When it comes to macro photography, understanding natural light and how to use it plays a significant role in general: it becomes paramount when you have a particular shot you wish to achieve. This was the case for ‘Octopus’ and this is how she came to be.
Preparation: the subject
As a photographer, I’m particularly drawn to Sundew, otherwise known as Droseraceae, which is a carnivorous plant that usually lives in wet habitats. Despite its small size, the colour and the shape of this species really stands out to me. I’m also drawn by its predatory behaviour: such a small, innocent looking plant has a ‘dark side’, capturing and eating insects that become stuck on its tentacles. Luckily for me, a lot of Sundew can be found in the nearby fens.
Preparation: achieving beautiful bokeh
As many photographers know, the term ‘bokeh’ isn’t always understood in the same way. For me, bokeh is the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light. Working under this definition, I wanted to focus on one tentacle and create bokeh that is as big and as round as possible. This can be achieved using a large aperture with a round shape.
I am constantly in search of achieving beautiful bokeh. The differences in lens aberrations and aperture shape cause some lens designs to blur the image in a way that is pleasing to the eye, while others produce blurring that is unpleasant or distracting, which is –‘good’ and ‘bad’ bokeh, respectively.
As bokeh is especially visible in parts of the scene that lie outside the depth of field, I deliberately used a shallow focus technique to create images with prominent out-of-focus regions. For this, I chose to use 50mm 1.8 AF-D lens as this offers a very nice round bokeh at F1.8 or F2.2. I chose to use F2.2 for a bit more depth of field and sharpness on the tentacle.
Preparation: getting close enough
The only problem was that I couldn’t focus at close range and didn’t have magnification that was big enough. So I tried my extension tube on the 50mm lens. As extension tubes don’t have glass inside, you don’t lose much quality. It also allows you to get closer to the subject. I needed to place all three extension tubes between the 50mm and the camera to get close enough to the tiny Sundew.
At this point, I could only use manual focus, because cameras lose AF function with this set up. But this was not a problem for me. For macro photography I always use manual focus, because the size of the subject and the spot I want to have in focus is always too tiny for one AF field of the camera.
To achieve as much bokeh as possible, with the specific setup as described, I knew I needed to capture the Sundew before it blooms during a sunny morning in early June. I also knew the angle of the sunlight would be best half an hour from sunrise and until one hour after as there would be more reflections during this time.
The shoot: the right light, angle, subject
A problem I encountered, which I hadn’t expected, was looking for the perfect Sundew. Often the tentacles can grow in all directions, which can, and did, disrupt the background I wished to achieve. I had to search for a Sundew, which had just bloomed. It took some time until I found a suitable one. I got my camera out, I moved around slightly to find the right angle for the direction of light I needed to achieve the best bokeh – this, I found was about 40 degrees. I took several shots.
Once I’d returned home, I selected a number of shots to start post processing. I first adjusted the white balance and saturation in the RAW file before using Photoshop to adjust white balance levels, curves, some colour saturation and lens corrections.
Every photographer knows when to stop editing, and I knew I was there when I felt satisfied with the results. The bokeh worked out well and I was happy to have found some degree of symmetry with the Sundew. When I sat back to look at this particular image, it immediately reminded me of an Octopus, so I decided to name it as such.
Capturing natural subjects in abstract or surrealistic ways is definitely a passion of mine. Perhaps this may be because I am so fascinated by nature, and perhaps this is what helped ‘Octopus’ receive the ‘highly commended’ title in the German Glanzlichter 2011 International Photo Competition. Now, whoever said happy endings are just for movies? To see more of my work, visit me here.
Read more about Andrew George’s journey into macro photography in this blog post.