Denny macro

HobbyWeek: a little world rarely seen …

We are often told to “think big.” (It’s a formula for success, apparently.)

I choose to think small. As small as possible. That’s my hobby: Bringing to larger life the world of the small. I’ve been doing that for a very long time. In the past year, I have rededicated myself to finding the beautiful and the bizarre in a tiny universe.

My hobby is macro photography. Using a lens designed for the purpose — magnifying the small — I photograph not merely flowers but the interiors of flowers, their styles, stigmas, anthers, filaments, and stamens. (Yes, I suppose the petals of the flowers manage to get into the image, too.)

I photograph water in liquid and solid states. I particularly like to shoot in winter. I’ve captured frost in numerous incarnations. I’ve found round water — dew or rain drops held in spherical shape by surface tension. Often, the background of the photograph is lensed through the drops of water. Or the sun is a starry pinprick in a reflection on the drop’s surface.

Frost is a demanding shoot. Hoar frost forms during very cold, absolutely windless nights next to the stream downhill from my house. I have to time it well: Late enough for the just-risen sun to backlight the frost; early enough so the sun’s rays do not wither and disintegrate the crystals.

It’s always fun shooting fire. And odd things, too: One image accompanying this post is something you eat for breakfast.

Often, after I download the images from my Canon into Photoshop, I’m surprised at what I find. I wear trifocals; my eyes have a collection of floaters. Combine those with staring through a tiny viewfinder to focus and, well, you don’t see every little thing the lens does.

I discovered the world of insects. Now, mind you, I do not like insects. Ick. Bugs. Spiders. Bees, hornets, and wasp, those stinging little bastards. But I bought a guide to insects to try to identify them. (I’m failing miserably; I’m not very good at it.) I still don’t like bugs, but I’m less … frightened … by them. (I have a spider who lives in my office. I now tolerate it.)

And trees! Who knew trees — bark, leaves, stems, seeds, insect inhabitants — could be so wonderfully interesting and beautiful? Last fall, I photographed leaves (often, just fragments of leaves) as they withered and fell. This spring, I choose one leaf bud on a red maple in my yard to photograph from birth to death.

As a macro photographer, I don’t have to travel to dramatic scenic vistas to find landscapes to shoot. Most of images I’ve shot in the past year were in my back yard, at a fishing hole next to a stream in the valley downhill from my house, and on trails in a patch of woods behind a residence hall at my university. I often spend an hour or two inside no more than a hundred square feet of forest or field. Such seemingly limited space is alive with life waiting to be captured.

Such photographic efforts have lent me needed creative and artistic satisfaction. I have longed to create beauty but failed in other media. But the skills and equipment I have now have allowed me to capture beauty in places most people rarely look — in a small world well beyond their daily consciousness.

I discovered grass (no, no, not that kind) this spring. I’ve photographed blades of grass — and found a world of really small insects and seeds through which grass propagates. Grass, it turns out, isn’t actually green (well, I cheated a few times, and over-saturated the color; sue me).

I am a university professor. I teach (or try to) undergraduates how to write and otherwise mature into good, kind, decent, gentle human beings. The kiddies often frustrate me, and I occasionally chafe at their less-than-their best attitudes toward their studies. They require my patience be Job-like. (Well, my patience is usually tested to the point of failure.)

But macro photography reminds me of the need for patience and rewards me when I achieve it. In nature, nothing stands still. Wind moves leaves, flowers, and grass. Clouds obscure sunlight needed for better exposure. Rain defeats all efforts to keep equipment dry. The sun needs an hour to move so a shadow is removed or introduced.

Patience and solace are the rewards of macro photography as much as the satisfaction of the finished images. So, too, is the change of focus from large-scale usual to the small-scale unusual.

It is a wonderful hobby, learning how to see anew even as my vision ages and becomes less acute. Even now, I see more and better than I have in decades.

Try it. You might see better, too.

(Below is more of my work. View my archive at 5280 Lens Mafia.)

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #115: RIP No. 32

“If you’re really pro-life, do me a favor—don’t lock arms and block medical clinics. If you’re so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #107: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #105: The Illustrated Dick

“When all you are becomes defined as the amount of information traceable to you, what are we then? What have we become, in a world where there is no separation, no door, no filter beyond which we can say, ‘No. This is my personal space. Not yours. Here I am alone with my thoughts and free of any outside influence or control. This, you cannot have.’ I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out.” Who said it? Continue reading

Daxis, pt. 1: son of the Devil

by Michael Tracey

“O hateful error, melancholy’s child!
Why dost thou show, to the apt thoughts of men,
The things that are not?”

– (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, ib, 67)

Then something strange happened. In 2002, a friend of mine Mike Sandrock, a sports writer for the Boulder Daily Camera, was in Paris and met a young American who it quickly became clear, after Mike had mentioned he was from Boulder, was extremely interested in JonBenet and in me.

After Mike had returned he received an email from this man, who used the email handle “De-cember25 1996,” signed the mail with the letter “D” and wrote that he very much wanted to communicate with me. Continue reading