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Were you ever in awe while looking at a photo where you could see the tiniest little detail of a flower? Maybe you’ve wondered how those stunning close-up images are created. This genre of photography is called macro photography, and Bob Daalder, a talented Dutch photographer, has mastered it. His results are absolutely mesmerizing. In this article, he reveals how he discovered his passion for photography, how he captures the beauty of flowers and butterflies in such great detail, and how he achieves the dream-like quality of his images.
Bob’s Artistic Journey
Bob Daalder’s story as a photographer began in an unexpected way. About 15 years ago, he visited together with his wife the capital of the province of Limburg, Maastricht (Netherlands). His only thought was to explore the area and “enjoy nature and a nice walk“. However, he discovered not only the beauty of Maastricht but also his passion for photography.
“Normally I would never have brought a camera, but this time I just happened to have a simple compact camera with me. Walking through Maastricht and the surrounding area, I found it very nice to take pictures of the environment, but also of the lines of, for example, parasols on a terrace,” he recalls.
In order to improve his photography and take it to the next level, he bought a simple digital SLR, and with this camera, he started shooting everything that captured his interest. He eventually acknowledged that he was most drawn to photographing the natural world.
The ‘Little’ Nature and Bob’s Inner World
So, he began focusing on the ‘small nature’, and subjects such as flowers and butterflies started to appear more often in his images. He says: ”At some point, I discovered that I was more and more inclined to photograph in parks and other places where there are flowers”.
Despite the challenges he faced trying to capture such tiny subjects, he found a sense of peace in photographing them – the tranquility of nature allowed him to enter into his “own little world’.
”While I initially walked through the city with my camera and took my photos there, I found it confrontational to involve people in this. It also turned out that I like photography even more if I could withdraw completely into my own little world. The tranquility of nature turned out to appeal to me more than the hectic pace of the city. I also found focusing on ‘little nature’ much more fun and interesting than walking through a city, for example. Photographing flowers and butterflies gives me peace of mind. I also loved the amazement to see nature so close”, he says.
Bob’s Challenges in Creating Macro Photography
For Bob macro photography doesn’t come without its challenges. He lives in the windy seaside town of Den Helder, and because of the wind, it is quite difficult to take a sharp picture of an object. This is especially true when it comes to shooting small subjects like flowers and butterflies.
“A flower that moves a lot is more difficult to photograph sharply than a stationary flower. To take a nice picture, it is also important that you have good light. You mainly have that beautiful light in the morning or in the evening. The harsh light of the afternoon is not optimal for my kind of photography,” Bob shares.
Photographing butterflies can be especially challenging. They will fly away if you get too close during the day. “When butterflies are warmed up by the sun, they are very mobile and therefore difficult to photograph,” Bob explains and recommends to try photograph butterflies around sunrise or sunset.
“If you want to have the best chance of meeting a butterfly at rest, it is best to photograph them before they have warmed up or just when they are cooling down again. Many photographers therefore photograph butterflies around sunrise. That may mean that you are already walking outside at 4:30 in the summer. Because I find it difficult to get up so early, I often photograph my butterflies around sunset when they have found a place to sleep for the night,” Bob says.
Bob’s Secrets in Macro Photography
What sets Bob’s work apart and makes it unique is the softness and dream-like aesthetic of his photos. He achieves this effect by using a large aperture, which results in a small area being in focus and a blurred background. Bob also employs a variety of techniques to emphasize the blurry areas, while he softens the image in photo editing software and gives it an ethereal appearance.
”If you use a large aperture, the area that you get in focus is relatively small. So much of the picture will be blurry. I also use a few tricks in this blurry area to accentuate it even more. For example, to keep clutter or twigs out of the picture, I clean them up or camouflage them with, for example, a transparent plastic bag or a light-colored autumn leaf. I also almost always use a parasol so that the contrasts become softer where the shadow falls. You can play with this shade. To get light bulbs in the foreground I often use pieces of aluminum foil that I then shine with a flashlight. The light bulbs in the background are created by light that falls through a bush, for example. When you use a large aperture, you no longer see that bush in the background, but only the light that comes through. That light causes those light bulbs in the background”, he explains.
Bob’s approach to his small subjects goes beyond catching a moment in time. He is not just taking stunning photos, but he aims to make the world “look nicer”, by highlighting nature’s softness and bringing “a little more romance in addition to the abundant daily craziness”.
“With my photos, I try to make the world a little more beautiful than it already is. I make it into a kind of world I want. So I’m not just registering the environment, but I’m trying to make it look even nicer”, he shares.
Before he starts shooting, he observes the environment and pays attention to the light’s direction and the colors surrounding his subject.
”For example, is there a bush nearby that the light does fun things with? I also look at colors that are close to my potential subject and at what distance these colors are from my subject. If they are too close to my potential subject, I often don’t like that because they are too emphatically present. But if they are too far from my subject again, they are not sufficiently in the picture and I don’t want that either. I now have so much experience with this that I can do it quite quickly”, Bob explains.
Photography in the Modern World
Bob thinks that nowadays, with the emergence of more affordable cameras and smartphones, photography has a much larger place in our lives than it did a few decades ago. And that with the arrival of artificial intelligence, ”photography will drift further away from the real world in the near future and show a more created world”.
”Where a photo was something special in the past, it is now part of our daily existence. (…) It often seems that contemporary photography is mainly a positive representation of one’s daily activities and has partly taken over the role of a diary. In addition to this everyday form of photography, I think photography has also acquired a more artistic function. Photography is no longer just a recordable thing, but has become a more creative thing”, he says.
Bob’s Advice for Young Aspiring Artists
Bob advises youngsters passionate about photography, particularly the field of macro photography, to try to discover their preferences by taking lots of pictures, looking at photos captured by others, or participating in a professional photographer’s workshop. “It can also be fun to shoot with a photo buddy. You can often also learn from each other and challenge each other,” Bob thinks.
”When you start with photography, it is first smart to discover how your camera works. Try to move away from the automatic way of shooting as soon as possible. Then it is a matter of shooting a lot to further discover what your preferences are, which subjects you find interesting, and how you would like to photograph these subjects. If it then turns out that you really want to continue with macro photography, you can, for example, borrow a macro lens to find out whether this is really it. Because the purchase of such a lens is a considerable investment, I think it is smart to borrow or rent it first”, recommends Bob.
Bob thinks that photography enthusiasts primarily decide for themselves which kind of photography they like. He also advises children to always follow their hearts and passion as they embark on their unique journey of self-discovery and creative expression.
”My advice to those kids would be to follow their hearts. I think you should always encourage and facilitate creativity. You should not think too much about pursuing a creative passion. Go ahead and enjoy it whatever that passion is,” says Bob.
Bob’s photographic journey shows us that passion may be found in unexpected places. When you delve deeper and discover what resonates with you, your passion might expand and take shape into a unique form of art. Bob’s work inspires us to discover our own passions and appreciate the splendor of nature.
So what are you waiting for? Grab a camera or even just your phone, and go on an adventure outside. Explore the world, discover what inspires you, and capture it from your own unique point of view. Who knows—maybe you’ll discover your own passion for photography!
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