Today’s picture comes to you from the world of macro photography. I am going to go into a bit of a history of myself and macro photography, so this post will be a little long. I will start off with talking about today’s picture, and then leave you with the history for those who are interested.
Once again, I am working from home today. Work is still getting off the ground after the new year so I don’t have any client meetings just yet and am able to get out at lunch for the daily photo while the sun is high in the sky. I decided that I would go small today and bust out the macro kit. I find macro photography incredibly interesting because when you go that small, it looks like an entirely new world. You can be in the middle of a metropolitan in winter and get a shot that brings in the colours of summer.
At the beginning of my walk, I snapped more photos of tree moss and leaves, until I came to an arrangement of plants in a planter. I snapped a few shots of the pine needles and the fresh greens got to me. I spent some time around the arrangement snapping shots and when I got home and looked at them all, I decided this was the one. I found that one of the easier ways to get an in-focus shot with my macro set up was to use the camera’s high bust setting. This allowed me to take a series of pictures within a few seconds and up my chances of landing the focus point.
I used my Canon 7D Mark 1 with a Minolta 50mm lens on a reverse ring, shooting at 1/80, F8ish, with an ISO setting of 1000. It was a sunny day when the shot was taken, but the buildings around me shaded the area.
A few years ago, I was watching a video of a guy, Thomas Shahan, who takes incredible insect photos using very interesting methods and equipment. The detail he is able to capture is astounding, and it peaked my interest in macro photography. The big issue for me though is that I am very cheap and I don’t want to spend any money on a lens for a style that I may or may not like. My research for a cheaper alternative is what lead me down the path to find the poor man’s macro and Thomas.
The solution – use extension tubes to increase the distance between the lens and the sensor, which allows you to focus on an object close up. The caveat with this solution is light. For each extension, you lose a stop of light. This means that F1.8 with one level of extension is more like an F2.8, another level is closer to F4, however, the depth of field remains the same. Extension tubes can be cheap, or pretty expensive. Being cheap, I hit up ebay for a digital trip to China where I picked up tubes for around $10.
This trick worked well, but one of the troubles was the aperture. With digital cameras, the aperture on the lens is triggered when the picture is taken and because I went cheap, my extension tubes disconnected my lens from the camera – meaning I was 100% manual. To set the aperture, I would put the lens on the camera with a shutter speed of 2 seconds, select the aperture, take a picture, and while the picture was being taken, disconnect the lens. This locked in the aperture, but I feared it might not be the best for the camera.
Luck was soon on my side when I happened upon an old manual Minolta 50mm lens. This lens had an aperture ring on it that you could manually set, fixing my aperture problem as well as helping with the light situation. Now I just needed a way to connect the lens to a Canon camera. I remembered the insect video and a trick where he used something called a reverse ring. I was back to China where I spent a whopping $2.95 for the ring with shipping. The ring screws into the front of the lens, and then the other end of the ring has the connections for the camera. The magic is that if you reverse a lens, it instantly turns into a macro lens (here is a random English guy’s video on all of this). Again though, this means no auto-focus or assistance from the camera.
The frustrating part to this type of photography is that without auto-focus assistance, it is difficult to get your subject in focus while holding the camera in hand. The focus ring does nothing, so you have to move the camera back and forth ever so slightly until you see focus. Slight shakes of the hand and wind all play huge factors because of how close you are to your subject. What is in focus one millisecond, is out of focus the next. The thin depth of field at F1.8 doesn’t work with macro because you are talking about 1/8 inch of the subject being in focus. This causes you to up the F stop and once again, more light is needed. A flash comes in handy, however, I am still working out how I want to side mount my flash.
If you are wondering, yes, you can combine the tubes and a reversed lens for ultra macro – and ultra frustration. I recommend trying it though, because the detail you can capture is amazing.
See you tomorrow.