Playing with Macro

Whilst wandering around York House Gardens a couple of weeks ago, I had a great opportunity to have a play with my new macro lens. Although I had headed down to Hampton Court Palace the day prior with the express intention of photographing flowers, there wasn’t much there. However, in the gardens on the Twickenham riverfront, there was quite an array of interesting things to capture.

Exposure 1/500sec, f/2.8, ISO 250, exposure bias -0.67, 100mm focal length

I really need to invest in a tape measure or something, because it’s so difficult to get across a sense of scale in these extreme closeup images.

The f/2.8 aperture in this lens can produce some phenomenal bokeh, but at that aperture setting at close range the depth of field, as I briefly mentioned in my Royal Parks post, is only a few millimetres wide. This is where I find this lens challenging; I close the aperture a little to broaden the death of field, which restricts the light, and the lack of any image stabilising technology forces me to a higher ISO (the ‘L’ series equivalent of this lens does have IS, but it is twice the price and most reviews suggest that you’re not getting twice the image quality. Not that that matters, the ‘L’ version is a way out of my price range).

I think that I’ve mentioned this before. The point is, in this next picture I closed up the aperture to keep the whole flower in focus.

Exposure 1/125sec, f/9, ISO 500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.67), 100mm focal length

You might have noticed the in-camera exposure bias was -0.67, but the post-processing exposure correction was +0.67. This is something I always seem to do: shoot underexposed, and correct later. In instances like this, where I’m shooting in poor light in aperture priority mode, doing this is justified as it makes the camera set a faster shutter speed. But I do it in most situations, because the underexposed image looks better on the camera’s LCD screen. I’m not usually that concerned as in post I have a couple of stops either way of exposure correction, but one day it will probably end up biting me on the arse.

The big challenge of writing this post is going to be avoiding gushing too much about this lens. I look at images like this and am just amazed at the clarity:

Exposure 1/200sec, f/2.8, ISO 200, exposure bias -0.67, 100mm focal length

I will probably go on about having a ruler or some other point of reference as well, because the sense of scale is lost in many of these images. These flower things, for instance, were really small:

Exposure 1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, exposure bias -0.67, 100mm focal length

I also don’t know what these things are, but they looked interesting.

Exposure 1/320sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, exposure bias -0.67, 100mm focal length

If there is one big difference between the me of a year ago when I first started this blog and the me of today, it’s that I am more prepared to get dirty or uncomfortable in the pursuit of a shot (tangentially, whilst I was kneeling down in an uncomfortable position in St James’s Park shooting the Sights and Sounds of London Town post, a bird up and shat in my camera bag – fortunately the inner section was closed and only my GorillaPod was soiled. But did it stop me? Did it heck).

On this trip, despite the cold, I was more than prepared to crawl on my hands and knees in the undergrowth to get the right sort of shot. This should hopefully be apparent in the next few images.

Exposure 1/20sec, f/14, ISO 4000, exposure bias -0.67, 100mm focal length

I was amazed, looking back at this image, that it was taken at an ISO of 4000. I still sometimes forget that my camera can go that high without too much noise; I fear some images have been lost to blurriness in the past that might have been saved had I pushed the ISO a bit more (my old DSLR only went up to an ISO of 1600, and it could sometimes be a bit noisy at that extreme).

Right, multiple choice time.

Just along from this shot, there were a few berries in the undergrowth, and I spent a bit of time playing about to capture them. I ended up with three images, each with a varying depth of field, and I’m not entirely certain which one is the most aesthetically pleasing. So, I’m going to post all three and see what you think.

Exposure 30sec, f/32, ISO 100, 100mm focal length
Exposure 6sec, f/10, ISO 100, 100mm focal length
Exposure 1sec, f/4, ISO 100, 100mm focal length

In order to set this shot up, I ended up crouched on the floor with my camera on the GorillaPod pointed at the floor. It looked a lot like this:

You can just about make out the berries in the undergrowth, hiding under one of the lighter leaves in the top left quadrant of the photo. Hopefully this will finally give a decent sense of scale.

Now, my preference, if I have one, is the middle of the images. The first image has far too wide a depth of field, and the photo itself looks a bit flat. Conversely, the third image has too shallow a depth of field, and too match detail is lost in the surrounding elements. However, what do you think?

