Over the summer I was shooting in the acre of gardens at my Mom’s house when my 4 year old son came running up. “Dad. The toad wants to help,” he says. My son loves toads like no other creature. All summer he will go on toad hunts to try and find them, making them toad habitats as he says. He has been paying attention while his brother was doing science. Sometimes he will even put them in the driveway and hop along side to have a toad race.
“Daddy, Daddy, the toad wants to help you take pictures,” he tells me with such joy in his voice. Then he opens up his cupped hands to reveal a little toad he had found in the garden. I turn my lens towards his hands and start shooting. I had been working on bees so I was already hand holding the camera, allowing for a quick transition. Focusing on the toad I compose to include some of the hands.
The hands around the toad provide an exciting sense of scale. A 4 year olds hand’s give context to the size of the toad and adds a dynamic aspect to the photo.
After a few shots I take a second to check the LCD and I am struck by the scale the little 4 year old hands give the image. They are huge compared to the toad and show just how small the creature truly is. In close-up work we can easily lose the idea of perspective or scale. Many times we are seeking to lose that scale and make our subjects look bigger than life. I love the way these images brought some of the scale back into the photos. Over the next minute I play more with the idea of scale and try different angles to accentuate the effect.
Texture and detail are two of the building blocks of great macro and close-up photos.
With this shot I love how you can see the texture of the dirt and the ridges in the finger. These two things in combination with the detail in the toad’s face show the strengths and impact of close-up photography. Textures, specifically the definition in those textures are a big part of composing a succesful close-up image. You always want to show the things we miss with the naked eye. It is an added bonus when you can do it with everyday things like a hand.
As I continue to shoot I have my son turn his hands to get a better angle toward the sun and have him raise and lower the toad to try some different angles. It is like having a moving stage in the studio, expanding the possibilities. Looking at his face I can see he is enjoying being my assistant.
As the angle becomes elevated combined with the limited depth of field most of the toad will be out of focus.
I try a few shot coming down on the toad from a higher angle, but quickly decide the front on shot is where I want to work. The lighting is harsher from the top and I was only using available light. More of the subject is out of focus giving this shot a nice use of the rule of thirds with the foreground and background being out of focus. I like the potential of the shot at this angle but did not have everything I need to control the lighting as I would have liked. At this point the toad and his holder are starting to get a little antsy. The toad has made a few attempts at escape.
I go back to the head on angle and do some more shots varying the perspective and exposure. In the end I was rewarded with this macro shot of a toad. I worked on getting in as tight as I could, moving away from including the hands in the shot. A different take on the same subject will provided several different options to work with in post. More angles and varying tightness allow you to have several different pictures for use later. Don’t limit yourself to first impressions or one angle.
Canon 7D with 100MM F2.8L IS USM F8.0 1/500 at 800 ISO Handheld
This shot reveals great texture on the skin of the toad. You can almost feel it on your fingertips. The angle of the eye and face to the sun gives some modeling with the light. We are able to see excellent detail in the eye giving the viewer a connection to the toad. The photo overall has a portrait quality.
From beginning to end the whole process only lasted 2 or 3 minutes. My son gives me a big smile and says bye as he runs off to go make the toad a place to live. Always be ready to change gears quickly while shooting, and take advantage of any opportunity as it becomes available. Sometime you will get lucky and a great shot will come to you.