Archive for the ‘macro photography’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Macro Photography “in Flow”   5 comments

Morning dew in a Montana mountain meadow creates dazzling jewels in the light of the rising sun.

This series on flow and photography has taken on a life of its own; but don’t worry, it’s almost over!  If you haven’t been following along, flow is that state of intense focus where we lose track of time.  Check out Part I and Part II for tips on how to apply it to photography in general.  The rest of this series has applied flow to various genres (landscape, travel, etc.).  This week it’s macro and close-up photography.

Macro is probably the easiest kind of photography in which to experience flow.  There is something about focusing on the small that helps to capture and hold our attention, often for hours.  Macro can also require a lot of trial and error, at least for me it can!  If you don’t become frustrated too easily this can bring about intense engagement with the process.

Pasqueflower is a unique part of the alpine bloom every summer on Mt. Rainier, Washington.

Pasqueflower is a unique part of the alpine bloom every summer on Mt. Rainier, Washington.

Awhile back I did a series on macro photography, so check those posts out for a much more comprehensive tutorial.  The tips below are specific to achieving a state of flow during your macro shoots:

  • Look and Think Small.  It’s hard while on a walk to concentrate exclusively on finding macro subjects.  It would take hours to cover a mile!  But you will find macro opportunities if when you’re hiking along you look out for the odd bit of color, a contrasting shape or texture, or a little movement in the corner of your eye.  Both thinking about and looking for small subjects brings you into the present, and that facilitates flow, even before you take a single shot.
This brown basilisk in a Guatemalan forest almost escaped my attention.

This brown basilisk in a Guatemalan forest almost escaped my attention.

  • Work it.  When you do find something interesting, stick with it for awhile.  That is, work the subject.  Change settings and camera position to vary depth of field.  Vary angle and distance to get different backgrounds and compositions.  And don’t stop there.  Once you’re in “macro mode”, it’s easier to find other subjects, or as with flowers, other examples of the same subject.  Stay on your hands and knees, keep the macro lens on, and don’t worry about time.  Enjoy the flow.
After a few shots of this frog's whole body, I moved in closer and closer until I got a shot that empasized his watchful eye.

After a few shots of this frog’s whole body, I moved in closer and closer until I got a shot that empasized his watchful eye.

  • See the (small-scale) Light.  As photographers we are constant observers of the light.  But when you’re shooting close-up the patterns we are used to change.  All of a sudden you’re able to take advantage of the fact that your field of view is greatly reduced.  This makes it easier to get effective shots in light that would be difficult when shooting larger scenes.  So be a student of light on a small scale too.  Watch how it plays across confined spaces, and how larger elements like trees can help shade or spotlight your subject.  As with the first point above, this will help keep you in the present and accentuate flow.

 

A water lily in the middle of the Okavango Delta caught the light beautifully as we passed in our mokoro (dugout canoe).

A water lily in the middle of the Okavango Delta caught the light beautifully as we passed in our mokoro (dugout canoe).

  • Be Patient.  To one degree or another, patience is a requirement of all photography.  But when you’re waiting out the wind in a field of flowers or approaching an insect or other small creature inch by inch, you learn the real meaning of patience in photography.  Mastering patience is a key part of making flow a more frequent experience.

This was a recent shot.  I sat patiently waiting for one of the dragonflies buzzing around to land in this natural spotlight.

Macro photography is such a natural when it comes to flow that, even if you don’t normally do macro you’d do well to try it.  That’s because the practices that lead to successful macro photos will help you with the kinds of photography you do enjoy.  And because flow is relatively easy to experience with macro, you can more readily get into it next time you’re out, whatever kind of shooting you do.  Thanks for reading and have a happy weekend!

One of many desert five-spots in Death Valley, part of the so-called super-bloom of last spring.

One of many desert five-spots in Death Valley, part of the so-called super-bloom of last spring.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Macro Photography and Rails   Leave a comment

Let’s start off with a non-macro image: morning sun on the Colorado Rockies.

As promised, here’s a follow-up to my macro series.   Rails (or sliders) are devices that allow small movements of your camera without having to move the tripod.  The heart of a rail is its gear/screw mechanism, and the quality of the rail is in how finely this part is made.

This post also aims to give a step by step on setting up a macro shot, whether or not you’re using a rail.  Of course I don’t always follow this exact procedure.  In photography like a lot of things there’s always “more than one way to skin the cat”.  Sorry cat lovers!

