Today I interrupted my lawn mowing to capture some macro images of a lilly in our back yard. It had been raining earlier so a few droplets of water sat on the petals.
This month I have been digging into macro photography techniques and snapping some images. Unfortunately, most of the advice centers around using a tripod, something that I'm resistant to, as it doesn't match my more casual shooting style. Since I was at home today and saw this image, I decided to get out the tripod and see how much difference a still camera makes in taking an image.
In the end, I found the tripod helps quite a bit. Like a lot of things in photography, under otherwise perfect conditions, you can get by with
- fewer megapixels
- a cheap lens
- camera shake
- focus problems
etcetera, but in less-than-perfect conditions, any of the above start to combine and trash your images. Today I was able to take a few good images hand held (such as the image above), but took even more successful images with the tripod.
I'm shooting with the original Canon Digital Rebel (EOS 300D) and these images were captured with a very cheap Sigma 70-300mm 1:4-5.6 DG zoom/macro lens.
The first image (above) was taken with ISO 400, f/9.0, 1/160s, 200mm focal length, manual macro focusing. I used the smaller aperture to get a deeper depth of field which then forced a higher ISO setting (especially since I was hand holding). The nearest and furthest petals are losing sharpness which pleases me that I got the depth of field pretty close. I lack experience judging this type of photo, so I'm not sure whether the loss of sharpness is a foul or if it helps direct the eye towards the center. I don't know the classic answer, but I like the effect and it captured what I was trying to achieve.
The next image (just to the right) is one of the last ones I captured. At this point I'm using the tripod which allowed me to use a longer shutter speed (and thus a less noisy ISO setting). ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/80s, 200mm (320mm equivalent) macro focusing. The stamens are in sharp focus, but the pistol (right 20% of picture) is out of focus. The contrast of the petals and the green background pleases me. One challenge for this image was capturing it while the flower moved in a light breeze. I think 1/80s was enough to stop that motion, but if it had been combined with any camera/lens movement, I would have lost the sharp focus.
The final image I'll note comes from the middle of the shoot. (Ha! I'm avoiding mowing the lawn by taking pictures and I call it a 'shoot'!) In this image, the entire flower is in focus, but nearby elements (the buds behind) are in soft focus. The Bokeh effect in the background adds a pleasing sense of depth and an impressionist feel. I used ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/100s, 133mm to shoot the shot (not macro). Due to a longer distance from the subject, a larger aperture still keeps the flower in focus.
By actually getting out and shooting, I've learned several things. Some of these reinforce information from the text I've been reading, other items relate to my limited budget and consumer-grade equipment. For all of the images I took today, I had to manually set exposure. I'm not sure why my camera body isn't setting exposure correctly, but it is producing dreadfully underexposed images (almost black). By setting both focus and exposure manually, I got better reinforcement about metering and didn't use the internal meter as a crutch. Here are some other lessons:
- Don't hesitate to take a shot. Even if the shot fails, you'll have learned something; on the other hand, it may be your best shot of the day.
- Give yourself the best chance to get a good image. That means getting the best equipment and using all available techniques. For me, I'm lucky to have a macro-focusing lens at all, so I need to do a better job at keeping my tripod handy (but if the shot won't wait for the setup time, take the shot!)
- Cheap lenses work best a f/8.0 (most/all lenses work best there, the better lenses continue to work well further from f/8.0). Do your best to balance your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to balance the noise, shake/blur, and distortion. A mistake in one area (like shake) can ruin an image.
- Take a shot that you know will work, and take another that's on the edge of your working envelope. Take one shot with ISO 400 (or even higher), even though you know it will add some noise and you'll loose some saturation and sharpness. If you only take the shot at ISO 100, you may get home to find that what looked sharp on the LCD is actually very blurry and you lost the shot entirely. Better to have two shots (at least) that both work (and one that's stunning) than to have one with great color that you can't use because it isn't sharp.
If you're a pro, you'll already know whether the shot is going to work or not, so you don't have to guess, and you've less to learn from making a bad exposure. You can identify a pro because they just take a few shots, but they know the are all good images (perhaps not usable, but good and worth taking). An element of hoping for good exposures remains part of my workflow.
and images this page by Tim Sherrill
and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License