Abstracts have always captured my imagination more so than any other art form. So when I decided I wanted to focus on them full time I needed to look at what type of setup would best suit my needs. As I soon found out it was a learning process, at least in my case. My goal in this article is to hopefully help you avoid some of the pitfalls I hit along the way and give you some useful tips.
What type of camera you purchase is one of the most important decisions you will make. The type of abstract work you will be doing is going to heavily influence your decision. In my case it is mainly macro work that I do and often times at odd angles or tight spots. For this type of work an view finder is not necessary and unusable in most cases. After trying out various dslr’s I found that they were too bulky and cumbersome for my purposes. I decided on an high end point and shoot, in my case the Panasonic Lumix LX5. The camera allows me to focus within 1cm of my subject matter if needed and is very small and lightweight. Another added bonus with the camera is there is no need to clean up dust spots on the images. Image quality is outstanding, as I never shoot above the lowest ISO setting and always use a tripod. When shooting an image I also set the cameras built in timer as not to cause any additional camera shake, usually for 10 seconds to make sure everything has stopped moving. I’ve printed 20 x 30’s with little or no loss of image quality. In fact, most people (even fellow photographers) are amazed to find out that I used a point and shoot camera when they see the quality of my prints.
The tripod you choose will make you or break you as I soon found out when starting this endeavor. While you can get away with using a standard tripod, you will miss many photo ops using one. As I quickly found out, not every image is at the perfect height, angle or placement. Your best choice will be a dedicated macro tripod, one with an extendable arm and ball head. Don’t even bother with anything else, just make sure it is sturdy and of good quality. Even though you will be using a light weight camera, you still want to make sure there is no movement. Wind and weather are always a factor, so don’t skimp on tripod quality. Buy the best you can afford, it need not be name brand.
You’ve all heard that lighting is everything in portrait and landscape photography right? Well it’s no different in abstract macro photography. I am a straight forward photographer and rely on natural lighting only, never using flash. If the day is overcast I will only shoot color images. Overcast conditions are great for bringing out color saturation and shadows are mostly avoided. If I am going after a black and white image I always use the black and white mode in camera rather than do a conversion. I like to use bright light and shadows to my advantage. This may mean shooting at high noon or early evening on a sunny day with little or no cloud cover to get the best effect. Whenever you are shooting an extreme close up watch for shadows and or uneven lighting on the cameras screen. I often use my arm, body or an hat to even out the lighting. This will often times save an image from the delete button when you get home or at the very least a lot of editing.
Next time we’ll have a look at my editing process, so until then happy shooting.
Mike Cable is a self taught photographer who first picked up a camera in 2007. He lives and works on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with his wife Claire and daughter Emily. Cables award winning photos have appeared in several major photography magazines, including an European Canon EOS brochure.