Self-taught macro photographer Noah Fram-Schwartz talks to We Are SO Photo about his talent, motivation, equipment and hands out his advice to other up-and-coming macro photographers.
Tell us a little about yourself and describe your photography and style.
I’ve always been interested in both art and science. For me, photography, especially macro, is a perfect combination of the two. I try to capture images that are aesthetically pleasing while at the same time scientifically captivating. While I mainly photograph insects, I also shoot water, snowflakes, and really any part of nature which looks interesting up close.
Why macro photography?
For me, macro photography is all about exposing the unseen. It brings to light a whole new world that is often overlooked and, in some cases, is entirely invisible to the human eye.
Can you remember what first inspired you to pick up a camera and get into photography?
My first genuine experience with photography was in 2009, at the age of thirteen. My uncle, a photographer himself, took me into New York City for a day of street photography. As the year progressed, I became increasingly interested in macro photography and, not long after, I learned that I could construct a makeshift macro lens simply by reversing a short prime lens in front of a long telephoto lens. From there, my passion for macro really took off and, at the age of fourteen, I started becoming more serious about my new hobby.
Talk us through your kit and why you chose it.
For my work in the field, I typically use a Canon 60D with the MP-E65 Macro Lens. My lighting setup changes frequently but I currently use a Canon 430ex flash with a homemade diffuser which I built from a plastic milk carton, cardboard, and duct tape. Getting the lighting just right is especially important when photographing insects, as many of the subjects are highly reflective and can cause harsh highlights if the flash is not diffused properly. I almost never use a tripod as I like to be able to move around quickly and with ease.
The equipment I use for my studio shots (only about ⅓ of all my photos) is mostly homemade, as the type of rig I use can’t be bought off the shelf and I’ve always been into DIY projects. Here’s what my current studio rig looks like:
Are there any other areas of photography which interest you?
Yes! I’m very interested in the technical/scientific areas of photography, including high-speed photography, and astrophotography (especially star trail photography). I’d also like to get into infra-red photography and maybe even X-ray photography, if I have the opportunity.
You’re self-taught. How do you educate yourself to take better photos?
Over the past three or so years, I have refined my technique by reading a variety of online guides, looking at other photographers’ work for inspiration, browsing online photography forums, and, most importantly, getting outside and shooting.
What is your most satisfying achievement?
As someone who is always looking for ways to peer even closer, I just last month finished building a camera rig that allows me to shoot at even higher magnifications than before. I pieced together over sixty individually acquired components which I found by scavenging on eBay and at local junkyards. To get these high magnifications, I use an assortment of microscope objective lenses attached to my camera via a bellows.
I took this photo of a butterfly wing (shown below) with my new high-mag rig. Each scale is about half the width of a human hair.
The quality of your photography would suggest you’re much older and experienced than you are. What do you feel has been a greater influence – natural talent or hard work?
My time spent in the field observing insects has taught me that they are creatures of habit. The more familiar I am with each insect’s behavior, the easier it is for me to capture its story through photography.
What are the biggest challenges you face with being a photographer? (ie, making time to take photos, photographing something new each time, getting the photos noticed, making money from it etc.)
Almost all of my photos were taken in my garden here in Connecticut and while there are certainly many types of insects here, I often wish I had access to a more diverse selection.
Something worth mentioning is that I’m colorblind (technically “color-deficient”). While this can be problematic when adjusting the curves or levels in post processing, it also gives me an advantage. Apparently, in WWII, the US military used colorblind soldiers to spot camouflaged enemies because of their ability to focus on shape and not get distracted by color. In this way, my color-blindness allows me to more easily spot movement and find insects that other people might not notice.
What advice would you give other photographers looking to get into macro photography?
While macro photography is an exciting field, be prepared for a bunch of hurdles that you wouldn’t necessarily encounter in other areas of photography. These include razor thin depth of field as well as diffraction blur. Also, once you delve into higher magnifications (larger than life-size), auto-focus is usually not an option and almost always impractical. Be sure to try out low-mag macro lenses (ex: Canon 100mm Macro, Nikon 105mm, etc.) before investing in any higher-end equipment.
Noah’s portfolio website can be viewed here.
Noah’s photography blog can be viewed here.