Archive for the ‘macro’ Tag
This series on casual video for the still photographer has mostly stuck to the basics. I’ve done that to show how easy it is to start shooting video. None of these videos have been edited either. I want to head off the excuse that some people use, that they have no time to learn a whole new editing program. Untold numbers of people shoot video with their phones. My goal is to get my fellow still photographers to create videos when the mood strikes, but to do them with intention and care.
I’ve also stayed away from stuff like time-lapse and slow-motion. These are rather faddish in my opinion, but speaking objectively, they are sub-areas of nature videography that require a specific focus. Time-lapses, for instance, are actually a series of still shots. While you do produce a video of sorts, the mood is often disjointed. Also there is no real-time, native sound. Creating a time-lapse is rather boring in practice, and it doesn’t really help you develop field video recording skills.
Of course there is nothing wrong with timelapse or any other type of video. But I believe that when you’re first getting into video, or any genre within the photography realm, it’s best to start simply. Go out and do it before you commit to creating a final (shareable) product. So many of us love what we see online so much that we just have to go off and create that very thing. Or something that looks just like it. It’s a completely understandable impulse.
Consider taking a more organic approach. See if you enjoy the process of creating it first before worrying about results. This way you’ll slowly develop your own style, eventually creating something that is uniquely yours rather than imitative. By the way, I don’t consider myself such a great artist. But I do have a firm idea of the way to get there!
I know this is the era of instant gratification, but it’s important to be patient. Learn to enjoy the process before you expect to create something you can be proud of. High expectations are fine, but don’t impose too-short a timeline. That will only cause unnecessary stress. Even a mild amount of anxiety can sabotage the creative process.
Video & Focal Length
Now let’s get to it! One of the best things about shooting video with a DSLR (or mirrorless) camera is the ability to use a variety of lenses. As I mentioned in an earlier post on the basics, when you’re starting out it’s useful to stick with a medium focal length lens. If you have a 50 mm. lens you’re in luck; it’s perfect for video. Otherwise use a medium zoom and stay 10 or 15 mm of 50. Reason is to avoid the distortion you get with wide angles, and the shakiness that can happen with long focal lengths.
Once you’re comfortable doing videos at medium focal lengths, you’ll naturally want to try different lenses. But this post isn’t about using telephotos for wildlife or wide-angles for landscapes. It’s about one of the most fun ways to shoot video: macro and close-up! In order to view these videos click on the title at top-left first, then click the play button.
By the way, I didn’t mean to cut short the video of the dung beetles below. A black rhino had suddenly appeared between my rental car and where I was lying on the ground. So I had to stop and figure out how to avoid being charged!
Macro Video ~ Tips
- Try to pick subjects that stay in one place. You can expand on this once you get some practice. Either way you should observe your subject for a time before you come up with a plan. For example in the video above I watched those beetles in Africa roll a couple dung balls from point A to point B before I followed along shooting the clip. That delay may have saved me, as I could have been regarded as a threat if I hadn’t been lying down!
- Use a tripod. Just as with macro still photography, a tripod is nearly essential. For one thing, most macro lenses have fairly long effective focal lengths. Hand-holding is hard to do without introducing jumpiness. Also, whether you use a macro lens or attachments like extension tubes or close-up filters, depth of field will be quite narrow. Provided you choose a suitable subject, you have a better chance of keeping things in focus when you’re on a tripod.
- Speaking of focus, choose a point of view and composition that makes it easier to keep the subject in focus without having to twist the focus ring. “Pulling” or “following” focus as it is called, is a skill that takes awhile to master. A subject that moves across the frame, for example, is easier to keep in focus than one that moves toward or away from you.
- Watch for repetitive or cyclical behaviour. Many times, when observing nature, you’ll notice that a critter will keep repeating its actions, or it might circle back to where it has been before. If you set up on a tripod focused in on that spot, all you need to do is watch and wait, ready to press record. For the video below the dragon flies were zipping around much too quickly for me to follow. So I simply watched one for awhile and noticed her returning to a nearby perch, spreading her wings like they do. I focused on her first, using manual focus (which is best for video). Then next time back, since she alighted in exactly the same spot, I shot the clip.
