Creating Macro Photography Scenarios: Tiny Worlds

Final product image

What You'll Be Creating

Sometimes when we think of macro there’s a tendency to head straight for nature; a close up of a flower, a butterfly wing, dew drops on the grass, and so on. In this tutorial, I’d like to encourage you to move away from what’s already there and create your own macro scenarios; it’s easier than you think. I’ll show you the process I used to create my picture "The Bakery", below, and you'll learn how to make a similar photograph of your own.

the bakery
The Bakery was created with tiny model people and house-hold items [photo: Marie Gardiner]

what youll need
What you'll need for our tutorial

  • Model People. These can be purchased either online or from stores that sell model railway sets. They come in a variety of different ways so try to think about what kind of scenario you’d be making before choosing your pack, they can be expensive.
  • A plain Hessian bag. The kind you can pick up from a supermarket. If you can only get a patterned or logo one it’s not the end of the world, you can use the inside.
  • A slice of bread or a bun.
  • A well-lit work environment.
  • A macro lens ideally but a 50mm would do.
For me, the cart came before the horse on this one. I was given a pack of the tiny figures and wanted to make a picture with them. I had a guy pushing a wheelbarrow and a woman with a brush, so I thought: "what could I do that would involve them clearing up?" Outside wasn’t an option so I started thinking of things I had lying around the house and the idea developed from there.
When I’d decided on a bread and bakery theme then I looked for a background that would be suitable. I tried the kitchen worktop, which didn’t work and then spotted a Hessian shopping bag I had lying around: perfect! The colours work and the texture adds interest and warmth.
Cut up the Hessian bag so that you’ve got a long piece that you can use as a background and also for the floor. Ideally you’d cut down the sides and use the large square part of the bag, but as you can see, mine has a logo on so I’ve cut out a strip made from the sides and bottom:

set up
You don't need much Hessian, just enough to fill your shot

I’ve placed my figures and also scattered a few bread crumbs around for added effect. I’ve placed some next to the woman’s brush and in the man’s wheelbarrow; makes sense if they're clearing up!
Depending on your lens, you may need to take several images and use focus stacking in post-processing to extend your depth of field.
Consider the rule of thirds and where your areas of interest are:

rule of thirds
Consider the rule of thirds and place figures accordingly. Of course, rules are made to be broken.

You can see I’ve placed the figures roughly where the points on the grid intersect, thus drawing the viewer’s attention to them while moving their eye around the space.

finished image
Add some contrast, warmth and sharpness.

Once I’d focus-stacked my images (I missed a little focus where you can see the stripes; it's so important to try and nail that) then I added some warmth, contrast and a slight vignette. It’s the kind of thing that would look really sweet in the kitchen or up in a cafĂ©.
Using little model people to create other worldly situations isn't a new concept, but many artists and photographers have found ways to make it look unique and exciting. Slinkachu, for example, have made wonderful work by taking this idea and creating installations out of doors. Another photographer, David Gilliver, has made this idea his own with a fantastic series called Little People—I highly recommend you take a look.
To give you more inspiration of what you can do with whatever you’ve got lying around the house, here are two of Gilliver's ‘kitchen’ themed model pictures:

youre doing a grate job - david gilliver
'You're Doing a Grate Job Little Dudes' by David Gilliver (by permission of the artist)

It’s amazing what you can achieve with relatively little and you don’t even have to leave the house! You really get the sense of workmen going about their busy day, even though we know they're models. The sense of size and perspective helps greatly.

granulating sugar david gilliver
'Granulating Sugar' by David Gilliver (by permission of the artist)

I think we all start by 'mimicking' ideas, to an extent: we see something we'd love to be able to do and set out to see if we can do it. The real challenge then is to build on that, think of our own ideas and really push the boundaries of what has already been done. Sometimes having a place to start helps generate those ideas, so I hope you find this tutorial useful and I would love to see any of your 'Tiny World' creations.


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