The weather was anything but perfect this weekend but I boldly braved the elements and ventured out in search of new prey. I returned home after much toil and have to consider the hunt to have been a relative success.
It was a cold and windy morning, the ground was wet and there was no sun in sight. Spending an hour taking pictures of the few bugs I found left me with frozen fingers, but the most troublesome opponent was, by far, the wind. You already know the setup, camera with 85mm macro lens in one hand, SB-400 flash in the other. This time I really wished I had at least one more hand to spare.
Lets take a look at this shot of a butterfly. It was the last thing I shot and I was already on my way home when, to my great surprise, I saw this fellow clinging to a bush. A butterfly was probably the last thing I expected to find in this kind of weather. Knowing that butterflies are usually quite skittish, I approached it carefully. It turned out I didn’t have to go about it in a sneaky way though. The good thing about wind is that it makes the bugs a lot less sensitive to motion and the cold probably slows them down as well. So I crabbed the flower the butterfly was on and moved it until I got the composition I wanted. This sounds pretty easy, and it would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to hold my flash in the same hand as the flower. I’m pretty happy with the ned result but I would have loved to be able to get the light from different angles. If I didn’t hold on to the flower though, there’s virtually no way I could have got a shot in focus. Even the slightest movement makes it difficult and this particular day everything was moving around like crazy because of the wind.
I was actually close to not getting any shot at all of this fellow. My flash had been acting up and sometimes wouldn’t fire. Luckily it came alive again after turning it off for a while. Next time I’m definitely bringing extra batteries so I won’t risk missing the shot. The thing is, unless you’re shooting in very bright sunlight, you really need to use a flash to get sharp shots like this. Motion blur is your worst enemy (assuming you get focus right) and you need a really fast shutter speed to freeze these tiny motions. But wait, isn’t my camera’s fastest sync speed 1/200? Indeed it is, and that’s nowhere near fast enough. So how does that work? You actually let the flash be your shutter. Let me explain: if I were to shoot without flash, on an overcast day like this, using the settings I had (1/200, f16, iso 200), I would end up with a completely black frame. There would be no ambient light bright enough to be recorded. Now, when I add the flash, I’m only lighting the bug and the flash is very close to the bug. This means that not much power is needed and that results in a very short flash burst. I don’t have the exact numbers for the SB-400 but it’s a lot (and I mean a lot) faster than 1/200. That’s also why we end up with a black background, the flash doesn’t reach that far (in the second shot a leaf happened to be in the background), it’s only lighting the subject. You know those cool shots of water balloons popping? Same principle, the motion is frozen by a very short burst of light, a.k.a. flash. Seems we got a bit technical again, sorry about that.
Back to the bugs. This fly was a really nice find as well. I couldn’t find many bugs on the ground, probably since it was wet, so I tended to look higher than usual. I mostly found rather small flies but then I walked past this critter with huge eyes, just begging to be shot. Thanks to the wind it was no problem grabbing the leaf it was sitting on, the only problem was getting the flash where I wanted it at the same time. Mostly I had to settle for whatever i could get in the light angle department, not ideal but at least I got the shots. I tried to get some more interesting compositions but the fact that I had to hold both the leaf and the flash in the same hand while fighting the wind to get focus right made it very difficult. On some shots, when I got the composition the way I wanted it, the flash would be way off, leaving me with a completely underexposed image. The battery trouble didn’t help either. It was a good learning experience though. Another thing that made things a bit tricky was the fact that it was an overcast day and I was mostly working under the trees. This left me with limitid light and that actually made focusing really difficult. On a couple of occasions the sun came through the clouds and that’s when I noticed what a huge difference some light makes; suddenly I could see focus very clearly through the viewfinder.
The only critters I found on the ground this day were snails and ants. I’ve never been a big fan of ants but seeing them up close is interesting. They’re still a bit too small but if I get extension tubes in the future they should grow on me even more (get it? Grow on me…because it will be twice the magnification…I really have to stop with these jokes). The guy to the left was a sentry standing guard outside the entrance and he didn’t appreciate having a big lens shoved up his face. I actually wanted to get him in profile like this but he kept following the lens, cheeky ant. I think I’ll be shooting more around the entrance, the tree stub provides a good background and there’s plenty of action going on. Only problem is that there might be a bit too many ants if the weather is nice, I don’t want them crawling all over me.
It was a challenge but in the end I got more results than I expected, the big surprise being the butterfly on the way home. Hopefully practicing in more difficult conditions like this will make me improve faster, preparing me for when summer really arrives full force with all its lively bugs.