After the long discussion on the gear required for macro photography, I will demonstrate some desktop shots in this one which would allow building up more for the future videos.
So, this is my “desktop”…Actually, just a corner which I use for most of my desktop macros. I recently got some small acrylic sheets just before the lockdown. It is a good replacement for not cleaning my desktop 🙂
I am using a Nikon D850 with a Tamron 90mm macro lens for this demonstration along with my Godox flash on a cord as explained in the previous video.
For this demonstration, we will see how to get objects with a black background.
First, a brief explanation as to how…
Light from a flash can only be controlled by the aperture and not the shutter speed. The flash, in general, is way to fast for the shutter speeds on most cameras.
Light falls off, or dims out according to the inverse square law. In simple terms, the light will get weaker with distance.
Based on the above points, if we have an aperture value that is high enough (f/18 for example), it will cut out all the ambient light when shooting and only the light from the flash would have any effect.
What follows is that fact that if we use a flash to light our subject and make sure the flash power and direction is just good enough to light only the subject, then, we will get a black background.
A basic understanding of the depth of field would be very helpful. In general, the larger the distance of the camera to the subject, the larger the area that appears to be in focus. A good site to get a general idea on how this works is https://dofsimulator.net/en/.
For macros and close ups, the DoF is generally very, very narrow and it becomes critical to have the focus exactly where we want it.
Another critical term to understand is the flash sync speed. This is essentially the highest shutter speed you can use when using a flash. There are ways of using a higher shutter speed, but, we are not going to get into that for macros.
We will discuss all of this in more detail in the future videos.
For now, let’s just check the settings that I am using for the demo desktop shots and how to improve them in post using Lightroom or any equivalent application.
I have my shutter speed set to 1/250 which is the flash sync speed for the Nikon D850. The aperture is set to f/22 and ISO to 100 (I would take it down to 64 for the D850 most of the time). The AF is set to single point, multiple shots AF-C/S (this is another one we will look at in more detail later).
My flash it set to manual mode at 1/16 power and a zoom of 50mm. Yes, I know I am using a 90mm macro lens, but, we will get into all those details, one by one, later.
One word of caution before we start, when shooting desktop macros, make sure the object is clean otherwise the shot will show all the dust and stuff on it. If possible, wash with soap and water.
I have these 5 objects that we will shoot and see how changing the angle and distance of the flash changes the image.
There are quite a few options for macro photography and I will briefly touch on those and move on to what I use and recommend after years of macro photography. This video will primarily cover the gear required for wildlife and other kinds of macro photography.
This is one of the options that allows you to mount your kit lens (generally) with the front element reversed. Yes, like all the options I will touch upon, I have tried all this and although it might be good fun, but, not recommended for a variety of reasons. If you happen to get your lens stuck…
These are generally simple magnifying glasses that attach to your lenses as a lens filter to give a magnified image. In general, they have high diffraction and will not provide a reasonable image quality.
3. Lens Stacking
This is essentially where you reverse a shorter focal length lens over a longer one using an adapter. Again, while this might sound geeky and fun, that is all it is. I would not recommend trying this. Both #1 and this use specific adapter sizes and can only be used with the same lens filter size.
4. Extension Tubes
This is where you put empty tubes in between your lens and the camera to achieve magnification with any lens that you might have. Extension tubes are easy and safe to use. This is the method I would recommend for all who want to start with macro photography, but, are not ready to invest in a macro lens.
5. Macro Lens
This is the right way to go and there is no replacement for a real 1:1 macro lens. One of the reasons I recommend the extension tubes is the fact that you can use the tubes with a true macro lens to achieve even more magnification. The 1:1 means that you get a 10mm subject as 10mm on the image sensor also called “life-size”.
6. There are other combinations, but, we will get into that later…Much later
For macro photography, there is no replacement for a true macro lens and we will get to the reasons.
Let’s talk more about the Extension Tubes and then the Macro Lens.
Extension Tubes come in 3 different variants.
