Learn how macro photographer Cerys Bussey captured her award winning image and learn more about her work. Cerys took first place in our Q1 2023 WILD Land competition with her image, "Alstroemeria Stamens". This blog post is the first in our 'Behind the Lens' series where we speak to winning entrants to learn more about their work and their motivations behind it.
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"As a macro photographer I always like to photograph things we often cannot see well with the naked eye. To us the stamen of the Alstroemeria flower are just yellow tiny coffee bean looking things. But magnified 4 times you can see every particle of pollen that coats the stamen producing this bright yellow colour. something which is about 1-2mm in height now looks like rice on a stick. And that is the beauty of macro. Without context you would have never known what that really was. And now you do know are you intrigued"?
Q. "Can you tell us about your most challenging macro photography project and how you overcame the difficulties"?
A. "My most challenging macro project was actually quite recently, with my smallest subject being the stamens of flowers, specifically the photograph I entered into the competition. I've also photographed slimemolds. Both of these subjects are no taller than 5 to 10 mm in height, with slimemolds varying between 3 and 5mm".
Didymium Squamulosm - Slimemold
"Slimemolds, as a group, are polyphyletic and they were originally represented by the subkingdom Gymnomycota in the Fungi kingdom. They grow between 1-3mm in height, this kind I spotted were about 2/3mm tall. I took my time stacking 100 images to get the detail i was able to achieve on this tiny subject".
Q. "I think a lot of people that might see your images will be interested in the kit you use. Your macro photography seems to capture subjects at greater magnifications than traditional 1:1 lenses. How are you achieving this"?
A. "The kit I use for my macro photography is an Olympus OM-D EM1 Mark2 with both Olympus 60mm and 90mm macro lenses, Godox V350 flash with Cyngus tech diffuser. With the OM being mirrorless it is so much easier to take handheld macro shots as it’s so much lighter than my previous full frame camera. The 60 mm gets you to 1:1 and if I need further magnification I use the Raynox 250 attachment which magnifies the image further. The 90mm has 2x magnification, but in a traditional DSLR camera, this would be equivalent to 4x. The 90mm will now be my go-to lens, which is what I took my winning photograph with".
"I am also able to achieve really close-up photographs of still subjects like flowers by using a gorilla tripod and soldering iron helping hands. This is just a bendy pole with crocodile clips on the end. This means my subject stays perfectly still. Even though my OM has brilliant image stabilisation, having a still photograph really helps with image stacking in post-processing".
Q. "What’s your typical post-processing technique/software you use? Do you focus stack your images"?
A. "If I have focus stacked an image, I stack it in Affinity Photo using focus merge, export to Adobe Lightroom, edit them, make any cloning changes in Photoshop or cropping, export to Topaz sharpening software, and then the image is complete. If it is a single image, I start the process in Lightroom. A stacked image can take anywhere from an hour to 2 hours to complete as I work with anything from 30 to 70 images, depending on how small the subject is. When editing in Lightroom I don’t like to over edit, I try to make my images true to life, unless I’m going for a specific look. I mention a software called Topaz sharpening, which honestly has saved half of my images since doing macro properly. It uses AI to essentially fill in the blanks where you are missing information in your image, and it sharpens your photograph without looking fake, which, with moving insects and pollen that is smaller than a grain of sugar, the detail this software can give is out of this world".
"With the weather warming up, I was able to find my smallest subject to date most recently, with this being the zebra jumping spider. The spiders are only a couple of millimetres in length and are really skittish and jumpy, hence the name. In order to get a clear photograph of their face and legs in focus, I was going to have to create a focus stacked image.
I do this with image bracketing and a flash head with a diffuser on it, but due to the size of my diffuser and how quick the flash had to fire, it did startle all the spiders quite often which meant I didn’t get a completely clean stack. I overcame this frustration by going back out the next day and a little bit later in the day when they weren't so frantically running around. With perseverance and a lot of patience, I found a female having her dinner... another female. Thankfully, this female was more interested in her dinner than my camera. From experiencing the skittishness with the flash the previous day, I used my knowledge of this and did a push stack rather than a bracketed stack (that means taking an image and slowly moving my camera closer to the subject. Which meant the flash wasn’t firing as quickly). This resulted in a clean stack of her eating the other spider, which I’m quite proud of".
Q. "How do you approach a new subject when shooting macro photography, and what techniques do you use to capture the best shot"?
A. "When photographing a new subject, I try to photograph it from every angle possible as I may think at the time a certain angle looks best, but when I edit it a different angle might work better. For example, I’ve taken photographs of hornets from both head-on and side profile to which I thought the head on shots would be the moneymaker, but actually side profile shots showed more detail in the body and the hair which made from more interesting shot. If I have time, depending on the subject, I will always try to do both are stacked image and a single image. If I take a single image, it will be at f9/10 1/250 to get the most detail out of the subject. This tends to be things that move quickly so I have to think about what kind of technique I’m going to use to achieve a photograph".
Q. "What is your favourite macro photography technique, and how do you use it to create unique and stunning images"?
A. "I’m not sure if it’s so much a technique that back button focus is a lifesaver especially when photographing a still subject. You can use the back button to lock focus which is incredibly helpful with stacking. If you focus using the shutter button, the focus can change from the point you have focused to pressing the shutter, whereas using the back button, there’s no change when you press the shutter button that button only operates the shutter from that point onwards".
Q. "What are your plans for the future, and how do you see macro photography evolving in the coming years"?
A. "I don’t really have plans for the future, but I have hopes and dreams which would be to produce images that are useful for wildlife magazines and potentially science. I know my work has a bit of a way to come before this could be achieved, but I like to think I’m not that far off. I’m not sure where macro photography can evolve as the Olympus 90 mm has honestly blown all us macro heads away. There is nothing on the market like it being able to get this magnification in such little weight and glass. I would love to see how OM go on from here. In terms of the macro community, evolving, I am really hoping more people my age (20's) get involved in macro and start building up recognition and stature in the macro community".
View more of Cerys' work: