Hi there. Just wanted to get some comments and serious criticism about how I'm heading, get opinions, and see if there's any pointers I hadn't thought of yet, etc.
About 10 years ago I purchased my first manual camera, a Powershot Pro90 IS. About a month later, I purchased a 500D close-up lens for the front element. With this camera, I gained a love for macro photography, and so a year ago, when I upgraded to a 7D, while I couldn't afford macro equipment for it right away, I promised myself as soon as I could afford it, I would get some.
Last week, I finally got myself an MP-E 65mm and got back into macro after a long hiatus. The learning curve is steep going back in, but I'm trying...
The first night with the lens was last Wednesday. I got home and unpackaged the lens, made sure nothing was damaged, and everything was present, then snapped a couple test shots indoors because it was dark out. The first one was of this vacuum tube at 1X:
Mullard by highdeaf1080p, on Flickr
Did some post production afterwards to give it a retro filmy look.
Then, in my kitchen I snapped some test shots of my cutting board because using flash was absolutely new to me, even though I had owned and never used a 420EX unit for 10 years. I noted that the images were overexposing unless I ran the flash exposure compensation down to -1. Anything above that was causing clipping of highlights. Great! I erroneously thought that I had everything dialed in.
The next morning I woke at the colon of dawn, and went out into the world to shoot actual microfauna (handheld), and this time I pushed the magnification up to 2x and 3x. Leaving my beautiful calibration job on the flash exposure at -1 I blazed away, diverting all my attention to absolutely still hand-holding, accurate placement of the focal plane, and the like. Then, when downloading to my computer, I found a problem. Got the following shots, all of which were underexposed. During my outing, however, even attempted a small handheld focus stacking which was a good learning experience:
IMAGE LINK: http://www.flickr.com …highdeaf1080p/6090434739/
Metallic Moth by highdeaf1080p, on Flickr
IMAGE LINK: http://www.flickr.com …highdeaf1080p/6079855661/
Tiny Spider by highdeaf1080p, on Flickr
2X focus stack of 3 images
IMAGE LINK: http://www.flickr.com …highdeaf1080p/6094327431/
Stick Insect - Stacked by highdeaf1080p, on Flickr
I corrected exposure best I could in post production, and found massive amounts of noise from the underexposure, so attempted to do noise reduction and sharpening in photoshop, then attempted the focus stacking. Since I have an old version of photoshop, all I could do was manually stack them, and then carefully paint over masks on each layer to bring the sharp parts together into one shot. Found that I did ok with getting three shots that barely overlapped focus planes, and so that was encouraging.
Then that evening I practiced at 3X and 4X on a lemon I sliced in half:
IMAGE LINK: http://www.flickr.com …highdeaf1080p/6081503806/
Sunshine Cavern by highdeaf1080p, on Flickr
IMAGE LINK: http://www.flickr.com …highdeaf1080p/6081506534/
Rainbow Falls by highdeaf1080p, on Flickr
Again, dramatically under exposed, which caused pain with noise and lots of post production work. I tested my flash again...again aimed at my cutting board, and sure enough...anything over -1 FEC would cause my highlight warnings to go crazy. Returned the flash to -1 FEC and wondered if I needed to start experimenting with a shutter speed slower than 250 or an ISO higher than 100 to get these to expose correctly.
The next morning I went out and tried 4X on animals. First I shot the same spider. While I found the shallower depth of field at 4X more difficult to control (probably took me 30 seconds to snap this shot as I swayed back and forth getting a feel for the focus plane) I really liked the way it threw the wall behind the spider into smooth bokeh, even though it was no more than 1/32" away.
IMAGE LINK: http://www.flickr.com …highdeaf1080p/6104314437/
Harpist by highdeaf1080p, on Flickr
Again, underexposed. I just couldn't figure out what was going on with this. I set my flash to FEC 0 and decided to just shoot and deal with the aftermath when I downloaded my raw files. Decided to also take this opportunity to try focus stacking at 4X. Found myself a nice stationary model with the ladybug below. It proved to be quite challenging at 4X handheld, as I'm sure some of you experienced macro shooters know. I took 4 shots, of which only 3 were usable, and sadly there was one sliver of this ladybug, just across the thorax, that was left uncovered by any of these shots' shallow depth of field.
4X focus stacked
IMAGE LINK: http://www.flickr.com …highdeaf1080p/6086107874/
Ladybird4X Grungy by highdeaf1080p, on Flickr
Decided to give it a goth, grungy kinda treatment in post production with a dreamy haze over all of it to try to hide the sliver of blur in the focus plane, or to make it not matter. This one wasn't really underexposed, though. That's when it dawned on me...Flash Exposure Compensation, just like auto exposure compensation, is going to change with every shot, based on the subject! DUH! I kept testing it while shooting my dark walnut cutting board, so surely to get the exposure right, the camera needed some negative exposure compensation. With these small, less dark subjects against a white background, they would need less if any negative exposure compensation and maybe some positive. Now that I have figured that out, I am hoping I can get the underexposure noise out of my shots and get back to exposing to the right to eliminate noise and grain.
I really need to upgrade to the latest version of photoshop, so the program can do the focus stacking for me, instead of me blindly swashing about with the paintbrush tool trying to only hit the spots I believe are going to be in focus in the shot below the one I'm looking at. BAH! At any rate, it was more of a learning experience than a lifestyle choice. I will have to decide between the MT-24EX or Photoshop CS5 when I get my next bit of disposable income.
At any rate, I would love to hear some opinions of my shots over the last few days as I've been trying to re-learn macro. I know these shots are pretty amateur compared to many I see on this forum, so any ideas on how to improve, or opinions about how my various post production techniques pleased or displeased you, etc. would be gladly received. What would be the effects on the above shots of decreasing shutter speed, or raising ISO? Is depth of field ok or would they look better to you with a different aperture setting? Does my flash need more diffusion or is it looking ok?
Thanks to anyone with enough interest to have read this whole long saga. This weekend I'm going out to buy me some kneepads! YEEESH! This bug hunting crap is hard on the knees!