Doing Macro Wrong

An impatient macro photographer (aka me) ends up with uncontrolled light (e.g. blown highlights) and uncontrolled focus (leg sharp, eyes fuzzy)

Bad poets always return to “the sea,” and this struggling photographer always returns to the back yard. Grumpy as I’ve been over my recent images, I took advantage of some unstructured time on Thanksgiving morning to roam the yard with my 105 f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor. I got a couple of good images, and a reminder that macro photography has some basic but mostly inviolable rules, which we ignore at our images’ peril.

The best macro photographers know that super-close focusing distances require small apertures, but as a portrait photographer, I tend to use very big apertures. I thought that stopping down to f/5.6 would give me adequate depth of field, but as my friend Les Dublin reminded me this morning, f/16 is a much more sensible opening, and even then one will be dealing with very narrow depth of field.  Serious macro shooters also tend to work with diffusers and/or flash to manage contrast ratios for more even subject lighting. So my shots from Thursday morning are more like sketches I can learn from.

I consider wildlife photographs failures if the creature’s eye is not the sharpest thing in the picture. No small task, when the creature’s eye is far smaller than the camera’s autofocus sensor. That’s why most macro photographers put the camera on a tripod and focus manually. I shot handheld, and used autofocus.

I’m not sure, but it’s possible that f/16 would have allowed both the eyes and the back to look sharply focused.

I got lucky a couple of times, but the image breaks down into pixelation because I wasn’t actually very close to the bee, and this image represents about 10% of the total frame. But it’s pretty hard to work in close with creatures that zip around from place to place. And it’s extra special hard to work close to creatures that can sting you if you anger them.

The good news is that November is proving to be a bright and colorful month here in Ojai, so I’ll get to try again on Sunday.  You can bet I’ll be shooting at f/16 and carrying a screen to diffuse the bright sunlight.

Here is the full frame for the picture at the top of this post. As you can see, I’m not getting the benefit of the 16 million pixels available to me. So in addition to shooting at f/16 and carrying a diffuser, I’m going to work on GETTING CLOSER.





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Filed under Camera Gear, Nature Photography

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