A Macro Photography Experiment

Once again, our friend and talented photographer Vicki Wert has contributed an interesting photography experiment. Vicki might just be the most adventurous photographer we know. Always trying new ideas, techniques, and gear and always producing beautiful work and inspiring the rest of us.

Click on each images for a larger view and also check out Vicki’s website for many more stunning images: www.vickiwertphotography.com


A love for shooting the “bigger picture” as well as for the world of macro photography

My husband and I both love travel and landscape photography and have immensely enjoyed our 6 tours in Europe with Jim and Magrit. We look forward to our next trip as soon as the pandemic allows.  But I love macro photography nearly as much.

For years I’ve been photographing flowers in my own garden as well as public botanical gardens. Macro photography isn’t limited to floral subjects, and I shoot a wide variety of non-florals as well.

Lenses for macro photography

I use a Nikon D850 and my Nikkor 105mm 2.8 macro is one of my favorite lenses.

Several types of lenses can be used for macro photography, including long lenses, and attachments such as extension tubes and converters that enable to you get close-up subjects in focus. A true macro lens can reproduce objects at life size, and is referred to as a 1:1 macro lens. Other lenses can also be considered macro if they can reproduce objects at half size (1:2) up to quarter size (1:4). The Nikkor 105mm is a 1:1 macro and can also be used as a regular 105mm prime lens.

The depth of field challenge in macro photography

When shooting a landscape, where you generally want everything in focus front to back, it’s relatively straightforward if the entire scene is a fair distance from the camera.  Usually f8 or f11 works pretty well, depending on the camera and lens.  If you have subjects both near and far, you can focus stack the images by taking a series of photos with different focus points and later combine with software.  With macro, depth of field gets squeezed the closer you get to your subject.

If you want more of your subject in focus, you use a smaller aperture, such as f16 or f22, or you focus stack. These images show a white rose, which is difficult to focus anyway, because its edges are not well-defined. It’s generally not a good idea to use an even smaller aperture, although this lens can go as small as f51 in the right light, because you’ll start to get lens diffraction, which causes a loss of sharpness instead of getting more in focus. The image on the left was shot very close to the subject at f16, and the one on the right at f4.2. At such close range, there’s very little depth of field available. Even at f16, quite a lot of the image is soft. In this example, I like both of the results.  It’s a soft flower and I see no need for everything to be in focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With no place to go this past summer, I kept myself busy by photographing every public garden that was open in our area, as well as my own flowers. As much as I love my 105mm lens, I found I needed to expand my style and try new looks. In the past, I’ve tried techniques like Intentional Camera Movement and multiple in-camera exposure. In summer 2020, I also tried freezing flowers from my garden and came up with interesting results.

Here comes the Lensbaby

I’ve known about the Lensbaby line for quite some time, but wasn’t sure I would like the results.  For those unfamiliar with Lensbaby, these lenses offer a variety of special effects – the “Sweet” line has a sharp spot of focus plus blur, the “Edge” line has a sharp slice of focus plus smooth blur, the “Velvet” line has an edge to edge glow, and the “Swirl” line has swirly, twisty, striking bokeh.  They’re popular with both portrait and macro photographers because of the soft effects. When they went on sale in the fall, I got my first Lensbaby, a Velvet 56.

The Velvet 56 has a range of f-stops from f16 at its narrowest to f1.6 at its widest. It’s a 1:2 macro lens but can also be used for landscapes. There’s no communication between the Lensbaby and the camera, so the metadata doesn’t show lens information, and neither the lens nor f-stop will show. This is somewhat of a disadvantage to me, but I realize the lenses would probably be cost prohibitive if those electronics were included. You adjust the f-stop on the lens.

In my experiments with the lens, I’ve been taking a series of photos at every f-stop to help me analyze my results and figure out what I like. One difference between my macro lens and my Velvet is that with the Lensbaby, the depth of field you see through the lens is the depth of field you get. With the macro lens, I’m generally getting more depth of field than it looks like in camera and need to analyze the results in the LCD.

Setting up the experiment

Since it’s winter here in Ohio, almost all of my floral photography is done on the kitchen table with ambient light from the patio door. My subjects are flowers purchased at the grocery store. In my experiments comparing these two lenses, I’ve tried to use the same angles and perspectives, although with the difference in focal length, it isn’t simply a matter of switching out the lenses. Let’s take a look at some of the results.

The first comparisons are of a stargazer lily, taken with the Nikkor 105mm.

The image on the left is taken at f16, and the one on the right at f3. This flower is pretty large, so to get the entire flower in the frame, the camera is fairly far away. There’s a fair amount of depth of field to work with, so at f16, all but the very back petals are in focus. At f3, the results are soft except for the front petal and one or two of the stamen. My favorite thing about these photos is the heart shape in the front petal that showed itself at this angle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are the results from the Velvet 56. The flower ended up at a slightly different angle, but at f16, the amount of sharpness is pretty similar to the Nikkor 105mm results. But at close to wide open (f2.8), the Velvet has that glow about it, with just a bit of an edge in focus.

 

 

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For my second experiment, I used a small cluster of pink/lavender daisy-type flowers.

At f16 with the Nikkor lens, most of the blossoms are in focus. It’s nice enough, but to me it’s really just a record of these flowers and doesn’t evoke any real response. I find the image on the right (f3.2) much more compelling, with just one main blossom standing out from the others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As before, the result at f16 from the Velvet 56 is very similar to that from the Nikkor. But at wide open (f1.6), a significant difference can be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do like the soft image very much, but I also prefer that a bit of the main flower is in focus. So I added the image at f16 to the soft image as a layer, added a layer mask, and revealed just the center of the main blossom to get this dreamy result.

I recently discovered one other option to include in my macro repertoire, and that is the Raynox macro conversion lens.

It comes in two magnifications – 1.5x and 2.5x.  The Raynox is a snap-on universal mount that fits any lens with a 52mm-67mm filter size. It’s convenient because it’s easy on and off and you don’t need step-up/step-down filters to swap lenses. I made one more comparison using the Raynox 250 between the Nikkor and Velvet 56. With the magnifying attachment, depth of field gets tiny. In order to be in focus, the lens is very close to the subject. The image on the left is with the Nikkor at f16. I like this result quite a bit, as the tips of the stamen stand out well from the softer background, but you can still see some details. On the right, the Velvet 56 at f2.8 for the soft background, but with the stamen from another image at f8 to show some detail. For my taste, the original image at f2.8 was just too soft.

 

 

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There’s really no right answer when it comes to macro photography.

Beauty is really in the eye of the beholder. In several of my results, I found that I preferred the soft results from Velvet 56, but not necessarily the softest results. I’m very happy with my newfound options for creativity and will continue to explore the possibilities. I probably will never own all of the lenses offered by Lensbaby, but I predict the Velvet 56 will not be my one and only.