's mostly highlight and shadows. Doing a couple of frames, and now Doug if you could bring in the diffuser, and we'll do the couple of shots with the diffuser alone. That's a great improvement. And now let's bring in, let's do it, let's do it systematically. We're gonna start with the soft surface, with the white surface. And then we're gonna take it from white to silver and the mixture of gold, silver and then we're gonna end up with gold. Okay? Okay. Would you also like to go from side to three quarter to overhead? With one of those just to show.. Ya we can do that too but let's do that separately. Okay. Cause you're over.. I think the most important first lesson is to show the different effects of the surfaces. So let's start with the white.. ya.. okay. So come a little bit closer, ya cause you wanna bounce it off to sun. Okay. Can you take it away from me for a moment? Okay now bring it back in. I'm not seeing that much of an effect yet so ya now it's better. Okay. Wonderful. Okay. Now let's turn it to silver. Just bring it in as closer as you can. Okay. Now let's go to that side. And then we need the, a little bit more like this. Ya okay. Okay. Now we go to gold. Just bring it in a bit more, ya like this. Okay. Ya we just did a series of exposures to show the different effect of the surfaces from our reflector, starting with matte white then we went to silver and then to the mix silver gold surface and we ended up with a warmer surface for gold. And I could already see, looking through my camera that I actually like the sudsless effect the best, the matte white. The colors already have so much color in them that I think it maybe best not to impose too many other shades on them. But we'll look at the final results in the classroom.

Class Description


The beauty of nature runs deep. Every growing thing hides whorls, patterns, and subtle shadings of color that escape the cursory glance. Macro photographers are driven to capture these secret details, but it can be hard to master the techniques that allow them to truly evoke nature at its best.

Join renowned National Geographic photographer and naturalist Frans Lanting for this class as he walks you through the Arboretum at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
You’ll learn:

  • How to take great impressionistic shots freehand
  • How to use combinations of natural light, flash, and light modifiers
  • How to set up beautiful and controlled images
Frans Lanting has documented wildlife from the Amazon to Antarctica, and has made a career of recording the beauty of nature in vivid, transporting imagery. In this class, you’ll learn how he has distilled the quiet joy of discovering hidden beauty, and bring it home with you. Best of all, you'll be able to apply these macro photography approaches and techniques in the field or even at home with a bouquet of flowers on your kitchen table.