- Limit motions. By using the approach just mentioned, pointing at a spot and waiting for the critter to arrive, you’ll be forced to stay put. Insects and other small critters tend to get used to your presence more quickly than bigger animals, but it’s still helpful to keep still. Of course moving around is necessary for any good photography. But macro shooting, still or video, goes much more smoothly when movement is limited, planned out and deliberate.
- Look for subtle subjects too. Macro video isn’t just about insects. For example, flowers or other interesting macro subjects can be great targets for video when light is rapidly changing as clouds move quickly across the sky. Movements from wind can also make videos worth a try.
- Finally, don’t limit yourself to true macro. Do close-up videos with other lenses. If you have a lens that offers a “macro” setting, you may be able, depending on subject, to focus close enough to get that intimate feel of macro. Do you know the closest that each of your lenses will focus? You should. Wide-angle lenses often focus quite closely. They also enable you to hand-hold the camera with less chance of shakiness. For the video below I had to get my feet wet to move smoothly through the scene. At the end of the clip is a bonus: my little buddy Charl (RIP) watches from the bridge. No way was he getting his little feet wet!
That’s all for now. If you haven’t done so, try a macro video or two. If you have, let us know what you thought. Are there any tips I forgot? Thanks for reading and have a fantastically fun weekend!
Orange globe mallow in bloom.
Yesterday was the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. So in celebration here’s a Two for Tuesday post. It’s where I post two photos that are related to each other in some way.
This pair shows a couple closely related signs of Spring. During a splendid hike through a desert canyon recently, the season was springing forth in typical desert fashion. Spring rarely bowls you over in the desert. But the closer you look the more you see. It’s why both of these are close-up shots.
The hummingbird surprised me at first when he buzzed by my head, looking straight at me hovering a couple feet away before zooming off to perch on his branch. I wondered why he was there at first, but then walkiaround I found a spring with some flowers blooming. In fact the further up the little draw I walked the more like a lush oasis it seemed.
This little hummer was spending part of his morning checking out the visitor to his little oasis near a spring in a desert canyon: Death Valley National Park.
Get out there and enjoy springtime (or autumn for my southern hemisphere friends). And thanks for checking in!
Some of the simplest things make the nicest photos. This is probably my favorite thing about macro photography.
Okay, this is it! The final part of my mini-series on macro and close-up photography. I haven’t explained step by step how exactly to do macro photography, but I hope you’ve gotten enough tips to be confident getting started, and that the more advanced photographers among you have gotten something out of it as well.
An organ pipe cactus once it’s dead turns into a sort of honeycombed sculpture.
Depending on how serious you get with macro photography, consider one or a few of these accessories:
- A tripod that can get close to the ground is probably the most important thing to have with macro. If your tripod has a center column, removing it can get you much lower. Some tripods have the ability to rotate the center column to a horizontal position, which allows you to put the camera pretty much at ground level. My Manfrotto does just this.
- A flash can fill shadows nicely, but you either need a specialized flash called a ring flash, or have a synch cord or other way to move a standard flash unit off the camera. A camera with a built-in flash really doesn’t work; subjects are too close. Same goes for mounting the flash on your camera’s hotshoe.
- If the sun is bright and somewhat harsh, a portable diffuser is very worthwhile having. You don’t need a super-big one because of the size of your subjects. One that spreads to a diameter of about two feet or a bit more is perfect. They fold up into a flat bag that can be clipped to the outside of your camera pack. Get the diffuser as close to your subject as possible without it being in your shot (use a tripod plus LiveView). A small reflector is nice to have as well, sometimes in combination with the diffuser. You can reflect sunlight to fill shadows on the back side of your subject.
Tiger Lily in perfect bloom: Oregon
- I’ve recommended this before, but Canon’s 500D close-up filter is a great accessory to carry. If you don’t have a macro lens, it can get you close-up without the weight and cost of an extra lens. It can’t get you as large a magnification as a true macro lens can. But when you have one of these plus a macro lens, you can screw it on to the end of the macro lens and really crank up the magnification. A caution: you also narrow depth of field even more.
