f5 1/200 ISO 200 – Grasshopper in the November Garden – 105mm macro
When you think of how many insect species inhabit the earth, it is staggering. There are over one million that are accounted for, and countless many that are still unknown. As gardeners, we run across many arthropods in our gardens. Everything about them is fascinating, from the spiders to the grasshoppers to the bees.
f9 1/125 ISO 320 60mm macro
Urban Critters Sing Louder
Before I get into photographing grasshoppers,
I ran across an interesting study on them. It found that urban grasshoppers sing to their mates louder and at lower frequency than their counterparts in the country. My hoppers are all city dwellers.
The study found the boost in bass tone helps the males to be heard over the prolonged noise of traffic. They noted that the males captured from urban areas sang loudly in a quiet lab when introduced to female grasshoppers just like they did in the city environment serenading their prospective mates – suggesting “it is not a spontaneous behavioral adaptation to noise but a long-term effect.” (source) Pretty interesting how nature adapts.
f8 1/125 ISO 200 Nikon D80 18-135mm
I chose the grasshopper as a subject, not because it is pretty, but because there was not much else moving in the garden at this time of year. Next macro post you will see a lethargic bee and some from summer flying around. The grasshopper is interesting though with all the movable and armor-like parts, whether it is in the field or in the city.
f5.6 1/1250 ISO 1000 55-300mm zoom
I am using a macro lens in many of these shots and if you recall from last post, that is a 1:1 relationship. I also used zoom lens too.
f3 1/15 ISO 400 Not an Arthropoda, but a closeup with my compact digital Nikon P510 set on the flower mode (macro). Point and Shoots can take very clear and wonderful images. It is especially helpful that iron frogs don’t move. 1/15 is almost impossible to hand hold the camera, which this image was. I am not even sure how I was so steady. Luck I guess.
It is snowing outside or I would have went on an insect safari in the back yard. The frog is about 3 inches high and 6 inches long. Lighting was through a window in my office. Two weeks ago when the images for this post were shot, it was 70° outside and very sunny.
Use What You are Comfortable With
Don’t feel if you just had better equipment, you will take better photos. It is a fact that the cameras out there with fancy features will yield better image quality generally, but a good photo comes from the person taking it, not the camera. Many folks with point and shoots take wonderful macro images.
Shoot with the camera, lens and equipment you are most comfortable. You will have more fun and be more successful. One thing I want to mention though. Many of you don’t use the macro mode (the flower icon) on your compact cameras and should give it a try. You will be very pleased. Even froggy above is a nice looking portrait, almost like a studio shot.
If I took a guess at how many of my bug shots are usable with my macro lenses, I would say about one-third. My guess at using the zoom lenses increases to about 90%. But the more interesting shots have always been with the macro lens which I am still getting familiar to using.
For the longest time, I was not using the 60mm lens because I just could not be consistent and had many failures. But with practice, I came to love the macro lenses far more than the zooms for closeup work.
The macro images that are poor in quality are the ones where the subject just flies out of the frame, especially the bees. Other reject images are poorly focused or inadequately lighted. Many macro bees went to the trash for a dash out of my frame. The macro lenses take a while to get accustomed to, especially handheld. Holding the camera is where I am most comfortable, and macro fights you with focus on hand holding.
f3.5 1/80 ISO 200 – 105mm macro
In these images, I did not use a tripod. I feel the need to have the flexibility that lets me photograph these tiny creatures how I choose. For instance, I was low to the ground shooting up in the image above. You might need to be able to adjust just a mere fraction of an inch to frame the subject how you want. Honestly though, the images would be a bit sharper if I was using a tripod because with the macro lens, you have limited depth-of-field.
f8 1/125 ISO 200 – 18mm-135mm zoom
If you have been following my series, often a common mistake is always having the subject in the center and lots of environment around it. In most of my photos, I prefer to isolate my subject from the background and have it a bit off-center. I also try to have the eyes of the insect in the sweet spot of the rule of thirds, like in the two images below, one with the grid and one without.
f6.3 1/1600 ISO 1000 – 55-300mm zoom
I learned something really important from a professional nature photographer. Don’t discount and dismiss those center shots so readily. It is better to capture the whole creature, especially if it is in flight, than have part of it fly out of the frame. So any insect or bird that hops, flies or scurries, it is better to have them in the frame, than not.
