Macro and other photographic techniques

by Ashley Whitlock A.R.P.S J.S.A.P

 This page is currently under construction

Nikon Camera with 105mm Nikkor Macro with 4 flash heads . I usually use two flash guns either side of the lens. These can be used at all angles and can move around the holder attached to the lens in any position. I use mine at an angle of 45 degrees normally.

Hoping to get a good photograph of a very fast flying insect is a very daunting undertaking. The skill is watching and waiting and do homework on your subject, which is certainly half the battle. This Dragonfly had been noted emerging to hatch out of the water. I was there when it was drying out its wings, and consequently it stayed still for a long time.

The focal length of macro lenses ranges from 50mm to 200mm. Although many zoom lenses boast a macro setting, these are usually less than half life-size magnification – true macro, however, begins with 1:1 and nothing less.

A 50-60mm lens is suitable for general macro photography work but if you want greater subject-to-lens distance a 100mm lens will give you this at a price.

For creatures like butterflies and dragonflies, lens-to-subject distance becomes even more important so focal length needs to be greater.

The 150-200mm range is the most expensive, but you will appreciate the extra power when stalking flighty subjects like butterflies.

Extension tubes fit between the rear mount of the lens and the camera body to make the lens focus closer and therefore produce a much bigger image of a small subject.

Also, with an extension tube fitted you lose the infinity end of your focusing range. Add more tubes and this becomes increasingly more limited.

Close-up filters are single-element lenses that look like magnifying glasses.

These filters screw into the front element thread and can provide an inexpensive alternative to splashing out on a pukka macro lens.

They come in a variety of strengths that are measured in dioptres.

Close-up filters are often available in sets of +1,+2 or +4 dioptre magnification.

Dioptres are also available to fit Cokin style square filter systems.

Add a dioptre to a bridge camera or a compact to achieve real close-up macro photography shots.

 

Moth traps let you into an insects world and can produce some amazing photos if you take a picture of your subject in its natural surroundings. This is a Elephant Hawk Moth on some Oxford Ragwart. They are usually quite torpid in the early morning so moving them onto a good patch of flowers should quite achievable.

 When I first started Macro Photography I used a Nikon Ring Flash, this was OK at short distances but it came a huge battery pack which became somewhat of a burden, but after many years of good use I got myself the unit which is shown at the top of the page now we were in the digital age. Here is an old picture (Slide) of a Raft Spider taken in the New Forest, as you can see the ring light leaves doughnut shaped flash images on the water reflection

To get the most out of available depth of field, select a small aperture like f/16 or even f/22.

You will find that at half-life size the depth of field you can achieve at f/22 will be only around 15mm at best.

On the other hand you may wish to go to the other extreme and show as little sharpness as possible by opening up to full aperture like f/2.8 or f/4.

One advantage of the latter option is that any out-of-focus highlights will show as circle-like bubbles that can look very attractive.

 

Blend Flash with Ambient

 

With more static subjects it can be fun to add a blip of flash just to liven up your macro photography.

A ‘third hand’ device is an essential macro photography accessory. It will enable you to support or position subjects just where you want them. In turn, it can also help to provide endless possibilities of positioning backgrounds.

Although we can crop things using software later, it is best to fine-tune composition in-camera at the time of shooting as much as possible.

With close-up pattern details, ensure they either fill the frame completely so that there are no gaps around the edges.

Alternatively show the entire pattern with space all around it.

Point of Focus

It is imperative to consider the actual point of focus when working close-up with tiny subjects. You can dramatically change the appearance by where you chose to focus.

Use your rear LCD facility to ensure you have got the shot you want before moving on. Look carefully at the corners to make sure there are no intrusions.

Tidy up any unwanted debris in the scene and make sure that your composition concentrates on your subject as intended. It’s also wise to carry a spare battery, as constantly reviewing shots will drain power.

  Backgrounds

Add different coloured backgrounds to macro photography shots to change the look of the subject.

