People say that photography is the art of painting with a camera. Being a photographer myself, I can easily say this is true. As an experienced free-form author, I also feel that the same applies to writing. When I write, I see the story as a series of images as opposed to a string of words, and I believe that a successful writer merely transforms this imagery into words to convey a message that re-forms as imagery in the minds of readers. For me, photography is a form of poetry, written by the camera.

 

It was the 2014 holiday season, and the Christmas lights created beautiful bokeh. I glanced at the leaves, as if they were still living. They were dry but contained endless stories in their fleshless veins — stories filled with sunshine, gentle breeze, smiles and love. I thought to myself: Why not capture such wisdom in the form of a picture?

Macro photography equipment does not take up much space; my indoor macro creation was done mostly on a desk. I set up my camera on a tripod and then simply used blue and red Christmas lights as the background lighting. Between the lights and the camera, I placed a green leaf on a slab of glass. The leaf had disintegrated into a veiny skeleton, but after much careful handling, it was able to support a water droplet on its very tip. The glass reflected it like a mirror. Off to the side I set up a tiny LED light to highlight the droplet

“To increase cohesion in water, add sugar. If this method does not work, consider replacing the water with a drop of glycerine.”

The main characteristics regarding the formulation of a perfect water droplet are cohesion and adhesion. Cohesion is the attraction between molecules of the same substance. Adhesion is the attraction between molecules of different substances. Cohesion in water creates surface tension, which is why droplets stay round. To increase cohesion in water, add sugar. If this method does not work, consider replacing the water with a drop of glycerine.

To arrive at the final piece, I shot more than thirty photos. At first, I experimented to find the best angles and graphic composition. It’s important to remember that in macro photography, the tiniest nudge can make a huge difference between frames. After I determined the composition according to my original idea, I took three individual pictures that I would use as layers in Photoshop: the background, the green leaf and the reflection in the droplet.

“This leaf was much larger than the green leaf, and it was placed right in front of the background of colored light bulbs, which can clearly be seen in the reflection.”

All three photos had the same focus point — the tiny water droplet. To capture the detail of the leaf reflected in the droplet, I used a 36mm extension tube between the camera and lens. This leaf was much larger than the green leaf, and it was placed right in front of the background of colored light bulbs, which can clearly be seen in the reflection. To emphasize the clarity of the reflection in the droplet and to capture as much detail as possible in the leaf, I chose the smallest aperture of f/22. For the main subject in the second image, I chose an aperture of f/16. To create the smooth background light, an aperture of f/3.2 was chosen for the third image.

Post Processing

The three RAW files were processed in Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop and Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4 plugin.

1) I opened the three images in Camera Raw and set them to the same color space, color temperature and auto correction for lens distortion. Since I took the pictures at ISO 100, I didn’t apply any noise reduction to ensure that the file didn’t lose any tiny details. I then exported the three photos as TIFF files to Photoshop.

2) Using layers masks, I blended the three layers together to reveal the parts I needed in each picture. To achieve a seamless image, I adjusted the Size and the Opacity settings of the Brush, while gently brushing hundreds of strokes over the layer masks.

3) I flattened the layers and then opened the image in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 plugin to enhance the details of the veins and the leaf in the reflection.

4) I made this image in a romantic, simple way and in accordance with my original idea. I believe too much sharpness would have ruined the soft mood, so I made sure to sharpen only slightly and only in a few specific areas to draw attention to the details. Also, when I reduced the image size in Photoshop, I specifically chose to reduce it in the smoothest way possible by selecting Bicubic in the Image Size dialog box.

Tips

1) If possible, stick with ISO 100 or below. The slightest amount of noise can be annoying in post-processing for macro photography.

2) Use a tripod, mirror lockup and either a remote shutter release or a cable release to prevent camera shake.

3) Shoot in RAW format to maximize the file’s ability to retain every detail and to give you more flexibility when you are processing the image.

4) Before taking the picture, sketch your idea on paper; it helps you to visualize your concept.

 

Some other pictures taken by Sophie Pan: