How did you first get into the world of macro photography?
Went I went “pro” I thought I could only be a portrait photographer. I didn’t even realize that there were other genres of photography! Every time I went out to do a portrait session, I would end up seeing the environment on a macro level…and I was fascinated. I’d be down in the dirt or the grass photographing something else. Like a single spider web strand.
What about macro photography in particular draws you to it?
That you can take an ordinary object and make it look like something completely unrecognizable. This is olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a plate.
How do you hope viewers engage with your photographs? What do you hope to illicit from viewers – emotionally, intellectually?
Both! I get very different reactions to my artwork. Some people can’t even decide if they like a particular piece until they know what it is. This is especially true for the very abstract pieces. This was a block of ice before I took a blow torch to it.
Which photographers have influenced your work ?
I love the work of Henry Domke and Florence Delva. I studied with Freeman Patterson in New Brunswick, Canada. He coined (and I borrowed) the phrase, “the building blocks of visual design." He taught me about the simplicity of shapes and colours in the world. He helped me learn how to see the important elements in artwork.
Do you draw inspiration from the works of any particular painters, or perhaps artists in mediums other than photography?
Paul Smith was an artist who lived in Oregon until he died in 2007. He made beautiful pieces of art on a typewriter using only 11 keys. He had severe Cerebral Palsy but he fought through that challenge to become a master artist. My macro artwork can be tedious and frustrating. This image took me 4 hours to make. I used to complain about that, until I watched videos of Paul Smith and how he painstakingly created masterpieces one key stroke at a time.
What photo gear is essential for your work?
My Vanguard Alta Pro 284CT, macro tripod of course! I initially found Vanguard tripods after an exhaustive search for something that would allow me to photograph my subjects with out banging into the table they were on. I make art with a 90mm Tamron lens and that means that you are are very close to the subject. Longer focal length lenses allow you to get farther away, but I need to be very close. The specialized macro extension arms is awesome for getting close but in strange ways - it’s kind of like playing Twister with your tripod and subject.
How do you conceptualize, execute, and post-process your shots?
You hear people say, “it spoke to me” when they talk about choosing their subject matter and you think they are being silly, but my subjects DO speak to me. As one who is fixated on water, try having a conversation with me on a hot summer day outside, while drinking some kind of cold beverage; ok it’s usually wine. The point is, I’m fixated on the sunlight in the condensation and then when it starts to run down the glass….well, then it’s game over and I’m compelled to photograph it. My post processing must include Adobe Lightroom. I can’t remember life before it. My good pal Troy Miller kept telling me to use it and I didn’t listen for a long while. Now I can edit shoots in minutes instead of hours.
If you had to pick one photo of your own that you like best, which would it be and why?
I’m still really jazzed about “Smooth Scroll.” I created this image recently for a competition. At the time, my macro flower photography was starting to be copied so it was a challenge to mix things up. I wanted to be unexpected but still have my signature stamp on the image. It won.
How do you continue to educate yourself and improve your art?
I troll the internet all the time and look at other artists work. Then I try to NOT do what they’ve done. It’s hard! Some photographers out there really know what they are doing and when you know how to copy someone you can and get away with it. But that’s so easy, and it’s really just cheating. I take inspiration from other artists but I don’t copy or attempt to reproduce what they’ve done. That’s why I don’t photograph bugs. And because they are gross too. That’s the other reason I don’t do bugs.
Any advice to aspiring photographers?
Don’t waste time doing anything other than what you absolutely love to do. Become a specialist; everyone else can be a generalist. No matter what anyone tells you, you can make a living as an artist. You just have to be willing to do whatever it takes. And some of those things may be things that you have never considered before.
Monica Royal, a Vanguard Professional, is an award-winning photographer who is fascinated by details - tiny water droplets, spider webs, flowers. Her abstract images reframe these details in such a way as to nudge viewers into a new understanding or appreciation of everyday objects. See her site, and follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.