Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Early Morning Light Macro Photography

Photograph of Bumble Bee on Lavender taken on Vancouver Island

Macro photography is not about getting a macro lens its more about putting together a set of lenses and accessories to increase magnification, a lot of photographers don't want to do macro they just want to get closer and shoot smaller subjects.
Taken on Vancouver Island two Leaf Cutter Bee's sleep vertically.

Most macro lenses shoot from macro 1:1 and bigger, with accessories like tubes and teleconverters you can increase the magnification and shoot smaller subjects.

If you don't need to shoot 1:1 but want to take photo's of Dragonflies and Butterflies a lens like the 300 f4 is ideal, use it with extension tubes and teleconverters and you have some advantages over a macro lens, one is that you have a lot longer working distance, so you don't have to get as close to the subject and you have a narrower angle of view, this gives you smoother backgrounds.

If you do want to shoot small subjects like bee's, flies and other small insects and bugs a macro lets you get to 1:1 to start with and when you add accessories like extension tubes and teleconverters you can increase your magnification.
Early Morning fly macro

Photography technique is knowing what to do in each situation, what f stop to use, what kind of lighting and lighting setup from the basic to advance there is a technique for each photography situation, the purpose of this article is to describe the technique needed for going out in the early morning and doing macro photography.

The reason to go out in the early morning is twofold, one the light is at its best before the sun comes above the trees and the subjects are cold and don't move till the sun has warmed them. The drawback is the subjects can be hard to find, you have to comb the swamp for good subjects but once you have found one you get time to work it. The quality makes up for the quantity.
Morning light macro photograph of Bee Fly.

What you will need.

- A camera and lens, I prefer long macro lenses out in the field and use a Nikon 200mm f4 micro.
- Tripod preferably with spiked feet, I use a heavy tripod with four inch spikes and don't like macro tripods, they move to easy when focusing.
- A ball head, gear head any head that doesn't move on you when setting up the shot.
- Remote release.
- Small reflector.
- Knee pads.
- Small cutters.
Morning light macro photograph of beetle on Vancouver Island.

And importantly you need a good place to hunt down critters, a swampy area, pond, fields near wetlands. My favorite spot has been the frog pond across the street, but over the years it has gone from loads of subjects to nothing, years of cold dry springs has killed of huge amounts of insects on Vancouver Island and there not coming back in the short term.

Now your out in the field and you have spent the last twenty minutes looking for something and found a Damselfly, these make great subjects so you setup, with your back to where the sun is going to rise if you can, guess how high you need your tripod and adjust it away from the subject, depending how warm out it is it could fly if disturbed enough. Now you will have to place the tripod as close as you can to almost fill the frame, going corner to corner works well for damselflies, once you have that close push down on the tripod to get the spikes onto something solid.
Macro photograph of Spread-wing Damselfly on Vancouver Island

Make your fine adjustments and then it is time to focus, but before that make sure your at the same level as the subject, you don't want that top down look. Focus is super critical, you want from the eyes to the tip of the tail in focus, eyes always have to be in focus but for damselflies eyes to tip of tail is what separates the good from the great. You may have to move your tripod over a bit to get this be patient, get a couple of shots in then go for the perfect one, keep refining as you go along.
Closeup of bumble Bee's clinging to Foxglove for the night.

Was the subject low down, good thing you have the knee pads, now your working the subject and there is a blade of grass in the way, pull out your small cutters and snip this off, make sure this isn't going to start a chain reaction and your subject gets flung across the swamp, if you forgot the cutters try to just push it out of the way.

Back to focusing, use live view with magnification, scroll around your subject and check, sometimes you have to take focus shots at different spots and combine them later, its good to bracket focus just in case. Always check focus again when every you take your hand off the lens, this is why I like a heavy tripod, if when you remove your hand from the focus ring and focus changes you keep having to make fine adjustments.
Dew covered macro photograph of Damselfly on Vancouver Island.

Now your ready to press the shutter using your remote cord and maybe your small reflector in the other hand depending if the underside is to dark. Bracket f stops and expose to the right, once you figured you have the perfect one and some more move your camera to a different angle and start again, your first choice to set up usually isn't the best one.

A lot of times your next subject is found when your down on your knees working your currant one so look around before you get up.
Macro photograph of wasp covered with dew.

One thing I didn't mention yet is and it is a drawback is that you can't have any wind, I get up and look out the window and if can tell the tree tops are moving I go back to bed, and its okay to go back to bed once you have been out, I am usually just in the yard or across the street so it can all happen quickly.

One cool thing you will see is the sun peak across the tops of the trees slowly warming your subject and they will wake up and fly off.


SewAmy said...

I love this post. Thank you. I am been wanting to get a macro lens. I don't know what an extension tube or teleconverter is but I'll look them up. I want to photograph small bugs.

Anonymous said...

You pulled up the best frm this lens, really inspiring work!!!

Richard Powell said...

Hey Martin, followed your link from Flickr. Really liked this particular post. I've just started taking photos of wildlife, now that I have a descent lens, and liked what you said about tubes for macro. Like many my knees continue to complain as I seem to spend a lot of time on them with my renewed passion for the "intimate landscape." Do I understand correctly that if I add extension tubes to my lenses I won't have to get as close to get "close up?" I have the Tamron 90mm macro, which I love, and I'm using a lens booster adapter, so the new equivalent is probably something like 100mm. But I have to be on my knees most of the time to get close up shots. So curious to know if some tubes would help. Your blog is great, and your photos are amazing. I can't believe the photos you get of small birds, so close, and so clear. They are very inspiring.