When you give Robin a camera with flash and macro lens, what will happen? He will go macro frenzy and go crazily wild in insect photography mode. For a change, I am not going to say where I went for this session. Telling everything would be killing all the mysteries and suspense, no?
I have attempted macro few weeks ago, (read here and here if you have missed it) and I was amazed by what the lens could achieve. Nevertheless, there were shortcomings in the pictures. Macro photographers are faced with the challenge of lighting, particularly on how to place the light source fired from the external flash unit onto the subject to sufficiently illuminate it, which would usually be blocked by other obstructions, or even the lens at the front itself.
Photo note: Fired flash from the left of frame. I could not get the light to hit the face of the wasp, hence part of it was covered in shadow. I tried to angle the flash slightly, but the wasp blardy flew away !!!
There were obviously many solutions to macro lighting techniques, such as macro ring flash, macro ring battery powered lights, or extenders/flash redirecter like the famous botol susu flash diffuser that Shaolin Tiger has devised for his macro works. While the botol susu difusser works in directing the light from the flash onto the subject in the far front of the lens, the placement of the lighting was fixed, and flexibility in controling the angled flash was restricted. You will still get rather uneven lighting especially at the bottom half of the subjects since the light fires directly from above.
GREEN SPIDER EATING SOMETHING
The red spider was probably one of the scariest and strangest looking spider I have ever come across. I got so close to it that it jumped onto my lens !! I got the biggest scare of my life, imagine seeing it enlarged on your camera viewfinder and it just jumped onto you.
The green spider was eating something, I did not see it until I viewed it on my computer screen. Should I have known this, I would have taken the shot from another angle. I guess I just have to be more observant next time.
I have spoken to Yiaw Wei (click) and he pointed out to me, "why not take your flash OFF your camera? Take advantage of your wireless flash capabilities". Then it kicked into my mind that I have not actually tried, or done any wireless photography before even though I have the capability on camera to do so. The idea was exciting, and this could very well open up creative approach in getting the light onto the macro subjects. I was very eager to try this out, and hence, the macro frenzy mode over the weekend, with wireless flash !!
So what did I do to my shots this time?
1) I hold the camera on my right hand, and the flash on my left hand.
This is probably the first time in a long, long while since I last shot single handedly. I held the camera on my right hand, and with the wireless settings turned on, the flash was placed and angled at experimental directions all over the place (left, right, bottom, above, and all the in between positions around the subject) being held by my left hand.
Shooting single handed was NOT easy. Shooting single handed at full magnification on macro, on manual focus mode, was a complete nightmare. I had a lot of misses and out of focus shots, but of course, as the shutter kept clicking, one of the many shots would come out right. I am new to this, and I did not expect miracles to happen.
2) I placed the flash facing the front of the subject.
It takes a lot of trials to find out which direction the flash fired from would work best. I am still quite unsure, and of course the results would vary from situation to situation, but I find placing the flash facing the head of the insect/bug with angle slightly above it gave me the least shadow on the whole. The goal was to evenly distribute the light over the subject, and to minimize shadows.
3) I used completely full manual.
My camera settings may be set to full manual, but the settings have been standardized and worked best to my style of shooting. ISO 100-200, Aperture F14-16, Shutter speed 1/50s to 1/80s, full manual focus at 0.5:1x, 1:1x, 1.5:1x or 2:1x magnification, and wireless flash set to TTL with +2EV to +3EV compensation values. I set the focus magnification factor, and I lock on to the subject by moving forth and back (rocking my head/body) till I hit the sharp focus sweet focus. Oh, you can forget AF, it wont work.
So how do I find the results?
I see huge improvement in terms of lighting. I can get the light to hit wherever I want. Oh have I mentioned wireless flash was so so so fun???
Nonetheless, there is a lot to work on getting the right shots. Holding the camera with single had has its drawbacks. Focusing becomes extremely difficult, hence my priority was to get my subjects in focus, and composition has been left unchecked before I clicked the shutter.
THE REAL PRAYING MANTIS
This is probably one of my best macro insect shots up to date. Man, just look at the amount of details being captured !! And I was only using a budget macro lens. There is a secret on how I got this shot though, and I am going to keep this bit to myself for now.
I have thought of the idea of putting the flash on tripod. Setting up, and getting the flash to stand at the right place takes time. This would be totally feasible if I was shooting humans, or still life photography. But insects and bugs move, and they do not stay at once place for very long. Hence the tripod may not only slow the whole shooting process down, but the burden to carry it around just made it not a possible option.
Stabilizing the shots, steadying the hands, were not easy. It was comforting to find out the built in image stabilization system of the camera helped a huge deal in getting me away with sharp, blur free pictures.
The fact that Olympus camera is smaller and lighter than most other cameras and the macro lens weighs less than 200g aided a great deal in single handed shooting. I can't imagine holding a camera + lens combo of more than 1kg with one hand for a long period of time trying all I can to steady the shot. My wrist would snap !!
At times like this, I did wish I had a third hand.
I COME IN PEACE
Photo note: So you think I could not get any nearer? The full power of the lens, 2:1 magnification factor. The ultimate weapon for a headshot of a mantis !! I am quite happy with this shot, try taking this picture with just one hand and you will understand why !!
Since this was the first time I have used the wireless flash, I have many settings to get used to. The pictures may be properly lit at exact location I wanted it to be lit, but there were serious problems of highlight burning (bright white spots). I believe the problem can be solved with flash intensity control (or better, manual flash control?) and proper diffusing techniques. I shall explore those areas in my next macro attempts.
The photo may not be perfect yet, but going wireless provided me with lighting freedom. There is plenty to work on, and I shall take one step at a time.
Anyone wanna join me on my macro frenzy mode?