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Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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Extreme Macro


Macro is my preferred focus in photography and my inclinations drive me to smaller and smaller. I love insects and drool whenever I see others' extreme macro images of, for example, the eye of a dragonfly. My chief lens that I use for macro (and sometimes birds and animals) is the Canon 100-400L, and upgraded my camera to the Canon 50D so that I'd have more leeway to crop for a more close-up effect. I love the wonderful background blur this lens produces. BUT I want to get still more macro--insect eyes and such... I did get the 500D closeup lens to attach to it, and now that I've played around with it more, I like it better, but it doesn't give me the sharpness I want. Anyway, for the longest time I've had the Canon 180 macro L lens as something to shoot for eventually. When I saw the first place winner in the macro category this month (http://www.betterphoto.com/gallery/dynoGallDetail.asp?photoID=10895502&catID=43486)I said to myself, "That's it, I've GOT to find a way to do THAT!" I have never, ever been able to produce an image like that with my current lens and even with the D500 Closeup lens. So, this evening I started looking at images online produced by the Canon 180 Macro L lens and was dismayed to note that it didn't seem to produce images of any more macro capacity than what my current lens already produces. And further, the image in the link above was produced by the Nikon 105 macro lens! (I've also often considered the Sigma 105 macro as I've seen lovely images produced by it.) But what's different about this first place image is the depth of field achieved (and DOF is my major complaint, aside from sharpness, with my 500D Closeup). What's also different is that a it seems a ring flash was used. So, I googled ring flashes and read all sorts of pros and cons about the light making images flat looking, what with no shadows at all, however, this did not bother me with the first place win image in the link above (though I do wonder about his background...). I assume that it was the light provided by the ring flash that enabled him to achieve that level of DOF. BUT, with my 100-400 lens one has to stand half a mile away from the subject--would the light produced by a ring flash reach my subject at such a distance? When I use the 500D closeup lens, I do have to get much closer, so would a ring flash make those images sharper and increase the DOF?

But even that doesn't get me the extreme macro that I've seen in other pics (insect eyes)---is the only solution the extension tubes I've read so much about but but never tried? Looking at images produced by the Canon 180 macro lens, I'm beginning to thing that perhaps the solution is not getting a new and better macro lens.

Would appreciate any guidance on this! Thanks!


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11/20/2010 7:20:16 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  First I'll talk about his depth of field. Realize that the caterpillar is going across, in the same plane as the sensor. So that's the main reason why everything about looks so sharp. And also, he used f/45. Also keep in mind that even with f/45, the background is probably only a few inches away. Yet it's still pretty blurred. As to what he used as his background, it looks like fabric because you can still see the diagonal lines in it, from the texture of the threads. But that's a guess.
If he would have shot the caterpillar with it perpendicular to the sensor plane (head in the foreground, tail in the background) you would have been able to see a gradual sharpness to blur head to the tail even at f/45.
When deciding on macro lenses, you have to look at focal length and also minimum focusing distance. They work together to get your degree of closeness and magnification. Check Canon's website and compare the minimum focusing distances of their macro lenses. You want super close, look at their MP-E 65 mm. Compare the 100mm macro to the 180mm, you'll find a trade off with a longer focal length to the 180mm, which can allow you to not have to get physically close to an insect without scaring it to fly off. Or with the 100mm, you have a shorter focal length, but a closer focusing distance. A criticism of Canon's 50mm macro was that it didn't focus down to a distance like Nikon's 50mm macro. But Canon made a life size converter for their 50mm macro (not sure if they still do) that you could add to it and get life size images.
Adding things like close up lens is a trade off of cost for quality to an actual macro lens. I've done close ups of a dragonfly by adding a 2x extender to a 400mm. Better than a close lens, but neither will be as good as a macro lens.
Ring flashes. Some a bigger and stronger than others. They produce shadows, but not on the surface of the subject. You usually see a distinctive shadow on the background, that outlines the subject. The caterpillar, it's a ring flash, but also iso 800 with 1/60th shutter. You're probably getting some ambient to fill in any background shadow.
But the speedlight ring flash used in that picture is made for close ups. It's not a strong light. There are other ring flashes like Elinchrom's ring flash. They run the gamut from small to big.


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11/20/2010 8:27:43 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Thanks, Gregory. Your response led to more research online, when I realized that the MP-E 65mm is, basically, the kind of extreme macro I'm looking for: http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1029&message=36068101. But, sadly, not only is it big bucks in itself, it seems to present technical difficulties that require bigger bucks to compensate for (http://photo.net/equipment/canon/mp-e-65)--not that I understand all the technical problems that he describes!-- and I now realize that these technical difficulties are pretty much inherent in all macro photography. My research this evening led to the discovery of macro-rails (about $86), which I had never heard of and which I now realize was what I really, really needed when using my D500 closeup lens--I was going crazy in fields with underbrush that would continually trip up my tripod legs, as I tried to move the tripod back and forth a couple of inches at a time (the 100-400 is heavy and never work without a tripod). Then, with such magnification and depth of field challenges, where as little as 0.1mm can be critical, Canon's $180 right-angle magnifying viewfinder, is proposed as a solution. Unless there is a huge amount ambient light, flash is obligatory, but with such extremely short working distances, it seems ring lights are the only choice, with the MT-24EX twin light ring flash as the most effective, to the tune of $656. I also read that any sensor dust at all is a big issue--sigh. The much tooted sensor self-cleaning function of my Canon D50 is worthless as far as I can see, and getting my sensor cleaned in any town near me in China is impossible.

