Heidi Westum: Simple tips to create stunning Macros

by Graham Daly 

In the first of my new Spotlight Series articles, whereby I focus the spotlight on particular 1x Members and their images as well as their techniques, I will be shining the spotlight on Heidi Westum and getting some simple tips from Heidi on how to produce stunning Macro images such as the ones found in her 1x profile.


Who is Heidi Westum?



What is your favourite image that you have produced to date?
I think that will be “Golden Balance”

“Golden Balance”


Why do you like this image so much?
I took a lot of water drops dripping from the water tap, and later I started to use infusion sets and with NaCl (Sodium Chloride / Salt) or sterile water. These have a clamp that makes it easier to determine drip rate. I was so hooked on these drop pictures that in several months I took thousands of pictures and most of them were immediately deleted. 

I started initially with just the built-in flash, but later I bought one external flash, and then added another to my setup. I did not use any other equipment apart from a tripod and cable release. And capturing images of dropping or splashing liquids is not so easy to do without dedicated water drop machine.

After much trial and error, on a particular Saturday morning I finally got a lot of pictures that were very good, and Golden Balance was in my eyes the best of them.

Browsing through your portfolio I can see a lot of abstract macro images which are abstract in nature and often features water as the main subject in some shape or fashion. Would you say that abstract macro would be your style of photography?
Not really, I take far less abstract images, than "ordinary macro pictures." Yet I am fascinated by the abstract term that requires more of the "eye of the beholder".  I also think that water is very suitable in both abstract and less abstract “normal” images, as it has nice movement and reflects very good colours and light. I also like that the water is not as static, but volatile and changing all the time.

You have produced some excellent images where the main subject is a water drop on some colourful surface and in front of a colourful backdrop, such as your images “Waiting” and “In Arms”.  What is your trick for producing such images containing drops of water?
Patience!
Macro photography itself requires a lot of patience and frustration. It is not easy to focus, when focus area is very limited. Many people think that this is problematic on account of the relatively small DOF (depth of field) and use techniques such as Focus Stacking in order to get all areas of the image sharp.

I do not consider this to be so much of a problem and so I frequently use large apertures and I actually think that the shallow DOF makes for a much more pleasant and exciting artistic expression.
I think it's more important to get the outline of such droplets sharp, than the actual contents of the droplets themselves.


“Waiting”

  


“In Arms”


Indoors I always use a tripod and a cable release. For outdoor Macro Photography, I often use a Gorilla-pod as it is more flexible in various scenarios. It is also often better to focus by gently moving your whole body (with camera in hand) backwards and forwards to your given subject as opposed to playing around with the focus on your lens.

A stool can also come in handy, so you can support your elbows on your thighs. It does not take much unsteadiness or movement before the image is not the way you want or as sharp as you would like it to be.

While looking through your 1x portfolio your image “Colourize the darkness”  really stands out.  How exactly did you go about producing this image?


“Colourize the darkness”


Yes, this picture has been popular, selling some and has done well in various competitions. This image was actually taken quite some time ago. 

There is a seed of dandelion which is in water, and with a lot of coloured paper behind and was placed in front of a window with sunlight reflected in the water
The image is not processed in great detail but the contrast was increased and the image was sharpened.
I think it's really great if someone can be inspired by my photos to try out in different ways, and I reply as often as I can to inquiries about general things and tips.

Do you have any recommendations or tips for folks who are looking to produce their own stunning images featuring water drops at the macro level?
As mentioned, patience and trial and error. I use to put the drops with a very thin needle. Cold water from the tap is what I prefer. Having tried with other additives such as Glycerin, but do not think it was any better.
If one can afford it, I recommend buying a dedicated Macro lens, 1:1 magnification at least.
I also use extension tubes along with the macro lenses. One does not need to buy very costly tubes. I got a set on eBay which cost only a few dollars, which I used frequently. The drawback of the cheaper tubes is that often times there offer manual focus only.
Try out new angles, be patient again, and do not give up. Quite often I can shoot for hours without getting much out of it, yet I have learned something through the process and the failed attempts.

Finally, what are the key areas that people should focus on if they would like to improve their own macro photography?
* Focus on Light and Colour and specifically how the light hits and interacts with the subject.

* I often use mirrors and other shiny surfaces to reflect the light and colours.

* Many recommend not to photograph outside in full sun, but I totally disagree with this. Cover the motif with your body or have white sheets / fabric to put in front of the subject or try to angle light with a mirror.

* I think you get very nice backgrounds, if you dim the lights on the subject, but highlighting the area behind.

* Also think it can provide exciting expression of photographing through grass / bushes or other flowers, which will give a very soft foreground. 

 

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