Posts tagged “Macrophotography

Patina of a Medal (Two Photographs)

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The medal here is from 1918 Union of Former Soldiers founded by President Clemenceau. I picked it up years ago in a flea market. Close-up it’s just another abstract.

Spooky Button (Two Photographs)

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As I was on sewing theme I thought about buttons and came across this one. With motorized focus stacking you have a choice to mount the apparatus horizontally or vertically, a change that requires rebuilding the stage (another hour or so in the process). I did this one both ways, with vertical being the winner. Vertical stages are more prone to shake, a passing truck can make the difference. There’s a way to compensate but it adds time and exposures to the stack.

Spool of Thread (Two Photographs)b

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This was an exercise in trying to figure out what caused the colour shift. It has not occurred with any other focus stack. I took this one twice with different exposures, checking the colour style in camera only to have the same issue. Not that I don’t like the result its just nice to know how it got there.

Thimbles (Three Photographs)

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Thimbles turned out to be quite interesting especially with all the wear and tear. These are easily 40 years old and have seen a lot of use. I will be coming back to these for some different angles. By the way each of the close up photos takes over an hour to shoot and sometimes more. Getting the exposure right, setting up the focus stack, building the stage for the thimble to stand on etc. etc. and then the processing of 40-100 shots depending on depth wanted can add another hour.

Thread (Two Photographs)

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Thread is made up of smaller and smaller strands making for interesting compositions, with the caveat that close up there can also be a lot of fuzz.

A Screwdriver (Two Photographs)

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With extreme macros it’s unlikely that your audience will be able to guess the subject, all they see is your composition. So I have made it easy, this is a close-up of the wooden portion of the screwdriver shown below.


Macro Talk (Two Photographs)

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The colour shot is part of a petal of a flower at about 4x life. The other, in black and white, is a rock (a black and white rock), again magnified by quite a bit through stacking tens of shots. The results are quite abstract and bring to mind a comment a friend of mine made when I first spoke of trying true macro. He pointed out that most macro shots need explanation, few subjects will be self evident to the average viewer. But in my view beauty is beauty, interesting is interesting, even if at first I have no idea what it is (by definition abstract).

Brass Measuring Weights (Three Photographs)

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These are 3.5x life, just to make them interesting. The third photo here shows their size against a quarter. American and Canadian quarters are the same size. There is no history to the one ounce weight (Z), (above) but the second one I can date to between 1858 and 1901, with a high probability of 1901. Unfortunately it was officially cancelled and the cancellation stamp makes it hard to place. The 1/4 ounce weight (third photo) has clear marks on it. What you are looking at is the VR and the crown, the piece dates from Queen Victoria’s reign and was stamped under the Weights and Measures Act of 1858 in London. I was not aware there were collectors of weights and a wealth of material on British weights on line. Its amazing where photography takes you.

Dragonfly Macro?

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Usually macro means 1:1 filling the screen life-size. This photograph is actually cropped and therefore close-up photography. Taken at 500mm, with a Nikon 200-500mm lens. It shows the normal narrow depth of field at f8, which if I had increased it another stop would most likely have affected image quality.

Damselflies (Two Photographs)

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I took these in late May at the beginning of the season. In the very early days of their lives these insects are not particularly colorful. Still fascinating in their fine detail. The weather was cool so they were stopping often to get their energy back, in warmer weather it becomes much more difficult to catch them resting. As the insects return I will be spending more time photographing them.


Sometimes…(Two Photographs)

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Sometimes when we get close to a subject we see too much. Everyone loves ladybugs but under a microscope everything looks different. There is something paleolithic about some insects. The hard lives they live show on their bodies even as they go about their business. Too close and we see something unexpected. It’s something to think about in close-up photography.

Lady Bugs-2

Not a Fight! (and a note about tripod heads)

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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 (their 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 a place where there is ants 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.

Not a fight 2

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 of the axels, this enables very precise placement of the camera on the head. You can adjust by fractions of 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. 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).

Because you can never get enough magnification… (An essay on extension tubes etc.)

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On a cold and windy day, I decided to satisfy the questions I get about extension tubes. Essentially they allow you to focus closer than your lens would normally focus, but at the same time you lose the ability to focus at infinity, in fact your focus is severely limited. You do not lose image quality, as they contain no glass. They can meter and auto-focus if you buy the right sort. Kenko extension tubes work well for me. The same rules of loss of light and depth of field apply as in any close-up/macro photography.

