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Thread: Macro Bugs Me

  1. #1

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    Macro Bugs Me

    I look at Macro shots of various insects and feel inspired to give it a go. So far I have had very limited sucess, I can't get close enough without them flying off or jumping or scampering. So, what's the secret? Is it just persistance or do you set up on a leaf and hope somthing stops by? Surely they're not dead!

    All and any advice welcome!

    Kind regards

    Derek

  2. #2
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    Hi Derek,

    I think it will help us advise you better if we knew what camera and lens(es) you have available to you. (?)

    Generally speaking, assuming a DX DSLR camera, longer focal length macro lenses are "the secret" for live bugs, anything from 105mm and longer (there are Sigma 150mm and 180mm that some here swear by) for the nervous bugs, because they let you get the 1:1 magnification at a greater distance than a 55 or 60mm macro lens will, and certainly more so than extension tubes and probably those close-up lens 'filters' too - but, a macro lens isn't cheap (or light in weight).

    Taking the lens hood off helps too.

    Have you read the Macro Intro here at CiC? Plus this on lenses and this on tubes and close-up filters.

    As I say, with more knowledge of what you have, we can advise more accurately ...

    Cheers,
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 1st May 2011 at 04:58 PM. Reason: add url to macro techniques page

  3. #3

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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    Sorry, very remiss of me! I have a Canon EOS 40D, EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro lens, Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod and 322 RC 2 Head.

    I'm quite happy with still life, it's just those tricky little bugs and how to keep them still enough to focus acurately and take the picture before they depart. I was just wondering if there was some trick to it?

    Kind regards

    Derek
    Last edited by Del773; 1st May 2011 at 05:53 PM. Reason: Added info

  4. #4

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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    I would say, Derek, you have everything you need except for an insect lens.

    Depending on exactly what you want to photograph, I would recommend a 150 mm macro lens. Some people prefer something around 100 mm and wait until a tired bug just strays their way so that they can get a perfect photo of whatever comes their way.

    I photograph everything that I can find for identification purposes (particularly hoverflies) so I am willing to take 'pot luck' with getting absolute perfection as long as I can see the 'important bits' clearly. So I use a 180 mm macro lens often with a 1.4x converter attached. But this set up is heavy and not cheap.

    Sigma macro lenses are popular amongst wildlife photographers although they do not out perform the genuine Canon article; except in price.

    A 'proper' flash unit can also help in many circumstances. Once again, some people use somewhat complicated arrangements of multiple wireless flashes or a flash mounted on a special bracket, etc, so that you get perfect flash coverage.

    As for me, lurking around the brambles, and trying to find something hiding under a leaf; I just use a standard Speedlite flash connected directly to the camera. Simplicity is my method for shooting in the wild. Studio shots, etc, are a different matter though.

    Apart from that, it is just a case of slowly moving your tripod forward while trying to hide behind the camera.

    I prefer manual focus and also use manual controls on my camera when using flash. Otherwise use Av around F11 to F16 and a suitable ISO; usually 400 but sometimes up to 800.

    However, some people catch their subjects first, then pop them into the refrigerator until they slow down and shoot with a smaller lens in very controlled conditions.

    Just one little tip that I use with your tripod set up. Reverse the head to handle mounting. Unscrew a couple of Allen Screws and refix them to the alternative screw holes underneath the handle. This converts the assembly into left hand usage which means that I can quickly position the lens with my left hand, which I also use for manual focus, while my right index finger is always on the shutter button.

    This saving of a second or less means that I often shoot insects that are about to fly away.

    And for the same reason, I have abandoned using a shutter release cable. I find that if my shutter speed is sufficiently high, which also helps to overcome any wind rock problems, there isn't any difference and a lot of time wasting fiddling around is saved.

    I usually reckon on having a shutter speed of around 1/160 to 1/250 for most circumstances. At one time I taped my cable release button to the tripod handle, but I still fiddled around looking for it.

    If you haven't already read it, this early post may help

    Flash for Macro - What to buy?
    Last edited by Geoff F; 1st May 2011 at 06:56 PM. Reason: link added

  5. #5
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    Derek,

    There is already some great advice above. I'm glad Geoff posted a link to the Flash for Macro thread. The help I received there definitely helped for me and I can already tell that the flash is going to help my bug macros.

