Saturday, January 05, 2013

Macro and Photography Technicalities

I did mention I wanted to do some macro shooting this weekend, and so I did. I arrived at the Butterfly Park just as it was opened, and I was among st the first few customers to walk in the main entrance. I came here almost every single time I was testing a new camera or lens, mainly because macro shooting was one easy way to test just how much quality pixels can be captured. I believe most modern digital cameras produce sharp images, but are those images artificially sharpened, or able to re-present meaningful fine details? The answer can be easily answered with simple macro shooting tests. However this session was not intended to test any camera or lens, as I was working with my own gear, and all I wanted to do was just to have fun with some tiny creatures. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5, Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens, and External Flash FL-50R. For my macro setup and wireless flash/bounce technique, please read my blog entry here (click). 










Macro photography, as I have said many times in this blog, and I will probably say this again and again, is probably one of the most technically challenging photography genre. In order to produce a good macro photograph, you need strong understanding of how the exposure works, how to control the depth of field, and how to light your subject sufficiently, just to name a few. Mistakes can be very unforgiving for macro shooting, as slight movement (just by a few milimeters) can cause the entire subject to be completely out of focus. Every single shooting condition varies, either the insect or spider may appear to be underneath a leaf, or behind a twig, or hiding behind a rock on the ground. They do not just stand nicely on your eye-camera level where you just stand comfortably, and shoot. Often you need to do crazy yoga poses to get close to the tiny creatures. And oh those creatures, some of them are easy to work with, but the few others, they do not stay still at all. 

Unlike street photography where some people can claim that "blur is art", if your macro photograph is out of focus, or blurred due to hand/camera shake, the image will be deemed a failure. Having such large magnification (talking about 1:1 true size), stopping down the aperture was a necessity. We are dealing with F/8, or narrower aperture, crushing much meaningful available light. Flash, or other means of additional lighting has become significant to accomplish a balanced and properly exposed image. Yet we do not want to have the background as the sea of blackness. Thus care must be taken to still rake in a little bit of ambient light, to present the insects/spiders in their natural habitat, as they were being found. So many things to consider, and take care of while shooting. Surely many would just give up, and go for something much easier to do. Why complicate life and do something so demanding? 

Surely, if a new-comer to photography patiently and persistently practices macro photography, the reward will be worth all the trouble. Discipline is probably one of the most important thing macro photography can teach a photographer. You cannot neglect your fundamentals and basics. You need to use your basic camera and exposure understanding and put them into practice each time you shoot. Your hand-holding techniques must be effective. Your flash execution must be efficient for different conditions. Staying in focus was another difficult challenge. Perhaps macro photography is not the best way to teach the "artistic" side of photography, but at the end of the day, you will know almost everything you need to know about your camera, and more. 




100% crop from the previous image


The spider web was almost invisible, but thanks to the flash, the reflection was captured. 


The beautiful thing about macro photography is that there is no ultimate technique, or the best way to shoot a subject. There are so many alternatives to lighting up a subject. My own macro techniques still have plenty of room for improvements. More senior and experienced macro shooters would surely have plenty to comment and criticize when they see my shots as shown in this entry. There is always that better way to diffuse the light, or that depth of field/focus stacking method to increase depth of field. I have also heard of some very cruel photographers who kidnapped the insects home, and kept the frozen in the refrigerator, so that their body temperature was lowered down and unable to move. 

So what did I do differently in this session? I tried not to get too close to the subjects. I wanted to show a little bit more of what is happening around the main subject. Let the flowers, the branches, the leaves be extra elements in the photograph. They should all add up nicely, if composition was given enough consideration.  

I was also asked by a few friends if I was going to buy the cheap, yet versatile Sony 30mm F2.8 macro lens to be used on my Sony A350. The thought never crossed my mind, and even if it did, I would have dismissed it without hesitation. As amazing the A350 can be, there is no way the old sensor's resolution capability can match what the Olympus E-5 can produce, considering the E-5 has a much weaker AA filter. Also, if I were to get another macro lens, it makes much more sense for me to buy one lens which I have regretted letting go in the first place, the Olympus Zuiko Digital 35mm F3.5 macro. My main problem with the Sony 30mm is not so much of the lens not being good enough, but the 30mm focal length on APS-C sensor was just too wide to be practical for my macro shooting needs. I would need to be just centimeters away from my subject, and I do not think the tiny creatures would appreciate their personal spaces being invaded like that. I was having difficulties even with the Olympus 35mm F3.5 macro, though it was a little longer than what the Sony 30mm offers (Olympus 70mm vs Sony 52mm equivalent focal length comparison). 