How much magnification you can get and what is a practical are important questions. The longer the lens the more working distance you have between you and your subject, the shorter the lens the more magnification. Even indoors doing tabletop photography no one wants to be only a few centimeters from his or her subject.

The picture above has nothing to do with this discussion. it is an old insect photograph taken with one or more extension tubes.

The photograph below is a full size photograph of the subject I used in the explanation below. The subject is long and 3.5 centimeters tall – the word “MARK” is approximately six millimeters long.

Extesnion Tube Test1

The second photograph is just shy of the closest focus the 105mm VR can do.

Extesnion Tube Test2

The third looks marginally different and a 12mm tube was added to the 105mm VR.

Extesnion Tube Test3

The fourth is taken with the 20mm tube and the 105mm VR.

Extesnion Tube Test4

The fifth is taken with the 36mm tube and the 105mm VR.

Extesnion Tube Test5

The sixth is taken with all three tubes on the 105mm VR. The working distance at closest focus is a little less than 11mm. On the 105mm VR Nikon you also get some sagging and it is probably not a good idea to do this.

Extesnion Tube Test6

The differences may appear marginal because all that has changed is the ability of the lens to focus closer at the same or marginally different working distance, e.g. where as before your closest focus was lets say 20 centimeters, it’s now 10 centimeters. Getting closer makes the object larger on your sensor hence the additional magnification. The formulas can be found at “Cambridge in Color” ( I use my tubes with macro lenses so I see no affect on sharpness, and in my experience, the Cambridge remarks that there can be impact on image quality using extension tubes with non-macro has not proven the case.

An important point to consider as you read this is that all the examples are at the closest focusing point (any closer and they would be out of focus). In reality I cannot imagine anyone doing this, as you would want to give yourself a bit more working distance from your subject at the expense of magnification (e.g. pull back from closest focusing point). Extension tubes have a maximum focus point and focusing at infinity is impossible. With the 36mm extension tube you cannot focus from farther away than approximately 32 centimeters and with the 20mm extension tube 62 centimeters.

As it is hard to maintain the same field of focus forgive minor framing differences, and focus on the word “MARK” or the wings on the right. White balance is also a problem to match perfectly in the lighting I used on this little box. I used Lightroom, Photoshop for shake reduction and Nik for noise reduction and for detail enhancement. All were taken on a tripod.

The seventh photo was taken with all of the tubes on a 50mm lens; the working distance was a little over 3 centimeters (at infinity, not shown here, I was a just over 4 centimeters away). Three to four centimeters is not a great working distance for anything – you risk damage to your front element and frightening away subjects. In short you would need to pull back.

Extesnion Tube Test7

The eighth photograph was taken with a 250 Raynox Macroscopic lens (the highest quality close up filter I have used). It increases magnification by 2.5X and it is relatively cheap. It has a pinch grip onto the lens and is a bit awkward for field use but usable and worthwhile. Again be forewarned that the working distance at closest focus is about 8 centimeters on the 105mm VR lens.

Extesnion Tube Test8

The final photograph below, because you can never get too much magnification, was taken with a SB-6 bellows and a 12mm extension tube, with a reversed 50mm enlarger lens, for a grand total of 132mm of extension giving a magnification of more than 4.5x life size. Theoretically I could go to 5x plus with all of the tubes, but I think that would stress out all of the rings used to hold things together. After this, the next step is using microscope lenses on bellows. Given the problems of using the bellows and maintaining stability, light and focus, a microscope lens would mean an enormous expenditure in gear. By the way, the bellows and the kit that goes with it are all second-hand, collected over the past two years, because I wanted to try it. The final piece was found in early April. Suffice to say of all the photos in this series, this was the most difficult to shoot. It is not a kit I could easily use in the field.

Extesnion Tube Test9

A couple of points need to be made here. I use Nikon, if I was using Canon, the MP-E 65mm that does 1-5x life size (fully manual) would be my choice of lens. There is no comparative solution, outside of the bellows to duplicate that lens in the Nikon universe. Secondly, it is worth repeating that the longer the lens you use the longer the working distance from your subject. Thirdly, I never shoot at the closest focusing distance, I crop. At the closest distance auto-focus ceases to work well, any remote focus cable etc. does not work, millimeters further away it will. Fourth, it’s a bit impractical and dangerous to use all of the extension tubes at once, even on a tripod; your lens will sag and there will be tension on the body of the camera in most cases. I restrict myself to either the 20 or 36mm tubes. The 12mm is a great learning tool to get a handle on how the tubes work, and hence I use it every Spring as I get myself back in form. Fifth, it is possible to use the 36mm tube without a tripod, but not easy, a flash helps.

