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 !!