Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's Not the Lens

Moose Filter Test #1
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
It’s pretty common for someone to look at my work and then compliment me on the gear that I have. It use to bother me because it’s like going to someone’s house, enjoying a really good meal, and then complimenting the cook on their pots and pans. But I don’t let it get to me anymore because every time someone tells me that I have a great lens I know that their work will never compete with mine…

To be really good as a photographer you have to understand light, that it has different qualities, and how to take advantage of the light when it’s good or modify it when it’s bad. The light, more than any other aspect, will make or break an image. Given the choice between great light and an average lens or terrible light and a great lens I’ll choose the former every time –the resulting images will be infinitely better.

Granted I’d rather have great light and gear because I’ll have to do less post processing, and I think that’s what motivates some people to compliment others on their equipment.

Another important aspect of photography is knowing how to use the gear that you have, so you don’t have to rely heavily on post processing. The computer with never be able to replace data that you do not capture with the camera –it will never be that smart. So there’s a lot to be said for getting it right with the view finder and doing the majority of your post processing before you press the shutter release Take the image included with this post: I used a warming polarizing filter to get the detail you see in that dragonfly –something that isn’t possible with the filters in Photoshop…

In other news: If you've asked me for my help and I haven't gotten to you yet please be patient -I wasn't expecting the huge response that I got to my mentoring offer! I will get to you though, promise :)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mentoring Sign Up

Hungry Hoverfly series 1-2
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
When I posted "The Death of Macro" I was kinda stunned by the feedback -not a single person disagreed with what I had to say! It's also pretty clear that a lot of you would like help with your macro photography so here's one way to get it: Send me an email with a link to your online gallery and a list of the gear that you are currently shooting with. As time permits I'll check out your images and give you constructive criticism, and I'll also see if I can help you get the most out of the equipment that you have.

I'm not an expert -and I've never claimed to be. But if you want help here's your chance to get some honest feedback from someone who wants to see macro get a lot more respect, and that's only gonna happen if we all take really good photos...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Death of Macro

June Bug series 1-2
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
No, macro isn’t dead –far from it! It seems to me that there are more people shooting macro, and interested in macro photography, than ever before. But the wave of excitement might just hit the beach and flatten out if the quality of macro images doesn’t improve…

In other disciplines, like birding, it’s very difficult to be at the top and the difference between being in the upper ten percent or the lower ninety is marginal –the “competition” is fierce! If you look at the photographers that are at the top they all have some similar things in common: They compose their images well, they know the difference between good light and bad, they understand how a flash works and how to use it, and they learn about the behavior of the subjects that they shoot so they can take advantage of it to get better photos. When they post their work and ask for constructive criticism then they get it –and most take what they are told and apply the advice to better their work.

But for some odd reason the same standards are not used in macro photography, and it’s killing our discipline! If I had a dollar for every time someone posted an out of focus, centered, image of an insect’s back side I’d have all the money I need for new gear. But if I had a dollar for every time someone told the photographer of that poorly composed, poorly focused image that they were doing a good job I could retire…

Giving someone positive feedback on a bad image is one of the most self serving and selfish things an experience photographer can do! It might make you popular with the masses, but you’re not helping anyone improve their work by being dishonest. If the people in the upper ten percent in macro really care about macro photography and really want to see the discipline get the respect it deserves then they are going to have to start giving honest, constructive criticism. Odds are you won’t be on too many Christmas card lists, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re making a difference –and you can point to the success of macro photography and claim that you had a part in making it happen…

Since I care about macro photography and I want to see it taken seriously as a photographic discipline I’ll give you honest, constructive criticism on your work if you ask me for it –but don’t ask me to critique your photos if you’re just looking for a pat on the back. I’ve also taken on a few people as their mentor, and I’m looking for new students, so if you need help with your macro photography contact me and I’ll start working with you to improve your photos. I challenge all of the top macro photographers to do the same…

One final note: I’ve stopped participating in “Barney Forums” –I love you, you love me web sites where you’ll get positive feedback on a photo no matter how bad it is. I can’t lend my support to those sites by being active on them when, IMHO, they are part of the reason why macro is not taken seriously as a photographic discipline…

Monday, May 12, 2008

Canon’s MPE-91mm F22 Macro Lens

Metalic Paint series 1-1
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
Before you get excited: There is no MPE-91mm F22 lens, but you can make one: Just add a 1.4x teleconverter to the MPE-65 and you have it. There are some pros and cons to shooting with a teleconverter though…

If you have the camera set to F16 then you’ll actually be at F22 (but the correct aperture won’t show up on the LCD) and you will get a little more depth of field. But diffraction will also be a problem since the lens is stopped all the way down.

You’ll lose a stop of light with the 1.4xTC, so your flash duration will double. Not a big issue at lower magnifications, but freezing motion is more of a problem at 3x and higher. The flash will also take a little longer to recycle as well.

When shooting in bright sunlight exposure can be a problem, especially when shooting against a light colored background (like a daisy). One way to eliminate the ambient light in the scene is to stop down, and the teleconverter helps. I’m also considering a one stop neutral density filter for my MPE-65mm for those times when the ambient light is bright and I want to cut it out completely and just rely on the flash.

I’m not shooting with a 1.4x teleconverter full time, but it is one more trick to use for those situations where there is too much ambient light or I need a little extra depth of field. Unfortunately the teleconverter really doesn’t increase working distance that much –probably due to the MPE-65mm’s unique construction (it’s basically a reversed lens with a variable length extension tube).

The image included with this post was taken at about twice life size with the MPE-65 + 1.4xTC at F22 (F16 on the camera). It’s not as sharp as most of my images, but there was enough depth of field to get the entire shell and the eye in focus…

On my next outing I’m going to set the camera to F14 or F16 between 1x and 2x and see if I can cut out enough ambient light to get good exposures, and get the depth that I want without the 1.4x teleconverter.

Special thanks to Robert Seber who put up with all my stupid questions about shooting with the MPE-65 + teleconverter.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Still here!

Sorry I haven't posted much lately. You may have noticed the "Recent Deviations" side bar on the left hand side of the page. I've been putting together a gallery on Deviant Art and it's taken up most of my free time lately -deciding what I want to put on DA, editing those images because I needed to take a second pass at most of them, and also copy some of the tutorials that I've written here.

The hard part is deciding which way to go: Right now I've got three galleries. One of them, Deviant Art, also has blog functionality built in. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to collapse at least one of the galleries (either Flickr or SmugMug) but I'm not sure what to do with this blog. Either I'm going to do all of my blogging here and just post links to the new posts on DA, or I'm going close this blog completely and change the DNS redirect for to point to my DA journal...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Cheap Trick #1

Hungry Hoverfly series 1-3
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
Sometimes I get lucky and find a critter that’s so caught up in what it’s doing that it doesn’t care about me and the camera. That’s the situation that I found myself in when I started shooting this Hoverfly. The only problem was the wind –it was blowing constantly and gusting from time to time. Way too much movement to shoot above life size, and I really wanted to push myself to shoot at high magnification. So I used my left hand, palm up, to hold onto the stem of the flower while I rested a Canon MPE-65mm extended to 4x on the same hand while I held a Canon 40D in my right.

Since the lens and the subject were resting on the same surface I could move and still get a razor sharp image. I just moved the lens very slowly back and forth on my hand until the area of focus was where I wanted it. It’s a cheap trick that only works with cooperative subjects –one that comes in handy on windy days…