Monday, August 5, 2019

What do the Tech Specs Mean?

Before I get into the "meat and potatoes" of this article I gotta explain a few things. How I take a photo, or how anyone takes a photo, doesn't matter. The only thing that does matter is the final image. So why post the tech specs with my photos? Well for two reasons really. The first is so that I have a historical record of how I took a shot, and in the future if I want to have another go at a particular composition I at least have a starting point. The second is that inevitably someone is gonna ask me how I took a particular image, either because they are a macro shooter or they just took an interest in one of my photos. People generally don't care about how an image was taken unless there is something about it that gets their attention. With that being said I'm going to explain, in some detail, what the tech specs mean and try to give you a sneak peak into my thought process. So lets use a photo that I posted just this morning.

Snoozing European Wool Carder Bee VI

This is what I posted with that image:

A snoozing European Wool Carder Bee. This time I set my Canon MP-E 65mm to 5x.

Tech Specs: Canon 80D (F11, 1/250, ISO 100) + a Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens (5x) + a diffused MT-26EX-RT with a Kaiser adjustable flash shoe on the "A" head (the key), E-TTL metering, -1/3 FEC, second curtain sync). This is a single, uncropped, frame taken hand held.

Canon 80D (F11, 1/250, ISO 100)

I start out by posting the camera I used to take the shot and how I have the camera configured. For this image I set the Fstop to 11. I really don't care about diffraction softening since the techniques that I use allow me to take control over the motion in the scene, my motion and the subject, so diffraction softening isn't going to be that bad. Most of the image softness that gets blamed on diffraction is actually an effect that I call macro motion blur. The flash isn't going to be able to freeze all the motion, especially as the magnification goes up since the flash is going to have to turn on longer to expose the scene. The longer the duration of the flash the more of a problem motion becomes. 1/250 of a second because that's the max flash sync speed for the Canon 80D. If I could sync the flash at a higher speed I would, since I want to avoid any natural light being recorded by the sensor for that photo. High Speed Sync (HSS) does not work for this type of shooting, since HSS pulses the flash while the shutter is open and any movement will get recorded. A single burst of light from the flash is better for freezing motion. ISO 100 just because I want to take advantage of the low noise and high dynamic range of the 80D at that ISO. Although I can get perfectly usable images all the way to ISO 400, I prefer to shoot at ISO 100.

+ a Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens (5x)

The Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens is the reigning king of macro lenses. I'm not a Canon fan boy, I'm just spoiled at being able to look at a scene and simply dial the magnification to exactly what I know I'll need for the framing that I want. Also note that when I say 5x, or almost 3x, or whatever I'm listing the magnification that I read from the lens barrel (the MP-E 65mm has magnification markings on it). Some of you, incorrectly, think that the crop factor of your sensor is giving you more magnification. But you'll never reveal more detail in a scene by cropping it, either with a smaller than full frame sensor or in post (both cropping mechanisms are the same). There are lot of misconceptions about crop factor sensors.

+ a diffused MT-26EX-RT with a Kaiser adjustable flash shoe on the "A" head (the key), E-TTL metering, -1/3 FEC, second curtain sync)

I've been using macro twin flashes for a long time, not because it's the best flash for macro but simply because they fit my photographic style. I spent, off and on, about three years experimenting with different diffusion materials to get to the diffusers that I use today. I like shooting with two light sources in a key and fill configuration, just like portrait photographers use, because it allows me to partially wrap light around the subject and I have a lot of control over where the highlights and shadows are going to be. Putting the key on a Kaiser Adjustable Flash Shoe allows the key to be at a different angle relative to the fill, and makes the subject look more 3D. I use E-TTL metering, along with a little Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) because I don't have time to adjust the flash manually when dealing with semi active to active subjects. Second curtain sync just helps to give me a sharp image if there happens to be enough natural light for the sensor to record -the flash will fire right before the shutter closes so any motion is frozen at the end of the movement by the flash. You can see a video of my current rig, and get some more info on the light, in this blog post.

This is a single, uncropped, frame taken hand held

All of my images so far have been single, uncropped frames, taken hand held (except for some water drop splash shots I took several years ago using a table top support). I don't focus stack for the same reason I don't use a tripod: Both are just too limiting. I also don't allow myself to crop in post, and prefer to do all of my framing with the view finder. Anyone who tells you that cropping is suppose to be a part of your post processing is trying to sabotage your photography. Framing with the view finder will hone your composition skills, and framing with the cropping tool in post won't. Also I frequently see other compositions while I'm framing for a shot, and if I were to see those same compositions while cropping an image in post it would be too late to take them.

That's all for this one, if you have any question just post them and I'll get to you as soon as I can. Until next time happy shooting! :)

Footnote: Here's a short video showing the field studio that I set up for the image in this article.

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