After snapping these photos, I couldn’t resist one more from slightly further away, which captures the colours nicely:

Exposure 1/40sec, f/2.8, ISO 640, 100mm focal length

By that time my foot had cramped up so I had to walk it off. Shortly thereafter I found some purple berry things with some spiders web on them. Scale continues to be elusive, but hopefully you can get a sense of the size of things by seeing the hints of webbing.

Exposure 1/60sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000, 100mm focal length

One of the interesting things I’ve found shooting at the macro level is the narrow depth of field can cause some mind-bending results, with various bits in and out of focus.

Exposure 1/80sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000, exposure bias -0.67, 100mm focal length

I found another flower, but on this occasion, with the light beginning to fade and my hands getting cold (I wear fingerless gloves still be able to find what I’m after on the camera, but my fingertips can still get a bit frosty), I pushed to ISO to 3200 – on this occasion, you can see hints of noise sneaking into the picture.

Exposure 1/1600sec, f/2.8, ISO 3200, exposure bias -1.0, 100mm focal length

Having finished shooting the flora and fauna for the day, and beginning to get a bit on the cold side, I was planning to get up and leave when we were surrounded by squirrels. We were in exactly the same spot as when we were besieged by the same last year (those shots are all in March of the Squirrels).

It was at this point I realised the secondary bonus of the macro lens. The squirrels in York House Gardens are tame – very tame. They get very close. Which is a problem if you’ve got a telephoto lens on at the time. Even a standard wide angle can be a problem when they get really close. But with the macro, there is no issue. You can snap away no matter how close they get, until they’re close enough to steal your camera, at which point you have other things to worry about (namely that some criminal mastermind has managed to train an army of squirrels to steal things).

Exposure 1/2000sec, f/2.8, ISO 2000, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.78), 100mm focal length

As I mentioned on my Royal Parks trip, the lens also works wonders at longer distances. This squirrel was trying to look innocent and denied any knowledge of a squirrel crime ring.

Exposure 1/1250sec, f/2.8, ISO 2000, exposure bias -0.67, 100mm focal length

On the way out of the gardens, we passed a tree. This, in itself, was not unusual. However, there was a squirrel up it. Upside down. Hanging from his feet, eating a nut. I’ve not seen that before, so I’m calling it unusual.

Exposure 1/250sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, exposure bias -0.33, 100mm focal length

I managed to sneak a little closer without disturbing him, and was glad I had the right lens on for once.

Exposure 1/320sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, exposure bias -0.33 (+0.62), 100mm focal length

At this point, we left the gardens, and if you’re paying attention, returned to my last post to photograph the sunset.

I’m really enjoying using this macro lens. You’ll have to forgive me enthusing about it over this and the last few posts. Hopefully at some point the honeymoon period will be over and it will settle down into being just ‘one of my lenses’.

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7 Comments

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  1. these photos are fantastic! I love the ones with the squirrel best!

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  2. On the under/over exposure thing. I wrote a bit about that (http://gointothelight.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/taking-great-pictures-in-20-words-or-less/). Of course as a negative film (B&W) enthusiast, I religiously shoot 4 stops over. But when I shoot positive film (slides), I pretty much shoot 1-under, and likewise for digital which I’m not post-processing. For images to post process the digital term is “pushing it to the right” meaning push the histogram as far to the right as you can without blowing it out. Pretty much what I do with my B&W. But you can have the best of both worlds in digital by setting your Automatic Exposure Bracketing to be the stop you set +/- however many stops you want. That way you have one to pop into the blog and one to play with in Photoshop.
    On the which of three do you like I like the 3rd because the blurriness nicely frames the colored (excuse me coloured) bits and desaturates the broken stick end which is otherwise distracting.
    I find that the love affair with macro is hard to break, partially because the scale is actually irrelevant in that world. One of the things I love about photography is that it gets you to involve yourself with the world in ways you might otherwise not. The other thing is that they are just all around great lenses, as you mentioned. Speaking of which, the shop just called and mine is fixed!

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  3. Fun macro shots. I too, just got a new macro lens. It is fun to see what it will do. I like the first of your shots in the berry series. And the first in the squirrel series. His whiskers are amazing!

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    • Thanks for commenting. I do foresee having a lot of fun with macro; the sort of images you get with it are so different from most other types of photography.

      I do enjoy photographing squirrels too – there’s a whole load of images under the ‘squirrels’ tag, if that’s what floats your proverbial boat.

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