As a Sigma Pro team member I had the privilege of being invited to give lectures and workshops at the 2014 Festival of Cranes out at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I have visited the refuge many times before, and, while I was excited about being able to photograph the birds again, I was most excited about my two nighttime lectures and workshops at the Very Large Array (VLA). These giant radio telescopes would make a great foreground subject for a star filled sky. Nobody has been allowed on the property at night since 2009, so I was very excited about taking a group out to the location. Sigma Photo would sponsor the event, and I agreed with the organizers of the festival to take out 40 participants each night. With a group that size, I knew I wouldn’t get much of a chance to take pictures myself, but it would be a great learning opportunity for the class. The image at top is one of the few I was able to take during a break in the instruction.
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.
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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.
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.
I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I was doing some presentations in Kalamazoo […]