 

BUYING A RAIL:  As always with photo accessories, you have to be careful buying cheap.  Check out rails in the shop if at all possible, using your camera and macro lens to see how they work under load.  Or if you can’t do that just go a bit more expensive for something with good reviews online.  I bought a medium-quality one.  It’s fine but would not be okay if I used it a lot; I use it very infrequently.  I spent about $50 on it.

Here are the things to look for in a rail.  If when it is mounted with the camera on top the rail wiggles around, even a small amount, it’s obviously no good for macro.  And if movement along the screw & gear is not slow and steady enough, that rail is probably not worth buying.

A SMALL CAVEAT:  I chose a very simple shot for an example.  In other words, it’s not the most spectacular subject, just a little flower in the weeds.  Also, the close-ups of my camera make it look like I’ve beaten it to hell.  It’s not actually that bad, honest.  The crack you see isn’t the LCD screen itself, it’s the protective cover.  Okay, I admit it, I’m hard on my gear.

By the way, I made sure to pick a good day for this (photo below).  Notice the boring white cloud cover, mid-morning, really perfect for what I call “illustrative” macro.  That means no real shadows or directional light.

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Each rail works a little differently, but what follows is how mine works.  It’s pretty typical.

A typical rail/slider.

A typical rail/slider.

  • There is an Arca-Swiss plate screwed to the bottom of the rail assembly, so the whole rail mounts right on top of the ball-head (see pictures below).  This isn’t the place to discuss tripod heads, but make sure you always get plates that match your head’s clamp.  Arca-Swiss is sorta the standard, and is pretty simple to use.
Rail clamped down on ball-head.

Rail clamped down on ball-head.

 

  • Make sure the rail is set somewhere in the middle of its range (rotate the knob to slide it).  If it’s at one end of its range you won’t have flexibility to adjust it in one direction.  The picture above shows mine a bit too far forward, so I had to slide it to the middle part of its range.

 

  • Once the rail is mounted securely go ahead and screw your camera right down onto the top plate as shown below.  This setup allows the whole rail/camera assembly to rotate around with the ball-head.
Screw the camera down onto the top plate of the rail.

Screw the camera down onto the top plate of the rail.

  • Now you need to get your tripod in about the right position next to your subject.  Decide about how close you want to get to your subject.  Your rail will get you a few inches closer or further, so you don’t need to be perfect here.  But definitely decide how low your point of view will be and adjust the height of your tripod legs.  The rail can’t help you with up and down movements.  Just make sure the tripod is very stable (tip: spread the legs wider when the tripod is lower)
Camera on the rail. But I'm a little too high, so...

Camera on the rail. But I’m a little too high, so…

My tripod allows me to go lower by rotating the center column to horizontal.

My tripod allows me to go lower by rotating the center column to horizontal.

  • Now it’s time to set up the camera.  Go to manual focus and pre-focus so your subject is in approximate focus (see pictures below).  Use either the viewfinder or LiveView for this step, whichever is easiest for you.  Again, don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  If you want to get as close as possible and fill the frame as much as possible, as I’m doing here, pre-set the focus ring to the smallest focal length.  But if you do this, re-check your tripod position and make sure it’s positioned so your lens is no closer to the subject than this smallest focal length (about a foot with my macro lens (see pic below).
Use manual focus.

Use manual focus.

Pre-setting focus at the shortest focal length.

Pre-setting focus at the shortest focal length.

  • Now you can slide the camera closer or further along the screws on the rail, turning the knob as shown.  Your focus is pre-set.  Moving the knob on the rail is the way you are focusing now.  I recommend using LiveView and magnifying as necessary to focus on the exact part of the subject you want in perfect focus.
Rotate the knob slowly while at the same time...

Rotate the knob slowly while at the same time you…

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…watch LiveView for the part of the subject you want to come into perfect focus.

I'm magnified on the yellow center of the flower while playing with the knob on the rail to focus precisely.

Still in LiveView, I magnified on the flower’s yellow center and adjusted the knob on the rail to focus precisely.

  • You can also use the rail at this point to fill the frame more or back off and show a little more surroundings.  In other words, change the composition.  So if while you’re sliding the camera along the rail you get a composition you like but you’re not in focus, go ahead and rotate the camera’s focus ring to get perfect focus.  See the Bonus below for more on focus and depth of field.

 

  • While you’re at it and have LiveView up, you should check exposure before taking the picture.  On my camera I press the “info” button to pull up the histogram (see below).  In this case, with a white flower, I pay attention to the right end.  I want to avoid the peak on the right climbing up the right side, causing over-exposure.  But I don’t want that peak to move too far toward the center.  That would underexpose and make the white petals look gray.  When using LiveView to check exposure, make sure your camera’s LiveView setting is on “Exposure Simulation” (check your owner’s manual).
LiveView with histogram. Also make sure your camera's LiveView setting is on "Exposure Simulation".

