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Old 13th of January 2010 (Wed)   #2
LordV
Macro Photo-Lord of the Year 2006
 
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Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Worthing UK
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Default Macrophotgraphy Subjects and methods 1

3. Subjects and methods.

3.1 Focusing

I tend to use the same focus method no matter what I'm shooting. I set the magnification I want with the focus ring with the lens set to MF and then focus on the subject by moving the camera towards the subject. If I'm hand holding or using a pole then once I'm near focus I gently move the camera back and forth by swaying slightly and take the shot as I pass through the focus point I want. If I'm resting the camera lens on something then I gently move it forward until I get the focus point I want. It does take a bit of practice doing this but you will get more keepers this way once you have mastered it.
With most bug shots they work better if the eyes are in good focus unless you are specifically trying to focus on another detail.

3.2 Bugs

I normally just hunt bugs and this forms part of the pleasure of macro shooting for me . Rather than shooting bugs I find straightaway, I often watch them to see what they are up to. This is often interesting in itself but does often result in better shooting opportunities when you have some understanding of their likely behaviour. The one "rule" I try to observe when shooting bugs is that no harm comes to them because of my activities.
With most bug shots they work better if the eyes are in good focus unless you are specifically trying to focus on another detail.
One of the subjects that often comes up is...
How to get close to bugs without scaring them

1. Make sure you are not blocking the sunlight on them
2. Keep low (if possible at the same level or lower than the bug)
3. Approach slowly taking pics as you go ( at least you end up with something if they do fly off)
4. Luck and time - I often find if the bug is occupied doing something - cleaning, feeding, mating, blowing bubbles they take almost no notice of you, but if they are just sunbathing they can be a bit jittery.
5. The smaller the bug often the less notice they take of you.
6. If you do scare them off just wait a while- they will often come back.
7. Stand/sit near a popular plant or flower and wait for them to come to you- they seem to regard you as part of the scenery if you are there when they arrive.
8. Although it's harder to take pics of them, they are less jittery if it's slightly windy- many times I've actually managed to hold the leaf the bug was on to stabilise it when it's been windy and get closer shots than are normally possible.
9. Shoot early in the morning whilst the bugs are still cold- they have a hard time flying then.
10 The method of focus I use prevents another no-no that is putting your hand on the lens to focus when near a bug - guaranteed to scare them off.

One problem with trying to not block the sun on them is that when using full flash the sun can still be a significant source of light and you can end up with ugly highlights. Sometimes you can't do anything about this especially with larger rather skittery subjects such as dragonflies or damselflies. One thing I sometimes do with smaller bugs is to test how sensitive they are by temporarily shading them with my body or the camera. If they are busy doing something such as feeding they often will take no notice of this and you can move in with the camera and purposely block the sunlight.

Baiting
One common trick if bugs are just not being cooperative is to bait them with something. This helps attract them and also keeps them busy in one place. Honey is good for many bugs but I also use a sugar/honey spray on leaves as a general attractant.
Example shots
ants feeding on sugar syrup

Dronefly feeding on sugar/honey spray


Trapping
The only bug trapping I normally do is just bugs I find in the house. I trap them using a glass tumbler and a sheet of card and then often put a spot of honey on the card to see if they will feed on it. I then just put the card on a small block (often a hoya filter box) on a surface with something behind it for background and shoot the bug whilst feeding with the camera lens resting on the surface and the tumbler raised out of the way.
I've only a few times resorted to trapping outside where I really couldn't get a shot of the bug I was after.
Example shots

Dolichopid fly



Drone fly



Camera Settings

I most frequently use full flash when shooting bugs no matter what the ambient light is like. Typical settings- camera in manual, ISO100,1/200th,F11- F5.0 depending on the magnification and flash in ETTL with appropriate FEC setting.
If there is nice light cloud I do sometimes shoot natural light normally with the camera in Tv mode 1/200th with ISO adjusted to give reasonable aperture (F6.3 or smaller) - by smaller or larger I always refer to the physical aperture size rather than the F-number which is of course the reverse.
With larger bugs such as damselflies, butterflies or dragonflies, I'm often forced to shoot natural light in strong sun but will sometimes use fill flash to help lighten strong shadows. Camera settings as for natural light but with EC on the camera at -.6 and FEC at -.6 or -1. flash in ettl mode

Soldier fly full flash



Soldier fly Natural light (cloudy)



Soldier fly Natural light (cloudy)



Soldier fly Natural light (bright sun)



Composition and shooting angles

Composition and shooting angles when shooting bugs or any other subject is really up to the shooter and often depends on why they are taking the shot. For example taking Identification shots of a bug is a rather different proposition to trying to take an arty shot of a bug. I'll therefore restrict this to some general hopefully useful comments.
I try to compose the framing of a bug shot such that the bug has more room in the frame in the direction it is looking. This takes the subject off center and tends to give a more pleasing composition. If you are taking a head on shot then a central composition can work fine but off-center also works. This also works with flowers if you imagine the flower has a face.
Take note of the background when shooting - close background will obviously show in the shot and can give unpleasant background clutter but can also give pleasing OOF background colour. As I often use the hold twig/leaf the bug is on and rest the camera lens on the hand technique, I often move the leaf to either get a better shooting angle and/or to change the background. I actually prefer some background colour/light so use this technique to get some close background colour.
I find low angle shots of bugs (ie slightly side on) more pleasing than top down shots.
Depth of field (DOF) can be a problem with bug shots depending on what you are trying to do. To try and get most of a bug in focus you can use the idea of magic angles. eg if you start off head on to a bug and then move at an angle of 30 to 45' sideways and the same amount upwards you will find you can get most of at least a cylindrical bug in focus.
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