Category Archives: Close-up/macro

Flute Reflections and Notes Bokeh

If you follow this blog, you know I love personal projects. These allow me to experiment and hone my craft.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to try for a while is a trick with bokeh. Any out of focus source of light takes the shape of the diaphragm of the lens, which is round if shooting wide open. As a variation on this, you can put a shape cut out of black cardboard in front of your lens, such as the notes in the flute photo, and the out of focus sources of light will take that shape. In the photograph below, I used some simple Christmas lights.

Muramatsu silver flute with reflections and notes in the background

Shiny objects always represent a lighting challenge.

The above picture is a composite of two shots, one for the bokeh (shot with wide open aperture) and one for the flute (shot for maximum depth of field). My Muramatsu GX model silver flute is in need of a comprehensive service. A lot of notes have been played on it since I received it as a graduation present for my PhD.

I couldn’t resist buying a piece of black plexiglas to provide a reflection of the flute and add some interest to this product shot. I plan to further experiment with these kinds of reflections.

When A Professional Photographer Is Cheaper Than An Amateur

I never cease to be amazed at the number of people selling products online who don’t think it is necessary to pay for someone to take professional photographs of their goods. They’ll do it themselves or find the proverbial “friend with a good camera”.

Jewellery product shot, pendant of turquoise colour designed by Candle Jewellery

The pendants from Candle Jewellery are very colourful. It was essential to capture the right colours, which I did using the professional X-Rite ColorChecker.

Let’s first start with the obvious. Would you buy something that doesn’t look great? A bad photo can make your product look like damaged goods. Imagine how much more you could sell if the pictures you have online make your products look better than those from the competition. In this case, the photographs easily pay for themselves.

Jewellery product shot of pendant designed by Candle Jewellery. Pink and sparkling.

This pendant from Candle Jewellery sparkles. The photographic challenge was to showcase the sparkle without getting nasty reflections. This was done using proper lighting.

You may not have paid for your photographs, but that is expensive if they don’t sell your products. The pictures also tell a lot about your brand and the kind of business you are running, successful or not. The first impression you make is going to be very difficult to change.

Jewellery product shot. Deep blue coloured pendant designed by Candle Jewellery.

The beautiful, deep colours of this pendant needed to be showcased. Reflectors were needed to avoid obliterating the darkest tones in the digital capture process.

There is a less obvious drawback to using the “friend with a good camera” who is going to take your pictures for free. Since he/she is not getting paid, there really isn’t an incentive for him/her to deliver the pictures in a short time frame. The time you have to wait for your photographs translates into lost sales.

Jewellery pendant product photograph. The red pendant was designed by Candle Jewellery.

The photographic challenge of photographing this beautiful red pendant was to show some of its translucent properties. This was achieved using reflecting pieces of foam core.

Now imagine the following, plausible, scenario. You get your “friend with a good camera” to take pictures for free. It takes a couple of months, and the pictures aren’t up to scratch. So you eventually have to pay someone who can do a proper job. If you count the time lost, the cheap alternative actually turns out to be more expensive. This is when a professional photographer is cheaper than an amateur.


Shiny Reflections

If you look up “photography” on Wikipedia, you will learn that the word photography comes from the Greek words “photos” (light) and “graphê” (drawing), literally meaning “drawing with light”.

Close-up of forks on colourful background with reflections

Close-up of a couple of forks on colourful gift wrapping paper

I previously mentioned on this blog that I took a number of online photography classes to improve my craft, and one of my instructors, Joe Baraban, would often say, “if you find the light, you find the shot”. Needless to say that lighting is particularly important to the look of your images.

Close-up of kitchen knife on a colourful background with reflections

Same background as above, but moving in close on a kitchen knife

Another revelation came from a CreativeLive online workshop given by Don Giannatti on the topic of “subject centric lighting”. As a physicist, I was aware that different kinds materials interact with light differently. The point Don Giannatti drove home was that it should be the first thing to take into account when thinking about lighting a subject. In particular, shiny objects can be tricky to light. The common mistake is to shine the light directly at them. The objects then typically hurl back a sea of photons directly into your lens, creating a horrible mess of overblown reflections. The photographic equivalent of urinating against the wind, if you will. In his workshop, Don Giannatti showed how to light shiny objects. Give them something to reflect and light the thing they reflect. The pictures in this post illustrate the point nicely. I gave the shiny cutlery some gift wrapping paper to reflect, and I simply lit the wrapping paper with my electronic flash.