LiveView with histogram.  The histogram reads what is inside the white box, and I’m over-exposing the yellow just 1/3 stop.  When I moved the box over to the petals, the histogram’s right peak slid over to the right, but not quite all the way to the right edge (which would have meant over-exposure).

  • Some rails only have one screw/gear setup to move forward and back.  Mine also has a screw and gear at right angles to allow small movements right and left.  This can be handy to get slightly different compositions, with your subject off to one side.  I can remove that part to go lighter (see images below).  With my rail I also get a more stable camera mount (no wiggle) when I get rid of that extra part.
Using the side-to-side adjustment knob to move the flower off-center.

Using the side-to-side adjustment knob to move the flower off-center.

I slid the rail/camera slightly to the left, which put the flower just off to the right.  This still needs a little tweaking in the computer, but this isn’t a bad final image.

Rail with side-to-side part removed, leaving only the forward-back adjustment.

Rail with side-to-side part removed, leaving only the forward-back adjustment.  My hands are starting to look like my mom’s!

 

BONUS: FOCUS & DEPTH OF FIELD

DEPTH OF FIELD & MACRO:  Macro lenses have very little depth of field in front of the focal plane, with much more (but still limited) in back.  In other words, you will normally focus on the closest important part of the subject, not trusting anything closer than that to be in focus.  Then you’ll play with aperture, experimenting to get the right amount of depth of field.

Remember also that the closer you get to your subject, the narrower your depth of field will be, and the reverse is also true.  Get more depth of field by moving back away from your subject.

DEPTH OF FIELD PREVIEW BUTTON:  You can either shoot and review to experiment, or use LiveView in combination with the depth of field (DOF) preview button.  Not all cameras have a DOF preview button.  If yours does, there are times when it comes in very handy.  Pressing the DOF preview button closes down the aperture to the one you select (see pic below).  Otherwise anything you see through the lens, either using the viewfinder or on LiveView, reflects the lens’s widest aperture (shallowest depth of field).

LiveView without the DOF preview button depressed. Even though my aperture is set to f/11 here, the LiveView shows what it would look like at f/2.8, the largest aperture for this lens.

LiveView without the DOF preview button depressed. Even though my aperture is set to f/11 here, the LiveView shows what it would look like at f/2.8, the largest aperture for this lens.

Here I'm pressing my DOF preview button to see what f/11 actually looks like. The petals in rear are in better focus than the LiveView image above shows.

Here I’m pressing the DOF preview button to see what f/11 actually looks like. The petals in rear are in better focus than in the LiveView image above.

APERTURE:  Realize as you close down aperture for more depth of field you are doing two important things to the picture.  First, you are slowing down shutter speed.  So if your subject is moving, for example in a breeze as mine is doing here, you may end up blurring your subject.  Raise ISO to keep your shutter speeds fast enough to freeze that movement and avoid subject blur.

The only way to see how much you need to raise ISO and check for blurring is to shoot and review.  It also pays to watch closely for the subject’s least amount of movement and shoot then.  If your shutter speed is fast enough (about 1/100 sec. or faster for this lens), you can just press the shutter gently.  If speeds are much slower, you need to keep your hands off the camera, using either a remote switch or shutter delay.

At f/11 and ISO 100, shutter speed is 1/25 sec., which will result in a sharp picture if I wait for the breeze to pause and the flower to be mostly still.

At f/11 and ISO 100, shutter speed is 1/25 sec., which will result in a sharp picture if I wait for the breeze to pause and the flower to be mostly still.

But I wanted more depth of field so I went to f/22. I had to raise ISO to keep shutter speed up. If I had more wind I would need to raise ISO even more.

But I wanted more depth of field so I went to f/22. I had to raise ISO to keep shutter speed up. If I had more wind (or less patience) I’d need to raise ISO even more.

The second thing you’re doing when adjusting aperture for more depth of field is of course bringing the background into better focus.  Use the DOF preview button or shoot/review to get just the right balance between focus in your subject and the amount of detail in the background.

I slid the rail/camera slightly to the left, which put the flower just off to the right.  This needs a little tweaking on color and contrast, but it's not a bad final image.

I slid the rail/camera slightly to the left, which put the flower just off to the right. This needs a little tweaking on color and contrast, but it’s not a bad final image.

Phew!  That’s enough for now.  If all this sounds too complicated to bother with, please don’t despair.  It’s actually much simpler than it appears.  Try re-reading this.  But really, you just have to play around with the rail and see how it works.  It also helps to get some practice shooting macro before adding a rail into the mix.  As mentioned in the last post, rails come into their own mostly when you are shooting very close with high magnifications.  I’d recommend skipping them when you’re doing “less-close” close-up photography.

