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!
The highlight of any winter time trip to Japan has to be the Japanese red-crowned crane which has the distinction of being not only the rarest crane in the world but also the largest and heaviest on average.
Winter is my favorite time of the year to visit Japan and it’s unique wildlife surrounded by unreal snow-covered landscapes. During my annual Japan wildlife tour we always spend a couple of days with the world famous snow monkeys at the volcanic hot springs in the Nagano area.
I had the opportunity to return to Bosque del Apache NWR a few weeks ago to lead a workshop that was sponsored by Sigma Photo, the Friends of Bosque, and Hunt’s Photo and Video. This was going to be an intensive hands-on flight photography workshop and I was bringing with me the new Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport as well as the Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sport. Why those lenses and not my beloved Sigmonster? Don’t worry, I don’t leave home without that lens but I was especially excited about testing the two shorter telephoto lenses with the brand new Sigma 1.4 and 2x teleconverters (TC).
Photography in winter can be a challenge. And when I say “winter”, I’m not talking of winter in the sense of majestic snowcapped peaks framed by freshly powdered pines with perfect golden light and firetone brushstroke clouds, I’m talking more of the winter of dirty refrozen slushpiles downtown three frigid days after a mid-January sleetstorm around 11:17 on a grey Tuesday morning when it seems there’s nothing magical left in the world worth getting out of warm car with a camera for.
Winter has its challenges, for sure, especially in the deciduous zones, where skeleton trees thrust bony fingers at the sky, and vistas and sweeping wild scenes are brushed widely with swaths of stingy browns and grays, instead of the festive pastels of spring, the lush greens of summer and the fall fireworks palette. But winter has it own charms and own rewards, and for photographers looking to challenge themselves and experiment, it can be a great time to get out and explore with a long lens, like the new 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG HSM OS | Sports lens.
OK, it is no secret that I have used some sort of flash in almost every macro photography image I have ever taken. Why? I love maximum depth of field and while I love natural light photography, the 3 days of the year it is calm enough to photograph outside just weren’t enough! All kidding aside, most “natural light” macro photography with maximum depth of field is done inside where everything is controlled and you have to be on a tripod. I am guilty of resorting to this technique often myself but I do love being out in the field. The wind is generally too strong on most day and many locations do not allow you to bring a tripod. That is why I embraced the power of flash. I have used many varieties of flash for my macro work including a Speedlights, twin lights, and old ring lights so I jumped at the chance to try out my Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Flash to see how it stacked up to those flashes. The image at top is one of the first I took and you can see just how close to the flower I got and the macro flash illuminated the bloom very nicely at that close range.
The Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports has been generating a ton of buzz since its announcement at photokina in September 2014. This Sports update of the 150-500mm supertelephoto zoom lens is one of two 150-600mm zoom lenses announced at the show, along with the 150-600mm DG OS HSM | Contemporary.
The Sigma 18-300mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM Macro | Contemporary is the newest all-in-one camera lens in the Sigma lineup, and offers a high 16.6x zoom ratio, 1:3 macro magnification, Optical Stabilizer, in a lens that covers wide angle to supertelephoto in a single, lightweight lens.
In part one we discussed the use of polarizers and solid neutral density filters. So what other filter should you have in your bag? The answer is: the graduated split neutral density (ND) filter. What do they do? They allow you to balance the light on the foreground with the tonality and brightness of the sky. How? The filter is split in half with the top being much darker and the bottom half clear. The dark area is graduated down towards the middle, which allows you to darken the sky and better match it up with the tonality of the foreground.
They generally come in 2 styles; one with a hard edge and the other is often referred to a soft edge. The hard edge has a clearly defined line where the soft edge is more graduated. This is the one I prefer and use most of the time. A variety I also have is called a reverse graduated neutral density filter (both made by Singh Ray) where the darkest area is towards the middle which makes it particularly useful as the sun comes up or is about to set. It is best suited for situations where you have a pretty level horizon without many protrusions into the sky. Below is an example of both and they typically come in increments from 1stop all the way up to 5 or more. Most practical are the 2 and 3 stop versions from numerous manufacturers. Notice that I am not recommending any screw in type as what you want to darken is seldom in the middle of the frame.