- A set of extension tubes can also stand in for a macro lens, but it’s been my experience that the quality suffers a tad more than using a quality close-up filter (and the only real quality one I know about is the Canon mentioned above). This is counter-intuitive since with a close-up filter you’re adding glass between the subject and your sensor, whereas extension tubes are hollow. But tubes do move your lens further from the sensor, affecting focus as well as the way that light strikes the sensor. I consider them a little less user friendly than close-up filters too.
This is one of my favorite close-ups of mine. Shot w/macro lens but hand-held while on XC skis in Oregon’s Cascade Mtns.
- A rail is good if you want to really get close and you’re doing a lot of macro. Rails attach to your tripod head and allow you to move the camera using small, gradual movements. It avoids clumsily trying to move your tripod a quarter inch here or there, easing the whole process of attaining precise focus.
A drawback: it’s one extra piece of equipment, and some rails are not exactly small. I have one but don’t use it as much as I probably should. Genuine macro enthusiasts can’t live without them, especially those who have macro lenses that can attain greater than 100% magnification.
NOTE: In a couple days I will post a follow-up where I show exactly how to use a rail in the field.
Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!
Not the usual sunset. I was recently in the neighborhood so stopped for a brief visit at Carlsbad Caverns. This is King’s Chamber.
A sunny meadow is home to a large spider in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 21 mm., 1/250 sec. @ f/22, ISO 200.
This post will explore ways to incorporate your macro photography into regular shooting. I’m of the belief that the human brain naturally desires to order the world. So we all categorize, some more than others. While this isn’t in itself a bad thing, it can lead to a sort of tunnel vision (really several tunnels). All it takes to broaden your perspective is to realize that all our categories lie on a continuum. Putting that into practice of course is a bit tougher.
So how does this apply to photography, and in particular macro & close-up photography? Well, once you are comfortable getting close with a macro lens, extension tubes or close-up filter, consider attempting to get super close to subjects while also showing much of the surroundings. In nature and landscape photography, this can be a powerful way to highlight one small part of nature while showing the landscape as well.
I’m calling this one Flying Duck Kiss. 100 mm. macro lens, 1/6 sec. @ f/14, ISO 200.
I captured the image at the top of this post last month in northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I’ve sort of fallen in love with these mountains over the past couple of years. Waking for sunrise a thick fog greeted me, so not much chance at a big landscape image. But I stayed out well past sunup, wandering through a lovely meadow. I was fascinated by the tall blooming mule’s ear all around. It was quite a bright scene, but I used my tripod anyway.
The lens I used, a Zeiss 21 mm., focuses extremely close. So close in fact that I consider it a “wide-angle macro” lens. Most macro lenses are of much longer focal length. But if your goal is to show much of the environment around your subject, a wide angle lens that focuses close is the ticket. If you don’t have that lens, consider getting the Canon 500D close-up filter. More on that accessory in Part V of this series. I think it’s much easier to use than extension tubes, especially with wide-angle lenses.
I was able to get very close to the spider web, making an already large web look even bigger. At 21 mm. not only were the silhouetted mule’s ears prominent, the landscape beyond – the morning sun filtered through the fog-shrouded forest – is highlighted as well.
A closer look at that spider web, using the 100 mm. macro lens: 1/125 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 100.
One challenge to these sorts of photos is depth of field. You’ll want to focus right on your subject, and since it’s very close, you’re almost guaranteed to blur the background to a certain extent. You can use f/22, which is the smallest aperture for most lenses. But diffraction effects introduce some softness at tiny apertures. How much softness depends on the lens. The Zeiss happens to be pretty darn sharp at f/22, though not nearly as much as it is at f/8. A tradeoff.
You could also focus-stack, taking several images (at an intermediate aperture like f/8 or f/11), focusing on things at ever-increasing distances from you. You then combine those images using Photoshop to get a picture with sharp focus front to back. Currently I don’t have Photoshop, so I’ve been collecting focus-stacked sequences and saving them for possible use later.
