Sunday, July 5, 2009

Some Macro

I particularly like doing macro photography. The world looks very different when viewed up close. The best part is you don't need to go very far to get an exotic looking image. All of the examples below were shot either in my yard or in my father-in-law's back yard, which backs on to a ravine.

The final images can be stunning, but the shooting process itself is very rewarding. I like to take pictures of insects. Insects are fascinating creatures. I really see insects differently through my lens, perhaps because I am paying attention to its pose, and details. I can often make out personality traits, something I would not normally attribute to something so small. Sometimes I lose myself watching these little guys go about their business as I wait for that perfect moment when I snap the shutter.

I've been practicing a hand-holding technique for taking macro shots. Ideally you'd want to use a tripod, but bugs are skittish, and sudden movements almost always scare them away. Plus it's difficult to position the tripod such that I can actually get a decent vantage point. So I resign myself to handhold instead. I set up as follows:

  • I need to keep the shutter speed fast, so I usually have to crank the ISO up to 400 or 800. I have to rely on noise reduction in post.

  • When you're so close up, depth of field can be in the millimeters. So I'll compensate by using a fairly small aperture. f/11, or when light allows f/16. Sometimes I'll open up to f/8, but I won't go any faster then that -- too little of the scene will actually be in focus.

  • When I see an interesting insect, I meter the scene from afar and, with my camera set on manual mode, set my exposure before i approach

  • I set my lens on manual focus. This is VERY important, as the camera will not know which part of the scene I want to focus on.

  • I approach slowly, adjusting focus as I go. When I am sufficiently close, I fine tune the focus until the most important part of the scene is in perfect focus. A difficult thing to do, as the slightest movement on my part changes the focus significantly.

  • Breathing slowly and controlled, I gently rock forward and away from my subject. This adjusts the focus without me turning the focus ring on the lens. As the scene comes into the focus I want, I press the shutter button. In order to increase my chances of nailing the image, I usually set my camera on burst mode, and snap off two or three at a time.

Here are a few shots using this technique. As always, click on them for larger sizes, and more in the study.

This one was shot at f/8. You can see how even stopped down that far how shallow the depth of field is.

I also took a moment to take some shots of flowers in my wife's garden. She has recently taken up gardening as a hobby, and these are her first proud blooms! In this case, I set up with a tripod so I could afford a lower ISO sensitivity and a slower shutter speed. But that is not without peril, as the slightest breeze throws the scene way out of focus. So I had to be patient. Using a remote release cable and mirror lock helped to eliminate camera shake. So it really was a matter of waiting for the right moment when the wind died down enough to snap the image.

This one was actually too close to the ground to use a tripod. So I used the hand-held rocking technique to get this one.

Some things I want to try:
  • Focus stacking. This is where I take several exposures of the same scene focused on different parts. The images are combined in software in order to create a vaster depth of field.

  • Using a flash, either as the main light or as fill light. Should help me get the ISO down, and freeze the little guy in place.

- jc

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