Below is a handheld capture of Spanish moss using the Tamron SP 90mm VC macro lens. By getting in very tight on the subject, a large visual emphasis is placed on the individual curls of the plant itself. We as viewers can also see a bit of surface detail on the moss, a characteristic I was previously unfamiliar with. To balance out the composition of this macro frame, there is an intentional inclusion of negative space. Negative space equates to a nice out of focus background here. As always the photographer needs to make educated decisions about what to include and what not to include in the frame.
I stumbled upon the challenge of trying to make a sharp capture of water droplets falling off an icicle today. The timing required a little observation and a lot of luck. To freeze the action, I had to increase the light sensitivity of my Canon Rebel by selecting ISO 6400. Naturally, this is going to introduce a great deal of chromatic and luminance noise. I did some selective post-processing via manual selections and multiple layers to optimize my file for print and web. Heavy noise reduction was only run on the background layer and my second pass of sharpening was only applied to the foreground.
Detail crop showing selective post-processing:
My finalized jpeg for web usage:
A friend on Facebook asked for details of the shot so I wrote out a bit of my technique and criteria for detail photos of butterflies. Note that for an abstract capture, these ideas can go right out the window!
Question I was posed:
“Was this shot using a tripod?? so clear.. somehow i need to work on that. mine are almost never this sharp..”
My response(s), hopefully helpful:
Dave Blinder “Yep, 1/200th F/8 ISO 400, Vibration Compensation (IS), carbon fiber tripod. Sharp butterfly shots not possible near 600mm without tripod. When I shoot butterflies with my 90mm macro lens I do 75% handheld. Average time I spend photographing an individual butterfly is anywhere between 5mins and 1.5hrs. I don’t leave until I verify I have the eye perfectly in focus on the LCD.”
“If the butterfly’s eye is not in sharp focus I do not post the photo online.”
“Same technique for dragonflies. Nearly identical for birds, but if the bird is distant and I don’t think I can fill 20% or more of the frame I skip the shot. My definition of a sharp eye is viewing the texture on the surface of the subject’s eye nearest the camera.“
I braved the cold front for a bit on New Years Day, and headed out with my Tamron SP 180mm macro lens and Canon 6D to see what I could see. After I began shooting, I realized that my camera’s White Balance was set to Florescent due to some indoors video I had previously been shooting. More often than not, I will use Auto White Balance for shooting stills (in Raw format). While White Balance is easily changed during Raw processing, it affects the “mood” of my initial photos as I glance at the previews on my LCD.
In this case, I not only liked the cooling effect of the manual White Balance on my subject matter, I loved it. Improper WB’s can often render photos as unrealistic, but there are certainly times and places for creative WB usage.
Exposure Settings: 1/160 F/4.5 ISO 200, 180mm
Below is a handheld macro art photo that I took yesterday on a short nature walk in New Jersey. I was outside just as it had begun to snow, so I was able to photograph small crystals of snow right after they they’d landed on the surface of this serrated leaf. Why do I like this photo? For me, there is a really nice amount of texture within the frame. My favorite textures are the serrated edges of the leaf and also the shapes of the snow particles. The color scheme is primarily the complimentary colors of red and green, although the very overcast sunlight rendered them as muted. My mind interprets the dull colors as an oil painting palette, perhaps from the Dutch Masters.
This photo was taken two days in Morris County, New Jersey. My typical daytime macro setup of the Tamron SP 90mm VC 1:1 lens and Canon EOS 60D was used handheld. I do like to use a tripod as much as possible, but a paper-thin blade of grass blowing in the wind becomes an even more difficult target from a tripod.
A sharp frame after two or three DOZEN attempts at squaring up to the blade of grass, getting the camera sensor fairly parallel to the caterpillar, getting my composition locked in, and eliminating motion blur within the frame. If you are going to bother trying to take a snapshot, you might as well take the time to make sure you’ve applied all of your skills and knowledge to the shot.
1/250th F/5.6 ISO 200 in Manual Exposure mode.
It is a widely accepted concept in people photography and wildlife photography that getting the eyes of the subject sharp will make or break a photo. One obvious exception being abstract photography. In can be pretty tough to gauge sharpness on macro critters, and it is not easily achieved in outdoors field photography. By my estimations, I take at least one dozen shots of each composition while looking through the viewfinder and being thoughtful of my shutter speed to get the photo I am after.