Of course you don’t have to have everything in focus. Even wide-angle lenses will blur things to one degree or another. If you get super-close to your main subject and use your largest aperture (f/2.8 for e.g.), you’ll blur much of the background, even if it’s not that far away. You won’t blur it as much as using, say a 200 mm. focal length at f/2.8, but that’s okay. When you do this it helps to have a very strong subject.
I’ve also used the ever-versatile 50 mm. lens with my Canon 500D close-up filter and found I’m able to limit the amount of background while also blurring it. What I suppose I’m saying is that you should never limit yourself. Use the gear you have in all possible combinations. Vary the distance to subject and point of view. Experiment!
After you’ve become somewhat familiar with operating in the space between macro and ‘normal’ landscape shooting, you should have a better ability to match the techniques you use to your goals for the images; that is, what you want to say about your subjects.
Though I’ve described combining macro and landscape here, it should apply to other subject matter as well. Can you think of ways to do this with portrait? Or sports? Other subjects? Leave a comment, don’t be shy! Okay, that’s it for today. Next week I’ll conclude the series with a look at gear and accessories for macro & close-up photography. Have a fun weekend!
“We will become…silhouettes when our bodies finally go”: Colorado. 21 mm., 1/125 sec. @ f/22, ISO 200.
Alpine gentian growing at over 12,000 feet in elevation, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
(Since I wasn’t going to be on a computer tomorrow – Friday – I meant to schedule this post ahead one day. But I mistakenly hit Publish! Haha~so it’s a day early, what’s the harm!)
It’s time for Part II of this little series on macro and close-up photography. So let’s get right to it. Following are tips for successful macro and close-up photography:
- Composition is still king. Just as with all photography, paying attention to everything in the frame – how it’s arranged and what can be excluded to help simplify things – is the pathway to success.
- Look for interesting stuff. I know, duh! With macro, keeping an eye out for small bits of color, or really anything that stands out, will help you to zoom in (crouching or on your hands and knees) to find fascinating details that weren’t noticeable from afar. Keep an eye out for small movements in your vision’s periphery; it could lead to cool little critters.
- Patience is even more important than usual. With flowers, waiting for the breeze to pause can have even the shy among us cursing like sailors. Get the picture set up and use LiveView with focus set, then wait for the perfect moment to trip the shutter. Try using burst mode; one of the images in the burst sequence will usually be in focus.
This pretty lily blooms in very dry, desolate desert areas of southern New Mexico during late summer monsoons. The wind was trying to keep me from getting the shot.
- Depth of field will be a challenge. Macro lenses have an innately narrow depth of field. And don’t expect close-up filters or extension tubes to do much better in that regard. Specific techniques for dealing with this are coming in the next post. The caterpillar below, who was moving surprisingly quickly, I shot hand-held, with fairly shallow depth of field and fast shutter speed. The fungus below that was stock still on a dark background, so I was able to shoot from the tripod with small aperture (for good depth of field), not worrying about having to blur the background.
Shallow depth of field meant that I couldn’t get all of this caterpillar in focus, so I focused on his head.
A strange fungus grows on a charred pine tree in the high country along the Arizona-New Mexico border.
- A tripod is usually necessary. With subjects that don’t move, or with flowers & other things that move back and forth (in the breeze), a tripod is really a no-brainer. In low light a tripod is even more critical. But even when light is bright and shutter speed is faster, a tripod results in more keepers. On the other hand, with fast-moving critters, a tripod may be more of a hindrance. Last point on tripods: never avoid a macro opportunity just because you don’t have a tripod with you. It’s still worth it, though your skills and patience will certainly be tested.
Western fence lizard, El Malpais, New Mexico. Hand-held and autofocus allowed me to catch him before he scampered off.
- Focus is a pretty big deal. You’ll find yourself using manual focus (with or without LiveView) much more often than usual. It allows much more precise adjustment, especially when using LiveView. With critters and other subjects that move, autofocus may be best. Next time we’ll go more into how camera position directly affects both your selective focus and depth of field.
