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.
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.
This simple answer is absolutely yes!!! While they may not be as important as they were in the film days, […]
I have been photographing nighttime landscapes for about 20 years now capturing images of star trails like the one pictured […]
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 […]
Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park have to be the premier nature photography location in the lower 48 states. Subjects range from stunning and otherworldly landscapes to abundant free roaming wildlife. The best time to visit the parks is either in early spring (June) or my favorite time of year in late September to early October as the leaves start to change. The large summer crowds are gone and the park takes on a much slower pace, as it gets ready for the approaching winter. The image above is of the Teton Range just off the outside road. This image is at first light and I used a Singh-Ray, 3 stop, reverse graduated neutral density filter to help balance the foreground with the much lighter sky and mountain range.