Going in close becomes about discovery, seeing things you would normally not notice. For instance, I never knew grasshoppers were fuzzy! Well, I did know all insects have hairs, like I found out in my post, Snapple Capped the Buzz on Bees, but never looked that close before.
f5 1/200 ISO 320 – 105mm macro
You can see throughout this post, I am not wedded to any particular settings. I do prefer f5 through f8 though. A bit more is in focus without sacrificing too much light. Plus f8 is where many lenses are their sharpest.
Depending on your camera and lens, it will determine whether or not you can fill the frame with the insect or zero in on a portion of the insect’s body, like the head or the abdomen. Below, I was much closer with a zoom lens and got a well focused hind end. I like this image though, even better than the one below from the front. Don’t go on that though, most photographers would probably say the front image is better.
f8 1/200 ISO 100 – 18-135mm zoom
I find the bodies of arthropods really fascinating architecturally. They are colorful and the segments look like body armor. Even the legs have enormously interesting detail.
f5 1/200 ISO 200 – 105mm macro
The best shots have the focus on the eyes, but including their tiny world can make for a nice image.
f8 1/400 ISO 320 – 60mm macro
The spiders look so much more at home in their webs for instance. Or the grasshopper munching flower petals below.
f8 1/125 ISO 100 – 18-135mm zoom
Choose Your Background
Background plays an important part in macro photography to put the focus on the subject. Choosing them may be as simple as you moving where you are standing, or pointing your camera in a different direction.
Contrasting color is usually a safe bet if you can get it, but the background should not be busy and compete. The out of focus background will make the insect stand out and focus the viewer’s attention on the insect. The problem with grasshoppers is they are the color of their surroundings. Where a butterfly contrasts as brightly colored, a grasshopper looks like the grasses and leaves they cling to. This makes blurring the background more important.
f3.2 1/80 ISO 200 – 105mm macro
Be careful of the closest focusing distance of the lens you’re using. If you’re closer to your subject than that limit allows, your image will be fuzzy and unclear. I was very close to completely unclear in the image below having no zoom. But I just had enough detail to make my photo have some interest. With a macro lens, you move back and forth until your subject is focused. The focusing ring does the detailed focusing.
f3.5 1/80 ISO 200 – 105mm macro
To isolate the subject from the background is to use shallow depth-of-field using low f-stops, so here is the skinny on the f-stops.
- The lower the f-stop in number, the larger the opening in the lens. This equals the less depth-of-field and the blurriest background.
- The higher the f-stop, like the high numbers, the smaller the opening in the lens. This equals the greater the depth-of-field and the sharpest background.
- Also be aware, how close your camera is to the subject (working distance) plays a part, as does the lens you are using. With the low f-stop, the example above shows all three factors in play.
f7.1 1/125 ISO 200 – 18-135mm zoom Lots of green environment, not all that close at less than 10:1. Not a true macro.
The f-Stop Also Affects Shutter Speed
- Using a low f-stop means more light is entering the lens and therefore the shutter doesn’t need to stay open as long to make a correct exposure, therefore, a faster shutter speed. Faster is good with a handheld camera.
- Using a high f-stop means that less light is entering the lens and the shutter will need to stay open a little longer or a slower shutter speed. This is where you should use a tripod if the shutter speed is below 1/60 second.
f3.2 1/100 ISO 200 – 105mm macro
Reasons to Blur the Background
- Focus and depth-of-field to direct attention to what is important in the photograph.
- Use lack of focus to minimize distractions that cannot be eliminated from the composition.
- Make a more interesting shot, add a sense of art to your work.
F6.3 1/80 ISO 500 60mm macro
Similar to Blurring the Background
A technique often used is to position the camera so that a brightly lit subject is photographed against a dark background. Exposing for a well-lit subject, under full daylight for example, or flash, will cause a dark background to go underexposed and approach black, hence the subject is isolated like in the example above. It was bright daylight with exposure on the Dandelion. When you shoot like this it is almost like a studio shot. Behind the dandelion was distracting road and houses, which I eliminated by forcing the background towards black.
Keeping close-up images simple can give the most dramatic and beautiful results.
Next post is The Buzz on ISO. We got bees in November too.