Revealing the lives of insects, or to get really close-up details of a flower petal, requires a special camera lens – a macro lens. This kind of lens is able to magnify a subject so it appears bigger in the image produced than in real life. The challenge for macro camera operators is to follow tiny objects that they can barely see and keep them in focus, while the margin for error can be fractions of a millimetre.
Macro filming techniques have been used in wildlife films for more than a century. The laws of physics demand a lot of light and perfectly calm conditions, but macro photography also requires a huge amount of patience. As a consequence, macro filming is sometimes undertaken in controlled environments like a studio, where lights can be used safely.
Often macro filming requires a set to be built – recreating the world of the miniature subject – so it looks and feels like a little slice of the wild. The Life Story team wanted to show the extraordinary building skills of Australian weaver ants, but it was clear that filming them in the wild would not work. Cameraman Peter Nearhos explains how he made the sequence below.
Macro filming can also be combined with blue or green screen techniques when a set isn’t going to deliver the right back drop to the action. The Wonders of the Monsoon team were trying to film something never filmed before – a mosquito colliding with a droplet of water. They went to extraordinary lengths to recreate this scenario in a macro studio, using a green-screen, and shooting at high-speed.
In general, wildlife sequences that magnify their subjects are filming them in controlled conditions. The aim is to represent a macro world that is true to nature.