New Teeth Photos! / by Neal Auch

“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.” ― James Joyce

My latest batch of photos of human teeth is now complete and has been added to my gallery Dentata.  Last time I spoke a bit about how these new works slot into the general theme of Memento Mori that permeates all of my creative output in one way or another.  Since I plan to return to this subject several more times in future blog posts, I thought it might be fun to switch things up a bit for this update and instead talk a bit about the technical aspects of what goes into photos like this.

Extreme close-up photos like those in my galleries Inside and Dentata are usually called "macro" photography by camera nerds, and there are a number of technical complications associated to this genre.  First off, you either need a specialty lens, or else extension tubes to even be able to focus at such close range to the subject.  (I've used both approaches in my career; currently I'm shooting on a 60mm 2:1 macro lens but if you're on a budget then extension tubes plus prime normal lens is a great hack.)

The most interesting technical issue surrounding close-up work is the problem of depth of focus.  When you shoot at high magnification you will end up extremely shallow depth of field for pretty much any choice of aperture, meaning that only a teeny tiny sliver of the image will actually be in sharp focus.  If you like that look then fine, enjoy it, but I personally don't care for that aesthetic at all.  (I've never understood the fixation some photographers have on bokeh; to my mind this look is way overdone and is often used as a crutch by lazy photographers who try and clean up a messy composition by blurring out all the distracting crap in the background rather than taking the time to compose a simple shot free of distractions in the first place.)  To circumvent this 'problem' I will typically take 50-100 exposures for each image, with each exposure having a slightly different focal point.  Then these images need to be stacked and blended together in Photoshop to produce the kinds of shots I like, which are sharp and in-focus across all (or at least most) of the subject. 

Aside from the extra computing and shooting time needed for this approach there are other issues.  Getting close-up tends to cut down on the light, so to get a good image you'll need slow shutter speeds.  Of course, this means everything needs to be locked down on a tripod (which is also necessary because of the stacking and shallow depth of field).  All told images like this take about an hour each to shoot, plus 1-2 hours of editing time to get the focus stacking and aesthetic editing done correctly.  So...  It's a bit labour intensive.  But I love the results.  Enjoy!