A composite image shows one of the few frames that met my sharpness standard for this capture of an Orbweaver spider. It is not blurry before processing and it is not blurry after processing. The main changes are contrast enhancement along with light noise reduction and global sharpening.
Above we see the full view of my macro photo in its native 3:2 aspect ratio with no cropping performed. Using my 60D and Tamron 90mm VC, I manually exposed with settings of 1/100th F/4.0 ISO 200.
Photos taken yesterday in Sussex County, New Jersey. I was actually trying to take a macro shot of a caterpillar in the shade (quite frustrating) when I saw these two large dragonflies in the mating wheel position fly near me and land. I approached slowly with macro lens in hand and got very lucky that they were not startled off. Haven photographed insects quite a bit the past few years, it’s only natural to look to capture them both together in the same frame without having any of their appendages extend beyond the frame.
Metadata: 90mm, 1/640th F/3.2 ISO 100, handheld with VC. Manual Exposure.
I NEARLY walked away haven taken a pretty sharp frame, but I thought “what the heck” why not try a true macro photo with high magnification on one dragon’s face. It took 1 or dozen frames to get a handheld shot in focus at that magnification, but to me it created a photo with a much higher “wow” factor.
Metadata: 90mm, 1/100 F/5.0 ISO 100, handheld with VC. Manual Exposure.
It is certainly subjective to which shot is “better”, but the 2nd is more to my liking. By rethinking about possible compositions I have 2 drastically different photos of the same subject taken a minute or two apart. Quality nature photography is seldom performed in a hurry. I have always been an advocate of the phrase “haste makes waste”.
I am generally a fan of semi-automatic exposure systems when looking to photograph wildlife. Specifically, I begin most outings with the camera in Aperture Priority Mode, and having an extra 2/3 stops of lights dialed seems to work pretty often. However, as soon as I see a tricky lighting situation through my viewfinder I will try to get into Manual Exposure Mode as quickly as possible.
Camera settings: 1/200th F/5.6 ISO 200
Above photo is a handheld capture with one of my typical rigs for closeup photography, the Tamron SP 90mm VC lens and the Canon EOS 60D. The goal with this backlit photo was to get a good amount of illumination showing on the butterfly itself. To achieve this, some of the brightest parts of the scene are pushed out of gamut because of the dynamic range restrictions of DSLRs. As cameras are programmed to expose for the median tonal range of an image, it would require a significant increase in exposure compensation to get what I was after. Turning the knob to Manual Mode and dialing in my desired settings was a much more succinct process.
“Blowing out the highlights” is not always a sin in my book, as I’ve learned to “see how a camera sees” and envision the end product. Indeed there is some detail loss on the fringes of the butterfly and also on the petals of the flower, but in this case I think that adds to the “warm” feel of the image.
This photo was taken recently in Morris County, New Jersey. I can’t identify many caterpillars “off the cuff”, and I was pretty sure this was one I had never seen before. Whenever possible I put some effort into putting the proper common name to any insect, bird, or plant that I take pictures of. The hardest IDs for me are moths and nondescript plants. Often I will “throw in the towel”, and ask someone else for help in identifying the organism. My Google Search for “brown caterpillar with green spots” eventually led me to a dead ringer for this one, a Pandora Sphinx Moth Caterpillar, luckily for me a distinctive larva.
Photo taken with the Tamron 14-150mm f/3.5-5.8 Di III Lens and the Olympus PEN E-PL2 Micro Four-Thirds Digital Camera mounted on my Manfrotto 055xProB tripod. Settings: 150mm focal length, 1/20th shutter, aperture at F/8, ISO 400. One Shot focus with continuous motor drive, Image Stabilization Mode 1 (in camera), RAW image format. Less than 5% of the image was cropped off because of a very distracting leaf hitting the frame of the image.
I prefocused the lens on some nearby leaves, which allowed the lens to find the caterpillar faster than going through its entire focal range. My subject was pretty stationary and I felt confident that I had a few moments to spare so I bent down a couple of leaves in the background to eliminate a little clutter. I’d still prefer better separation from the background and foreground, but such is the way of nature photography, you take what you can get and make the best of it.