Extensively updated 15/04/2015
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, I force myself to use an incredibly varied range of settings and I will often shoot the same scene at different ISOs, apertures and shutter speeds. For example, by using a larger aperture and rolling a leaf, the edge can fade away, leaving a smooth green foreground.
A good setting for beginners is ISO 100, 1/200sec, f/11. However I find that this doesn’t give me enough natural light, and I’m actually not a huge fan of front to back sharpness (see tips, tricks and techniques for an explanation on planes of focus and the advantages of a non-uniformly sharp image). 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 (on a APS-C sensor you will start get grain and significant IQ loss after ISO 400 which is why I have since abandoned crop sensors and shoot only on full frame (5DII/5DIII/A7R) which show stable quality up to about ISO 1600), 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.
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.
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.
Perhaps most important of all, is that I try and shoot each subject as though it were a professional photo shoot. This means that I take my time, I don’t rush and I don’t walk away until either I feel like I am causing undue stress to the subject, or else I have an image that I am pleased with. To do any less and I feel disappointed in myself and like I haven’t done credit to the subject. This means that I take a very long time, use lots of memory and go through lots of batteries. On one shoot in Cambodia, while trying to photograph an ant-mimicking corinnid spider (Pranburia sp.) I went through an entire 64GB card and 8AA batteries for my flash until finally I was “satisfied”. However, I am never wholly satisfied with my work and this is perhaps one of the driving factors that encourages me to continue to experiment with new techniques, equipment and styles. I don’t want for all the images in my portfolio to have a readily identifiable look that can be associated with myself. I want to be mutable, showcase variety and be known for unparalleled quality and originality. If all this sounds a little over the top its because the moment one settles on “good enough”, is the moment that quality has not become paramount, and that one is not challenging oneself to one’s full capabilities.
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.
Macro in motion
Silhouettes and translumination
Flashlight by night from different angles
- Questions anyone?
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More to come