Like many portrait photographers, Markus Hofstaetter often focuses on his subject's eyes. We've written about his wet plate portraiture before. Having focused on many eyes over the years, Hofstaetter wanted to start a new project that was just about eyes. To do so, he got extremely close and filled the entire frame with a single iris, uncovering incredible detail and depth.

Getting this close required an interesting photography setup. Hofstaetter purchased a Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro lens, which is optimized for macro shooting between 2.5 and 5 times life-size. It's also purpose-built for a longer working distance (40mm at 5x), ensuring he could properly light your subject without shadows being cast by the lens barrel.

As shown in the video below, Hofstaetter paired the Laowa macro lens with a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR and built a special rig with focusing rails. Focusing rails help you dial in perfect focus by performing precise one-axis directional movements of your focal plane.

Even with precise control over the camera and lens, subtle tripod movements and the subject moving cause big issues. The depth of field at that sort of macro level is razor-thin. Hofstaetter built a special headrest so his subject could rest in a consistent, stable position.

Image credit Markus Hofstaetter

While the custom set-up enabled capturing a sharp, extreme macro shot of an iris, it wasn't easy. Hofstaetter remarks that capturing a single sharp image could take up to half an hour. To aid with manual focusing, Hofstaetter tethered his camera to a computer so he could use the larger display during live view.

The images were worth the challenge. When viewed so close, eyes take on an almost alien appearance, with the dimension and texture of the iris looking more like landscapes than eyes. You can see additional images by visiting Hofstaetter's blog.

Image credit Markus Hofstaetter

To view Hofstaetter's available prints, including those from his new iris series, click here. To learn more about his photography workshops, including ones aimed at helping people learn to do wet plate photography, visit his website.


All images courtesy of Markus Hofstaetter