Frosty Macro

I do seem to be playing about with macro a lot recently. It’s partly because I only bought a macro lens last month and am still exploring this new way of shooting things, partly because shooting at the macro level can breathe interesting new life into old or boring subjects, but mostly because I really like the lens and am willing to find any excuse to use it.

We’ve had a bit of snow in the UK. Some places more than others; where I am in southwest London we had a smattering last weekend and another on Thursday night, but the temperatures have remained low so the ice isn’t really going anywhere fast (the two snowmen made by the locals last weekend are still mostly present, although one of them has lost its head).

It’s so cold that I’m not all that keen on the idea of going outside, but we don’t get this sort of weather all that often, so I decided it would be a good idea to try to get some macro shots of the frost on the slightly surprised flora. Fortunately within ten seconds walk there were a few areas that served up just the right sort of thing, which coincidentally are also between my flat and the supermarket enabling me to kill the proverbial flock of seagulls with one brick (I’m not exactly ‘up’ on proverbs).

Luckily for me, the sun was out, making the light decent. Last weekend’s snow was followed by a grey and dull day that was pretty rubbish for taking good photos (although I did get some interesting shots from midnight the night before when it was still snowing and remarkably bright; I’ll stick these up at some point in the near future too).

Exposure 1/640sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.53)

As is often the case in my posts, now is the time when I start mentioning that I started noticing problems, in what must seem a way of excusing bad photos. I don’t mean it like that (wait – maybe I do, a little) but I do try to highlight the issues I encounter out in the field to both engage you, the reader, in the experience of shooting, and to show that I know where I went wrong so I can learn for next time.

There were two problems I encountered this time; two that tie in a little with a problem I noticed the first time I took my macro out into the field, which is a fundamental problem with the lens. As the depth of field is so shallow, when shooting at really close range focussing is best achieved by slightly moving the camera itself to get the right bit sharp.

In reasonably controlled situations, this isn’t really a problem. However, I hadn’t actually eaten yet, as I was heading over to the supermarket to buy lunch; I soon discovered that I was actually swaying quite noticeably back and forth whilst lining up my shots. I say noticeably, it was noticeable whilst looking down the viewfinder.

I quickly began trying to time firing the shutter with my sway to get the right bits in focus, with varying success.

Exposure 1/500sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.87)

The coldness and lack of IS in the lens also began to come into play as my hands rapidly became pretty cold, even with gloves, so I had to start pushing the ISO a bit to get a steady shot (my gloves are fingerless to allow easy operation of the camera, with the rather obvious downside that my fingers are exposed to the elements and ultimately become useless).

Exposure 1/640sec, f/3.5, ISO 640, exposure bias -0.33 (+0.12)

I tried something new today in my post processing: actually reading the histograms. Earlier this week one of the photography blogs I follow posted a quick and handy guide to them, meaning for the first time ever I actually understand what the heck they actually mean, so I can quit pretending. That said, I found that when getting the histograms reasonably evenly spread, my images looked a bit washed out, presumably due to the sections of bright white in the images against backgrounds of dark green, so for now my histograms remain pushed a bit to the left. But I know what that means now, so this is a definite improvement.

Exposure 1/640sec, f/3.5, ISO 640, exposure bias -0.33 (-0.3)

I’ve just realised that I’ve been talking a lot about the taking of these photographs without really mentioning much about the actual shots. Maybe they speak for themselves, but it’s not exactly my style now is it? Here goes. I really love the air bubbles captured in the frozen water. Crap, that’s all I’ve got.

But wait – this next shot has colour, and isn’t technically a macro shot, even though I took it with the same lens.

Exposure 1/1000sec, f/4.5, ISO 125, exposure bias -0.67

These daffodils started poking their heads through the ground a week or so before the snow came, when we were having unseasonably warm weather. I bet they feel a bit stupid now, but you’ve got to give them their dues for sticking with it.

The earlier shots in this post are perhaps a little dull, colour-wise; just browns and dirty greens. Fortunately near the daffodils there was some ice on the grass, which was a little more of an aesthetic green.