- Work that subject! Just as with landscapes, portraits and other kinds of image-making, moving around and changing point of view, getting shots from several different distances, and in general trying to exhaust all possibilities is the way to go. Not only will it increase your chances for more good images, it will also help greatly to tell a story about the subject.
- Related to the above point, try not to obsess about getting as close as possible. While filling the frame can certainly be effective, it’s just one way of showing your subject. Just as wildlife photography dominated by close-ups cries out for a few shots showing the animal’s surroundings, macro and close-up photography needs to mix in wider views to show context and help tell the whole story.
Although this butterfly is so beautiful it’s tempting to fill the frame, stepping back to show the purple flowers it was alighting on results in an image that communicates more.
- Find good light. Golden hour, with the sun very low, is not just a good time for larger landscapes. It can also result in dramatic macro and close-up images. But bright sunlight also presents problems of contrast, and the higher the sun goes the harsher the light. Next time we’ll look at ways to mitigate these issues. A high overcast sky, with flat, even light, is good for illuminating all parts of your subject equally.
That’s it for now. I’m about to cross the border into Mexico for a short visit and a dip in the Sea of Cortez. Have a super weekend and happy shooting!
And now for a non-macro: sunset over the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming.
The morning’s first light hits a blooming balsamroot in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.
I’ve been doing more macro and close-up photography lately. It’s something I’ve always loved. The details of the natural world just fascinate me. I like small critters. Some of them are so feisty! And I love wildflowers! Yes I know I don’t look the part, but why can’t a big ugly guy like to play in a field of flowers?
I think I also like the challenge of macro. All that bending and stooping kills my back. The wind blowing flowers around frustrates the heck out of me. Butterflies flying off just as I’m about to press the shutter button. Things like this are what I live for!
Blooming mule’s ear is covered with dew in a southern Rocky Mountain meadow.
So I thought I’d do a few posts on it, starting this week. A caveat: I’m not trying to be exhaustive or complete. To explain all the things you need to think about and do while getting close with your camera would take an entire book!
First off, is there a difference between macro and close-up photography? Though the answer to that is yes, you really don’t have to worry about it. Essentially, true macro is done very close to your subject and with high magnification. Generally it uses a dedicated macro lens. Close-up photography comes in when you move a bit further away, with less magnification. It can be done with extension tubes, close-up filters, or while using the macro settings on some lenses.
A caterpillar cruises along looking for his lunch.
Why do macro and close-up photography?
- It’s fun! You can spend hours in that “flow” state where you lose track of time. Afterwards you have that pleasant and incongruous feeling of having worked hard, but you feel strangely refreshed.
- This is a great way to shake things up, to break out of creativity ruts. Awhile back I did a post on ways to keep your photography fresh.
- Close-up photography teaches observation skills. When you’re always on the lookout for macro opportunities, you naturally start looking low as well as at eye level, you shift your focus close as well as far, you think small- as well as large-scale.
The spectacularly whorled and lichen crusted wood of a juniper tree in New Mexico.
- You don’t need perfect light for this. Yay! While light is still an issue, as it always is in photography, with macro you can afford to be much less rigid about what light is acceptable, especially when compared to traditional landscape photography.
- You get a deeper and more complete appreciation for nature doing macro & close-up. I often want to take those fellow photographers aside and show them this other world that they’re walking right over on the way to yet another traditional large landscape.
That’s it for now. Next week we’ll dive into all the tips and techniques for successful close-up and macro photography. Have a spectacular weekend!
Mount Hood, Oregon, at sunset.
Fog over the Forest, Rocky Mtn. foothills, Montana.
It happens to all of us, and we’re usually in deep before we even realize it. I’m talking about stagnation, burnout. It happens in life and it happens in photography. You’re comfortable, producing some nice shots, even a few great ones. You got this down, right?
Not so fast! One day you wake up and realize you’ve been in your comfort zone for way too long. Maybe you’re not strictly bored with photography. But you’re not happy with where you are either. You’re simply not growing as a photographer. If you’re not growing you’re stagnant. And that stinks.
