Up close and personal

by Alan Godfrey March. 02, 2021 95 views

All genres of photography have been a learning curve for me, but the one that has surprised me the most is 'macro'. It seemed relatively straight-forward - no need to travel to exotic sweeping vistas, chase the light on the streets, or head out on safari. There is so much beauty on our doorsteps or in our gardens. Surely I could just easily capture something that took my fancy without much effort ...

The first thing that struck me was how important camera shake was when focusing on small subjects. Of course, it's always a factor in any image, but the first time I spied a suitable subject and leaned in close was the first time I realised just how dramatic an effect it had at this level. Minor movements were translated in relatively huge changes in focus.

This was when I bought my first tripod, precisely to avoid hand-holding - but I soon realised that wasn't the end to the challenge, and that there was a whole world of difficulty involved in getting a stable image in even the lightest breeze...

Most of all though, there are occasions where a tripod doesn't work - usually when trying to take a photograph of a moving subject - as I found when trying to hunt out a decent image of ladybirds in my garden!

So, to reduce the impact of camera shake, the obvious solution is to open the aperture as wide as possible to get shutter speed high enough that it doesn't matter.

This is when I encountered the next challenge - depth of field. With a 105mm macro lens opened to f/2.8, depth of field at 1m from your subject gives you about 1cm depth of field at best. Getting closer - as of course you want to do with a macro lens - starts to shave you down to millimetres. Now trying to get a decent image, handheld, of a moving subject, becomes a more stressful experience!

My images for this week come from precisely that experience - chasing ladybirds in my back garden ...

Thin depth of field just gets the front of this garden ladybird.

Thin depth of field just gets the front of this garden ladybird.

A ladybird on the edge...

A ladybird on the edge...

Not shown, the countless thousands of images that missed!

I'm pleased with both of these images. Partly because I managed to get the eyes in focus in both; but also because the surrounding backgrounds are relatively clean and monochromatic, working nicely with the colours of the ladybirds.

While I personally think the razor thin depth of field works ok with both, I know that technically they would both be criticised for not having captured the whole ladybird...

Hindsight

Assuming that I am foolish enough to go hunting ladybirds in this way again - the obvious critique is the aperture setting.

The first image was 1/500 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400; the second, 1/1000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 200.

I still needed the high shutter speed, to minimise camera shake, and capture an (albeit slowly) moving subject; but should have pushed this as low as it could have gone - while also pushing ISO up higher - 1600 would probably be fine. That together would push the f-stop up a bit, giving that little few additional millimetres that could have been all the difference!

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