Wildlife in Still Life Photography in the Studio

Macro lenses are like nectar from the gods. As Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka said, ‘We are the Music-Makers, We are the Dreamers of Dreams’. That is what macro lenses can do. They can pretty much create magic or rather photograph magic. Showing you the world of the tiny, that so many of us overlook.

I purchased on Amazon UK, a miniature Eagle Owl, beautifully hand crafted by a company called ‘Schliech’. They create wonderful animal models, that are all individually painted and go through a time-intensive scrutiny and creation process. It is so small that it fits into the middle of my hand.

Even at just 1:2 macro, that the Canon Macro 50mm f2.8 allows, the magnification is decent and brings the bird to life.

For this Still Life image, I had a vision of the owl spreading its wings, surrounded by bright light in the background. So I used a 30-degree grid on a reflector, on a strobe, to get a large pool of light that would be all encompassing.

Positioning the bird was tricky because I stood it on a large, bumpy, uneven rock. One, the model kept falling off, and two I wanted a perfect perspective. I decided to shoot from below, the angle pointed upward. This view gave the bird a slightly pissed look on its face, which to me was perfect. I also wanted the wingspan filling the composition. Getting this right took time and precision. Fortunately, I used the Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared head which allows you to make micro adjustments to each axis.

I also had a 10 degree gridded strobe pointing downward 330 degrees, camera left, and a white fill card, camera right.

I shot a f/4.0 and focused in on the eyes. The very shallow depth of field blurred the wings and some of the lower body, giving the impression of movement and also, in my opinion, if the owl was sharp throughout its body, it would have looked like just a model. With the shallow depth of field, it adds just a small sense of mysticism.

In order to soften the hardness of the fake feathers, as the bird is made out of a plastic material, I used a program called Topaz Simplify and selected a filter that softens the edges, literally turning the model into a painting. I then blend about 20% of this into Photoshop, thus softening the hardness of the plastic material, giving the impression of soft feathers.

The image needed a vignette. I thought that pure brightness from corner to corner rendered the background dull. I used a filter in Nik Effects’ Analog Efex Pro, that not only gave me the vignette I was looking for but also gave the image a darkish, yellow cream, sepia tone.

It is a lot of fun and very interesting shooting these tiny models as a Still Life image, in the studio. With so many models to choose from, give it a go, you can become a Wildlife photographer in your own home.