Itty Bitty Cities: The Microcosm Of Macro Photography

Why macro?

Someone asked me that this weekend at my high school reunion. They’d seen my images, my photostream — a high school reunion these days is essentially just “Facebook Live!” — and they asked, “Why macro?”

I found myself providing the easy answer:

“I… don’t know!”

I know how I got into it. When my wife and I got married, we were trying to have a sensible and small gathering, in part to control costs, in part just so we could remember the day and not be crushed beneath a tidal fist of stress. So, in order to wrangle costs, we opted not to have a photographer. Most photographers were in the “thousand dollar plus” range, and that seemed like something of a scam. So, instead, we decided to aim for practical: we’d spend a fraction of that on a fairly nice camera (non-DSLR, a Canon Powershot S80) and then have someone (in this case, my sister) take shots. Moreover, we’d have the camera to take on the honeymoon and to just have around to forever capture our ever-rushing cascade of wedded bliss.

Thing was, the S80 had something called “macro mode.”

I had no idea what this even meant.

So, I started playing with it.

And I just couldn’t stop.

(By the way, that’s pretty much every young teen’s masturbation story in a nutshell. “I had no idea what it meant, so I started playing with it, and I couldn’t stop.”)

Bulb Drip, Modified

(That image was an early experiment taken with the S80. It also led me to Love The Waterdrop. I like that in the drop you can just see the peak of our roof and the blur of the chimney.)

I upgraded my gear less than a year ago, and now I’m rocking out with a Canon XSi, and I went ahead and got a macro lens to go with it (Canon EF 100mm f/2.8). It instantly upgraded my shots by dint of it being a DSLR. It was a little trickier on the learning curve, but it handled shots with aplomb. Before, I was maybe using 1 out of 10 shots, at a 10% rate of success. Now, I figure I’m at about 20-30% success. Which still means I have an insurmountable junkyard of old photos collecting digital dust on a 1TB harddrive, but so it goes. Sometime, I should go back and fidget with them, see if I can’t make something good out of a handful with Photoshop.

Still, the DSLR lets me take shots like this:

The Mantid Tangle

Which is just silly that I can get that close. Those tiny mantids were just born. Just born. Some of them are still smooshed-up little worms. They’re maybe twice the length of my pinky nail.

That still doesn’t answer the question: Why macro?

A digression, first. It’s funny to me, because I never knew my father was into photography. I should’ve known — we always had cameras around, and he always took photos, but a lot of the time it was something he must’ve done on his own, because I don’t remember him having the camera that often. And yet, he passed away, and what do we find? Boxes of photography.

And some of his photography is plainly an effort to get closer, to see the world from a different angle. Compare these —

Dad, Bees 1 & 2 Bee Butts

Dad, Bees 1 & 2 Doctor Bee, King of the Squash Blossoms

Dad’s are on the left, mine on the right. Not entirely different images. Had he a camera with a macro lens, our images might’ve been all the more similar. It shows in other photos, too — the way he photographed our whitetails is the way I photograph the dogs. When he took a snap of a rose, he got deep, as deep as the camera allowed.

Of course, we still haven’t answered the question.

The reality is, I don’t know that there is an answer. Not a good one, anyway.

Time To Rock Arachtober (Guitar Chord)

I like that worlds exist that other people don’t see.

I like that there exists a hidden layer, and that the right equipment gives you the chance to reveal it.

I like that I can see the facets of a praying mantis’ eye, or the tiny fringes on a delicate mushroom, or, like above, a spider working his silken thread as I hover above. I can see worlds turned upside-down in waterdrops, I can dwell within rust, I can walk amongst fields of frost, I can dance through the eye of a needle.

The Scrutiny of Mister MantisBoletusCompositionRustbucket II: Iron Oxide BoogalooIce, Ice, BabyTightrope

I can get a face full of Nien Nunb.

Nien Nunb Is Dead

But again, I still don’t know that this answers the question. And I don’t know that I can.

Or, rather, that I even want to.

Some things beg to remain unexamined.


  • i have this same urge. always have. but my camera cannot cooperate.

    these are beautiful.

    so odd. my father was the photographer as well. had darkroom equipment for the bathroom, and was actually the go-to guy on the force for accident photos. i knew none of this until after i had fallen into the hobby myself.

  • Great post, Chuck.

    Living with my wife has made me MORE afraid of spiders than I was as just, you know, a breathing human. And the idea of elbowing up next to bees? No thanks. But I can do it through your pictures.

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