About a month ago, I read a blog post about the different stages people go through as they progress in photography. I do not remember who wrote it or what the exact stages were, but this one blog post has haunted me for the past few weeks. It stated that one of the defining characteristics of being a mediocre photographer is that your best image is a macro image because macro images are easy. The author did not explain what about them makes the image less difficult than other nature photography; he stated it as if it was a simple fact. Quite frankly, this hurt my feelings and I have not been able to get it out of my mind.
This small statement has left me evaluating my photographic subject matter in even greater detail than I have in the past. Do I concentrate on macro photography because it is easier than wildlife or grand landscapes? Do I think it is easier than other disciplines? Does my love of macro imagery make me a mediocre photographer? After a month of deliberation, my answer to all of these questions is mixed.
I like to photograph flowers because they are pretty and they make me smile. I know they serve a natural and scientific purpose, but, to me, flowers are nature’s gift to make the world beautiful. I concentrate on a macro view of the world because I feel a sense of discovery in every landscape. From a local garden to iconic vistas, I can find a view all of my own. When you get close to these splashes of color, there is a tiny world of curves, light, and life that cannot be seen from 5 feet above. While many people have seen a poppy in a garden, few have looked closely and seen that poppy at that moment in that light in that garden. It is beautiful and fleeting and I love every part of creating that image (except for the bee that kept landing on my ear).
There are many things that make macro photography easier than other photographic pursuits. My subject matter is more readily available in that I can find subjects literally outside my door and lighting is under my control. Since my subjects are so small, I can use my hand to diffuse light or create a wind-screen. Some subjects are for sale at the grocery store and I can photograph them at home relatively easily. I do not have to wait for a beautiful sunset or get up before dawn to catch the sunrise. Since I primarily photograph plants, they are stationary and I do not have to fear them biting or chasing me. There are many things that do make my little world easier to see in beautiful light, but there are small struggles as well.
One struggle I find is getting the camera in the perfect position for the shot. My depth of field is typically only one or two millimeters deep and my camera must be in the absolute perfect position to capture the focus point I desire. Another challenge is getting me into position behind the camera. I am not very flexible by nature and it is something I have had to work on for those low and upside-down shots. Another common struggle is the breeze. Did you know that absolutely still air is almost non-existent? It can feel like a perfectly still day until you set up your camera focused on a columbine and you realize that a tornado has hit your little patch of earth!
Finally, the struggle with all photography is actually creating a beautiful image. Macro photography is more than getting close to your subject just as landscape photography is more than getting wide. An outstanding macro image is as hard to come by as any other beautiful image regardless of subject. Composition, light, focus, depth, framing, and processing all play a part in every image to determine its success and macro images are no different.
Ultimately I do not consider myself a mediocre photographer. I consider myself a work in progress and I do not see that changing any time soon. As I learn more about myself and my surroundings, I hope to translate my understanding into art that is pleasing both to me and those around me. After many scrapes and bruises, I still believe macro photography is easier than other disciplines, but I also believe that is because I love it above all others and it is easy to do what you love.