This is where I’ve found myself lately. Too many landscapes. Not too much nature, but too many similar images of nature. I’ve been trying to get more wildlife images, and that has helped. But it’s not often enough. Getting back into shooting macro has also helped. But that feels too familiar. I needed a real shake-up. To find out what I did, go to the end of the post for an ‘Extra’.
A duck does some early-morning grooming at Hosmer Lake, Oregon Cascade Range. Shot from kayak w/600 mm. lens, 1/640 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400.
Shot the other day at Devil’s Lake, Oregon, this “semi-abstract” is a way to straddle the boundary (and thus break it down) between two types of photography. I like “semi-candid” portraits too. 90 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/10, ISO 400.
So has your image-making become staid or even boring? Here are a few ways to fight that tendency:
- Keep Learning: The most obvious strategy is to keep learning about all aspects of photography. Especially if you’re still a relative novice, this is a sure-fire way to stay interested. But again, it shouldn’t be about spending a lot of money. So be careful of workshops that might be more about going to a beautiful place than really learning something.
- Practice another Type of Photography: If you’ve been doing mainly landscapes, corral someone to act as a model and do some portraits. You can do a lot with natural light, so don’t think you need to buy or rent artificial lighting. On the other hand, if you want to learn about artificial lighting techniques, renting is a great option. In fact, this weekend I’m going to shoot some senior portraits of a friend’s son.
Another friend’s son, but he has quite a ways to go before his senior pictures.
- Practice with Different Exposure, etc: If you’re a nature photographer and haven’t gotten into it yet, macro (close-up) photography is a gimme. You can do it without buying an expensive new (macro) lens. Just get a Canon 500D close-up filter that fits a lens you already have (it works best with telephoto zooms, such as 70-200 mm.). Or get a set of extension tubes. If you haven’t done any very long exposure photography, get a neutral density filter or two and go for it! If you’ve mostly done standard portraits at long focal lengths, practice environmental portraiture, where you get up close with a wide-angle lens and emphasize backgrounds more.
A water lily in the same lake as the above duck, shot from boat hand-held: 100 mm. macro lens, 1/800 sec. @ f/14, ISO 500.
- Practice another Style: If you already have a well-developed style of your own, dive into another one or two that you admire. But if you aren’t confident of your style I don’t recommend this. You don’t want to be an imitator after all. You can stretch both your capture and post-processing skills this way.
- Go Mono: Shooting in monochrome (black and white) is a simple way to fight boredom. Set your camera to display what you shoot in B&W for a session or two. You can still shoot in RAW so that the capture is in color, but your LCD shows each picture in black and white. If you instead shoot Jpeg, you’ll end up with only black and white photographs.
This old lookout at Cape Perpetua on the Oregon Coast was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930s as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s jobs program. 21 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200.
- Teach Someone: If you know a budding photographer volunteer to take them out shooting. Follow up later and help them to evaluate & process their images. Playing off a newbie’s enthusiasm is a tried and true way to get jazzed back up.
I’m sure you can come up with other ways to stretch your skills and freshen up your photography. Please don’t be shy about sharing them in the comments below. Have a fantastic weekend and happy shooting!
EXTRA: MY SOLUTION
I recently purchased a waterproof housing for my camera, plus a kayak. The kayak is also great for wildlife, along with fishing and just plain fun! I bought both the housing and kayak used; both can be quite spendy!
But a caveat: mine may not be the best example in one respect: money. Although freshening up your photography is very worthwhile, both for personal growth and for the diversity of your portfolio, it is most definitely not about spending a lot of money on new gear. Still, depending on your particular solution to burnout, a purchase or two may be necessary. For me, taking it under water has been playing on my mind off and on for a couple years.
A verdant alcove in OIympic National Park hosts Merriman Falls. Wonder what it’d be like to shoot it from underneath!
Now I’m not talking here of shooting clownfish and coral while on vacation. Although I’d love to combine scuba diving with photography at some point, images from warm ocean environments are just too common. Standard scuba photography may not be a new enough thing to be a burnout-buster, and I can’t afford tropical getaways right now anyway.
