Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Left Hand Brace

Critter Mix for July series 1-4
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
I’ve put off writing this tutorial for a while because the technique I’m going to describe falls into a category that I call a “cheap trick” but it’s so useful and results in such razor sharp images that I felt it was time to commit it to words.

Since I do all of my macro hand held (the critters I go after are normally too active for a tripod to be practical) I’m always looking for a way to brace the camera. First because I don’t crop and composition is important and keeping the camera steady helps me to place the critter where I want it in the frame, but also because the flash can’t freeze all the motion in the scene. No matter how short the flash duration is it will never be short enough to give you sharp details if there is a lot of movement. I’m convinced that a lot of the image softness that people blame on diffraction is really nothing more than a form of “macro motion blur”.

One trick that I’ve been using to keep everything steady I’m going to call the “Left Hand Brace” method, and here’s how it works: I’ll slowly take hold of the flower that the subject is on by pinching the stem between my left index finger and thumb. I’ll then brace the lens on that same hand and focus the scene by sliding the lens. Since the flower and the lens are all on the same support (my left hand) when one of them moves they both move so it’s easy to keep everything perfectly “still” and I have a lot of control ever where I put the area of sharp focus. Another benefit of holding onto the flower’s stem is that I can slowly rotate the flower and change the angle to get different compositions.

It doesn’t always work, and it helps if the critter is hungrier than it is scared of me, but when I am successful at holding onto the flower I can get some very unique images that are razor sharp even when shooting at high magnification and Fstops. The image included with this tutorial is a recent example of what I can do with the Left Hand Brace method.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tutorial Updates

July Dragon series 1-1
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
Almost the end of July and only two posts *sigh* Where does the time go?! Sorry folks -it's "macro season" so I've been doing more shooting than writing. You can expect a few more image deconstructions next week as soon as I get back from a short trip to Rome and the farm in Gaeta.

I did manage to update two tutorials: Shooting Dragonflies with an old technique that I use to use for getting close to dragons that I forgot to add to the original and the MT-24EX Users Guide with a helpful tip if you've been having problems getting good exposures on subjects when the background is dark.

I like the format at Deviant Art so much that I set up a Turorial Section where I'll be posting all of my tutorials, and it's the only site that will have the latest updates.

At some point, probably after this macro season, I'm going to put together a book on macro photography organized by the different types of critters that I shoot with tips on how to get close to them as well as exposure information (flash settings, angles, etc.). I'm not sure if I want to do an actual physical book or an e-book. If you'd like to cast your vote for one or the other then leave me a comment.

Take care, and happy shooting! :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sleeping Solitary Deconstruction

Sleeping Solitary series 7-6
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
This shot at five times life size of a solitary bee is deceptively simple once you know how I took it. First off I have the MT-24EX set to -2/3 FEC and I have the flash heads on the flash mount that Canon supplies with the flash. If you own the MT-24EX then you know that the flash heads make a clicking sound when you move them -there are graduated stops built into the base of the flash heads. I started off by moving both heads all the way down toward the lens and then I brought them back up "one click". I have the heads at that angle for 2x to 5x shooting (two clicks up for life size). Then I turned the flash heads toward each other one click (they were both facing straight out initially). I turned them toward each other because I wanted both heads to pump as much light into the scene as possible and to deepen the shadows. There really isn't anything in that shadowed area in the lower right hand corner of the image, and by letting it fall out I'm making it easier for you to focus on the eyes of the bee. I positioned one flash head at the top of the lens and the other to my left -you can see where they are by the reflections in the bee's eyes.

Since the bee was on rather long plant stem, and was pretty much fully asleep, I could move it around quite a bit. So I positioned it close to the ground with my left had so I could get some of the light from the flash to bounce off of the background and back into the camera to keep the area behind the bee from being completely black. At five times life size the flash is going to fall off quickly so I had to get within a few inches of some grass to get anything to show up in that upper left hand corner.

Now that I'm holding onto the plant stem that the bee is roosting on with my left hand it's a simple matter of resting the lens against that same hand and then slide it to get the focus point where i wanted it. Because of the way the MT-24EX's flash heads were positioned the focusing lamps were useless, but I had enough natural light anyway. See those hairs at the leading edge of the critters eye? That's what I concentrated on when I was focusing the scene. The lenses in the eye aren't easy to see sometimes, but it's easy to tell when those hairs are in focus. Also notice that I'm shooting from an angle that almost puts the eye perpendicular to the lens. Since the plane of sharp focus is also perpendicular to the lens most of the eye is razor sharp. I took four frames at 5x and I refocused for each shot. Of all of them I liked the sharpness and the composition of the image in this post.

I had the camera set to F11, 1/250 (max sync speed for the Canon 40D) and ISO 100. I'm also shooting with a Hoya 81A warming filter. In post all I had to do was run NoiseWare Professional, adjust levels (set a black spot), auto sharpen, and then rub out dust spots with the healing brush before saving the image as a JPG. Not much to post processing because most of it is done before I press the shutter release ;)

Happy shooting!