One of the most fascinating aspects of photography is that it can open the door to worlds we can’t see with the naked eye. Capturing this hidden world has its share of challenges and requires a far more systematic approach than other areas of photography, but the results are fascinating and rewarding. Capturing macro images of the most populous but least-seen creatures on our planet – insects – is a great example of this.

Technique

 

Consistency is key. The aim of stacking is to create a series of almost identical images, where you move the focus in tiny increments across the image to give you enough material to stitch together in the computer to achieve enough depth of field in your image. Do this by moving the camera a tiny amount either towards or away from the subject using a micro-adjustment plate. Manually adjusting focus in small enough increments using the focus barrel on the lens is almost impossible.

Set up the camera as close as possible to the subject so you can withdraw from it, rather than approach. In this way you don’t have to worry about accidentally bumping into equipment, disturbing the insect and ruining the shot. Use a cable release or the timer setting on your camera to ensure there’s no movement of the camera itself. Take as many images as you can, while moving as little as possible with your adjustment plate. You might not use all images for your stack, but you want to have as many options as possible. Set your exposure manually, otherwise you risk variation between frames.

 

To get the depth of field you need it’s important to use flash, as there won’t be enough ambient light to shoot at a smaller aperture. Fortunately, as insects are tiny, ordinary flashguns are just right. Position lights as close to the subject as possible, using a Gorillapod or miniature tripod, and experiment. Give your lights enough time to refresh between each frame. If the lighting is inconsistent, the stitching process won’t work. Keep it simple to begin with and once you are comfortable with the technique you can move on to a bit of experimentation. As with your camera settings, make sure your flash power setting is done manually.

For initial attempts, take 20-30 images at f/11 and ensure you move focus through the frame. You can then start using wider apertures and get sharper images, taking more frames as the depth of field gets smaller. Ultimately, you want to aim to use your lens’s sweet spot of around f/4-f/5.6. This could require you take as many as 100 shots to get an image sharp across the frame.

This Hare was occupied with feeding on some grass, I had seen several Hares in this field in the previous years so I knew they were about. I think the wind was with me so it did not detect my scent, and I dont think their eyesight is all that great.

 Tip: The best lens of all is your legs as these two photographs of this Hare demonstrate. Also field craft is also very important. I was wearing a complete combat outfit which broke up my outline, and initially I approached the Hare with caution, thinking it must know Im here, however I kept walking very slowly towards it and as these photos demonstrate, I could almost shake hands with it in the end.

 Telephoto Photography

  

One of the most exciting aspects of photography is working with Telephoto and Super Telephoto lenses. While out of the price range for most to buy, this lens family is easily accessible through lens rental services online or through local camera stores. Telephoto and super telephoto lenses enable photographers to explore a variety of subjects in new ways. Such lenses are often used in wildlife photography, but they can be used for a variety of subjects. Here are 10 tips and ideas for great telephoto photography:

 

1. Use A Tripod For Sharp Photos
 

By and large the vast majority of subjects photographed with telephoto and super telephoto lenses need to be tack sharp. Due to the narrow field of view and magnification of telephoto lenses ever so slight movements have an amplified impact diminishing image sharpness. The first thing you can do to ensure that you’ll capture sharp images is to use a tripod and a tripod head that can support the weight of your lens & camera. While this isn’t the only step to take to ensure sharp photos it is the essential first step. Using a tripod or even a monopod will also save your back and arms from unnecessary pain and fatigue.

 

2. Use A Shutter Release
 

Any movement is amplified when looking through the view finder of a camera using a telephoto lens. The simple act of pressing the shutter on your camera will cause even a tripod mounted camera and lens to shake when photographing a distant subject. To minimize camera shake use a shutter release. Quite simply a shutter release is a shutter release button on an extension cord. Minimizing movement of your camera and lens while mounted on a tripod will reduce unintended bluring of your photo.