Besides, I am completely happy with the Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro. How can anyone not love this lens? The 50mm F2 macro  is after all, according to the Japanese photographers, God's lens. I simply cannot agree more. 



100% crop from previous image




It was surely an enjoyable shutter therapy session at Butterfly Park this morning. 

Oh and how I missed Olympus color !!

32 comments:

  1. Geez Robin, Number 6, the front view of the lacy wing dragon fly is possibly one of the best images I have ever seen, macro or not. You knock me out ;-)

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  2. Great macro shots, Robin - and timely, too, because I've just bought the M. Zuiko 60/2.8 Macro and the FL-600R flash (I'm going to make your shoebox reflector tomorrow ...).

    One question, which I'm sure you've already answered many times: how can I view the exif data on these shots? I'm really curious to see your shutter speed and flash speed (to keep detail in the background) and also what aperture you chose for your shots.

    Thanks a lot, Robin.

    Scott

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    1. Thanks Scott !!
      I left the exif data intact, you can either save the images to your computer and view it in your photo software (lightroom, picasa, etc) or you can install a plug-in to view the exif from your internet browser. I personally do not like to add extensions to my internet browser (they slow the browser down)
      And wow, that 60mm macro !! I am sure you will make some great shots with it.

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    2. Thanks for the information, Robin.

      I sure hope I can get some decent shots out of it - if they are anywhere near as good as yours then I'll be very happy. I might even make a special trip to KL to go to the butterfly park.

      Have a great week!

      Scott

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    3. Thanks for the kind words, but even my macro shots still need a lot of work. If you do drop by KL lemme know !!

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  3. So pretty!! I like the dragonfly. Looks like it is smiling. =)

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    1. Thanks Sherrie !! Maybe it was really smiling !

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  4. As usual, they are all superb, but the smiling dragonfly is nothing less than breathtaking. I am running out of superlatives here. Without a doubt, a world-class shot, NatGeo stuff. My hat off!

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    1. Thanks Andre !!! No need superlatives !! Your presence here meant more than anything else. I should be the one thanking you !

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  5. Donald W Leitzel1/05/2013 10:50:00 PM

    Robin

    I always enjoy your macro work. I could have saved some money if I made your shoebox reflector, instead of buying a Rogue Flashbender but it fits in the bag easier.

    Keep your words and photos coming. You always inspire me to shoot more. It's all about the image, not the gear.

    Don

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Don. Do not worry about the reflector/bouncer/diffuser you bought, it is surely a lot more versatile, easier to carry around, and surely, more durable !! My shoebox bouncer is falling apart, I will need to build a new one.
      We should all shoot more !! Image is the heart of photography, surely.

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  6. World class photography again Robin. And like Andre and others said, that "smiling dragonfly" *is* NatGeo stuff! They should hire you. :-) Oh, and you show us why this 50mm macro Zuiko ("God's light") is called "God's lens"...

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    1. I don't think I qualified for Nat Geo but if the offer came I would not refuse hehe

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    2. Then maybe they should take the one with the spider and the slug? That's so cool as well!

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    3. That was my favourite shot !! At first the web was barely visible, but thanks to the flash it reflected the webs outline.

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  7. Robin, these are truely outstanding macro shots. The color is GREAT, and those two 100% crops are stunning, and remarkable in the detail that you are capturing. Great job!

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    1. Thanks Gregg !! Olympus surely knows how to handle color, and yes, my old E-5 is sufficient for what I am doing !

