Pikes Peak Pebble Pups

Pikes Peak Pebble Pups

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

September 2010 Lesson: Macro Photography--Nature Magnified

8 Steps to Close-up (Macro) Photography of Rocks, Gems, Minerals, and Fossils for Beginners
Learning to use your camera's macro feature will open up a whole new world in your photography. Also, macrophotos will give you something new--a very different perspective. Photos are also essential to a good newsletter article.  Compact cameras can shoot remarkably good close-up photos depending on the quality of the camera. But, there are several things you need to be aware of in order to take good macro images.

1. Turn on the macro mode by pressing the flower icon (make sure the icon appears in your LCD viewfinder). This setting allows you to bring the camera lens closer to the subject.

2. Compose your shot and press your shutter button halfway down to lock in the exposure and focus. This may take a few seconds, and usually you will see a green light.  Now depress your shutter button all the way down to record the shot. If you know how to use manual focus then set your camera on manual focus. Now focus on the part of the subject you want. If you are indoors, set your subject on a plain background. I use different colors of construction paper. If the specimen is light, put it on a dark piece of construction paper. If you are working with a light specimen you should put it on a dark piece of construction paper.
This light-colored sandstone was put on a piece of rich, black velvet.  Black velvet is a great choice for objects that are light. A penny is included so that the viewer gets a sense of the size of the specimen.

3. Lighting is important.  I like to take my outdoor macro photos on the porch.  We have a nice table out on the porch that works just fine.  If the sun is bright, you may have to go back indoors and use electric lights on little stands.  Avoid incandescent lights, they can create a harsh light and give a strange hue to your images.  In the winter, I take my pictures inside near the picture window,  Light coming in from a cloudy day can work.  You will just have to experiment.  I try both ways, indoors using natural light, and then artificial lighting that I have.

I used outdoor lighting when I took this image of a trace fossil in Cretaceous  Dakota Sandstone from the Fairplay area.

4. Use a tripod to limit camera shake, which becomes more of a problem the closer you get to the specimen. Getting a small, inexpensive tabletop tripod from WalMart is key. Until you buy a tripod, you can put your camera on a stack of books. Place your specimen on a stack of books across from the camera. Tilt the specimen up, put a piece of construction paper of the appropriate color behind it, and then another book behind the construction paper to keep the tilt steady.

This Eocene-age fossil spider was taken with a tripod. A ruler was "Xeroxed" and a paper scale was cut from the copied ruler. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument specimen number 2971A. Photo: R. Wolf. Used with permission by the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

5. Always use your camera's self-timer. This limits camera shake and vibration when pressing the shutter button. The self-timer is a delayed shutter release that records the image after all vibrations have subsided and eliminates the problem of pressing the release which would cause a slight motion. Check out your manual to see how it works on your camera..  Once you press the button down to take a picture, do not touch or lean on the table.  Just a slight vibration can ruin a close-up image. Here are some examples that two pebble pup groups worked on in order to write an article about ancient Egyptian beads made out of semi-precious gemstones.  The following Egyptian artifact images were made through a microscope by Pikes Peak area pebble pups.

Photomicrograph of garnet Egyptian bead over 3,000 years old by Lake George Pebble Pup Patrick Glover.  

The making of garnet beads is labor intensive. Garnets are a very hard material. Photomicrograph by Lake George Gem and Mineral Club pebble pup Auston Mammenga.

Cylindrical bead of lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli, prized since antiquity for its blue color, is a contact metamorphic rock with variable composition and varying physical properties. Photomicrograph by Colo. Springs Mineralogical Society pebble pup Victoria Arnold.

This ancient copper bead was beaten into this shape by Egyptian craftsmen. Copper was for everyday use in ancient Egypt. Photomicrograph by Colo. Springs Mineralogical Society pebble pup Victor Gordillo.

Disk bead of carnelian. The yellow-orange color is from iron oxide impurities. Photomicrograph by Colo. Springs Mineralogical Society pebble pup Kyle Helmick.

6. Experiment with your flash. It is not always necessary to use your flash but, it can reduce or eliminate shadows—a real problem for macro photographers. Try shooting where bright  light is available  to fill the shadows. I take a few pictures without the flash, and then a few with the flash. It cost nothing to take a number of imiages until you get the right one.

7. Fill the frame.  Get as close as you can to your subject.

8. Get comfortable and relax.  Enjoy what you are doing! You are creating a whole new way to look at your mineral and fossil world.  Be sure to take multiple shots, play with the lighting, move the subject around, and try different things.  This will get your ultimate close up.

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Through this blog pebble pups and junior members of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society can access their lessons, work on assignments and projects, and receive details about field trips in the Pikes Peak Region. This Internet program is also suitable for young people who are interested in Earth science but do not live near a rock club or gem and mineral society or for young people anywhere who want a deeper dive into these topics. The only requirement is that all participants must be members of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and must fill out the CSMS membership form (under important websites) and send their registration and membership fee in. Steven Veatch is the senior instructor and will need an email from you with your name, address, phone number, and permission from your parents to participate in this program.