Al Campbell, Field Editor

November 4th, 2002

Photography Up Close
Play the Odds Game
By Al Campbell

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this series on macro photography. If you learned something new, it was a success. There are a few regulars here who could teach me a few things about this subject, and there are others who will either start taking pictures of small subjects or at least get better at it. That is/was my goal, and I think I accomplished it; at least in part.

I want to close this series with a few final thoughts on ways to increase the odds in your quest for stunning photos of small subjects. This isn't an exact science. The guy I believe is probably the best macro photographer I have met talks about ways to increase his odds, so it's fair that you and I should look at it that way too. In other words, there will be many pictures you'll take that don't turn out the way you want them to turn out. These are a few ideas to increase the count of the ones you like.

First, don't be intimidated or discouraged. There will always be someone you look up to in this game, and they should be your goal, not a source of intimidation. I have met very few jerks in this sport. Most of the real experts I've met are friendly, sincere and willing to share what they know with those who are willing to learn. In the same sense; don't be a jerk. Share what you have learned with those willing to learn. Who knows; you might learn something in return. When seeking help, be friendly, courteous and sincere.

Be bold. Try new things and learn from what works as well as what doesn't work. If you believe the ultimate macro shot would be just the eye of a grasshopper, try to get that shot. I have never seen a picture like that, and I doubt you have either, but it might be the most incredible thing either one of us has ever seen. You'll never know if you don't try it.

Use the best equipment you can afford, but that doesn't have to be the newest or most costly equipment on the market. Good equipment makes it easier to get good results. However, I have had great results with my old Nikon N2000 manual focus camera and a Sigma macro lens.

Learn from everything you do. Actually, some of my best learning tools have been the things that didn't turn out the way I wanted them to. A few of my most treasured photos were accidents and not at all like I had planned. I learned from the mistakes and the successes equally. You should too.

The best way I know to increase your odds of getting a stunning photo is to take a lot of pictures. It's common for the best pros to shoot a hundred or more shots of the same subject in one session. If they're lucky, they'll have maybe 20 good shots, five exceptional shots and one stunning shot in two hundred clicks of the shutter. If you aren't willing to take that many shots, how will you ever capture the stunning images you seek? I don't know a single pro who doesn't work this odds game, especially if they're shooting wild subjects in natural light.

Experiment often. The guys who experiment with new ways to light their subject, new backgrounds and new thoughts are the guys who eventually lead the pack. The most attractive and unique photo is the one nobody else has. If everyone else has side shots of mayflies, how attractive would a shot from the bottom of a mayfly be? I will never accept the idea that everything has been tried or that I need to follow the pack. I would rather lead that pack than follow, so I'm willing to try new ideas.

The following photos show the same artificial fly in front of different backgrounds. In most of the photos, the forceps have been removed digitally, but it's the same fly; only the background has changed. Different backgrounds produce different results that vary with the color and size of the fly. You won't know what works best if you never try new things.

Finally, don't give up. Beginners aren't pro's, but every pro was a beginner when they started. The difference between a beginner and a pro is the time and experience each one has in this game. I would venture that the best pro's have had thoughts of giving up at one time or another in their quest for good photos. I would also bet that the best pro's throw away more photos than they keep. They play the odds game, concentrate on the things they have found that work, experiment more than the rest of us, and generally take more pictures in their search for stunning photos that cause the rest of us to stop in our tracks to admire their work.

With time and lots of practice you can be a pro, but it will never happen without those two ingredients. There are no magic potions or incantations that will remove the need or practice and experience. Of course, it is far less costly to learn from the experience of others, so take advantage of the things they can teach you. Above all, be stubborn enough to work through the difficulties you encounter. Someday I hope to be stopped in my tracks by one of your photos. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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