Tuesday 12 May 2009

Invertebrate macro photography

Painted Lady enjoying the sun
I thought I put together some details of how I take the photos I post in this blog. Unless otherwise stated they are all my photos. I actually started using my digital camera as a recording device. It is much easier to go to a photo and ID a bug than to try and remember it. Until 2009 my camera was a Canon Powershot G6, portable and with a superb macro. I have often considered going for a dSLR. I used to have a lot of - non digital - camera gear, macro lenses, flash arms, etc, but the advantage of the semi-pro G6 is that you don't have to carry stuff around, they are very light and you still get pretty decent photos. The quality of macro (and the 'supermacro' mode) in this camera is widely recognised and amazing value for money. I am a self-tought photographer, reading around and with trial and error I came out with this little collection of bug-photo hunting tips.
No flash
Personally, I am seriously alergic to flash. I love the look of photos with natural light and it is also less disturbing for your subject. Also, if you value portability taking macros wiht a flash would mean to get a flash arm, so, in this sense for me is also impractical. This of course is more challenging and means that many photos are not as good as they could have been with flash, and limits the photos you can get with poor light conditions. I actually don't take many photos in the winter, as there are not so many bugs around so it's not too bad.
Get close and personal
I like to see my subject eyes, so, I often go level with my beasts, with is often ground level. Some species do have bright patterns when photographed from above (butteflies, hoverflies), but all come into their own when photographed eye to eye
A Common Rough Woodlouse, Porcellio scaber
Know your subject
Finally, you do need to get very close, so you need to get some idea of how different invertebrates react to you. Some do not seem to react at all, making exemplar models (for example, garden spiders). Many do only react (negatively) to being exposed to the light and run away as fast as they can when you uncover them (centipedes, woodlice); others do show some avoidance behaviour when approached or normally move quite fast (butterflies, dragonflies). In any case, slowly approaching your subject won't do any harm. Only in very rare instances will the subject actually come to you to get his/her photo taken.
Zebra Spider, Salticus scenicus, looking at the camera
Hold your hand steady
If you can, rest your hand on anythin solid that happens to be close to your subject - ground, trunk, wall, rock - this will reduce camera shake and will result in crisper images in poor light conditions, when shutter speed is slow. The point is to keep your hand steady when pressing the shutter. Some people become aware of their own heartbeat and claim to shoot between heartbeats. I am just happy to hold my breath when shooting.
Azure damselfly
Shoot, shoot and shoot
When you are in a position to shoot, do not think twice and keep taking photographs if your subject allows. I start by taking some distant shots in normal mode. Then I get closer little by little. A poor quality distant shot is often enough for identification purposes. There will be time to delete, edit and label over the long, dark winter!
Garden ants on Peony bud
Choose your background
Blackground often makes the difference between a great and an OK photo. You don't have to move your subject. Most of the time changing the angle at which you take the photo will do. On the photo on top, taking a photo from the side of the bud would have shown a house in the background. A top to bottom shot just adds a green background and makes the wine-red of the Peony petals stand up.
Ectemnius hunting hoverflies
Show behaviour
Macro becomes very interesting when it shows the animal doing something. The photo above shows some behaviour but is also an example of a poor background, my son's blue plastic car. Doh!
Powershot G10
My recent upgrade has been to a Powershot G10. I thought about it a long time (I had started considering the G9, but the G9 came along. Its macro lenses do not allow for Supermacro and you have to change the zoom if you get closer to your subject, but the 15 megapixels leave room for quite a lot of cropping. I did some comparisons and I was satisfied I was actually getting better photos with the G10. It is even smaller and lighter than the G9, with a larger, brighter LCD screen, so now I actually carry it with me at all times.


Anonymous said...

I love you in depth articles about bees. Thank you for taking the time to do it - I know how time consuming it is to write a blog!

Another suggestion for people wanting to do macro photography is the Fuji Finepix S5800 which also has a macro and super macro mode, and a 10x zoom.

I've taken all the pics on my flickr account http://www.flickr.com/photos/naturewatched/ with this and it's older sibling the S5700 (which I've had for over a year and now passed to my husband!).

At only £99 for a reconditioned one & about £130 new, it's a bit of a bargin DSLR.


Africa Gomez said...

Thank you for your comments and suggestions Jane! You've got some great shots in Flickr and the camera sounds like an absolute bargain. It's tricky to find the time to write the blog but I love every minute of it...