Blooming lupine is decorated in dewdrops at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Blooming lupine is decorated in dewdrops at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Friday Foto Talk – Macro & Close-up Photography, Part III   8 comments

Butterflies are notoriously difficult to catch still, so I shot this one off-tripod and using autofocus.

Butterflies are notoriously difficult to catch still, so I shot this one off-tripod and using autofocus.

It’s time to dive into the nuts and bolts of this subject.  I mentioned in Part II that depth of field and focus were major challenges when doing macro & close-up photography.  So this post will focus on these two inter-related issues, using a few examples.

POSITIONING

The closer you get to your subject, the shallower your depth of field will be.  If you stop down to small apertures your depth of field will increase accordingly.  But that will slow your shutter speed, blurring anything that is moving even slightly.  It will also bring your background into better focus, which may not be what you want.

But you can go beyond simply adjusting aperture.  You can choose a point of view and composition that puts the background at the right distance to blur it in the amount you want (see examples below).  Also, depending on the shape of your subject, camera position will directly affect how much of it is in focus.  Positioning your camera becomes a key way to control depth of field and focus, even more so than in other types of photography.

These aren't fruit but galls on an oak tree in Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains.

These aren’t fruit but ‘galls’ on an oak tree in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains.  100 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100, tripod.

 

Example 1:  Recently, while in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, I found the teddy-bear cholla cactus flowering with beautiful blooms.  I wanted to show off both the color and the “guts” of the flower (its pistils & stamens), while at the same time giving a feel for the protecting spines all around.  Flowers like this have some depth to them; they’re not flat-faced.  So it’s tough to get close and still have all the petals plus the central reproductive parts all in focus.

So I positioned the camera at a sort of 3/4 angle to the face of the flower, so as to get the much of the central part in focus plus a few of the petals.  I raised the tripod so it was slightly above the flower, so that a collection of cactus spines were at the right distance behind the bloom.  I wanted them blurred but not too much.

The piece of blue sky beyond was a bonus, so I adjusted a bit so that it was to the side of the flower instead of right behind it.  My point of focus was on the part that was closest to my lens.  I had to raise ISO a bit so my shutter speed was fast enough to not allow the little breeze from blurring the flower.

Blooming cholla, southern Arizona.

Blooming cholla, southern Arizona.  100 mm. macro lens, 1/160 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400.

Example 2:  In the flower below, I thought the long hairy portion was very cool, so I shot from the side to get all of that in focus.  I experimented with different apertures to get most of the bloom in focus while totally blurring the background (to put attention on the flower).  I also positioned the camera very close to the ground to put the background as far away as possible.  The wind again made me raise ISO to get a faster shutter speed.

These flowers were blooming recently in the Chiricahua Mountains. 100 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/11, ISO 800, tripod.

These flowers were blooming recently in the Chiricahua Mountains. 100 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/11, ISO 800, tripod.

Example 3:  With the bee below I had to decide whether getting all the flower, including its petals, in focus was as important as a focused bee and blurry background.  Since I was shooting a living subject, shutter speed needed to be fairly fast, and that naturally led to a larger aperture (which gave me the blurred background).

Would it be better if the front petals were in focus too?  Sure.  But other than taking several exposures and combining them, there was no practical way to do that.  I go for simple over complex most of the time, even if it means trade-offs.  By the way, I got lucky with that shutter speed of 1/60 sec.  Normally you’d need something faster in this situation, especially hand-held.

This bee is going to town on a cholla bloom at Organ Pipe, Arizona.

This bee is going to town on a cholla bloom at Organ Pipe, Arizona.  100 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.

So here’s the deal:  think of moving the camera closer and further away from your subject as a way to control depth of field and the degree of blurring in your background.  And think of moving your camera into different positions around the subject (side to side, low or high) as a way to not only get a more blurred background, but also to bring different parts of the subject into focus.

Next time we’ll go into some interesting ways to use macro and close-up photography in combination with other goals.  I promise it will be something you just don’t see other photography teachers covering.  Happy shooting!

A larger view of my recent wanderings in the southern Arizona desert at Organ Pipe Cactus N.M. This is Ajo Mountain drive, which in late summer is just too hot for most people, thus blessedly empty.

A larger view of my recent wanderings in the southern Arizona desert at Organ Pipe Cactus N.M. This is Ajo Mountain drive, which in late summer is just too hot for most people, thus it was blessedly empty.

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