When you hear the words ‘macro detail’, most people shudder and hesitate for a moment.
Photo realism? That stuff is hard – yeah?
Macro detail isn’t necessarily photo realism just to clarify. Macro detail sometimes doesn’t even resemble what you may think you are looking at.
Macro has many meanings but in this case is basically taking an object and zooming in on large scale.
A standard photograph misses detail.
You don’t see the intricate details of the surface of an object, the way it captures and reflects light.
When you take a macro photo, you are looking in so closely, the surface inconsistencies, the smallest of detail is visible that you wouldn’t normally witness from a distance or with a standard definition photograph.
It is the same with drawing. When drawing macro picture, you will be revealing details most naked eyes miss.
The two drawings I’ve included. One of which was Drawsomething 2 some time ago and next to it a recent snake drawn in sketch club. These two could pass as photo realism as well but I have decided to pick these specifically to discuss macro detail.
When I first started experimenting with macro and photo realism, there was one thing I had to tell my art brain, just because you ‘think’ it looks a certain way, doesn’t mean you paint it like that. When I take on macro or photo realism these days, I usually zoom in even further so I don’t miss what is really going. What colours are hidden? Where is the light being concentrated and what is it doing? reflecting, refracting ? What makes this image come to life?
Referring to the illustrations above; Glass. How do you make glass look like glass ? How do I show the glow within the glass and how do I diffuse it to the area outside the globe? How do I make scales look like scales ? How do I show moisture in a snakes eye or on his tongue? How do capture depth of field with combining sharpness in foreground and blurred backgrounds?
With macro or detailed photo realism, It is important to break images down. The very first thing I do with any reference, is look at the colours that are VISIBLE. I emphasise ‘visible’ because it is crucial you identify all colour with in the image. For example; When painting a black object living or not, it’s important to understand the TEXTURE. Is the surface of the black object porous?. Is it matte or glossy?. If the surface is porous, rough, matte or plain old inconsistent, the reality of physics is that the light will be diffused and lost in the black porous surface. If the surface is nonporous, shiny, smooth and consistent, there is every chance light is reflected differently even though its a black object and not a mirror. Whether an objects colour is black (Black = absence of colour) or any colour for that matter , the surface texture will depict how you paint it. For the snakes scales, You add light to sharp edge distinguish where another scale starts and finishes, but you will also add the darkest shading directly below the highlighted edge. If the scale is smooth in surface, it will produce some light reflection. This reflection may be impacted by the objects surroundings and its colour and its texture and ability to reflect light. Light is colour. For moisture and capturing states, solid, liquid, gas etc, you must remember the same principles apply. Moisture is usually H20 but it doesn’t always have to be. If its a liquid, it has surface tension. It will be a bubble and light will reflect and refract. The surface will most likely look very smooth. It will break the spectrum down and reflect those rainbow colours. At macro detail, those spectrum’s are visible. White used for highlights in paintings normally depicts the shiniest surface or where the light hits first or where it is most concentrated.
With all these big terms I’ve used, I would like to make one important addition to macro detail and photo realism before I finish so no one gets scared. Macro detail reveals many details you may not normally see with a naked eye. Having said that though, macro detail will also show you WHAT ISN’T VISIBLE. By that I mean, sometimes ‘LESS’ is ‘MORE’. When you want the ‘Photo effect’ you have to do exactly what a lens in camera does. Create a focal point (What do you want people to look at?) That focal point is where ‘detail’ is focused. Its the high definition image in the foreground. The background, the areas outside the focal point – WHO CARES?. The human brain doesn’t care about what detail you have outside the focal point. Sleight of hand !!! You would be surprised with what you can subtly put into an image with out the audience being aware lol. It is that same a magic trick. The audience gets lost with what ‘YOU’ want them to look at. When sourcing a macro reference, don’t lose sleep over a complicated background. Truth be known, the only parts of a reference I focus on is the focal point. The background in the both of the snake and globe references are made up. The threads on the light globe are made up. The grass behind the snake is made up. The tongue on snake is made up. To get the belly of the snake to look right and reveal true shadow, I had to fade out detail. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes adding darkness reveals light. Sometimes adding ‘inconsistency’ makes things come to life. The glass will have impurities. There will be dust on the surface of the glass somewhere. The cleanest part of the glass will not diffuse light like the dusty and impure areas will.
So all this waffling on aside, remember things aren’t always as they appear or how your brain thinks they appear. If you haven’t done macro detail or photo realism before, please give it a whirl. Once you tell yourself that it isn’t as complicated as some make out, you will get your head around the fundamentals. Macro detail is really about texture and light. Creating a focal point and showing depth of field with a sharp focal foreground and blurred background. If you get that right, you are almost there.
Have fun macro monkeys