As it so happened, the sun decided to start shining yesterday evening so I ventured out yet again in an attempt to redeem my poor results from earlier in the morning (see previous post).
It went better, a lot better. It was a quick outing so all I could find was flies but I’ll take what I can get. Besides, flies makes for pretty good subjects thanks to those big eyes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the eyes are the most important part do get in focus. It doesn’t matter what kind of bug it is, as long as the eyes are sharp, the rest can be blurry and people won’t really care. The opposite is also true: take a shot where everything is tack sharp except for the eyes and people will get a feeling that the whole image is blurry. The exception is when it’s obvious that the focus of the image itself is something other than the eyes, e.g. a butterfly’s wings or similar.
That’s why this shot is my favourite of the day, the focus is absolutely perfect on the eyes. I urge you to click through to my flickr and look at the larger version in order to appreciate the details (link to the image at the bottom of the post). Actually it’s one of my favourites of all the shots I’ve taken, just because of the focus. I really wish I could get that kind of focus in every shot but I’m not quite there yet, more practice is required. One thing I think I should be working on to achieve better focus is to find the magic angles. In this shot you can see that some of the foreground (the leaf and the twig) is in decent focus. That means that by angling the camera differently, I should be able to keep the focus on the eyes and still get more of the body in focus as well. I’m hoping this is something that will come more naturally over time and with practice.
Focus was consistently better than what I managed the same morning so I got a couple of things confirmed. First of all: it’s a lot easier to focus when the image you see through the view finder is brighter. It’s just a more pleasant experience, still difficult like crazy, but definitely more pleasant. Secondly: the light in the pictures benefit greatly from some ambient fill. Mind you, the flash is still the main source, the ambient is just acting as fill to soften the shadows and taking some of the burden away from the flash, resulting in less specular highlights. It also gives us a nice warm tone when it’s late evening sun like this. I actually took a test shot without flash just to confirm that the ambient was registering with the settings I was using. It was, but more interestingly, I forgot to turn the flash back on and took some shots of a fly without it. Why was that interesting? Because it confirmed that I do need flash to get the kind of results I want. The images taken without flash were dark (duh) and slightly blurry. Why blurry? I was still shooting at my camera’s highest sync speed, which is 1/200, and that proved to be too slow to freeze all movement (I think the biggest culprit was camera shake). So, if I’m going to shoot without flash I need to do it mid-day to get as much sun as possible so I can use a faster shutter speed. That’s often not the best time to shoot bugs though, since they tend to be rather lively at that time of day.
I tried to get some more portrait style shots this time and the above is the best one. I really wish I could get even closer though, since that would make a shot like this even more interesting. This is something I have to work on, I have to remember to push myself to try different compositions and angles, not just stick to the safe but slightly boring shot. These flies were enjoying the sun by the side of a path through a forest area and I was getting down on all four to shoot them, almost laying flat on my belly. Side note: this also helped with the focusing, being in a position where I could get support for my elbows and shooting subjects that weren’t sitting on swaying leafs or flowers.
Something funny happened. I was stalking a particularly photogenic fly when, in the corner of my eye, I saw I guy walking a couple of dogs approaching. Not about to let that concern me and let the fly get away, I continued my stalking, easing my way down on my knees, then my elbows, slowly moving the lens in toward my prey. At this point one of the dogs started growling a bit, it was something small, possibly chiwawaish (the other one was a pitbull, interesting combination). I proceeded to take some pictures and the guy had now stopped next to me. I finished with a last shot and looked up. The guy said, “Dude, what are you doing?” Me, “Photographing bugs.” Short pause, “Why are you using flash?” Clearly he was trying to make some sense out of it, desperately grasping for information. I was at a loss though, how was I supposed to answer him? He had probably never used a camera likes this, most likely hade no clue about aperture, shutter speed, iso, exposure etc. This was something I had spent some fairly lengthy blog posts discussing, how to sum it up so he could understand? I manged a rather lame “It helps.” His pitbull helped break the awkwardness a bit by greeting me enthusiastically (he must have been happy to find someone on his own level, I was still on my knees). There was some silence and then the guy left, leaving me with a “That’s a good hobby you’ve got there.” Most likely he was thinking that I was a complete nutball, just escaped from an institution of some kind.
So, how about it, are there any other macro photographers (or any kind of photographer for that matter), who has had any similar experience? Has any “normal” people every looked at you and thought you were a complete idiot while you were pursuing your passion?