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13 août 2013

Macro: how I photograph dragonflies

Until approximately 3 years ago, I was using the bridge Nikon P100 for my macro pics and I was rather satisfied with it. Its advantage: a good depth of field for a very sharp subject.

Then I got a camera with the Macro Sigma 150mm f / 2.8 EX DG HSM. I noticed a slight loss of sharpness: my subject could not be perfectly sharp if it had a thickness of more than 2 mm, but the bokeh* considerably improved because with less depth of field the background loses its details and dissolves attractively, emphasizing greatly the subject.
The 150 mm lens is an excellent compromise allowing to approach less  an insect than with shorter lenses (105mm, 90mm) all the while keeping an excellent image quality.
My husband works with a 105mm and has the advantage to have slightly more depth of field but has to approach closer to the subject; it isn't much easier considering the large dragonflies eyes which can perceive the slightest movement to top it all.
I don't use a tripod for macro, but the less cumbersome Bushawk shoulder mount that allows photos at ground level and in diverse critical positions.





With a large lens:
It is possible to photograph an insect of a certain size as a big as dragonfly (Anisoptera) with much larger lenses: the depth of field is always as limited and focusing properly becomes more difficult. It becomes often necessary to switch to a manual focus mode; the use of a tripod becomes inevitable.

The following 2 photos were taken by chance: we were in hide for birds but managed to take a couples of photos, my husband and I, of the Green-Striped Darner: this female perched about 3.00 m high. I just had the 80 / 400mm f / 4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S with me and my husband the 500mm f / 4.0 G ED VR. We could not have done any picture with our macro lenses!


Me with the 80/400mm lens and tripod, plus flash

My husband, with the 500 mm lens, tripod


 The settings, briefly:
3 settings are essential for a good macro shot:

Speed:
(Exposure time: it displays in fractions of a second (1/15 is a slow speed, 1/3000 is very fast):

A quick exposure (beyond 1/1000 is a thousandth of seconds) allows to freeze a moving subject with sharpness and to avoid too much exposure in a violent light (mid-day sun).
A slow exposure allows perfect sharpness on an unmoving subject, flower or perched insect.
If it is windy it is recommended to shorten the length of exposure.
 
 Aperture:
  It is crucial for sharpness; it determines the field depth on the subject. Below f/8 or over f/14 there is a definite loss of sharpness. This fork is an ideal range  for best macro results.

 ISO:
The darker the scene the higher ISO must be, but beyond 640, the photo gets grainy. On cameras of the series D5000 and D7000, it is possible to reach 1600 ISO without too much grain apparent. On the other hand do not hesitate to lower to 100 for a white butterfly!

Summary:
The aperture remains the most important setting. The speed must be reduced to a minimum but the slightest movement (wind or one's own shaking) must be taken into account. The ISO will fit accordingly to the 2 other settings.

On the photo below, I increased the ISO to obtain a more important depth of field on the head and the thorax. The branch and the dragonfly were slightly moving in a light breeze so a speed of 1/320 was thus the minimum. I so obtained a correct opening of f/11.

An obvious but crucial detail: the lens must be perfectly perpendicular to the insect for best sharpness from the head to the tip of the abdomen!





The environment:
The ideal is to find the right angle that detaches it from the background or too much un-aesthetics vegetation. If the bokeh is uniform as here-below, perfect!

 


 On the other hand, if the background is a mixture of light and dark patches I try to contrast a light subject with a dark patch and vice versa.





With the ideal lens and your settings in mind what's left is finding the right subject and preparing for the perfect scene! Before hand I analyse the light and the wind and prepare my settings.
Don't hesitate to move the focus point (red dot) in the viewfinder onto the head for best sharpeness results; it will also help to frame the subject properly.

When possible:
- Give some space in front of it in the direction of its look,
- Include an element like a flower (here-below a large daisy) in the pic without cutting it.
- Get the dragonfly or at least its head against a bright background: here other white daisies, to reach best contrast; it is done according to the angle of the shot.
- Be positioned absolutely horizontally and set your focus point on the top of the thorax or on the head, if the wings are in the way.
- Insure your lens is perfectly perpendicular to the subject.



Finally try to take the picture when the dragonfly has its wings spread high...

 


...most of the time they bring them back across the head like here below:

 


Bokeh*: Japanese word to describe the aesthetic quality of the blur in out-of-focus areas of an image. 


5 commentaires :

  1. Fantastic explanation, Noushka. I have read it with interest. Your pictures are always brilliant and awesome, as you show us here again. Thanks for sharing. Greetings, Joke

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  2. Brilliant photos, explained well and a really interesting read to see how you achieve your brilliant image results :) good stuff!

    Tom

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  3. Ces libellules et les macros sont de nouveau treillis Noushka.
    Beau et intéressant l'information et formidable de voir!
    Salutations, Helma

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  4. Good day! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out
    and say I genuinely enjoy reading through
    your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects?
    Many thanks!

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