The Macro World of the New Forest

Last May, in the optimistic late spring of 2016 when we’d only had a bunch of celebrities die and had no idea just how terrible the year would ultimately turn out to be, Holly and I had a week off work and used it to take a couple of day trips out and about. You’ve already seen some of the images from that week: our trip to Old Harry Rocks.

For this trip, we decided to actually explore the New Forest, somewhere we have driven through countless times on our way to Dorset but never really stopped to investigate for ourselves (save for a short visit to its outskirts when we took a walk around Keyhaven Marshes a few weeks prior). We researched some circular walks, found one that we liked the look of, and headed out.

As you’d probably expect, the New Forest looked largely like a forest. With this wider shot I tried some slightly more intensive processing to get a dramatic result.

1/30sec, f/4, ISO 100, 40mm
1/30sec, f/4, ISO 100, 40mm

I soon realised that just taking pictures of trees is difficult to make interesting, and started getting up closer with some of the smaller, more appealing sights.

1/50sec, f/4, ISO 100, 28mm
1/50sec, f/4, ISO 100, 28mm

Down at this level things looked pretty different.

1/30sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm
1/30sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm

This extended to the smallest bits of wildlife crawling around on the floor.

1/60sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm
1/60sec, f/4, ISO 100, 105mm

Soon I figured that if I was going to do macro photography, I should do it properly, and swapped on my macro lens and decided that I was going to keep it there (it would, of course, have been nice to have thought of that earlier so that I didn’t have to carry all my other lenses around with me but hey-ho, I’m still one to be cautious and keep all my lenses with me no matter how light I’m supposedly travelling).

My macro lens can focus pretty damned close, which is good, because ants are small.

1/250sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm
1/250sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm

With my new mission objective in place, I took to capturing the macro view of the New Forest.

This is probably an appropriate time to remind you of my long-running and well-documented inability to identify species, sometimes even at the genus level or, at its most extreme, struggling to distinguish between flora and fauna.

With that in mind, I think this is some sort of plant.

1/400sec, f/2.8, ISO 640, 100mm
1/400sec, f/2.8, ISO 640, 100mm

Shooting macro, the most interesting part of the forest was the forest floor, where the small things are (trees, generally, are quite large, especially the ones in forests, even new forests). There, I found a pine cone.

1/25sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm
1/25sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

One of the more interesting things on the forest floor was this ant, scurrying around doing his ant business.

1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm
1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

This ant was challenging to photograph. He was moving around really quickly giving the autofocus a good test, and to maximise the relatively sparse light available on a grey May day I was shooting wide open at f/2.8, making the depth of field millimetres thin and with it the margin of error. As I tracked him I let the autofocus do most of the work and then tried compensating slightly for it struggling to keep up by giving a small twist of the manual focus ring, as in my earlier shots of him it seemed to want to focus on his (admittedly larger) posterior.

The ant soon found himself a massive stick that was significantly bigger than he was.

1/125sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm
1/125sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

Fortunately it slowed him down a little bit, making it a tiny bit easier to get some in-focus shots of him.

1/125sec, f/2.8, ISO 200, 100mm
1/125sec, f/2.8, ISO 200, 100mm

In some shots, he seemed to be looking right at me.

1/320sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 100mm
1/320sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 100mm

In others, his entire body was in focus except for somehow his head, making for a bit of an annoying photograph but at least one where you can see the intricacies of his body segments.

1/200sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 100mm
1/200sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 100mm

I soon left him alone and we carried on, where we found some pretty flowers.

1/125sec, f/2.8, ISO 200, 100mm
1/125sec, f/2.8, ISO 200, 100mm

There was also this thing, that I don’t know what it was but I liked its textures in closeup.

1/200sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm
1/200sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm
1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm
1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm

We found a bench and sat down to eat lunch. Nearby were some more interesting small-scale sights, like this piece of bark.

1/320sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm
1/320sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm

And this woodlouse.

1/125sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm
1/125sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm

Our bench was near a small visitors centre, dedicated to telling us all about a lot of the wildlife in the New Forest, specifically birds (of which sadly we saw very few). Whilst we were lunching, one of the RSPB staff came out to enjoy his sandwiches on one of the other benches, and I snapped a quick shot (still with my macro lens, albeit not in a macro shot).

1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm
1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 320, 100mm

I was soon distracted back to the tiny world by a small spider walking past on our bench, presumably hoping for some leftovers.

1/400sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 100mm
1/400sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 100mm

We started walking again, and after a while realised that some of the small sights to be seen weren’t on the floor at all, but up high in the trees.

1/640sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 100mm
1/640sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, 100mm
1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO 160, 100mm
1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO 160, 100mm

That being said, there was still plenty on the floor, like this moss which looked great in closeup.

1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm
1/160sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm

It looked even better surrounding this twig, making for a nice contrasting mix of colours and textures.

1/80sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm
1/80sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm

A little further on I was back staring up, loving how the macro was picking up the fine detail of the leaf (you may want to click to embiggen the image for a closer look).

1/320sec, f/5, ISO 500, 100mm
1/320sec, f/5, ISO 500, 100mm

Soon we found a stream, so I was back to shooting the ground.

1/60sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm
1/60sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

The floor of the New Forest isn’t all moss and dead leaves, of course. All sorts of dead things can be found there.

1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000, 100mm
1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000, 100mm

This is where shooting at f/2.8 caused me some problems. As you can see, this late critter’s rear legs are in focus, but his front legs are a little bit soft and his head is completely out of focus. I did take a second shot focussed on his head, but then more of his underside is blurry, which in this instance I figured was less preferable.

1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000, 100mm
1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000, 100mm

Of course, I could have gotten round this problem by shooting at a tighter aperture, but the light was a bit lacking – I was already shooting at 1,000 ISO and reluctant to push it any higher. I also didn’t check the fine details of the image on the back of my camera, and when looking at full photographs that small everything looks sharp.

I was soon distracted by a live one, which despite moving around considerably more I had more luck getting in focus.

1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000, 100mm
1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 1000, 100mm

Not all of the static things were dead. This guy soon blocked our path.

1/200sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm
1/200sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm

Fortunately, this particular toad was largely stoic, allowing me to get nice and close to him.

1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm
1/100sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm
1/80sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm
1/80sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm

After a while we realised that the toad wasn’t actually impeding our progress at all, and was simply sitting in the path waiting for us to leave, so we continued on.

When I came across a daisy, it seemed like a nice opportunity to retake one of the earliest macro photos I ever took, not long after I bought the lens in the first place.

1/8000sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm
1/8000sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, 100mm

Sticking with flowers, I then moved on to a buttercup.

1/640sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm
1/640sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

This turned out to be the last photo I took on the walk, as our loop completed and we spent some time driving around the New Forest.

Apologies for not being quite so descriptive about where we were. The main downside of not sharing the images from walks until months after is that the specifics are but faint memories, and in sets like this there isn’t a lot of context in the photographs to give me clues. My next batches of shots should be a bit fresher.

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