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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Close-up photography

If it is possible, get a camera that can take close-up (macro) shots, and read the instructions. The technology is too variable for me to go into it here, and I also lack the expertise to give really good advice. That said, I have developed some cunning over the years, so here are some of the tricks you need to get the best possible photographs:

First and foremost, read your camera's manual.

Second, with a digital camera, there is no excuse for not taking lots of shots.  Go wild!  Experiment!

Hand-held shots are always a problem, because of camera shake. At the very least, prop your camera against a log or a rock, but if possible, use a tripod. A Joby Gorillapod is excellent (and I use one), but if money is in short supply, go to the web and search on <gorilla pod make> and follow the instructions. The bolt size you want is 1/4".

Whenever possible, I use a remote control, but my cameras (Canon Powershot G2, G11 and G12) don't do this. Luckily, most cameras also have a timer setting that allows you to press the button and let go of the camera before the shot is taken.

Insects are 'cold-blooded', which really means that their insides are at the same temperature as their surroundings. If you chill them down in a refrigerator, you can get unblurred shots more easily.

This is an Australian bull-ant, about 20 mm long, and these things have a ferocious sting in their abdomen. They grab you with the nippers, and within a second, they have doubled up and injected something nasty (formic acid??) under your skin.

If you get around in the Australian bush, shorts are best, because an ant inside jeans or trousers is hard to dislodge, but when you feel the 'nip' on bare skin, you can knock the ant off with a glancing blow.

Anyhow, even though this ant was iced, I didn't want her getting loose, I set her up on blue paper, on a plastic tray, sitting on pebbles in a dish of water.

When I am photographing wildflowers, I always carry a few pieces of wire that I can use to make hooks to attach the flower stem to a solid branch.

Even though it is "out-of-shot", the hook will slow the flower's movement in the breeze.

Of course, if the day is sunny enough, then the speed of the shutter will 'freeze' the picture in any case. I also use gaffer tape, bulldog clips and string at times.

The fourth picture shows the dandelion flower and beaker, showing the set-up that gave me the result.

Note the unusual use of a clothes peg.

You can get better shots when your subject is against a plain background. You can see an example of this is the bull ant shot above.

Carry some A4 sheets of coloured manila cardboard in a folder and hang these behind a flower (or get somebody to hold them) and you can also put them under an insect. Black and light blue are probably the best.

And here is the set-up for a shot of the angle-of-rest apparatus that I used in a blog entry on ant lions, using a cardboard background.

This way, you get a rather neater image than you would if the author's messy work bench was visible.

As I mentioned in an entry on animal tracks, you can get better shots of animal tracks by leaving a smoothed sand tray near a feeder.

Always put something down, not too far from the paw print as a scale object. Locate the object so you can crop it out if you wish.

This dingo print in dried mud was taken in the Kimberleys. The sun was high, making the shot less than ideal.

At least the 50-cent coin provides a sense of scale, but it was a bit too close, and would be hard to crop out.

This wallaby print was taken near Sydney with a more slanting light. It lacks a scale object, but note the tyre tread mark at the top.

For some wildlife photography, the best trick of all is to have a camera which is triggered by a motion sensor, but that is heavy stuff, so check the details yourself. I don't own one of those, alas!

Shadows are more of a problem when you are photographing something on a smooth surface. You can 'fill in' the shadows with a flash (a ring flash is expensive but best).

You can also use crinkled aluminium foil to reflect light from another angle. You need a helper or helpers for this, and you need to know that heat is reflected as well as light, so you may need to be quick to get a caterpillar before it takes off out of the heat.

Looking at the shadows in the first caterpillar, you can see that the sun's light on one side is filled in by a mirror, placed just out of shot on the right.

The second caterpillar was on a track beside the Swan River near North Fremantle. I squatted, used a hand-held camera and a macro setting.  I took about twenty shots to get one good one.  Remember: there is no film to waste any more!

An angled shot often leaves part of the animal out of focus, because it is too close or too far from the lens. Depending on your camera, if you can reduce the aperture, this will increase the depth of field for your shot. This helps explain why so many scientists still rely on line drawings. I will turn to that next time, but once again, I can claim no expertise.

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