A Tiny Wonderland
Nadav Bagim talks about the wonders and challenges of creating a miniature, surreal macro world.
- Description: To create magical scenes from homemade objects and creatures found in the backyard.
- Duration: An ongoing assignment.
- Notes: Interacting with the subjects made me aware of the subtleties of their behaviour. I learned that spiders and praying mantises exhibited the curiosity and instinctual reactions of other predators such as cats.
While I love shooting macros, the Wonderland series was not a conscious decision. I was working on an idea for another series, called Super Macro, which involved making photos of insects on colourful flowers—therein started my effort to create miniature landscapes of a new world. That is also when I understood the kind of perspective and lighting setup required to achieve these effects.
The concept gradually formed when I moved from one photo to another. At first, I was not trying to create a series, but as I progressed I got drawn into a strange world and each time, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Every photo session was like going on an adventure and not knowing how it would end. And so, when I needed a name for the series, I chose to call it Wonderland. Also, the combination of colours, landscapes and creatures was reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and I was more than happy to embrace the reference.
I do not plan the images—I simply come up with the ‘ingredients’. The setup, which is created on my kitchen table, usually takes an hour or two—right from placing flowers to cutting plastic bags for the background and creating lakes, hills, skies. Then I set up the lighting which consists of 1–4 flashes in different positions. In order to fine tune the frame, I simulate the model by placing a very small toy figurine.
Additionally, I ensure that the flash is set to the right intensity and that the aperture and magnification ratio are producing a desirable DOF. When my new world is ready, I introduce it to the cast—the little models. I usually find them in my apartment and on plants outside my window. That is the easy part, while directing the insects requires a deep understanding of their behaviour.
The trick is to convince them that they are the ones who choose what to do and where to stand. I do not simply place an insect at the centre of the setup, instead, I lead them slowly to a location of my choice. I do this by moving a small sugarcube or a little twig and waiting for them to follow it in order to eat it or climb it. This kind of interaction requires a lot of patience and a shooting session can easily span 7–12 hours.
Since these are live models, they tend to change positions, often, a splitsecond before the shutter releases. As soon as they do this, I need to recompose the frame. At such magnifications, even the slightest of head turns can change the context of the scene—the sun rising proudly over an insect may now be going out of the frame.
The other thing I pay attention to is the size, density and scatter of the water droplets, which can be controlled using a trigger-spray bottle. Besides noise reduction, brightness, contrast and White Balance adjustments, I do not do any postprocessing. The colours are real, the droplets are real, and so are the insects and the landscapes. It takes a lot of time and effort to synchronise all of this for one splitsecond, but the satisfaction is worth every bit of it.
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Better Photography.
I use a Canon EOS 60D along with a 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. For lighting, I use three YN560 flashes that are affordable, strong and offer great manual control. I also use a standard tripod with a ball head and a remote trigger. For extreme macro photos, sometimes, I use a combination of extension tubes along with the 100m lens and a reversed 50mm f/1.8 lens.
How to Create Your Own Wonderland
- Grow a Garden : Spray sugary water over it as this will attract insects like ants, butterflies, bees and more. In time, other creatures like praying mantises and spiders, who feed on the tinier ones, will come along as well.
- Get Comfortable with the Insects: Interact with them gently and carefully. Be patient so that you do not hurt them. You can even hold a stick and practice letting them climb up and down.
- More than Potential Dinner: From broccoli to mushrooms—the next time you are at a supermarket, try to look at the fruits and vegetables as potential backgrounds and sets for your subjects and not just potential dinner.
- Try Not to Fight the DOF: When shooting macros, we usually try to resolve the issue of shallow DOF by stopping down the aperture. Try not to fight the DOF, instead make sure that you focus on the right spot, which is usually the eyes.
To view more of this series and Nadav Bagim’s work, visit www.aimishboy.com
Tags: Macro, better photography, colours, insects, Macro Photography, july 2012, OnAssignment, Tiny Wonderland, Nadav Bagim