How I shoot Macro
Here I will simply focus on the aspects where I feel that I differ from most other shooters. I freehand a lot of my shots. This means that not only do I not use a tripod, but I also don’t use a lot of bracing techniques, holding onto a leaf and resting my lens on my hand, or holding a pole with the same hand as my camera. All those techniques stabilize the camera. I am able to freehand up to the maximum 5x magnification on my mpe. But this requires 1) a lot of patience 2) A lot of out of focus frames 3) You don’t always get the exact framing that you want 4) You need to take a LOT of pictures to get one that you like. With all these cons, you wouldn’t be remiss in asking why I don’t change my shooting style. Well, 1) I like the freedom of being without some form of support. 2) It is good practice for when you don’t have any supports available eg. you’re on location and can’t find a good support stick. 3) This enables you to shoot at a distance, extending your arms and using liveview mode. 4) It allows you to shoot in different environments, I can shoot almost as easily in a tree, in the water, etc. as on the ground. 5) In the jungle I try and minimize what I carry around with me, a stick is one more thing I don’t need. 6) A stick or pole is just one more thing that you have to pay attention to. If it slips, or is tilted at a bad angle this can scare away the more skittish species. 7) Sometimes it can be the only way. A lot of insects will fly/jump away if you touch the leaf or branch that they are on. However, they are usually much more forgiving if you don’t move them and so you can shoot away.
I will shoot in all manual mode, from the flash down to all the independent settings. Although it can be hard I try not to get locked into a specific configuration. My preferred shooting settings are ISO 100, 1/200sec, f/11. However I frequently change these as the scene necessitates. If there is a chance to get more natural light into a scene I will use a lower flash power as fill, bump up the ISO, lower the shutter speed and play with the aperture as necessary.
I try and look for interesting compositions and try to get a least one shot from an angle I’ve never tried before on each shoot. This isn’t always successful but it makes you flexible and it helps keep you from falling into a pattern of always getting the same old stuff by which your ‘style’ is generally known.
- Ant mimicking Alydidae nymph. This is one of my more normal compositions, a profile shot, showing the flower it is resting on to good effect. However, let’s try something different and see if we can’t add a little dynamism which I feel is lacking here.
- Here is an Alydidae adult resting on a flower. The overhead angle isn’t one I usually use, neither is positioning the insect in the centre of the frame. However, here I think that the two work. Iwokrama reserve, Guyana.
I have a few favourite positions for different critters, but that doesn’t stop me from trying something new for each of them. I shot a wood louse and after doing all the usual for 15 minutes I struggled to get underneath it, and got an unusual angle from the bottom.
- Wood louse on grass. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with this shot, in fact I really like it. But to me, it constitutes my regular shooting style and angles. A habit I try and break every shoot. Kurupukari, Guyana.
This shot shows the prominent ridges and segmentation and I feel is a very different kind of shot that I am happy with for an altogether different reason.
This will be a running entry showcasing some stuff that I’m working on trying to hone and make better. Pictures will be of varying quality as I improve or simply decide to abandon a technique or style. The photos under this section might seem altogether ‘normal’ to anyone else, but they mark a departure from my conventional style and hence will fall under experimental for me personally. Each entry will be accompanied by a short blurb on what it was I was trying to achieve. Any advice on how I might improve a particular style or effect would be very much appreciated.
- I tried to do a panning shot to capture the movement of the ants. This was made extremely difficult by the low light, the erratic speed of the leafcutters and the slope of the terrain. This is the best of about 200 shots. I plan on taking more because I think that one could get a really awesome shot if one were to get the speed of the panning just right. Tukeit, Guyana.
- This was an experiment with light. I had one flash mounted above the subject aimed directly down to light up the watery surface of the leaf, and one aimed directly up from below the leaf, to spill around it and light up the outline of the cockroach. I sharpened it as much as possible in the hopes of introducing halos to further the effect. Hopefully the effect seen is that of a cockroach that appears to be vaguely lit by a full moon.
- This shot was taken at night believe it or not. It required mostly just a lot of manual dexterity. I didn’t use flash either! I held the flashlight behind the frog and with the same hand, held the leaf behind it. I let the flashlight shine through my fingers on high power so that it gave the reddish glow. I had to maneuver the flashlight, fingers, leaf all with one hand while shooting with the other. This gave me a uniform reddish glow. Okay, but I want the sunrise! So I slightly splayed my fingers to let the more intense light through, but only at the bottom of the shot. At the top I kept my fingers held gradually tighter. This led to the gradation seen in a usual sunrise. Iwokrama reserve, Guyana.
Coloured backgrounds by night
- Rather than just using the flash for a ‘moonlight’ style effect I have been trying to shoot at night without flash. Using only my flashlight to illuminate the subject you can make out the brilliant outline of this semi-translucent spiny caterpillar. The flashlight was oriented from above and behind as can be seen by the bright ‘moon’ in the top right corner. Iwokrama reserve, Guyana.
- This here is a less successful attempt. The blur and awkward positioning of the caterpillar ruin the shot. But the colours are interesting and it’s a first step in the right direction I think. Iwokrama reserve, Guyana.
- Questions anyone?
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More to come