Exposure 1/200sec, f/4.5, ISO 125, exposure bias -0.67

Annoyingly, it is the blade of grass just to the right of the central icicle that is the most in-focus part of this shot.

A little further on, I found a berry bush, which several different coloured berries on it, allowing me to turn this post into a far more colourful affair.

Exposure 1/400sec, f/4.5, ISO 125, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.55)

Fortunately, most of the interesting angles on this bush could be had whilst leaning against a lamppost, thereby eliminating my previous ‘swaying’ issue. It was still often a battle to get things nicely in focus.

Exposure 1/160sec, f/4.5, ISO 125, exposure bias -0.67 (+1.95)
Exposure 1/250sec, f/4.5, ISO 400, exposure bias -0.33 (+0.46)

The berries weren’t all a yellowy orange, as I alluded to earlier. There were a handful that were a delicate pink, including this one.

Exposure 1/200sec, f/4.5, ISO 400, exposure bias -0.33
Exposure 1/250sec, f/4.5, ISO 400, exposure bias -0.33

One of the things I really like about the latter image is the separate frozen droplet in the leaf below, which is nicely in focus, moreso than the actual subject of the damned picture (facepalm).

Exposure 1/320sec, f/5.6, ISO 1000, exposure bias -0.33

I struggled for a bit with this shot, which is why the aperture was closed up a bit and by extension the ISO increased – I was finding it difficult to get this amazing frozen droplet in focus. I’m glad I persisted.

I maintained these settings for the final few shots, managing to get a few reasonably sharp images.

Exposure 1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 1000, exposure bias -0.33
Exposure 1/160sec, f/5.6, ISO 1000, exposure bias -0.33

By this point, hunger and the cold got the better of me and I headed over to the supermarket to catch up with my wife, who had gotten bored and gone on ahead. Which, in my book, makes this a wholly successful day. Look, I even got this post out on the day I photographed it!

9 thoughts on “Frosty Macro

  1. Fantastic macro work and thanks for mentioning my histogram post, I’m glad it helped connect the dots (no pun intended) 🙂


    1. No probs, mate. After reading your post and its ‘further reading’ link it was like the cliched lightbulb going off in my head, and now it all makes some sense!

      (although I should apologise to Jon Tobey who has attempted to make me understand histograms in the past without much success!)


  2. Also, wow, 10 likes? Thanks guys, this is about the most popular post I’ve done so far!


  3. I suffer from ‘macro sway’ as well, I just learn the timing to get it right! Thank god we live in the digital age, imagine having to do that with film and wait for the results.


  4. I think your shots are very good, I fail miserably when I use my macro and am debating giving up on my slr and buying a bridge camera instead


    1. Thanks for commenting.

      I’ve played about a bit with my father-in-law’s bridge camera, and it isn’t for me. I think I’d miss the finer-grained control afforded to you by an SLR. Still, if you use your SLR on auto most of the time and don’t want to play about with different lenses, you might be better off with one.


  5. I got a macro lens last fall, and am really looking forward to using it come spring… and summer… and fall – actually any time when it isn’t snowy and cold here in Canada!
    Like you, I’ve found I often end up moving the camera ever so slightly to fine tune the focus, then taking several photos in quick succession in order to get the best result.


    1. I have been led to believe that it is always cold and snowy in Canada. Is this not true? This means US television has been lying to me…

      One of the good things about macro photography is that it isn’t really dependent on great weather; I had a bit of luck on this day with the sun casting a lovely glow over things, which helped highlight the frost, but when I first went out with this macro lens earlier this year it was a grey, dull day, but I still got pretty decent results from it.


  6. No, it isn’t always cold and snowy. I describe our weather as “Six months of winter, and six months of poor sledding. These two blocks of time can be further broken down into: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction season. On the calendar, this would read as Winter, June, July, August, Winter.”
    I venture forth now and then to take winter macro photos, but when the temp hits -20C I don’t stay out long…


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