Wildlife Photography is a new direction for me. I’ve spent so much time photographing everything else that my eye still wonders around looking to capture something new while I should be focusing on the subject at hand, BIRDS!
A natural progression in the “NATURE” theme seems to be Macrophotography. Unlike Wildlife photography where you need to carry tons of expen$ive equipment, wrecking your back for days looking for the perfect photo, Macro can be done with a minimum of lightweight gear and is within arms reach of many people in one form or an other.
Amazing results can be obtained with some point and shoot cameras under the $500 mark. There’s also tons of DIY projects that can achieve results above and beyond the Nikon’s cream of the crop 105mm VR Micro lens. If you take the time to do some research on the Internet you’ll notice you can approach Macro Photography with some of the following ideas.
- Point and Shoot Camera (Like the G12 or P7000)
- Reversing the lens on your SLR/DSLR (Macro Reverse Adapter)
- Attaching a reversed lens to your existing lens (Macro Coupler)
- Adapting old projector lenses to your camera
- Close-Up Filters / Lens
- Macro lenses for SLR/DSLR
- Macro Extension Tubes
- Bellows for Macro
Naturally you need to apply some common sense to your working distance. Many Macro solutions demand you work closely to your subject. That’s not necessarily a good idea when photographing dangerous subjects like a rattle snake or trying to photograph a subject that frightens easily. Various solutions will offer different working distances and you need to do your homework before investing time, money and effort.
Macro is not only about getting the perfect detailed close-up of a tiny bug. It can also be used for artistic compositions. For example the Lensbaby Macro solutions are designed for that exact purpose and similar pictures can be produced with the projector lens.
I took the picture of the Common Green Bottle Fly with an older Sigma 105mm lens dating back to the film era. Coupled to a Nikon D300s the results are impeccable for the price you can obtain one of these lenses for. On a lower end model camera that doesn’t do any image correction you will have to correct chromatic aberration manually yourself and you will lose auto-focus with a Nikon D40 or D60. You can find the EX version of this lens in the mid $200 range and you can find the EX DG lens in the $400 range giving you better image quality. I found this EX version to be more contrasty with duller colors than the Nikkor Micro 105mm VR. All of which was easily fixed in Capture NX2 or Photoshop in just few clicks. The auto-focus and VR functions were not missed once as I shoot Macro in manual focus on a tripod.
When shooting Macro for long periods of time in different positions you may want to look at a few options to enhance comfort and maintain constant results by minimizing fatigue.
- Buy a good versatile tripod that supports the weight of your camera and allows for good reach in complicated situations. I like the Manfrotto 055XPROB. The 190XPROB is a smaller version of the same tripod and both are available in Carbon-fiber versions. (Manfrotto 055CXPRO3, 055CXPR04 and the 190CX3) All of these tripods feature an horizontal column that allows the tripod to reach extremely low positions.
- I use a Right Angle (90 Degree) viewfinder. This eliminates strain on my neck and makes some impossible angles possible to shoot. You can obtain expensive name brand options like these at bandhphotovideo.com. There’s also a good lower priced Chinese alternative from SEAGULL. Optically it’s just as good for one fifth of the price. One weak point on the SEAGULL right angle viewfinder is its fragile plastic coupler. On the bright side it comes with a coupler for every common SLR/DSLR. I got mine from eBay.()
- I also use a corded remote trigger. On a fixed subject it allows for steadier shooting liberating you hands to hold a flash and or a reflector. I don’t use a macro flash, I use my flash handheld or a reflector when the light conditions require it. My flash is a Nikon Speedlight SB-900. The head on this flash can point a few degrees down allowing illumination of a Macro subject. It also has a commander mode that can control Nikon’s lens mounted macro flash without buying the entire R1C1 kit with commander. A small 12 inch collapsible light reflector is an inexpensive solution to balance out light in many situations. You can find many ingenious ways to hold flashes, reflectors, flower stems and more from your tripod. Manfrotto has flex arms as part of their Super Clamp grips, Nikon’s SW-C1 can hold a small diffuser (SW-12) but a quick search on the internet for flexible and articulated arms will provide results to suit your specific needs.
- One of the most useful tools I use in Macrophotography is the gardening knee pad and a set of plumbers knee pads. It allows me to spend time comfortably on my knees on hard uneven surfaces for extended periods of time. The large foam gardening pad also allows you to safely support your camera over muddy terrain when photographing small amphibians, salamanders and whatever else lives in the slime… The knee pads can be found in any hardware store for as low as $5 and the foam gardening pad at the Dollar Store for a buck.
No matter what your budget is there’s a way to start capturing a brand new world and push the boundaries of your artistic talent. Don’t be afraid to experiment, use tape and rubber bands to hold trinkets on your gear. Remember it’s not what your camera gear looks like that makes your pictures look great!