He was born in a small town, very small in fact. Tinytown was its name and small of stature were its inhabitants. They lived in tiny houses and had tiny horses, dogs, cats, and children (scarcely visible at birth). They wore tiny shoes, carried tiny briefcases, ate tiny meals, sang tiny songs, and drove tiny vehicles. The largest car they ever saw was a Hot Wheels Micro Mini, so large it couldn't even be driven down Main Street. Tinytown might seem small and boring, but it was a wild place once, full of magic and mayhem.
Macro Polo was exceptional, a giant among Tinytowners. Not because of his height or girth, for he was no more voluminous than his blade-thin compatriots, but due to his boundless imagination and creative spirit. He was an intrepid explorer of all things small and at the edge of vision. He had no fear of traveling far and wide; indeed, tales live on to this day of his heart-pounding adventures into the Point Five Acre Wood.
Macro was foremost an inventor. He built, from the rawest materials, a black box that collected light. He formed a light-gathering element in the front panel that captured, on a sensitive plate fastened to the inside rear panel, a 2-dimensional facsimile of whatever he pointed the box at. He called this device a "camera lucida" and the images it produced "photograuphs." It became popular quickly and soon every Tinytown resident owned one. They made photograuphs of every conceivable thing - a leaf, a grain of sand, one letter imprinted on a page, the single freckle on Nancy's nose, the myriad hairline fractures running through the repaired dinner plate thrown at poor Macro when he was late, again, for dinner. Over time (decades), images made with Macro's invention became commonly known as "macro photographs" (somewhere along the line the "u" was dropped).
Eventually, news of Macro Polo's black box migrated all the way to the West (from faraway Near West) and was adopted by the Tramplers, a race of giants. They reverse engineered Macro's marvelous black box and expanded all the parts so they could see them with their dim eyes, stripped away all the magic, and developed cheap variations to sell to the public at usurious profit. They came up with silly product names like Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony - all of which were virtually identical except for the location of control dials and adjustment levers. But none of them could outperform Macro's original invention. The Tramplers shook out all the fairy dust, thinking it was useless. They even found ways to make money selling "dust removal" tools!
Today "macro" photography means something quite different than it did originally. There are similarities, to be sure, but the spirit has changed. It requires getting as close as possible to a subject and even using special magnification glass sometimes to get closer still. But anyone can do that with enough effort and expense. What we're after is that missing fairy dust, the magic stuff, the awe and wonder embedded in all things that explodes in a photograph that's lucky enough to capture it. It CAN be done with our modernized black boxes. By channeling Macro Polo while down on all fours poking around the forest floor, sometimes fairy dust will appear if only for a few seconds. People may ask what you're doing. Looking for fairy dust, you'll say. Don't say that to a policeman though; instead smile and tell a little white lie like I lost a contact and yes, I'd appreciate some help if you don't mind thank you very much.
Macro Polo's mantra is "Get Close; Get Closer." Get as close as your lens will allow. Go the extra millimeter with a macro lens or a screw-on close-up filter. Crop in Photoshop. Watch the light intently, especially the side angles that reveal texture and shape. Become attuned to fairy dust and click the shutter when it seeps into your black box. Call on Macro Polo; he will help you.
Then share your macro photography results for all to see.
BONUS SECTION: MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS:
- Turn off autofocus and focus manually. The area of focus is critical and it's much easier to control yourself rather than letting the camera do it.
- Use a tripod or other camera stabilizer. The tiniest movement can throw your focus off.
- Aperture matters - a wide aperture may result in razor-thin area of focus; even a small aperture may have quite shallow DOF.
- Use Live View if your camera provides it for tighter focus and to preview DOF.
- Manipulate light using a reflector or flash. Move the light source around to find the sweet spot; look for definition and interesting contrast.
- Defocus on purpose - an intentionally blurred macro photo can make for a beautiful abstract.
- Focus stacking - for extra credit. Take multiple photos at different focus points and blend them in post-processing.
THE ADVENTURES OF MACRO POLO will run for two weeks, from May 4 through May 17.
Please post your images and comments directly to the MAIN Photo Assignment page, NOT HERE under the assignment announcement.
For extra credit, you're invited to do a SLATE project, too. If you haven't done one yet, visit slate.adobe.com to get started.