 

Bonus Tip:
If your camera has a Mirror Lock-up function this in addition to the use of a shutter release will remove much of the mechanical vibration your camera itself can create. The mirror in the camera box of your dSLR allows you to see from the viewfinder out your lens. When you trigger the shutter the mirror will flip up out of the way so that light coming through your lens hits the sensor or film in your camera body. Mirror Lock-up will prompt you to trigger the shutter twice, first to move the mirror into a ready position and second to open the shutter. After the first trigger of the shutter you should wait 2-5 seconds for the internal mechanics of your camera and resulting vibration of your camera to settle to the point of being still before you trigger the shutter a second and final time.

 

 

3. Turn Off Lens Image Stabilization / Vibration Reduction for Tripod Mounted Cameras
 

When you have Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction active on your lens the internal mechanics detects movement and counter acts it producing a sharp image. When your camera and lens are mounted on a tripod movement is removed, but your lens can errantly activating its IS/VR mechanism creating an image that is less than sharp. For this reason its a best practice to turn off your lenses IS or VR functionality when it is mounted to a tripod.

 

4. Telephoto Effect – Bringing Far and Near Together
 

Telephoto lenses have a unique optical effect in that they flatten scenes with great depth. Fittingly this is referred to as a Telephoto Effect. Making use of this effect can be very useful in composing graphically striking subjects and scenes. Unlike shorter focal length lenses that can provide a great deal of depth to a scene the flattening of a scene with the use of a telephoto lens can give the illusion that multiple subjects separated by great distances are actually very close. This effect can generate a great deal of impact with viewers.


 

5. Tightly Frame Your Subject
 

The most obvious use of a telephoto lens is to magnify a subject so as to close the distance between you and what you’re photographing. This can be of extremely valueable if you’re photographing wildlife and would like to get closer with out putting your life at risk. Beyond wildlife using a telephoto lens give you creative license to get extremely close to your subject in some instances. This is particularly useful in highlighting details that would otherwise be lost with shorter focal length lenses.

 

6. Isolate Your Subject
Telephoto lenses are great to more distinctly isolate your subject. While this can be done with shorter focal length lenses telephotos enable you to have greater reach to subjects that might be too far off otherwise. This is a middle ground use of telephoto lenses where you’re not looking to crop in too tightly or close the gap between subjects that are far apart.

 

7. Make Use of Ultra Shallow Depth of Field
Telephoto and Super-Telephoto lenses share an optical characteristic that can produce very shallow planes of focus. As a result an often discussed secondary characteristic of long lenses, Bokeh, is the optical signature of out of focus portions of a photograph. Use of shallow depth of field can provide a non-distracting background to your subject enhancing perceived focus and its isolation from competing background elements. Understanding how Bokeh will look from one lens to another will enhance your ability to produce the highest quality image.


 

8. Think Macro Photography
If you’re not into photo yoga an alternate way to shoot macro photography is to use a telephoto lens. Extension tubes in combination with super telephoto lenses shorten the closest focusing distance of a lens. Working with a larger lens will not give you every vantage point that a smaller lens can provide, but it will enable you to obtain other unique perspectives. I often encounter many photographers using this technique, but I must confess a Duke of Burgundy Butterfly taken with a telephoto lens does not do it justice as a macro lens will pick up all the intricate detail on its body and head, this is the only way I can work. Telephoto lenses are for large objects far away as these photos on the left demonstrate and macro lenses are for small objects close up.


 

9. Panning for Action
Panning with a telephoto lens can provide high impact photos of almost any moving subject. Maintaining a sharp subject can be tricky requiring some practice. The added dimension of motion blur bring telephoto and super telephoto lens photos to life. This is a perfect technique for wildlife and action subjects alike.


 

10. Experiment with Astrophotography
With a big enough lens your camera can become a low power telescope. Photographs likely won’t be in the exact same class as a true astrophotography taken with a telescope, but you’ll certainly get eye catching photos none-the-less. The key to successfully using telephoto lenses for astrophotography is:

1. Setting up in an area where there is little light pollution
2. Use of a tripod 
3. use of a cable release.

The slightest vibration will be enough to blur a photo with a long lens so special care should be applied to avoid this. For greater drama in post-production with a high enough resolution sensor you can crop down your image while maintaining mouth dropping detail.