    The only advice I can add is to keep at it. Just keep practicing.

    - Bill

  6. #6

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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    Thank you for the advice, Geoff and for the encouragement Bill.

    All the previous articles I've read have concentrated on kit and very little on technique. I shall try again this summer and endeavour to put your advice into practice and hopefully with better success.

    Best wishes

    Derek

  7. #7
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    Derek,

    Apologies, I think we're all so used to folks asking us to spend their hard earned money. Since this wasn't in the gear thread, we should have been more forth-coming with techniques.

    Geoff offered one technique above - which is to use apertures in the range of f/11-f/16. That helps to get you a deeper depth of field, which gives your subjects a little more definition and helps give a tiny bit of "wiggle" room with regards to the focal point. I have a lot of old macro shots where I was at f/3.5 (widest aperture on my 180mm lens) and the DoF is so razor thin that I barely have anything worth sharing in clarity. It can sometimes work, but most times, it just gives you something that you didn't want in focus and everything else blurred.

    I took a quick look around to find where this was posted and couldn't find it again, but someone (possibly also Geoff) suggested a focusing technique. I know Geoff suggests manual focus above, but the second part of this is to get close using the focusing ring, and if you're shooting hand-held, to actually move the camera forward and backward slightly to get the point of focus on the right spot. This is tricky to do, and will take a lot of practice for sure, but I was trying it out this weekend and it definitely helps.

    Another thing to remember is that you need a lot of light for macro work - which is why a lot of people recommend a flash. But if you're not ready for that yet for whatever reason, be sure to put yourself in situations where you are able to succeed. Don't go looking for bugs deep in the woods where the light is heavily shaded. Stick to open areas. This will help you get faster shutter speeds, helping to freeze the motion of those pesky uncooperative bugs that won't sit still.

    The flip-side of that is to bait the bugs you want to shoot out into the light. Bees and butterflies are the usual target of a lot of macro shooters, and so plant flowers that specifically draw them in to you. If they're coming to your yard, it makes it much easier to get out and shoot them regularly. This is a case where you may want to specifically setup the camera pointing at a certain flower, get the background composition you want, use a cable release and back away a little and just fire away as things visit that flower. Don't focus on the ones you're "missing", they'll come to your flower. I've even read of certain shooters using a syringe to add a nectar solution to the flower they've targeted to increase the time the bug spends at the flower lapping up the high-energy drink.

    Then there is the technique of watching. A lot of insects fly in regular patterns. Dragonflies and damselflies for example. They'll frequently cover a specific routine through their territory, and if you watch them you can predict their pattern and setup one step ahead of them.

    Another technique is to head out early or late in the day. The theory behind his is similar to the fridge thing. The bugs need to warm up in the morning before they become active, and if you can spot them before they've warmed all the way up, you can approach a little closer. At night, they are looking for a good place to hide for the night, and you might be able to get a little closer then too. The problem with these ideas is that they don't mesh well with the 'lots of light' bit, so you probably will need flash help.

    I'm sure there are plenty more, and folks will start sharing now that we know that's what you were looking for.

    - Bill

  8. #8

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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    Thanks Bill, lots of useful stuff to try there. I do have a 580 flash so I'll stap it on!

    Derek

  9. #9

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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    Just a little more to the 'nectar solution' which Bill mentioned. This is usually a mix of honey and sugar plus sufficient water which is painted on a leaf or somewhere else suitable.

    On the occasions that I have tried it, I found it to be excellent for attracting bluebottles, dung flies, and a variety of other common stuff; but nothing really interesting.

    However, perhaps I should try it again in different locations.

    Some moth photographers have their own 'secret' recipes which include substances like rum, black treacle, Guinness, etc.

  10. #10

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    Re: Macro Bugs Me

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post

    Some moth photographers have their own 'secret' recipes which include substances like rum, black treacle, Guinness, etc.
    Rum, Guiness!! I can't get the little bugs to stay still sober let alone drunk!

    Thanks for the 'recipe' it may be worth a go!

    Derek

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