Bottom line, indoors almost any combination can be made to work, outdoors, your best bet is one or two extension tubes. The Raynox does well if not used at closest focus. Where I live extension tubes cost CDN $ 289 and Raynox CDN $ 90. But for all practical work we are not/not working at minimal focusing distance and this is where, for me, the 20 or/and 36mm extension tubes win. So they are what I use in the wild.

Finally, thinking about what you might put in front of the lens should dictate what you buy. Tubes and 105mm lens work for most insects visible to the eye. Bellows work with Lichen and smaller animals whose details are hard to see without magnification.

I hope this alleviates some confusion over extension tubes and hopefully we will have fewer cold and windy days so I can take real pictures!

Environmental Portrait

Evironmental Portrait of a Jumping SpiderTo view more of my photography please click on

The most impressive of portraits are those that show subjects in their native environment. This applies to people as well as insects.

Recently I talked to a photographer who was interested in capturing insects and bugs in natural light.  As I had a flash on my camera it was hard to make the case that natural light is what I prefer.

When an animal poses we seldom if ever have the choice of light, the animal makes the choice.

Flash gives me smaller fstops, less worry about shake etc., but whenever I can shoot without it I do. Close up even a very small fstop gives only a short depth of field.


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This summer I was looking forward to shooting some different subjects and caterpillars was one of them. Unfortunately the caterpillar above is as far as I got. It was the only one I saw where the front was distinguishable from the back-end.

It has not been a great year for insects and bugs in my area. Interesting and photogenic ones are hard to find at the best of times.

The challenge of looking for them is one of the fun parts of doing this kind of photography, there are technical issues and I have written about them, but its learning about the insects and bugs themselves that makes this a very interesting type of photography.

My Bug Lady

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Many of the insects, bugs and spiders I manage to photograph are scouted out by my wife. She too is enjoying photography and we share the path, equipment, and help each other as we can.

She is also the editor of the blog and deserves credit for looking over the texts weeks before they are published and again shortly before posting. Her questions help clarify the ideas and techniques I want to focus on. We both learn, we both benefit, but the advantage is certainly mine.

Having given where credit is due here are a few words about today’s picture. Jumping spiders are not a common sight where I live and when you see one you hope that they are in a setting that works compositionally, doing something interesting and facing you. The back ends of beasts, and I have taken many, don’t tend to be at all interesting.

I was particularly lucky here that the light came from the side and not through the petals of the flower, which would have resulted in a horrid colorcast. In addition the depth of field has worked out nicely to show off his back markings.

As I write this, sadly the season is ending for insects, bugs and spiders, I have more photographs for the blog and more stories to tell this year, but our hunting season is ending with the cold weather approaching.

Climbing Down

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It would have been nice to catch this convergent ladybug at the top of the flower, and although I tried, it proved impossible. It seemed in a great hurry to get to the bottom of the plant, one wonders why it did not just fly off.

Ladybugs are beetles and like all beetles they have wings hidden under a divided carapace. The numbers of beetles is staggering, one estimate says that one in four animals is a beetle.

It’s hard to hide when you are bright red on a purple plant. The vibrant colors caught my eye, as did the rapid movement of the beetle. It was a great reward for the time I spent on a very humid day with my camera.


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This photograph is a great illustration of the narrow depth of field you work in at macro distances. This was taken at f11 and look how little is in focus! This is why many macro tutorials speak of photographing subjects side on, rather than face on. Face on, the depth of field is sure to exclude part of the body.

It’s the overall photograph that matters, not the focal plane and in macro photography unless you use very complex and delicate techniques like focus staking, something is likely to be out of focus.

Focus staking is where you take several photographs in sequence and focus on successive parts of the subject, so that when combined in special software, the entire subject is in focus.

And for the record, our subject managed to climb back onto the leaf.

Flies do it upside down

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I note that there have been several examples of insects in situations like this on WordPress. It’s not surprising as insects’ life spans are generally very short. The corollary of this is that if you spend time taking photographs of insects it will not be long before you observe the same.

In a similar fashion damselflies and dragonflies are beautiful creatures to see and photograph, but they are also brutal carnivores. In fact I was shooting a fly and a damselfly flew in and ate it.

The only challenges here are: having enough depth of field to get both parties in focus; setting a high enough shutter speed to avoid blur and getting enough light.

In most cases this interaction takes place in a small space, and it is therefore possible, not easy but possible, to use a tripod.