Plain plastic with no contacts to communicate with the camera. These can only be used with a manual lens that has aperture control on the lens.
The second communicates with the camera and supports AF as well. This one does not have metal endings on the mount points
This is the same as above with metallic plates on the mount points and is slightly more expensive than #2.
In reality, though, the AF support does not make a difference for macro photography since it would be manual focus even with a macro lens. The ability to control the aperture over the tubes does matter and therefore I would recommend only #2 or #3.
The extension tubes generally come in a set of 3 parts and depending on the magnification we require, we can use all 3 together or in parts.
A true macro lens would imply two points:
It is a prime or a fixed focal length lens
The image quality from a prime will always beat a zoom
Although by popular definition, a macro is considered to be 1:1 only, but, in practice, we do have larger subjects like butterflies, large spiders and other insects. On the other hand, 1:1 might not be good enough for tiny subjects like Aphids or Fruit flies and similar insects.
Although some brands put the word “macro” on their lenses even when they are not 1:1, you should know the difference and decide accordingly.
Let us look at some of the key factors while deciding on a macro lens.
1. MWD (Minimum Working Distance) vs MFD (Minimum Focus Distance)
While the Minimum Focus Distance of a lens is generally specified from the focal plane of the camera, the Minimum Working Distance is far more critical for macro photography. The working distance specifies the distance of the subject from the front element of the lens. Before purchasing any macro lens, make sure you look up the working distance for the lens since there are some known brand macro lenses which are not practically usable for 1:1 macros.
There is a legacy thought that a longer focal length would offer a higher working distance. While this is correct for a single-lens setup, camera lenses are far more complex and if you check out the specs for some of the more current macro lenses, you will see that almost all of them have a working distance of around 100mm (10cm) for 1:1 reproduction.
2. Focal length vs DoF (Depth of Field)
This is an often-overlooked factor, but, given the razor-sharp depth of field we have when shooting macros, it might be an idea to remember that shorter focal lengths will offer a marginal increase in the DoF.
3. Full-time manual focus override.
This is essential for wildlife. The option to be able to AF and override that is extremely useful in the wild. Otherwise, by the time you switch the lens from AF to Manual or vice-versa, the subject might have vanished. We will see where this becomes critical in a future video.
4. New vs Old lenses
This is actually a no-brainer IMO. Always prefer newer models of lenses over older ones. The first thing that would have changed is the construction. The glass might also be better as technology has moved on. The other is the coating on the glass which has evolved quite a bit in the last few years.
An external flash is absolutely required for a variety of reasons. We will learn more about the flash and why it is required as we go along with the macro sessions. I would also recommend getting a flash cord rather than using RF triggers for the flash. The flash does not have to be an expensive one since we will be using that in manual mode only. In short, the cheapest manual flash is good enough. Just make sure the GN (Guide Number) for the flash is at least around 48. A higher number would be better once we get into more than 1:1 magnification.
Okay, so, why would I use the model I am using currently?
The simple answer is the battery. This one has a Li-ion battery which lasts a lot longer and charges fast as well when compared to the normal AA or AAA batteries.
What about a diffuser?
This is a challenging one…I have tried all kinds of diffusers including DIY types and ultimately dropped all those and use a plain bare flash. The reasons for this will be more apparent in later videos.
I would also recommend that you check and keep the sensor clean as I have already demonstrated in an earlier video. A clean sensor is critical for macros.
Lens hood would probably never be used in the wild for macros.
Now that we have talked about the basic gear one should start with, we will get into the practical shots with this gear in the next and some future videos.
The testing team calls this a “bug” and the devs call it an “undocumented feature”!
In either case, it is good to know about as it can cut down over 50% of space requirements when editing and saving from Photoshop.
Although the default settings in Lightroom have compression selected for the file when editing in Photoshop, when you save the file from Photoshop, there is no compression applied. This “feature” can cost you more than 50% of space per file. Here is how you can get around the issue…