Close-up of a couple of spoons on colourful background with reflections

The curved nature of the spoons made it more difficult for me to find some good reflections



Los Angeles, California Exhibition

A while back, I took a series of online Fine Art Photography classes with Kathleen Clemons. Kathleen is a top class flower photographer and many of the other students in the class chose flowers as the subject for their weekly assignments. So I decided to give flower photography a try. It has been a wonderful vision training exercise, because it is quite a bit more difficult than one would think.

Pink Flower with out of focus background and texture

I carefully chose my focus point and my settings to render a nicely out of focus background, and added a texture to the photograph later in post -processing.

It is typically not possible to get the whole flower in sharp focus when shooting up close and one of the choices one has to make is which part of the flower one focusses on. The choice has a great deal of effect on the aesthetic of the final photograph.

Shooting flowers has also given me more intuition about how my lenses see the world. And while I still have a long way to go in my flower photography, I was thrilled to learn that two of my flower photographs, shown in this blog post, were chosen for the juried exhibition “Flower Power” at the 1650 Gallery in Los Angeles, California. Opening night reception is on December 14th,  2013.

Red flower and reflection against a blue background

The blue background for this red flower photograph is none other than the from door of my apartment building. A texture and the reflection were added later in post-processing.


Autumn Lines

A while back I had the opportunity to take some wonderful online classes “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” by world class commercial photographer Joe Baraban.

These classes made a strong impression on me. All of the photographs Joe Baraban takes for his clients are carefully crafted, using what Joe calls “The Artist Palette”. That palette includes, among other things, all of  the elements of visual design: point, line, form, shape, space, movement, colour, pattern and texture. We spent quite some time learning to see these elements and how to incorporate as many of them as possible in our pictures.

Line is a very important element in that it appears in forms, shapes, space and in some cases pattern and texture. Line also communicates different emotions and feelings depending on its shape and direction. Horizontal lines suggest a feeling of rest, stability, tranquility. Vertical lines on the other hand evoke an emotion of authority, loftiness.  Diagonal lines are more dynamic and suggest the feeling of movement or direction. Finally, soft curves suggest comfort, safety.

Autumn leaves provide one with some wonderful designs, full of lines and colour.

Red autumn leaf. The multiple lines create a very interesting design

Red autumn leaf.

Yellow autumn leaf. The multiple lines create an interesting design.

Yellow autumn leaf.

Red and green autumn leaf The multiple lines create a very interesting design.

Thie autumn leaf fell to the ground before it took on the full fall colours.



Nearly everything is interesting

“Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” — Richard Feynman

Would you spend any time watching water freeze? Probably not. It’s not that interesting, you might think.

But if you look at the phenomenon deeply enough, the freezing of water has something to do with the quest by theoretical physicists to unify all the forces in Nature.

When water is liquid, its density is uniform throughout. No matter where you are in the liquid, the density is the same. This symmetry is referred to as ‘translation invariance’ by physicists. As the water cools and turns to solid ice, the water molecules form a regular array and no longer move at will. In a crystal such as ice, every molecule vibrates around a fixed equilibrium position. The density of matter is therefore high near the equilibrium positions of the water molecules and low in between. It is no longer uniform, and the complete translation invariance of liquid water is broken. In simple terms, ice (really cold water) is less symmetrical than room temperature water.

We live in a cold universe, and by analogy with the freezing of water, the universe today is likely less symmetrical than it used to be billions of years ago, when our universe was much hotter. Today we have four kinds of forces. The gravitational, electromagnetic, weak and strong forces. What if these forces used to be one and only one force when the universe was hot and that symmetry was broken into the four kinds of forces we observe today as the universe cooled down? This is a question at the forefront of current scientific research.

Now that I am a photographer, I still abide by Feynman’s quote. I strive to look at mundane objects and see if I can find a way to make them look interesting. How about a couple of forks and an aluminium container?

