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It's a Small World After All

The quest for the grand scenic vista is indeed a noble pursuit that I enjoy tremendously, but the small stuff can be equally rewarding.

I remember years ago as a kid hearing the thought provoking idea of how electrons whizzing around the nucleus of atoms resembled planets orbiting around their sun. Of course all this is no more than a coincidence or perhaps the tendency in nature to replicate patterns that bear out workability. There aren't really tiny people living out their lives on the surface of those electron "planets" no matter how tempting it may have been back then to entertain such notions.

But are similarities between the very large and the very small. To get the best shot it requires the right circumstances. This holds true for any type of shot, large or small. For that grand vista, you need the right weather and the proper time of day. It takes finding a good location to shoot from. There are places very near Mt. Rainier where it's not even possible to see the peak due to the presence of intervening foot hills. It's kind of weird knowing that the mountain is right there and not being able to see it at all.

For a macro shot, the rules really aren't that different. The lighting has to be right as does the vantage point you shoot from. The difference though is the degree of control over these factors you have as the photographer. If the light on Mt. Rainier is too harsh there's little I can do except to come back at a different time of day. Mid-day sun shining on a large white, snow covered mountain can be harsh indeed, and that mountain is too big to bend to my wishes. And if I can't see the mountain from where I'm at it may be necessary to change position by a mile or even several if I want to get a better view. But everything is smaller with macro photography. Changing position by even a few inches can completely change what I see through the viewfinder. And the equivalent of a passing cloud is no further away than the collapsible lighting diffuser in my camera bag. Sometimes even that isn't necessary. I can create a workable shadow merely by interposing my body in the right spot.

Mt. Rainier, up close and personalIn the entirety of Mt. Rainier National Park there are quite a few great locations but there's only one Mt. Rainier. If you want to shoot an image with Mt. Rainier filling the background you can do it from any number of different directions and locations, but there are no other awe inspiring huge mountains in the park. That isn't really a problem of course. Indeed it's a feature. The park is named Mt. Rainier National Park for a reason. But it can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to make every shot feature the park's namesake.

It can be interesting to consider how many close-up or macro shots you will walk right past or even step on the next time you are hiking to somewhere else. It's easy to look only in front of you in anticipation of that grand vista and never look down at the ground beneath you. Macro shots are everywhere. Just consider the difference in scale we're talking about here. Measuring over 300 square miles in the heart of Washington State's Cascades, Mt. Rainier National Park is a big place. But there are over three million square yards in each of those square miles. Just think of how many macro subjects there must be within the park. Even within a few miles of wherever you park your car there are enough prospects for macro photography to keep you busy for quite some while.

Sometimes it can be great fun to hike down some random trail in the park just to see where it goes without consulting a map first. Once I get to some interesting valley, I'll sit down and get comfortable. If I packed a lunch, I can pass some time eating, but it really doesn't matter. The whole point is to get comfortable and allow the place to become more familiar. It's only after familiarity sets in that the little details start to make themselves known. And it's these little details that turn out to be ideal subjects to explore with a camera and a macro lens. If you've never tried simply sitting down in the woods before to see what happens I highly recommend it.

Sometimes it can be worth trying this if what you hoped to photograph turns out not to go as planned. Sometimes this can be a worthwhile strategy if you've already photographed all those scenic vistas before and you're not feeling inspired by anything else. It can also be worth setting aside other possible subjects and heading out into the woods as your first plan of attack on a trip some time just for the fun of it.

Within the large scale world of everyday photography there are countless macro worlds. If you slow down and really take a look, it truly is a small world after all.

Date posted: April 12, 2015


Copyright © 2015 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Close-up: Welcome to the World of Macro
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The Value of Focusing Rails (and the Welfare of Unsuspecting Ants)

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