Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bye Bye Bee

I found this little bee in the garden the other day after work while I was outside looking for insects to photograph. I wonder if his little life came to a natural end or if something else led to his demise.

Dead insects is about the only time when I take insects inside for close up photography using my DIY light box. In all other cases it adds to the fun and intrigue if you photograph insects in their natural surroundings.

This bee was staged on a leaf with a blue background. My camera was mounted on a sturdy tripod. I actually found shooting this way slower and much more cumbersome, compared against shooting hand held.

Here is what I've learned:
  • A sturdy tripod may be good, but it does not help much at this level of magnification if your tripod stands on a carpet. Just me touching the lens to set aperture is enough to move the camera. So note to self, get a hard surface to lay over the carpet area.
  • Also, it is far easier to move the subject than it is to move and refocus the camera. Try and have your subject on something that is easy to grab hold of and move in small increments. In my example, placing the bee on a leaf and the leaf on a piece of paper, means all I need to do is touch the paper with my finger to recompose the subject.
  • Lastly, your post image preview is an important tool. Possibly the most difficult part to macro photography is focus. After taking the photo, zoom in to your focal point using the image preview. Make sure your focus is sharp.

Canon 600D, Nikkor N 24mm f2.8 reverse mounted. Exposure 1/200sec at f16 +2/3EV, ISO 200, Focus manual, Flash popup through DIY softbox, flash +2EV.

Canon 600D, Nikkor N 24mm f2.8 reverse mounted. Exposure 1/200sec at f16 +2/3EV, ISO 200, Focus manual, Flash popup through DIY softbox, flash +2EV.

Basic Macro Setup

Macro photography, in particular insect photography, is extremely rewarding. At times it can get tough and you may have to shoot tens maybe hundreds of photos for one good, sharp image of your target. Insects are generally skittish but with time you will learn to read your subject. You will learn when to approach cautiously and when it is OK to have fun and take shots from all angles without your subject budging.

To enter the realm of macro photography can be an expensive exercise, that is if you want to buy equipment specifically designed for macro photography. There are some fantastic macro lenses available, even dedicated macro lenses such as the Canon MP-E 65mm. However, such lenses will cost a lot of money and excluding the MP-E 65mm, most macro lenses will not give you the extended magnification you may require.

Do not despair, there is a cheaper alternative that will offer you equal if not better quality and magnification. The two options below are perfect for the budget minded like myself. Here are some options you may pursue:

Macro filters (diopters)

What? A diopter is a lens like filter that attach to the front of your camera's lens like any other filter. It reduces minimum focal distance which in turn results in subject matter appearing larger on the photo. Best used on zoom lenses, the higher the maximum zoom ability of the lens, the better the magnification. Also, diopters performs best on lenses with a short standard minimum focal distance. For example a diopter will give better magnification effect on a 250mm zoom with a minimum focal distance of 0.3 meters, compared to a 250mm zoom that has a minimum focal distance of 0.8 meters. The general rule is closer is better.

Do's and dont's:
  • Don't stack more than two diopters. In stacking, the strongest diopter must be closest to the lens.
  • Don't use diopters on top of or with existing filters.
  • Use high quality diopters.
  • Shoot at f8.
  • Keep shutter speed above 1/200 sec to prevent camera shake blurring photos.
Pro's and con's:
  • Diopters are cheap, and a quick route into macro photography.
  • It is a simple addition to your existing lenses.
  • You can still make use of lens image stabilization to aid with image sharpness.
  • The downside is you cannot share the same set of diopters between lenses with different filter sizes.
  • Diopters typically results in images with sharp center focus but towards the corners you will see a notable drop in sharpness.
Reverse Mounting

Reverse mounting is where a lens is mounted on the camera wrong way around. The benefit is that you will obtain amazing levels of magnification. Reverse mounting is easy to do. The first component is a good quality prime lens with manual aperture and manual focus control. You can use auto focus lenses but you will find you have no control over depth of field. With an auto focus lens reverse mounted, your results will in most cases not be to your liking.