What I plan to do is snorkel and free dive in fresh water ecosystems closer to home: clear lakes and rivers. Getting good images of unusual subjects under water promises to be difficult. But that’s the point. If it were too easy it wouldn’t be challenging enough. Stay tuned. Soon you’ll see my trials, errors and (hopefully) successes right here!
A paddle then a sunset at Lost Lake, Oregon. 21 mm., 5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50, tripod.
A clear, quiet morning at Bench Lake, Mt. Rainier National Park. 30 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/11, ISO 320, handheld.
Camera makers have been providing ever higher quality images, with lower noise at higher ISOs. No, I’ve not become a cheerleader for big corporations. But this little factoid is true nonetheless. By the way, a rule of thumb: the larger the sensor in your camera, the less noise you’ll have when shooting at high ISO. It’s one reason that cameras with full-frame sensors have become so popular. Size isn’t the only thing affecting noise, but it’s an important factor.
Besides sensor size, camera makers have been improving noise performance across the board, even on crop-frame sensors. It’s especially true with high ISOs, but noise has also improved for very long exposures. My last post focused on ways you can shoot without a tripod, the easiest way being to simply raise ISO. This post will cover some tips on balancing noise and ISO with your exposure needs.
A hoary marmot is getting ready to chow down on some lupine high up on Mt. Rainier, Washington. 100 mm., 1/500 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 500, handheld.
The Oregon Coast Range. 135 mm., 0.8 sec. @ f/9, ISO 100, tripod.
Don’t fixate on how high ISO can be set on your particular camera model. That’s pretty well meaningless. Just because you can set your ISO over 25,000 doesn’t mean you’ll be able to shoot a decent picture at anywhere near that ISO. Think of the max ISO advertised for a given camera as a general guide to ISO performance. Real-world shooting is the only way to see how high the ISO can be set for a given situation, and still allow a fairly sharp image to be captured with low levels of noise.
So Heres a TIP: Fairly soon after buying a new camera, learn how high you can raise ISO and still capture an image with manageable amounts of noise. Manageable noise is noise that you can handle with the software you have. Lightroom does a very good job with noise, but there are plug-ins (like the great Topaz DeNoise) that can reduce or even eliminate high levels of noise. It’s going to take some practice with both your camera and your software.
I got a kayak! Here it is 1st time on saltwater on a bay at the Oregon Coast. Handheld shot with polarizer.
While you’re figuring out what that ISO ‘tipping point’ is, remember these two caveats:
- Caveat 1: As I’ve mentioned in several prior posts, the longer your focal length, the faster your shutter speed needs to be for sharp pictures. This also means, assuming you’re off-tripod, that you’ll need to raise ISO more for shots with longer focal lengths. Obviously you’ll need to raise ISO more for dimly lighted subjects as well.
- Caveat 2: This one is more subtle and refers to the shadowed or dark areas in your image. If you anticipate later filling (brightening) those areas on the computer, you will have increased noise in those areas (but not so much in brighter areas). The more brightening you need to do in post-processing, the more noise you’ll need to handle. But it’s area-specific.
Precious rain, Oregon. 100 mm. macro lens, 1/40 sec. @ f/13, ISO 400, tripod.
This little guy lives along Coldwater Lake, Mt. St. Helens. 100 mm. macro, 1/40 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 1250, hand-held & braced against a rock.
This relationship between the variable brightness of your scene and noise means, in effect, that you can get away with raising ISO more for overall higher-key (brighter) images that have fairly even illumination than you can for lower-key (darker) images that have a lot of dynamic range (contrasting illumination) across the frame. Of course, if you anticipate leaving shadowed areas fairly dark, you don’t have to worry so much about noise; it won’t be visible. That was true for the dark face of that marmot above, for example.
This leads inevitably to the differences among different camera makers. The big two, Canon and Nikon, have been competing in both the low-noise/high ISO arena and the resolution (megapixel) arena. Meantime, Sony has been working a lot on dynamic range, along with (more recently) ISO/noise. I could say a lot more about this but it won’t really help you take better pictures, so I won’t. Remember, this is not the blog for specific gear recommendations.
