Up close, a butterfly wing shows amazing detail, color and texture that are mostly unnoticed otherwise.
My wife and I are driving to Cleveland, Ohio where I will attend a workshop on macro photography. I hope to hone my skills in this area of nature study. This workshop really isn’t about equipment and techniques (at least I hope it isn’t) as much as it is about learning to see with “macro” eyes. I hope to work on the “art” end of the photography equation, learning to see patterns, designs and the hidden beauty of subjects, something my scientifically trained mind is challenged by.
What is macro photography? Despite some camera manufacturers calling their close-focusing lenses micro lenses, to me there is a difference between macro and micro. For me, micro is the range of detail only discernible under a microscope or even an electron scanning microscope. There is an incredible world of protozoa, bacteria, algae, cellular processes, and detail so small that the naked eye cannot see it, all waiting to be photographed in unique and interesting ways, but I am not equipped to capture it digitally.
Macro, on the other hand, is something that you can see with your eye, but whose details might be enhanced with optics such as a 10X handlens or a 1:1 macro lens. It isn’t just ultra-tight detail such as the compound eye of a horsefly though. The organizer of this conference calls his work tiny landscapes, and that is essentially what this type of photography is. It accentuates small scenes that make up much of the world around us, but that we seldom pay attention to. In this context, a view that captures several feet of real estate, once called a still life, would be a tiny landscape or macro scene.
The challenge with macro photography is moving beyond the record shot that pretty much preserves or documents what you saw without much interpretation, into something that stirs a viewer’s emotions. Sometimes that just requires a different point of view, say from below instead of above the subject. Most of the time it requires more originality and vision, in-camera and in the digital darkroom. It always demands that most rare commodity, one which I have little of, creativity.
These small scenes may be part of a larger scene, literally seeing the trees in the forest. However, they may also be things that we just don’t carefully observe in our busy lives. In the macro world, the ordinary becomes extraordinary when you look carefully and deeply at the bits and pieces that make up the whole of a grand scene. It is the photographer who makes the difference between what is a documentation shot and what is fine art. The rules of artistic composition for grand scenics—rule of thirds, points of power, leading lines, and more—still apply.
The list of potential subjects is endless and you can continually drill down through layers to yield different results. I suppose the variety of subject matter is one reason why I am intrigued with it.
Nature is fascinating on so many levels that I hate to miss any of them. I photograph scenics, wildlife, science, and more. However, the macro world, whether photographing it or just observing, holds a special magic. Like opening butterfly wings, poking around in the macro world reveals hidden treasures only an intimate and close-up view can unmask.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho