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Ants are my nemesis. They are extremely hard to photograph because of their speed and dull color; and do not count on the camera monitor telling you if anything is sharp (DSLR monitor resolution definitely needs improvement). Ants are not the prettiest of the insect world but the challenge of shooting them is worth it. I have found a spot I often go by where there is ant activity just below eye level. This lucky photograph shows some interaction between two ants but there was no fight involved and afterwards they both kept going in different directions. I suspect it was some sort of exchange or means of recognition. It’s a dramatic photograph and ants fighting would not surprise me. Some of the largest and longest wars on the planet are between colonies of ants. Some have evolved the special physical characteristics to carry on the battle. The second photo illustrates the narrow depth of field we often work in when shooting insects like this.
If ever you find yourself shooting an all black subject you will want some shadow, so that the contours of your subject, including its eyes, stand out. Spot metering may help but the background could blow out. The tip: the more directional the light the better for shadows.
Tripod Heads for Macro
Once you have good tripod legs the next choice is the type of head. There are three types: pistol grip, geared head and ball head. Each is a matter of taste. A pistol grip has the camera on top and as you squeeze the trigger you can move the camera; I am not a fan – I find them difficult to use. Geared heads have separate controls for all axes, this enables very precise placement of the camera on the head. You can adjust by fractions of a centimeter on the very best models. Geared heads are great for studio work and macro. Ball heads are probably the most popular for all photography; they allow the greatest movement. Be sure, however, to buy those with three controls – loosen/tighten, friction control and panorama. The friction control allows the ball head to hold the camera steady while still allowing movement with a finger on the lens or body without the camera falling over . Ball heads, however, have one universal failing, they slump. As you choose where you want your camera and depending on the quality and cost of the ball head it will slump marginally or a lot. You get used to it and account for it. For me and many other photographers it’s not a game stopper. The most important thing to think about is how the head will connect with the camera. Most heads come with plates that allow the camera to attach to the head; the most universal type of plate is the arca-swiss system. Many people make accessories and attachments that use this system and it’s very secure. Choose another quick release and it may be proprietary and not work with everything you may buy later (e.g macro flash brackets). All of these heads are precision instruments and the costs reflect that (Markin and Really Right Stuff, are among the manufacturers of great ball heads).