If you’ve been reading some of the posts on this blog or if you’ve checked out the links to the right, then you know that I’m interested in macro photography. Well, the sun is finally shining and the bugs are starting to come out so the other day I went out on a hunt.
This was the first time I really used the macro capability of my lens. Previously I’ve mostly used it for portraits and close-ups of my wife’s cupcakes. Shooting tiny critters is a whole lot different from shooting cupcakes. I did a lot of things wrong but in the end I still walked away with some shots worth showing.
Lets go through the equipment first, since that might be of interest to some of you. The lens was a Nikon micro 85mm f3.5. All the shots were hand-held since I was going after moving critters. Setting up a tripod would have been next to impossible, unless you happen to run into the most patient fly in the world. To get a good dof I had to shoot between f11-f16, meaning I wouldn’t get much ambient light in, unless shooting at a high iso, which I didn’t want to do. So I needed to use a flash. I choose my SB-400 instead of the more powerful lp160. The main reason for this is that the conditions would change all the time throughout the shoot and with the lp160 I would have to change the settings manually. The SB-400 is less powerful but you hardly need any power when you’re that close and the advantage I get with Nikon’s TTL system frees me from thinking about flash settings. I also used a SC-28 to get the flash off the camera and as close as possible to the bugs. In other words: I was holding the camera in one hand and the flash in the other. A bit wobbly but with some practice and something to rest my arms on, I think it will work – though on a few occasions I really wished I had another arm or two. Kit ready, I went out to find myself some bugs.
I think that one of my biggest faults was that I was a bit too excited whenever I found a photogenic bug. I would whip up the camera and take a snap, only to realize that my settings were off after looking at the lcd. I was shooting other things between the bugs so often I would forget the change the settings back. When I finally did get the settings right, the bug would be gone. Another thing I forgot was to use a diffuser for the flash, I only remembered it for the last shots. That’s why some of the shots has pretty harsh light with lots of highlights. The later shots looked better in that regard, softer shadows and less highlights, definitely have to remember that from the start next time.
Apart from remembering everything, the most difficult aspect by far was to get the focus right. I can tell that this is an area where I’m going to need lots and lots of practice. You can’t really tell if the focus is spot on by looking at the lcd either, especially not if it’s sunny outside. I think the trick is to take several shots and refocus between each one and just repeat until the process becomes second nature. The fact that it was fairly windy didn’t exactly help either but I’m convinced that focusing will become easier over time, when I have more experience.
Another thing that was far from easy was to actually find the little buggers (get it? Bug, buggers…I know, I didn’t think it was funny either). I don’t really like big cities but don’t really have much choice of where to live if I want to have a job. Still living in the country would have made bug hunting so much easier. I ran into the little guy on the left on my way home, he was a very willing poser, too busy cleaning himself to be bothered by a huge lens right in his face. But this shot again highlights my problem of being too eager. Since this was my first time doing this, I was happy just getting the shot and be on my way. In my haste I completely forgot about composition. So here we have a nicely exposed, in focus and perfectly centered bug. Sure, you can see the bug well enough and it’s nice that the important parts are in focus, but why not try some more interesting angles? Make the shot more dynamic and interesting. Since he was so willing to pose, maybe I could even have moved him to a leaf or something to make the background a bit nicer. Main point: I didn’t use the opportunity as well as I could have. In my defense I did remember to think more about the composition for the later shots (of the spiders).
To sum up: this was my first try at something like this and, even though I could have done a lot of things better, I’m actually quite happy with the results. If it’s still something that holds my interest when the summer is over, I’m definitely getting a set of extension tubes for next season. It’s not all that expensive and it will give me around twice the magnification. All the shots here are at 1:1 and uncropped. Hopefully I’ll have more to show off after my next bug hunt.