And by the way flies do it in any orientation they like. Vertigo does not seem to be much of a factor.

A Central Focus

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There are several things of note about this photograph of a member of the Solitary Wasp family. In the first instance, when you get close enough to an insect inside a flower its like landscape photography, you need to be very sensitive to all the things in the picture to avoid distractions. Here, for example, the stamens have taken on a prominence that might distract from the subject. The second point I would make is the color of the flower, which makes the wasp stand out, is slightly overpowering. Taken together, however, no one could mistake this for a photograph taken in a lab!

Macro Flash and a Beetle Contemplating his Domain

Macro-Flash (Beetle contemplation of the horizon) (2)To view more of my photography please visit

All the photographers I have known have had things go wrong. Years ago when we used film, mistakes cost money. Now we have the liberty of experimenting. Nothing in my experience beats artificial lighting in macro for difficulty. There is no one group of settings that works for all circumstances or subjects. I have gone through patches of not quite getting the results I want. My solution is always to try again.

I have made the point that slower shutter speeds (below 1/60th of a second and lower) allow in natural light when using flash, but apart from that the shutter speed, seldom makes a difference; it is the flash that freezes the action.

At high shutter speeds (e.g. above 1/200th of a second) it is likely your background is probably darker than you would like. At high synch speeds, 1/250th of a second and above it will probably go black.

Many of us struggle with finding the right balance between a dark background and an overall well-lit picture. A bad choice can ruin a picture. More importantly what works at home in a stable environment may not work when you are kneeling (hopefully on knee-pads) in a field. My point here is that this is normal, it happens to everyone. The difference between success and failure is measured in millimeters.

In the case of the red milkweed beetle above, I was lucky that a background was near enough to catch my flash. Angling your shot with light fall off in mind helps a great deal. Other solutions to this issue, depending on circumstance are using the smallest possible fstop (f11-22), forcing the light out farther or another flash aimed at the background. You need to read your manual to learn which flash modes involve multiple spurts of light making freezing motion not as likely.

Another issue I want to address in a future post is diffusion. Suffice it to say at this point that straight flash is harsh and more than likely you will wish to diffuse it.

But as with the beetle reaching the end of the leaf, sooner or later even flash can be conquered!

A Cocky Stinkbug

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In my continuing practice of anthropomorphism, I love how birds and animals tilt their heads quizzically.

The eyes caught a bit of the light creating what are called catch lights. The sharpening of the photograph highlighted the texture on the stinkbug. The bug is small, and the size is clearly brought out by its surroundings.

Damselfly (Bluet)

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Ondonta are the order of insects that includes damselflies and dragonflies. Once they start arriving in numbers they will attract people with cameras and people with nets. At least that’s true where I live. The catch and release crowd are correct that you cannot easily identify them with specificity without a magnifying glass. The photographers get a little frustrated when the Odonata are very active and somehow never stop for a break. Some particularly adept photographers are good at getting photographs of them in the air, interacting or even feeding. Ondonta are true predators and watching them catch something and devour it is even less appealing that watching lions do the same.

Among the damselflies and dragonflies are those that when skittish leave their perch, but also return to the same precise spot; others roam in a regular pattern. It pays to stop and study what is going on.

Its almost impossible to focus on their eyes which in the case of a damselfly it is mostly liquid and the dragonfly too detailed and reflective, the trick is to focus on their body close to their eyes. Dragonflies’ eyes usually show some reflection of the light around them as a lighter area within the circle of the larger eye, it is hard to avoid.

Lighting is challenging as both insects can get into tight spots in the undergrowth. Flash can come in handy. Just realize you may not get another chance, as any shadow or light is going to make them skittish. Shorelines of any kind are great places to spot them, but they can move far inland. Some actually change color as they age and the older they are the more interesting the color.

Unfortunately in many places the viewing is not good this year, and even in the best spots in North America now, it seems the population is thin.

Bug in Battle with Flower

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I keep asking how to go about finding insects to photograph. I get two answers from entomologists, use a net or closely examine every plant and bush (even if you can’t see them they’re there). The net seems a bit extreme as far as I am concerned. The latter seems to work fairly well. Its complete happenstance if you get a good picture even with the best of equipment and techniques, as much depends on angle, perspective and the cooperation of the insect (several react by turning their backs even if they do not fly off).

I believe this is a black and red stinkbug, but given the angle of view experts would not be happy being asked to identify this bug.

Sometimes the context provides a frame. In the photograph above it looks like the flower is about to attack the stinkbug making for a nice composition and showing the insect in an interesting setting.