My impression, after reading here and there this evening is that, as superb as the results are in successful shots, the overall success rate in getting usable images outside in nature is rather low, even for pros, due to the combined challenges of extremely small focusing margins, tiny DOF, getting sufficient light, etc, etc. I will say that my success rate with the D500 closeup lens did increase dramatically with practice, but not sure if I have the technical know-how to deal with the challenges that the MP-E 65 mm or any extreme macro lens presents. Feeling disappointed. The bright side of it all is that all this equipment would take so long to save up for, I have a lot of time to think about it!


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11/20/2010 11:40:14 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Btw, as to the background of the magnificent caterpillar image, I had assumed that he had swapped it out with some fill color and then added texture to it.


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11/20/2010 12:08:49 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Many super close photos aren't done outside because it is too difficult. They're taken inside, where there's no wind, things getting in the way.
Ring lights aren't the only choice, just one of the easiest. Using other types of lights will almost always require you to either hold it yourself, or use a second tripos or stand for the light.
There are other alternatives to macro lenses. There are bellows, extension tubes, and lens reversing rings, which allow you to mount a lens backwards to the camera. You can see what a lens inverter would do by simply holding a short lens up to your camera, front part to the body, and see how close you can get to something. I really don't know how bellows work, if they decrease focusing distance or somehow enlarge an image.
Dust is critical for macros because of the smaller apertures used. But I was told what's good for removing dust is to just use a simple dry paint brush.


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11/20/2010 12:53:17 PM

 
Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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  Zermatt bee
Zermatt bee
f/7.1, 1/100s, iso125, 100mm macro w/tripod.
© Carlton Ward
carltonwardphoto.com
Canon EOS 40D Digi...
 
 
Hi Susan,
Gregory has given you great information as he always does and I would just like to add one thing about the example image you referred to - it notes that Topaz Adjust was used and this filter alone can make a huge difference in showing details.
The image I am including was shot with a tripod/100mm macro lens but it was the Topaz Adjust software that makes the details in this image pop out like it does.

Topaz Adjust

Try the trial and play with it. Experiment with the "details" sliders...

Hope this helps,
Carlton


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11/20/2010 2:14:25 PM

 
Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
cammphoto.com
  Shooting in macro is a specialized skill.
A mastering of one's equipment...along with acquired species knowledge and stealth techniques are paramount to success in this specialized field.
(..A summit which Don Chamberlee has obviously climbed with his stunning win.)

When attempting greater than life-size reproductions of insects and other tiny critters there are several options to consider.
You can crop to enlarge an image taken with a standard macro lens but keep in mind that this only utilizes a fraction of your pixels and quality will exponentially deteriorate the closer you try to crop.

Another option is to add close-up filters which screw onto the end of the lens. These do work but again, at the sacrifice of image quality.

There are reversing rings which allow lenses to be mounted backward...thus increasing magnification with little or no significant loss in clarity or sharpness. Among the drawbacks are that critical focusing needs to be done by moving a tripod-mounted camera forward or backward (..or using a focusing rail).

The best option is to extend the lens away from the body with extension tubes or a bellows system.
Extension tubes (or bellows units) contain no glass elements and therefore won't compromize the integritity of the lens.
A typical bellows assembly comes equipped with a focusing rail and adjust from @ 50 to 190 mm of extension..which when fully extended, can translate to magnifications up to 5X-lifesize or more without cropping.
Image magnification and working distance will depend upon what lens is used on the bellows.
In this example, a 105 mm Micro-Nikkor was extended 190 mm to reveal intimate detail of the compound eyes of a Blue Dasher.
At a working distance of around 10" from the lens barrel, a cooperative subject is essential when attempting extreme close-ups of skittish subjects.
This shot was taken during the cool morning chill when the dragonfly was still dormant.

As mentioned, depth of field gets progressively more narrow the closer you attempt to get so critical focus on a key element is essential.
Also, available light gets exponentially decreased the more you extend the lens so you need to be prepared for possible mult-second exposure times in natural light or apply some other form of illumination.
Personally, I've never cared much for those ring-flashes because they produce double-arch eyeball reflections which don't look natural.
My extreme macros are usually lit with a filtered hand-held strobe fired by wireless infra-red remote.
I find it easy to bracket exposures or re-direct where shadows will fall by shooting multiple frames while moving the flash head around.


