The P-Q-R-S of Macrography

Huh? PQRS? The alphabets start from A-B-C…so on. What is this PQRS?

Well there are many videos/articles/workshops on the ABCD of macrography. Many basics of macrography workshops also cover this. When I started macrography back in 2006, the concept of proper workshops/articles was there but I could not access them. Slowly and steadily as technology progressed, I gained knowledge from my self-learning and took interest in my hobby. I still remember, when I was new in my hobby and when I received my Raynox kit from USA in 2006, happiness knew no bounds. I used the Raynox on any subject and every subject. My motive was not how things look magnified but how the Raynox functions when in front of different subjects. I started to note the plus points of the Raynox and the Fuji S6500FD and its short comings. I began to realize that while the technicalities kept on changing, some things remained constant and are constant to this day.

Now before I begin the article, fair warning. I am in no way an expert. I have not roamed the jungles for years, no awards won, no photos printed in magazines, photos not exhibited in any exhibitions, no stalwart status in any forum/group, no workshops given. (Tried to arrange 2, failed). I am YOU. An ordinary person, who does an ordinary job and has this weird hobby of photographing insects. If you want advice from experts I can gladly refer you to those people. Don’t read this. Stop.

Ok. So you chose to stick around. Thank you for that. Mind you, these are from my own personal experiences past and present. Shall we begin?

P – Patience:

“Patience is a virtue and I am learning patience. It is a tough lesson”. – Elon Musk

The number one aspect in macrography. Be patient. I have seen many who either begin macrography or those who come for macro walks are in a hurry. The basic assumption is, if I visit a park, I will see the subjects immediately. Many think the subjects are there waiting to be photographed. Wrong. Macrography is not a similar style of wildlife. As many say to me, macrography rules do not apply to bird photography, same way bird photography rules do not apply to macrography. Over the years, I have met some amazing people through my hobby and am in contact with them. All introduce themselves as photographers who “also do macro”. I get puzzled/baffling looks when I say I am a full-time macrographer who “also tries other styles of photography”. Some correct me saying I said it in reverse. When you enter the macrography world, the basic rules change and a new set of basic rules come into play. You will visit a park and you are NOT going to see subjects immediately. You will have to scan for subjects/habitats to find interesting subjects and in the beginning you are going to fail at it. I have lost count of my visits to my local macro spots and came empty-handed. It became routine at one point. Get up – go to the spot in the morning – scan for subjects – nothing – have breakfast and come back. But eventually I got the photo I was looking for, a long horn beetle. Beginners and photogs “who also do macro” do not get to understand the failure part. Insects do not majorly make noise, have to hide from their prey and work in extreme conditions. If they want to hide from their prey, how will they be visible to you? With exploding of the instant gratification and social media bomb, photogs want to photograph what is running hot on the plate. When photogs visit in batches on macro tours/walks, many are running behind the main lead photog and photograph what they see. Local guides try their best to find something new and different. But they are bogged down by requests from photogs to find the stalwarts that will have their 10-15mins of fame on social media. So invariably the local guides then have to shift to satisfy the clients. This is not wrong and cannot be avoided. The alternate path is to get in contact with the local guides and visit yourself. Even if it means you may not get stalwart photos, so be it. But at least you will try for yourself what the field/nature/photography is all about. No restrictions, no obstructions.