Two wet forks. Lit with a small torch and color gel, using the technique of light painting

Two wet forks. Lit with a small torch and color gel, using the technique of light painting

Side of aluminium container reflecting an orange object (Seth Godin's book Linchpin)

Side of aluminium container reflecting an orange object (Seth Godin’s book Linchpin)

This is not simply an academic exercise. I believe that if I can find ways to make really simple objects like forks and aluminium containers look mildly interesting, I should definitely be able to serve my clients better by making them and their businesses look really interesting.

Seeing aluminium in a new light

When we understand something in a different way than before, we say that we see it in a new light. We use all sorts of visual metaphors to denote a better understanding. We shed light on a weighty problem, we illuminate the debate, etc….
We are typically accustomed to seeing objects in the direct sunlight, the soft diffuse light of an overcast day, or other similar lighting conditions. When an ordinary object is lit in a way we are not used to, we really see it in a new light.
In my previous blog post, I showed how the light painting technique can be used to give the photograph a surreal mood. This happens because it is possible to create a lighting pattern unlike anything we are used to. It is much easier to light paint small objects, such as a small piece of aluminium foil. Combining light painting and the use of gels to change the color of the light, it is possible to create some striking pictures of a mundane subject like aluminium foil .

Light painting of close-up of crumpled aluminium foil.

Light painting of close-up of crumpled aluminium foil.

Another example of light painting of close-up of crumpled aluminium foil.

Another example of light painting of close-up of crumpled aluminium foil.


Vision training

I’m exploring a number of ways to challenge myself to improve my photographic vision, and I’m going to discuss one of them.
An image is visually compelling because of the arrangement of lines, shapes, colors and textures. The first challenge I’d like to talk about is finding a compelling picture of an unusual and abstract subject, such as paint on a wooden door or rust on an old container, for example.

Paint on woorden door, Blair street, Edinburgh

Paint on wooden door, Blair street, Edinburgh

Rust on the side of a container. Somewhere in Edinburgh

Rust on the side of a container. Somewhere in central Edinburgh.

In such a case, there is no obvious subject to be photographed and the first time I attempted this challenge, it looked to me like there wasn’t very much to do. I was really forced to work my subject, since the proverbial low hanging fruit was nowhere to be found. Getting in really close very much helps, in that it can simplify your compositions a great deal. And it also forces you to be very precise and patient, since at close distances small changes in your point of view change the image in your viewfinder a lot. I’m finding that this exercise is really helping me see better.

Paint on pipe. Luton Place, Edinburgh

Paint on pipe. Luton Place, Edinburgh

Paint on well, Marshall street, Edinburgh

Paint on wall, Marshall street, Edinburgh

Paint on wooden door, Blair street, Edinburgh

Paint on wooden door, Blair street, Edinburgh





Oil and Smoke at Joseph Pearce’s Bar

I like to challenge myself photographically, and close-up/macro photography offers plenty of those. But since that genre of photography isn’t part of my core activities, I had always postponed delving into the close-up world.

I needed to make a commitment, and as fate would have it, a few months ago, Bryan F. Peterson of the Perfect Picture School of Photography was offering his close-up photography class again for one last time. So I jumped at the opportunity. If you don’t know Bryan, he is a wonderful photographer, instructor and best selling author. Look him up on the web!

That class turned out to be a gold mine of visual ideas. One of Bryan’s assignment for the class was to photograph oil drops in water, using a colorful and out of focus background. At the time, I chose to do another assignment, but swore try out this idea after the class. A few weeks before Christmas time, I was able to find some colorful gift wrapping paper to use as a background and try it out.


Click on image to enlarge

It’s a very simple idea, but the results are quite striking.

In “Creative Digital Photography: 52 Weekend Projects” by Chris Gatcum, I came across another close-up photography idea that I wanted to try. Photographing smoke from an incense stick. Like most close-up work, this requires a lot of patience. And very good hand/eye coordination since the auto focus on your camera is of no help and one has to focus manually.


Click on image to enlarge

The two pictures above show some of the wonderful shapes the smoke from a incense stick can take. Note that I changed the colors in Photoshop to obtain more vivid images.

Seven of these images of oil drops and smoke are on exhibit at Joseph Pearce’s bar in Edinburgh until the beginning of June. They are part of the Edinburgh Science Festival & Spring exhibition organized by Vanessa Davila of “Delicartessen”.


Oil & Smoke pictures at Joseph Pearce’s bar.