About 20 communicators across Duke, many of whom had not been on campus since the lockdown 15 months ago, participated in a macro photography and videography workshop in Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Wednesday June 9, 2021. Armed with mirrorless cameras, DSLR’s, GoPro’s, iPhones and Androids, the Video and Photo Working Group participants walked from the University Communications office to the Gardens Terraces for the field trip. “Macro photography takes a little bit of specialized gear, and a whole lot of patience,” Bill Snead, digital asset manager for Digital and Brand Strategy in University Communications, told his fellow communicators.
The working group, led by Julie Schoonmaker, video producer for Digital and Brand Strategy in University Communications and Shaun King, Senior Public Relations Specialist for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, has been hosting topics like “Small Cameras, Big Pictures,” “Creating Effective Virtual Events & Ceremonies,” and “Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic” through monthly Zoom sessions since February 2020, and before that, in person at the University Communications office. Snead, who also has a commercial remote pilot’s license and has been doing aerial photos and video on campus for two years, was a great choice to lead a macro talk. “I got into macro photography as a way to deal with being a landscape photographer in western New York, an area devoid of any real dramatic landscape features like mountains or oceans,” said Snead. “It’s essentially a vast glacial plain. Turning my focus to the macro world allowed me to explore micro-landscapes that were much more interesting.”
“It may take you many minutes to frame up and focus onto a mini landscape barely noticeable to others, and you may end up waiting a really long time for that dragonfly to re-alite on the leaf you’ve previously focused on, or for the wind to stop blowing it around. And you’re often doing all that while kneeling, sitting or laying on the ground. It’s not for everyone, but when you come away with a unique image that offers others a peek into the microverse, it can all be worth it.”
Some of Snead’s suggestions included a tripod for camera stabilization and focus, and a reflector for bouncing light onto an object or acting as a scrim to block harsh mid-day sun. He also suggested purchasing a used, cheap ($50-70) manual focus lens that could be attached to a current model camera with an adapter. Bill’s go-to macro lens is a 1974 model Nikon 55mm f3.5 lens, mounted with a micro 4/3 adapter to his Olympus E-M1 Mark II camera. “This lens is as sharp or sharper than anything you could buy today.” Snead also recommended extension tubes as a cheaper alternative to an expensive macro lens. Extension tubes are designed to enable a lens to focus closer than normal. Other iPhone or Android options include macro diopter close-up screw on attachments or clip-on macro lenses, for $15-40.
Julie Wynmor, program coordinator for the Department of Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, photographs students and faculty for department news stories and website acknowledgements, as well as in classrooms, meetings and program events.
“I went to the workshop for two reasons, one is that I joined the group while we were remote, so it was a fun opportunity to meet people that I’ve only seen on Zoom,’ said Wymor. “The second reason is I’m always looking to learn more and whether its Zoom or in person the Photo/video working group meetings have been very interesting, diverse and informative.”
Schoonmaker, who edits and produces overarching, strategic videos like “Duke Commencement 2021 Glory”, “Toward Our Second Century,” and “Presidential Awards Virtual Ceremony,” started the working group with King five years ago. The group now has 111 email subscribers with 20-25 who participate in the monthly meetings. “We began the group with the goal of offering our Duke videographers and photographers ranging in experience a place to connect, exchange information, learn and grow,” said Schoonmaker. “After over a year of only meeting through Zoom, it was wonderful to finally see each other in-person and return to hands-on teaching and learning together.”
Veronique Koch, science producer with University Communications, recently did a virtual tour of the Duke Greenhouse, and Snead tagged along to capture some macro shots. “His videos and still were just gorgeous… I was delighted when I heard he was willing to give a masterclass to our video and photo group,” Koch said. To prepare for the workshop, Koch purchased a clip-on lens kit for her iPhone, which included a macro and wide angle lens, as well as a small light, and a mini tripod, all for $57. “I didn’t want to invest in too much expensive gear right away,” she said.
“I was really surprised at how well they worked, and learning his tips and tricks during his class, and getting to practice on my own in the Duke Gardens was so much fun. I made some mistakes but I got a couple of great shots that I am very proud of. I can’t wait to practice some more.”