All of us get filled up by the amazing photos we see on social media. But do we ask, how much time he/she must have spent to take this particular photo? Why the photo is taken in such a fashion? I don’t see comments asking what went behind the photo. Rather the photos get one liner comments. A pat on the back. That’s it. Many have now lost the patience to sit and think about the photo, its vision/story. You should not lose your patience. If you want to get good at macrography, make a schedule in the next coming monsoon or this early winter. I know it is going to be hard to carry out but try it. When you are in the field and spot a subject, do not get excited and lose the opportunity. If you have started macrography, first be patient and see what is your subject doing? Dragonflies have a specific flight pattern. You went near to photograph and it flew away? Have patience and be still. It will come back to the original spot or nearby. The area is too windy? Have patience. The breeze at times settle down. If it does not, do you have anything that can block the wind that is hampering your subject? You are not getting quality light or depth that you want? Be patient. Put your camera down for a moment and visualize the scene. You will be surprised that, by being patient enough to understand the situation at hand you will start to find solutions. Light is too bright? Back up the light. Not getting the depth that you want? Can it be achieved by going at the eye level of the subject? Is your presence disturbing the subject or it is active as is? If it is the former then you will have to re-approach the subject. Many mistakes in the field can be avoided or corrected if you are patient enough to understand the situation. It will not be miracle situation. You will not wake up one day and find yourself suddenly filled with patience to tackle the macrography world. It will be gradual and you will the skill expanding as you progress. Nature teaches us lot of things. Patience is also one of them. Surprisingly you will find this new skill mold in you daily life and will be beneficial in the future.

Finally be patient and have faith in yourself if you want to improve on your macrography skills. It will take time and that constant spark to learn something new. There is no other way around it.

 

Q – Quality:

Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. – John Ruskin

Which brings us to the next Letter. Q. Quality. When you are patient enough to study and research on your own skills, Quality HAS and WILL go up. This is a no brainer.

Yes there are some basic concepts for quality photos. You should decide what quality is for you. Good depth of field and ok light? Great light and ok depth of field? Crisp details and specific parts? Choices are unlimited. Many do not get a simple aspect of macrography. You are going to press the delete button for your photos. Lot of times. Photo is blurred? Delete it. Critical focus is not there? Delete it. (Though if it is something rare, keep it). You do not like the composition? Delete it. Learn to discard unnecessary photos. Remove the clutter from the catalog. Focus on the ones that YOU feel match to your standards. Rate them which ones are superb and which ones are ok. Take two minutes to analyze why you rated a particular photo superb? Can you recreate the scenario for your future photos? Mostly the answer will be yes. You will see an uptick in quality. In my recent trip to Agumbe, I had the daunting task of filtering out the photos. All photos – delete absolute crap photos – make first lot. Delete repeats or duplicates – make second catalog – rate which ones are superb and which are record photos and then begin the editing. In the end from 562 photos I had to narrow down to the last 43 that met my quality standards.

Sit and see any macrographer photos that inspire you. Read their photos. Ask yourself why it is a quality photo? Light? Depth of field? Subject? Placement? Anything else? Note it down. The photos have a trend of any particular quality? Note it. Can you work on it or change it to suit your own needs? Why your photos do not match to those of stalwarts? If you start answering these questions and begin researching on what makes a photo top notch quality for you, progress is sure to go upwards. But to progress one has to first accept the situation that the quality needs improvement. This acceptance is hard for many to digest and they are back to square one. Patience and quality always go hand in hand in macrography. Both require significant investment and have a very slow ROI. But when the ROI kicks in, the hard work is paid off. As they say in corporate interviews, where you do see yourself 5 years down the line? Ask yourself the same question in a different fashion. Where do you see the quality of your photos going in 2-3 years down the line? Are YOU (not others) satisfied with the current quality of photos? Do you need improvement? The path to progress will be in the answers that come in your mind.

 

R – Reading:

 

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss.

Friend: Took a photo of a jewel beetle. [Me: No it is a jewel bug]. It’s one and the same thing.

Took a photo of a dragonfly. [No. it is a damselfly]. It looks the same.

[I saw an eagle the other day]. No it was a kite. [Its the same thing]. How dare you?

I have gone through these scenarios a lot. Do macrography for the sake of it. Barring insect specific people and forums, who cares for the IDs? Bug is a bug. Dragonfly-damselfly? One and the same. But we have to keep up our status in other forums and meets. It will look odd when people are talking about birds and mammals and you don’t know the correct ID of the bird. Instant ban. Wrong ID on the insect. It happens.

General normal photogs do not read about entomology basics but ask them what is the difference between two bird species and they can blabber out. I was discussing this same aspect with one of my friend and he answered to me in one sentence. “Macrography does not have glamour”. It is just an insect sitting on a twig doing what it does. What’s great in it? Birds, Mammals are majestic. Any conversation topic starter. The underlining part of his sentence was the education is skewed to “insects are eww” from schooling. It is now that the situation is changing slowly and entomology topics are cut down to interesting topics that kids can understand. He also pointed out there are few field guides available in the market for insects. But for birds, I was amazed to see birds of Maharashtra, birds of Pune, etc. Insects are everywhere is the general mindset of people. They don’t read that insects also do big migration journeys like birds. The recent news was of the Globe Skimmers which do migration from Southern India to Africa via Maldives and back. Reading articles and scientific articles help in understanding the inner workings of the insect world. Have you ever wondered, why there is a katydid, grasshopper, locust, cricket when they “look one and the same”? Why there are bugs and beetles? They look the same. Why there is a house fly, fruit fly, flesh fly, bottle fly, long legged fly….I can go on.  You photographed an interesting fly/wasp. Instead of posting it in a group and writing a singular “ID please” did you take the effort to ID it yourself? There are some good guides available now, easiest being bugguide.net. Yes it is an American site with American specific insects. But the guide to the top left is interactive. This is very good to start the ID as you know how your subject looked when you took the photograph. As you start reading about the insect world, you will gain more knowledge. Insect habitats, life cycles, favorite plants, timing zones etc. You will have better time on the field with this knowledge. This will also indirectly change quality of your photos and make you patient enough to look for that perfect situation.

The insect world is equally fantastic and lively like the rest of the wildlife world. With interest in entomology reading and understanding it (not deep science stuff), the next time you go to Tadoba, keep an eye on your hotel walls. You may find a beautiful moth sitting there waiting for you.

 

S – Story:

Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself. – Octavia Butler.

Story comes at the end but is the most striking one. Photos/art is made or broken with or without a story. And a story cannot happen without a vision. Vision cannot happen without the three traits that I wrote above. Having a story is the hardest part of any macrographer. Majority of the times, the subjects that are photographed, run away, fly away, hide. Others show defensive pose. Try and find a story in those scenarios. Many forget how you found the subject is a story in itself. This is the skill along with patience has the slowest pace in learning. The other thing I have seen is many macrogs take photos to impress others, be it in stalwarts in forums, or to abide by certain rules in competitions. If the story in the photo is better with a 50% crop, do it. Why are people afraid to crop I am still trying to find out. You are in command of your macrography. You create your own unique stories. It is better to have 1 true follower of your story and not 100 click baits.

Don’t create fake stories. Placing subjects on wrong habitats, pinning them down with strings etc., placing impossible subjects in impossible scenarios is simple no. And if you wish to do this, put a disclaimer that you have done it. Be honest of how you took the photograph. This is where things go wrong. Many do not declare how the photo was taken. Others try to imitate the same photo/situation without the knowledge that the original may have been a fake photo. The process is repeated and in the end a wrong notion is created about a certain style. The setup looks good. Who cares if the subject is harmed while doing so? If he/she can do it why can’t I?

Stories will start to appear in your photos when you start listening to your inner-self. And it is ok that you may not find a story in each photo. But that should not stop you from trying out new things to create a new chapter in your macrography world. Think about it. Which photo you feel will have more depth? A photo of a paper wasp or a photo of a momma paper wasp feeding its child?

 

So the next time somebody says to you aperture F22 is the number one thing in macrography, then ask yourself. Is it?

  1. Uday Agashe

    Excellent writing Anvay… got to learn (and also re-learn)…

    • anvay

      Thank you Uday! Good to know that there was something useful from this article.

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