My Process, My Thinking (Three Photographs)

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Photography is what you make of it, so I can only speak personally. My take on photography is to make photographs that please me and my audience. In dong so I don’t want to stray too far away from reality, but I do want to photograph things that might not otherwise be seen or appreciated. This is a two-step process. Putting myself somewhere where I might find subjects and then making  photographs with my camera; this step is as much about the eye as about the technology. The second step is assessing the raw input, rejecting those shots that are badly implemented in cameraand then processing them with the lightest hand possible to get the effect I want. This second step requires thinking through an outcome that is realistic and has impact. This two-step process may look as easy as this duck’s excellent landing on ice. But in reality there is a lot going on. 

A Stubborn Bird (Two Photographs)

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Chickadees dive bomb you over and over seeking handouts of seeds. They have the fortitude and ingenuity to weather the winter, eating more than their own weight from caches of food they have hidden over the course of the summer and fall. If you observe their nests they feed their young and take out the garbage. But it is rare for one to sit still as this one did for its portrait.

Chairs on Hold and Some Final Words on Macro (Two Photographs)

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I have found close-up photography, specifically of insects, endlessly fascinating and challenging. Macro/close-up photography is almost always about detail, seeing things in a way they could not otherwise have been seen and while that is true for other types of photography, see the photos in this post, with close up photography you are sure to surprise your audience.

I hope my comments and suggestions have helped you understand the basics and the pros and cons of trying various options. I can do no better than to tell you what works for me. I suppose at some point in the future someone will create some gear that will make all of this simpler but until then the options I have mentioned are what is available.

A Goose on Ice and More on Macro (Two Photographs)

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A goose on ice sounds like a delicacy or at least a vodka.  But actually the geese we see in the early winter seem to enjoy the ice and handle it well. The lighting and pose is what caught my eye.

Macro: The Diffusion of Light

One of the more debated elements of close-up macro photography is how to diffuse the light, soften it and make it more natural. The larger the light source and the closer the subject to the light the softer the light is (again I will spare you the science).  A long explanation of diffusion can be found here: The easiest solution to this (in the field and indoors) is to place a a diffuser over your flash. You can make your own or buy one.I use the Lastolite EZybox (Manfrotto). The diffuser makes a huge difference in getting great light, once on the camera you just have to experiment with the power of the flash and the aperture. High-end flashes usually have a place where you attach an external battery pack. With a Godox pack, for instance, you can shoot 40 shots at high speed without stopping and the battery will still last for several days, in my case months, without the battery needing recharging, (the plastic holders that are sold to hold eight rechargeable batteries break too easily in my experience).

Red Squirrel And Pine Cone Plus More on Macro (Three Photographs)

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This squirrel having a great time with a pine cone was shot at 3200 ISO, I was gentle on the noise reduction not to soften the photos further, but at that ISO you gamble on both noise and softness.

Macro: Combating the Diminishing Light

There are three ways to fix the fact that up close we often have less light than we need to photograph subjects.We can up our ISO, and as discussed above this can lead to noise and a soft result. We could reflect light onto the subject with a reflector of some sort, but unless you have an assistant or a stand this could be cumbersome. Or we can use artificial light (Flash). Most cameras limit the shutter speed at which flash will synch with the shutter to about 1/250th of a second. However, a very low-level of light from a flashgun will freeze motion. Here is how this can be done. Assuming a flash on your camera and that the flash and camera work in manual mode, set the flash to 1/8th power or less, your shutter speed to the maximum synch speed it will allow for flash, probably 1/250th of a second. Now your only variable is aperture. Assuming we want a large depth of field use F 14, if it’s too much or too little light adjust the flash power up or down (or adjust the F stop but beware of diffraction over F16). These are my settings with a Nikon SB-900. I have not used ring flashes, but I have used dedicated macro flash gear and I find that gear expensive and cumbersome. You will find a considerable material on do-it-yourself reflectors on-line. There is only one small gotcha in the scenario suggested above and that is the nature of the light created (next post).

Macro: Lady Bugs and The Perfidies of Aperture

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The two photographs show different kinds of lady bugs, in the shot of two insects the one on the right is a young lady bug (an “instar” e.g. an earlier stage of growth). There is a world to learn about when it comes to entomology. You can join  to help with identification and if you send them your photos of insects you cannot identify, the entomologists will help. There are some other great guides to insects.Arthur V. Evans, Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America was my first guide and still a wonderful help.

Macro: There are two things in short supply in close-up and macro photography, depth of field and light. The closer we get to something, the narrower the depth of field at any given F stop and the less light reflected off our subject. If you get close enough into the true 1:1 macro range, depth of field becomes wafer thin even at F 16. If extreme macro photography is your thing then I suggest this site:

If we stand a little further back  and are prepared to crop images like many if not most pros do, then we can avoid extreme solutions. Some say its best to shoot insects side on, that is supposed to get you maximum depth of field but is not the most practical solution. Moving back and cropping in post production is, the use of extension tubes is (see yesterday’s post). The point is to be prepared for the lack of depth of field. Using F stops above F 14 can lead to some softness (diffraction of which more in another post). There is a lot of science behind the comments here but I will spare you. Next I will propose solutions for the lighting problem.

In an earlier post I mentioned that aperture should be multiplied by the crop factor, and that as a result crop factor cameras give some advantage in macro photography. Mike Simms commented on this issue: “but the speed/light gathering properties of the aperture remain the same. In other words if your settings on a full-frame camera were say F2.8 at 1/2000sec at ISO 100, that does not mean that the exposure would become an F5.6 at 1/1000thsec at ISO 100 on an M43 sensor with its x2 crop factor. On the M43 your exposure settings would be identical to the full frame camera, only the depth of field would act like F5.6.”

Macro: Extension Tubes and a Special Note on Winter Photography (Two Photographs)

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Macro: A 105mm macro lens will get you close, but it may not get you a safe working distance from your subject while getting you close. This is where extension tubes come in. They allow you to focus closer from farther away with any lens. Extension tubes go between the camera and the lens, they may have the connections that maintain the electronic links with the camera or they may not. Kenko makes a good set, but there are others. While you lose a bit of light, an extension tube  allows you to focus closer from farther away. I often use a 12mm extension tube that gets me optically close to the bee but not close enough to offend the bee.

The duck has nothing to do with macro or extension tubes and everything to do with handling difficult lighting situations. Ice and snow show up as bright blue in winter photography unless under-exposed by a couple of stops. The catch is how this affects your subject, it may not look great under exposed, and hence the choice, to do it in camera or in post production. In post, assuming flexible software you can selectively remove the blue. And in case you are wondering, the blue is a result of how the light meter reads the color white (similar things can happen with wedding gowns). In these photos I wanted the ice to show as ice and the steel grey look worked for me.

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