In this tutorial, we are going to shoot some beautiful abstract images, using some cheap and basic equipment. We are going to break down what you need to shoot the images and cover the best way to do it.
We need a couple of pieces of equipment to achieve the final result. We need a DSLR camera and a lens lens. In my case, I'm going to use my Canon 550D and a 18-55mm kit lens. This setup will work perfectly.
We are also going to use close-up macro lenses. They may also be called close-up filters. You can buy a set, which will have varying magnifications, for much less than what a real macro lens costs. That being said, if you already have a macro lens, use it. If you're looking for an excuse to buy one, this is as good as any! Keep in mind, when using these filters or a macro lens, your depth of field will be very shallow when working up close. The next thing we need is a simple tripod.
As you expect the following object we need is a fiber optic lamp. You can get these at party or novelty stores. If you have trouble finding one, you can buy one online at Amazon or a similar site.
Finally, we need an additional light that we are going to use to create some interesting effects during the shoot. In my case, the light is bluish. But you can get whatever color light you want depending of the results you are going after.
Positioning the Subject and the Camera
We need to position our camera in order to be able to get the desired shot. There is no rule for positioning the camera in this case. It is all up to you, depending of what you are after.
I suggest you to switch to live view if your DSLR has this function. Lower the shutter speed to get more light, as opposed to increasing your ISO. Since we're working on a tripod, you might as well preserve the image quality.
Now you can frame your shot as needed. When I'm doing this, depth is at the forefront of the process. I either try to create a lot of depth of different layers, or I try to eliminate it and create a more flat effect.
What to Shoot For
The final result depends upon you and your imagination. I'm going to show you several images that were taken from different angles and with different focus planes.
1. Here you can see that the camera was positioned sideways and the goal was to focus the front elements and get some nice out of focus "bokeh"-y parts in the background.
2. As you can see here, we have a frontal camera positioning and the focus is in the back where we have some parts in focus and everything else is out of focus.
3. Here we have the same angle as before, but this time everything is out of focus. This is great for the bokeh fans. You can create infinite variations. You can also use this as a background for text. It really lends depth to the graphic.
4. You can see beautiful use of shallow depth-of-field. Here we are even closer than the camera is able to focus and the focus it totally off to get this big, beautiful, blurry lights.
5. Here we have very beautiful example. The middle part is sharp in focus and all the rest is out of focus. My goal was to fill the entire image with lights and have only the center in focus.
6. As you can see, you can get creative and use some custom bokeh adapters to get very beautiful results. I used my DIY custom bokeh adapter for shooting these images. I did cheat and use my 50mm f1.8 lens in order to be able to use the adapter because it was built for that lens.
7. This is another example using the custom bokeh adapter. You can create some really cool images with it.
8. This is what it looks like when you close your aperture. In this case, I used the 50mm f1.8 which has only 5 aperture blades and makes pentagon shapes when the aperture is closed.
The possibilities are endless. The only thing you need is a bit of imagination and patience.
Choosing The Right Camera Settings
Basically, there are no "right" camera settings for this type of images. The first thing you need to do is to set your camera to full manual mode. High contrast scenes like this play terrible tricks on your light meter.
After that you need to set your white balance to a preset. Never use AWB. The lack of true white in these images will not result in a good AWB setting. This will keep the color consistent. You can actually shift the color using different presets.
Remember, you're using macro tools. It is almost impossible to get sharp focus with the shallow depth of field these have when used so close. That's why I suggest you the following settings. Set your aperture to F8 or higher to get decent DOF. The next thing you need to set up is your shutter speed. You will be forced to use low shutter speed, because of your aperture value. My shutter speed was 1/4, but you can go even lower. Just keep in mind that your subject needs to be still to avoid blurring the image. Finally you need to set your ISO setting. I used ISO between 100 and 800 depending of the result I'm going for.
Shooting the Images
Here comes the fun part. I suggest you switch your camera to burst mode. That way you will be able to shoot several images at once and this will ensure that you're not going to miss anything that might be great. Most of these lamp change color slowly, and that mix of color is what I find most interesting. Burst mode will help you to capture all those nice color transitions.
Another tip I can give you is to capture a blank black frame each time you change your camera angle or reposition your subject. This way you can get a good idea when a series of images starts and ends when you start editing the images in Photoshop.
Repositioning The Camera
There is nothing too complex about this. Just remember not to get bogged down in one stop. Keep moving and you'll get some good frames. When I'm shooting, sometimes I find myself struggling to make an angle work. I change focus, I zoom in, I zoom out. I have to remind myself that maybe it's just not a good angle. Then I reposition myself and move on.
Below you can see some different camera angles as an example. You can use these as a starting point.
Using Additional Light
Here comes the moment where we are going to use the additional light we talked about earlier. It produces some pretty interesting results. As I mentioned, my light is bluish. When mixed with the light colors of the fiber lamp, it produces some pretty awesome results!
You can place the light behind the lamp or on the right or left side of it depending of the angle you are shooting. Here are two images, the first one is without the light and the second one is with the light. The difference is significant. It gives the image more definition and depth. You can experiment and see if it works for you.
Retouching the Images in Photoshop
We are going to make some minor adjustments in Photoshop. I sharpened the image using Smart Sharpen with the settings you see in the image above. Sharpening can be used to make fine details pop. That's more of the emphasis here.
After that, I increased the contrast using levels. You can see the difference immediately. Of course, you can play more in Photoshop if you are after a different result. If you don't like the colors you can apply hue/saturation and completely change them.
What You Can Take Away
As you can see, you don't need super expensive equipment or super advanced knowledge to create some beautiful abstract macro images. All you need is some simple gear, a bit of imagination and patience to experiment until you get the desired result.
I hope you find this tutorial useful, and I hope it gave you some tips for using macro filters or lenses. I would love to see what you came up after reading this tutorial. If you give it a try, please share your results with the community in the comments below.