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11/21/2010 10:01:57 AM

 
Donald R. Curry
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/2/2006
wildlifetrailphotography.com
  Bob, how did you manage the flash with such a shot?


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11/26/2010 4:20:56 PM

 
Donald R. Curry
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/2/2006
wildlifetrailphotography.com
  I should have read your last paragraph for the answer. I'm still amazed how you pulled off the lighting. Great work Bob.


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11/26/2010 4:24:01 PM

 
Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
cammphoto.com
 
 
  Crane Fly
Crane Fly

Micro-Nikkor 105 mm, PB-4 Bellows extended to 190 mm, Vivitar 285 Flash, Wein Infra-Red Trigger


© Bob Cammarata
cammphoto.com
Nikon D300 Digital...

 
  Crane Fly 2
Crane Fly 2

Micro-Nikkor 105 mm, PB-4 Bellows extended to 190 mm, Vivitar 285 Flash, Wein Infra-Red Trigger


© Bob Cammarata
cammphoto.com
Nikon D300 Digital...

 
 
Although I prefer natural light, on some extreme macros a multi-second exposure time just isn't practical.
The flash system I devised to use with the bellows is really quite simple and is comprised of components I already own.
A Wein Infra-red Flash Trigger mounts onto the hot shoe of my camera. A matching reciever is wired via p/c to an old Vivitar 285 flash unit. A rubber band holds the receiver in place on the back of the flash.
Another rubber band holds a small piece of transluscent packing material over the flash head to soften the light a little...and that's it!
In practice, the flash is wireless and since it's hand-held, light intensity and direction can be easily controlled and bracketed by moving the unit closer, farther away, left-to-right, etc, between exposures.
I usually keep the Vari-Power control knob on the 285 set to 1/16 or 1/4 so with a fresh set of batteries, re-cycle time is only a few seconds.

The attached examples illustrate how moving the flash to a slightly different angle can dramatically change the outcome.


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11/26/2010 7:11:03 PM

 
Donald R. Curry
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/2/2006
wildlifetrailphotography.com
  This is good information Bob. I tinkered with micro photography in the late 70s using a 55mm Micro-Nikkor with an extension tube on a Nikkormat camera. The most difficult part was getting the lighting correct. You certainly have gotten it worked out.


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11/26/2010 8:42:59 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  I really appreciate all the comments here. One valuable thing I'm learning is that, aside from the fact that extreme macro photography is a very specialized skill, the exact same challenges I face with macro in general, come into play in extreme macro, but to an even more extreme degree. And the one factor that leaves me a bit discouraged about pursuing it is the issue of light. This combined with another thing I've learned--that a technically perfect image, in terms of sharpness and even DOF, can still be a throw-away image, if there is no magic in the light--leaves me more discouraged. I think one of the biggest changes in my approach to photography, since I have gradually acquired better equipment, is the quest for magic light. The challenges of of having to it inside, under extremely controlled conditions, leaves me less than inspired! I think I'll do more research online, looking more closely at the extreme macro images that blow my socks off and find out exactly under what conditions they were taken, and then decide if I really want to work under those conditions and face those challenges. If anyone has links to blow-your-socks-off magic macro images (especially of insects), do please share!


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11/26/2010 9:23:40 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Why be against doing it inside? People put bugs in the refrigerator to get them to hold still, take the picture, then let them go.


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11/27/2010 9:07:01 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  That's funny! As to taking inside, just intimidated by the lighting challenges. As I rarely shoot indoors and don't use flash in my nature photos, haven't yet even invested in an external flash.


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11/27/2010 10:58:50 AM

 
Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
cammphoto.com
  The act of refrigerating bugs to immobilize them is unfortunately an all too common practice among those who have yet to acquire species knowledge or have poor stealth techniques.
Getting up early on a cool chilly morning accomplishes the same result..in that most normally skittish bugs are completely dormant and can be approached to within inches in their natural environs without spooking them.
(...but finding the tiny critters when they're resting represents a challenge in itself.)

Bob


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11/27/2010 1:08:30 PM

 
John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John-Siskin.com
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  Hi Susan,
For what it's worth you can get much closer if you use a microscope. This is not really terribly difficult, and the cost is quite reasonable, say under $150. Check out this article: www.betterphoto.com/article.asp?id=185
Thanks, John Siskin


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11/30/2010 5:13:39 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Glad to find this instructive and useful article, John! I've heard about this many times, but never thought it an accessible option for me. Easier than I thought.


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11/30/2010 8:24:22 PM

 
John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John-Siskin.com
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  Hi Susan.
Microscope photography can be very rewarding. You do need to be patient. A small movement is really huge under the scope. Try tethering the camera to a computer, that will help.
Thanks, John Siskin


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12/1/2010 6:10:17 PM

 
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