Now to come to the interesting part, not only will a manual lens give you depth control but you will find that reverse mounting in most cases works out cheaper than using diopters. Why? Because for good macro photography you need high quality diopters, and those do not come cheap. What does come cheap are second hand manual prime lenses on e-bay. Look for either a 50mm or else 28mm f2.8 or faster second hand prime lens. Make sure the optics are free of scratches and mold. The aperture control, must also be fully functional.

The second piece of equipment you will need is a reverse mount adapter. This looks like a filter ring with your camera lens adapter on one side, and filter thread on the other. Make sure the filter side of the adapter matches your second hand prime lens's filter size.

Do's and dont's:
  • Don't have any filters on the lens between the lens and the camera.
  • Do shoot at f8 or higher.
  • Make sure you light your subject well.
  • Make sure you are mindful not to scratch the small end of the lens when shooting close ups.
  • Keep shutter speed above 1/200 sec to prevent movement blurring photos.
Pro's and con's:
  • Old primes can be cheaper than a good set of diopters and will provide far better magnification and higher image quality.
  • Reverse mounting should outperform most dedicated macro lenses.
  • Good lighting is a must. You may use your popup flash but a customized flash unit will perform better. (I will post details of a DIY option in the future)
So, until my next post, here is a photo I've taken recently with a 24mm lens reverse mounted.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Macro Spiders - First of many

My new "toy" came in the post today. So from today on I am no longer limited in macro magnification. To date I've been shooting with my Tamron 18-270mm Dii VC PZD using macro filters. I am very pleased with the results I've obtained with the Tamron but I knew I had to push the boundaries and obtain higher magnification levels than could be offered by using a non macro lens with macro filters. Please have a look at some of my past results over at: My Fly is Open - on TAMRON365

Back to the subject at hand. If you spend some time on the web (pun intended) you will soon find out most popular macro photographers use some very unconventional equipment to obtain the fantastic results they do. I will follow this post with another explaining with what and how I took these photos.

The spiders in these images are only about 2mm long. These images are full sized images. No cropping whatsoever was performed. Just look at how thick the thin web strands appear on the second photo. The images were taken outside in a slight breeze. A whole bunch of these tiny spiders took up residence in two of my wife's sweet pepper plants. The leaves they've used to make their tiny nests in made for a good background. Lighting was provided by my camera's on-board flash. Focus is not as sharp as I would have liked but I am sure I will get the hang of the new equipment soon.

For now, please enjoy my first efforts with my new macro setup.

Canon 600D, Nikkor 24mm f2.8 reverse mounted. Exposure 1/200sec at f8 +2/3EV, ISO 200.

Canon 600D, Nikkor 24mm f2.8 reverse mounted. Exposure 1/200sec at f8 +2/3EV, ISO 200.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Let the fun begin

I've recently started to blog about  my experience and findings using the Tamron 18-270mm VC Dii PZD lens. My aim on that blog ( is to write a new post every day regarding photos I've taken with that lens.

I soon came to the realization that due to my photography interests, I needed somewhere else to document stuff (yeah stuff :-) ) as I learn new things in photography. My Tamron365 blog is specific to my activity with the Tamron lens, so I hope this blog will serve the purpose to record everything else I do. I also hope that this blog will gain the same momentum as my other blog.

My aim will be to post every week, so I hope you will visit this blog frequently. The following is a list of items I plan to blog about over the next couple of months:
  • How to break out of automatic or program mode
  • Macro photography lens options
  • Macro photography DIY flash diffusers
  • Canon kit lens tests
  • Lens aperture vs chromatic aberation
  • etc.
On top of specific "how tos" and tutorials, I also hope to add a lot of commented photos for you to learn from. Nobody leans better than learning by example I believe.

So, I am not a pro but simply a very keen amateur photographer. In the words of Master Yoda: "Do or do not, there is no try". Experiment and learn, the more you do the more you will learn. You will be amazed how rewarding photography can be.

Till next time...