Earlier this year I was lucky to be able escape the winter time temps at home and make a quick getaway to Asia. My stopover is located close to the equator and only has one season, hot and humid, with temps averaging 87 degrees year round with lots of rain. This might sound unpleasant but for insects and plants its just about perfect. The macro photography opportunities in equatorial Asia are almost mind boggling sometimes!
In my last post, I left you with an image of a flower from my own garden that I was desperately trying to photograph against the beautiful spring sky. I was lying on the ground trying for a good angle when Darrell Gulin’s lesson came to mind. Why struggle out in the field? He often photographs butterflies in his own kitchen and uses printed natural looking backgrounds behind his subjects. Why was I crawling in the grass, struggling to get a good angle? It was my flower so I simply clipped it and brought it inside. I went back outside and took a picture of the beautiful sky. Back inside, I printed it on some cheap 13×19 matte paper, mounted it on some stiff backboard, placed it behind the bloom, and voila! The image at top is very similar as I used a printed natural green background, but done outdoors. My question to you is; could you tell that it was a printed background? It was an actual “real sky” (in the last post) and some “real” foliage, in this image. Does it really matter? How is that different than the manipulation in the field with the bark or the snow? That is a choice for you to ultimately make but now, I could easily have any background I wanted behind the subject and the sky literally was the limit! Below is my low-tech indoor setup that I can use, any day of the year, and have any background I want even if there is a foot of snow outside! Just remember to close the window too.
Unlike other genres of photography, macro photography allows you the most control. I find that backgrounds are just as critical to the success of a macro image as the subject itself. My first tip on getting closer was for circumstances where you couldn’t control the background. My second tip is to show you that in most cases, you can control the background and it is relatively easy! The butterfly image above was taken in Butterfly World in Coconut Creek Florida. There are thousands of live butterflies in the aviary with a great variety but many times the backgrounds are less than appealing. What to do in that situation? I will walk though the aviary looking for a location with a nice background and ignore almost everything else going on! Once I find a bloom that is isolated from the background I will patiently wait for a butterfly to land on it and fire away. Using this technique in the field will always make for stronger compositions, as cluttered background will often distract from the beauty of the main subject.
A zoom lens is a type of camera lens that is offers the photographer a useful range of different focal lengths in a single lens. This is in comparison to a prime lens, which only offers a single focal length. A zoom lens allows for quick and easy re-framing of a scene while staying in the same physical position. Sigma offers a line of over 20 zoom lenses for DSLR photographers, ranging from wide angle zoom lenses, supertelephoto zoom lenses, and high-zoom ratio all-in-one lenses for both full-frame (DG) and APS-C (DC) digital cameras.
The Sigma 105mm F2.8 Macro EX DG OS HSM lens has become one of my favorite lenses for macro photography in the field. So what makes me reach for this lens when Sigma offers five macro lenses when I own all of them? The answer is balance- the 105mm lens is really good at everything and one of the best in terms image quality. This lens can give you the sharpest results possible with an excellent balance of size, weight, working distance at a very high value per dollar price.
When photographing flowers, people often make the common mistake of trying to capture the entire flower even when there are distracting or unwanted elements in the frame. In many cases an arboretum or flower show do not allow tripods either…so what is the solution? The simple answer is to get closer! You don’t need to see the entire bloom and foliage to get your point across and macro lenses are especially well suited for this task. The image above of the Gerber Daisy is a great example of this philosophy.
In 2011 I released my first children’s picture book, CURIOUS CRITTERS, which featured close-up photographs of twenty-one animals. All the shots were taken with Sigma gear. The book really took off with children and families across North America. Within four months we sold out. To-date, we’ve sold over 100,000 copies.
Photographing in the field in contrasty harsh light is something every photographer has to deal with. This is a technique that I use for those difficult high contrast situations. For a more natural looking image you need to take control of the light to handle the light and dark tones in a high contrast image.
It is important to understand the problem with high contrast scenes. Exposing for the light tones will cause the darker tones to underexpose and exposing for the darks will result in blown out highlights.
One of the biggest challenges with macro photography is working with a limited depth of field or DOF. When I am shooting macro I am always trying to make sure the subject and elements in the frame appear sharp by adjusting the aperture and making sure the important elements in image fall on the plane of focus by adjusting my angle of view. But there is another important element that has a huge effect on DOF that most people don’t even know about, how a different sensor format can and will effect the depth of field in your image. Moving to a smaller sensor format at the same apparent magnification will give you lots more DOF to work with in your macro images.
Judging by the number of questions I get from photographers concerning the working distances of macro lenses I think it is a good subject to talk about.
The working distance of a macro lens, not to be confused with minimum focus distance, is the distance between the front of your lens and the subject. This is different from the minimum focus distance which instead means the distance to the subject as measured from the focal plane mark on the camera body, not from the front of the lens. Working distance is a more important figure since it tells how much space you have between the front of your lens and your subject. Working distance generally increases with longer focal length lenses, shorter lenses usually have shorter working distances.