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  8. Hi Robin,

    Are you sure you never wanted to become a biologist?
    I love macro too, and that was at least half of the reason why I stepped up to i/c lens system (OM-D) from p&s. (And you inspired me in choosing the OMD. Although the Canon MP-E 65 is something truly amazing). But this is hardly surprising considering that my career is heavily based on biology :)

    Anyway, I have looked up your previous post about the shoebox bouncer. Couple of thoughts and questions if you have time:
    1. There are some awesome shots in here, but the most I like the mantis shots from the page you mention at the beginning.
    (by the way, are you familiar with this program: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmfVNJIzJdQ (Monster Bug Wars)? If not, I highly recommend it to you :) There are a few episodes on youtube)

    2. A technical question: to use an external flash on the OM-D, I understand you need to use the kit flash as a master flash? (sorry for such an amateur question, I have never used an external flash). Can the external flash be triggered without triggering the kit flash? (kit flash in closed position?)

    3. I have encountered some undesired moire pattern in some of my shots (60mm f/2.8), just like you described them in your review. (Mainly on eye of flies, not so much butterfly, and not so much on bugs). Can this be improved in some way? Better lighting?

    4. from the current Olympus flashes, which one would you recommend for macro photography? (my 2013 Christmas present to myself :).

    and finally, I love your (KL) butterfly park :) How about a deal, if I'm ever in KL, you take me there for a shutter therapy, and if you ever here in New Zealand, I'll take you here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/embryoinuniverse/8303277870/sizes/k/in/photostream/
    (I have resized the picture (to 50%), and reduced the quality - but the sparkling condensation on the cave wetas is something truly amazing :) These insects are huge, I had the lens on portrait (not macro) setting. This shooting reminded me of the time when you were in a tunnel and you didn't had proper lighting, etc.

    all the best,
    JE

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    1. Hello JE,

      I am an engineer, hence I shall never be a biologist !!

      To answer your questions:
      1) No I have not heard of the program before. I shall check it out later.
      2) Yes you do need the clip on flash on OMD to act as the master control to trigger any wirelessly controlled flash units off camera.
      3) Yes, moire can be a problem. I have heard my friend said moire can be corrected in lightroom. I have not tried it myself, but I do trust my friend.
      4) Go for FL-600R, you won't go wrong with that. it is faster, and it incorporates latest technologies.

      Do let me know if you drop by KL !! I wont be travelling to NZ anytime soon, but if by some miracles I do, I shall find you !

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    2. In my experience, moire is dependent on a number of things, six major ones, of which we can control four:

      - resolving power of the lens (the sharper the lens and the higher its resolving power, the more chance of moire, together with item 2)
      - sensor pixel density (fewer pixels means less chance of moire)
      - non-bayer sensor (Foveon, Fuji-X)
      - focal length of the lens
      - distance from subject (changing that a little may already help)
      - f/stop (stopping down may help, introducing diffraction but reducing/eliminating moire)

      Varying the last three parameters may prevent moire from showing up.

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    3. That should be: the last four parameters. The non-bayer sensors do not have moire problems.

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    4. Thanks for sharing Andre !

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    5. Robin and Andre,
      Thank you for your answers.
      (The Fuji sensor is quite interesting, amazing in low light as well).
      JE

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  9. Hi robin,

    I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask this question. During the time you spent with the Olympus 60mm f2.8 Marco, did you have a chance to test its focusing speed on some of the older m43 bodies like on the EPL1 of yours? The reason why I ask is I'm interested in picking it up, but I am using the EP2 and I don't see myself upgrading the body anytime soon. If this combination result in a very slow focusing speed, I would not consider it until I can find a decent deal on a newer body.

    Looking forward to your thought and keep up the good work. :)

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    1. Hello Apotpoc,
      I only tested the 60mm macro lens on OM-D, and I would not know how the lens would perform on other cameras. However for the optimized focusing speed, only E-P3 or newer bodies can do the ultra fast focusing. E-P2 may not accomplish the same focusing speed. Do not take my word for it, test it out yourself at any camera store !

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    2. Thanks for taking the time to reply my question. I will go see if I can find a store that has a demo unit to test. Can't wait to see what you can do with the 15mm f8 body cap lens. I surely enjoy using it on my EP2. Love its simplicity and design. Allowing me to focus more on getting the shot than worry about if my EP2 can focus fast enough since almost everything will be in focus :)

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