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What Macro Photographer Matthew Cicanese Packs for Science Expeditions

October 13, 2017

© Matthew Cicanese

In the cloud forests of Horton Plains, Sri Lanka, lichens and other cryptogams carpet the trees, rocks and soil of the unique ecosystem. In 2015, Matthew Cicanese photographed in Horton Plains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been protected since 1988.

Matthew Cicanese, a National Geographic Explorer, has hiked through lowland rain forests in Sri Lanka, scrambled across rocks in Iceland and trailed a botanist in British Columbia to document lichen, mosses and other cryptogams that dwell on rocks and trees. His 100MB images of specimens are used and shared by researchers identifying new species, while his more artistic images of ecosystems have been used in grant applications, media outlets such as National Geographic and in public talks designed to awaken an interest in—and desire to protect—life forms Cicanese calls “overlooked, underdog species.” Working to get tack-sharp images while using macro lenses and shooting handheld requires him to control his breathing, heart rate and any movement that might throw off his focus.

Nuwara Eliya, Central Sri Lanka. May 2017. With almost 20,000 species around the world (and found on all seven continents) lichens come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. This Coccocarpia species was a deep blue after the morning fog had brought the vibrant colors to life.

Cicanese has developed a system for bringing out the structure and detail in tiny specimens. When PDN recently spoke to him about his collaboration in Sri Lanka with lichenologist Gothamie Weerakoon, he shared some of the gear he has lugged along on most of the expeditions he’s photographed. (See: “How Matthew Cicanese’s Macro Photography Aids a Scientists Research.”) Cicanese has recently been asked to lead macro photography workshops for Canon and received some Canon gear to try, and continues to experiment with his lighting—switching from ring flash to off-camera flash—to try new ways to spotlight details in the complex structures of tiny organisms.

Camera Bodies and Lenses:
Canon 5DS R
Canon 7D Mark II
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro Lens (“which is a microscope on the end of your camera, basically”)
Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro lens
Canon 8-15mm Fisheye (for wider shots that capture the environment)
Canon 16-35mm Mark I

Lighting:
Canon MT-24 EX Twin Flash
Nissin Macro Ring Flash
Nikon SB-900 Speedlite

In addition, Cicanese packs a white card made of flexible, waterproof plastic. This serves multiple duties, sometimes serving as a bounce card, as an overhead shade to block direct sunlight and even as a handy background for specimens.

He is also exploring VR. He would like to combine high-resolution images and ambient sound recordings to make immersive experiences, “So you can virtually experience an ecosystem on a deeply interactive level, you can hear the scientist or the sounds of the forest, you can interact with hotspots in scenes that allow you to travel all the way into microcosms and see the places these organisms call home.”

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