In Contemplation of the Microscape

This idea has been rolling around in my head for some time.  Months maybe, certainly weeks.  I like the idea of it even though my back does not.  Have you heard the term before?  I think I must have picked it up somewhere since I’m not the type to go around coining phrases.  It has definite parameters for me though.  A solid definition.

For example this is a microscape



and this is not

Johnny Jump-up

Do you see the difference?  No?  Kinda?

Well it’s the inclusion of the ground, certainly.  Like a true landscape a microscape needs to include land.  Also like a good landscape, it must have depth.  Foreground, midground and background.  A path for the eye to travel.  Scope.  Perspective.  It all plays a part.  A mere close up (I do tons of these, so I’m not dumping on them, just differentiating) isn’t the same.  See?

Most landscapes include sky, too.  Should a microscape?  Can they?  Sometimes yes and sometimes no.  Because of the perspective, many won’t and I think that’s ok.  When a microscape can include sky though, it’s pretty damn great if I do say so myself.


Trout lilies (and a purple trillium)

What is micro anyway?  How big a field of view should a microscape be limited to?  Is it really perspective I’m talking about?  For me it’s both.  A real microscape can only be captured on the ground.  If you can stoop, squat or stand it doesn’t qualify.  Too much height.  Too much background.  I want intimacy.  I want secretiveness.  I want to be shown something I wouldn’t normally see strolling around.  Remember that awesome scene in Glen Garry, Glenross when Alec Baldwin’s character yells at Jack Lemmon’s character to put that coffee down?  (click here if you haven’t, it’s brilliant) Well, put that camera down!  On the ground that is.  For me, this shot shows the limit –


Mushroom and the nurse stump

Simultaneously it is intimate and encompassing.  It shows scale not only of the mushroom, but of the forest in which it lives.  The perspective is ultra low, actually looking up at the mushroom, but includes no sky.  Sure, I could have gone tighter, and I think some of those are on the discard pile, but this one conveys more story than just a narrow portrait of a mushroom from ground level.

As the outlines and confines of the microscape coalesce in my imagination I find myself on the fringes.  As I go through my catalog to tag photos, I find the ones on the edge.  Fence-sitters.  Borderline cases.  Almosts and wannabees.  For example, is this a microscape?


Hollow be thy name

It has land in it.  It’s low to the ground.  It’s certainly intimate.  Alas however, the perspective is wrong.  Oh sure you can have a successful landscape looking down from above, but a microscape, no.  At least not to me.  These are my rules I make ’em up.

What about this one?  The perspective is right – it’s low down.  It has a foreground and a background.  It has sky.  But does it have too much scope?



It’s definitely a borderline case.  While I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you if you decided to tag it as a microscape, I’m not going to.  At least not yet.  As the concept evolves in my head, maybe I will.

Can wildlife be part of a microscape?  Sure, but first they have to be tiny and second they have to be in harmony with the rules of the microscape.  The ground needs to be there and the perspective, but also background.  Showing the environment in which the creature lives is critical.  I have plenty of close ups of spiders, moths and butterlfies, but precious few wildlife microscapes.  These are basically the only ones I’ve found so far –


Baby ribbon snake

Why am I on about this?  Well because I love doing them.  I love the secret world just under our noses aspect of them.  Here’s one I did the other day –


The Jungle Underfoot

Yes, I know this is in the last post, but I think it’s marvelous for a couple of reasons.  First is that foliage.  Not what we usually picture when we think of fall foliage.  Tiny trees change color, too.  Second is the aspect…a miniature forest.  Does it work like a full-scale forest?  Does it have the equivalent of deer, squirrels and hikers?  I have no idea, but I like imagining that it does.

I think it’s un-marvelous for a couple of reasons, too.  Well kind of.  One isn’t really a reason it’s a conflict.  Is it too messy?  I struggle with the messy nature of microscapes.  On the one hand I think it’s inherent in wild areas and what makes them wild in the first place.  These are not clipped, weeded, tended spaces.  They just happen.  Messy also keeps a microscape from being too twee if you know what I mean.  Precious is another word for it.  Cutesy, even.  However, the other hand tells me that messy detracts from a photograph by distracting the viewer from the main subject.  Yes, I’m guilty of removing extraneous debris from my close-ups and microscapes.  As a photographer I’m compelled to do so.  As an amateur naturalist I’m appalled by it.  Why should I take it upon myself to distort, disrupt and alter what nature has so blithely arranged for me.  For art?  Is that what I’m making here?  Art?  Or is it a documentary?  Just what the hell am I trying to convey?

Firstly I want to show what captivates me about these miniature landscapes.  Why they fascinate me.  Is neatening them up the photographic equivalent of a lie?  Would a painter approach it the same way?  Does adding things or removing things make the photo dishonest?  Maybe, but not doing so can make for a bad photo and if it’s a bad photo no one will look at it or appreciate it for what it is and so mission not accomplished.  So I guess I will be looking for balance in my future microscapes.  Leaving what gives it authenticity, removing what distracts the eye.

Secondly I’m looking for my signature as a photographer.  Everyone and their second cousin once removed is a “landscape photographer”, but how many of them are “microscape photographers”?  Precious few.  I couldn’t find one other person who used the tag on flickr.  I’m sure there are pictures that qualify, but the term isn’t used.  And I don’t know how many people work on them.  I mean really work.  Craft is perhaps a better term.  Here’s one from earlier this year that I definitely crafted.



I moved sticks and leaves that created bright spots and distractions.  I moved around and got just the right OOF background flower.  I deliberately left the stick by the base of the main flower because I think it’s a strong natural frame.  The aperture I used is mid-lens to blur, but not render unrecognizable the other flower.  Overall it’s messy, but deliberate and I think it’s a strong image because of it.

Maybe it was my Lily of the Valley project that got me thinking this way.  When I made a camera rest out of a couple bags of barley I could finally get the perspective I craved.  Low.  Mouse eye level.  Not really macro photography in the purist sense, but close-up, intimate portraits of life down low.  There are plenty of macro photographers out there hunting bugs and dewdrops, but that’s a different art altogether from what I’m trying to do.  I guess I’ll have to wait to know if I’m successful.

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