A monkey flower at Mt. Rainier. 100 mm. macro, 1/250 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 1250, hand-held & small breeze.
The important thing is to use the camera you have in your hands to its limits. Don’t hold back. Practice with it in the dark, on moving platforms (boats, etc.), in situations where it really isn’t made to produce perfect photos. It’s not your job to exactly match your gear’s supposed capabilities, and it’s senseless to wish for something with more megapixels, or more dynamic range. Rather it’s your job to stretch the capabilities of your gear. If you really work at this, you’ll invariably miss on a lot of shots. But those you hit on will shine!
Have a wonderful weekend, and happy shooting!
Back home! Sunset in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon. 50 mm., 6 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50, tripod.
Since the Foto Talk this week was all about not getting too caught up in the search for abstract patterns in your photography, I thought I’d post an image whose sole aim was to abstract the subject. But is this really an abstract? I could have made it more so, for example by moving the camera or otherwise blurring details and color. Or by getting experimental in post-processing. But I wanted the close-up features of this dune sandstone to be very clear.
The abstraction is created by simply getting close with my macro lens and framing so as to exclude the tiny flaws that are scattered through the rock. I captured this at the famous Wave in southern Utah’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The sandstone has been worn smooth by water and wind erosion, but up close you can see how rough it is, like sandpaper.
The tiny sand grains are frosted by winds that blew them into dunes during the early Jurassic Period nearly 200 million years ago when this whole region of the American southwest was a vast desert similar to the Sahara of today.
The thin layers (laminae) of alternating color are at an angle to the main sandstone beds. This is called cross-bedding and is characteristic of dune sands. The wind blew in grains that had been stained brick-red by iron. Then it turned around and blew in cleaner, lighter-colored grains from a different source. These grains would cascade down the steeper lee side of dunes, creating the cross-beds.
The flatter, thicker layers have been eroded into steps, a characteristic of the Wave. Because of variation in their hardness, their ability to resist erosion, the layers stand out or are recessed. This differential erosion is caused by variation in the amount and hardness of cement binding the sand grains together.
So what this image shows on a micro-scale is an ancient sand dune in cross-section that is now being sculpted by present-day winds. In other words, it shows winds in a desert of the distant past, when early dinosaurs roamed the area. And it shows what the desert of today is doing to those ancient dunes
So an abstract image can tell you something real about the subject. I believe that’s the best kind of abstract in fact. I’m hoping the image shows what nature can do, not what me or my camera can do. Please let me know whether or not I succeeded. I hope your weekend was a lot of fun. Thanks for reading.
Wildflowers and insects are inseparable.
Pink rhododendron bloom in the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon.
Pink monkeyflower and yellow aster bloom in a meadow fed by a spring in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.
One of my favorite flowers of the subalpine zone in the Cascades is blue gentian, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.
My favorite flower of the dry steppe region of the Pacific Northwest is the always solo and always beautiful mariposa lily.
Let’s not forget tropical flowers. This one I found attended by red ants in a Thailand forest.
Wonderful lupine and balsamroot decorate this hillside in the eastern Columbia Gorge of Oregon. Note the moon peaking through.
Speaking of the eastern Gorge, this is its most famous flower, the arrowleaf balsamroot.
Not all flowers are colorful. This one is the pasqueflower, which immediately goes to a “wild hair” seed head after blooming.
The deep forest of the Pacific Northwest hides wonders like these fairy bells, lit by a shaft of sunlight.
The glorious indian paintbrush is a common wildflower of mountains in the American West.
Flowers bloom in profusion in the aptly named Paradise meadows of Mount Rainier.
A summer flower around these parts that is particularly eye-catching, the tiger lily.
A welcome import to Oregon, the California poppy, likes roadsides.
I hope you like these wildflower images. Please click on an image to go to the main gallery part of my website, where some of the full-size versions are available for purchase. If you can’t find one, or have any questions or special requests, please contact me. They are protected by copyright and not available for free download, sorry. Thanks for your interest, and happy Wildflower Wednesday!