My first macro pictures

Withered roses

A couple of years ago somebody showed me some pictures of macro photography. They looked interesting, however, it did not resonate with me. Now, many years later, I read the book Praktijkboek Macrofotografie (in Dutch) and looked at videos on Youtube. It turns out that macro photography is a lot more than taking pictures of plants and insects and laying on the ground. So, there was a growing interest.
After realising that my regular lenses would not suffice, I looked at possible cheap adjustments:

  • close-up filters are put on a regular lens and they magnify. The disadvantage is the you add more glass between the subject and the sensor, thereby reducing the quality of the picture substantially;
  • extension tubes are put between your regular lens and the body of the camera. They are used to reduce the focal distance and thereby increase the magnification. The disadvantage is that it mainly helps up to roughly 50mm, beyond that the reduction of the focal distance is not substantial anymore.

So I decided to look for a macro lens (Nikon calls it a micro lens). They are expensive. The Nikon 200mm micro lens costs something like €1500. Beyond my budget for a hobby. So I settled for a secondhand Nikon 105mm. And I am very pleased with it. Very sharp pictures.
My first experiments with macro photography immediately showed that getting the subject in focus is quite a challenge. Even more than I expected. For example, at a distance of 40cm the 105mm lens at f/8 has a Depth of Field (DoF) of only 0.5cm. Handheld this is not going to work. Even by breathing you move more than 0.5cm. So, you need a tripod. Although I am not very fond of a tripod for macro photography it is an essential tool.

Macro photography in action

Like I said, with f/8 the DoF is only 0.5cm. In some cases this is fine,  however, if you take a picture of a flower, maybe you want a larger DoF, like 1.5cm. In this case the aperture should be f/22. This means that if you are indoors, you need to use flashes. Below you see my set up in the garage. It consists of two flashes and a camera, all three on a tripod. I had set the shutter speed at 1/100th of a second, and the camera in Command Mode using TTL and a -1 compensation for both flashes. The subject are roses I gave to my wife for our 35 year wedding anniversary. I used them just before they were thrown away.
The next step is to get the right part of the roses in focus. I set the aperture to f/3.8 to get enough light in the camera. Autofocus does not always work, so I use Live View to visually focus. You can even magnify the screen to better focus. After that I set the aperture back to  f/22 and take a picture.
At the top and below you see two of my first pictures. I am satisfied with the quality of the picture, however, I still need to learn more about composition in macro photography.
Withered roses

Photoshoot for Crocheting Webshop

Last week my daughter asked me to take some pictures of crocheting she makes and sells via her Etsy webshop, DC crochet Design. She was facing some shortcomings of smartphones to do product photography. So, yesterday I grabbed my equipment and turned one of our bedrooms into a small photo studio. I have done something similar before so the first steps were easy.

  • To put all the focus on the crocheting I used white paper as a background. I used the same equipment as for model shooting, only I used a more narrow roll of paper.
  • To avoid sharp shadows I used two compact flashes flashing from two different sides through white umbrellas (TTL-mode). 
  • To avoid incoming daylight I set the Exposure Time to 1/160th of a second.

This is the way it looked like.

Studio for product photography

As a camera I used my Nikon D800 and the Nikkor 28-300mm as a lens. I set the Commander Mode such that the two compact flashes on the side flashed and that the built-in flash did not.
During the shoot my daughter and I checked the pictures to make sure that things were working out the way we wanted it. Here are some of the challenges I was facing:

  • The white background is not white at all Compact flashes are of course not as powerful as studio flashes. I have only one studio flash, so I decided to use two almost identical compact flashes. In Lightroom it is very simple with the adjustment brush to increase the exposure to make sure that the white background is really white.
    White background puts focus on crocheting
  • Not the whole embroidery is sharp In most of the pictures the whole crocheting had the same distance from the camera. In this case f/8 suffices. However, I did not realise that the Depth of Field was pretty small. Afterwards, I calculated that at 115 mm and with f/8 or f/10 the DoF is only a few centimeters. Too small as you can see here. The bottom of the iPhone is not sharp.
    Too small DoF to get the whole crocheting sharp

    From this I learned that I have to shoot a bit further away, with a wider angle than 115mm (for example, 50mm, and crop later), and at least f/16 or f/22 (all increase DoF).
  • Colours are not identical to original I fiddled around a bit with the  temperature to match the colours of the original.
    Slightly lower temperature to get the right colour

So, next time I am better prepared.

Tripod or not? Learnt my lessons!

Basically I am not very fond of tripods. On rare occasions you need one and still you have to carry them around all the time. Another reason for not liking them is the lack of flexibility in positioning the camera (for example, horizontal or vertical, or the position I want to take). So, I never take a tripod with me.
Coming back from Xi’an in China I noticed that in the hall of the Terracotta Army quite a few pictures had an ISO value of 6400 or close to it. And that the Shutter Speed I choose was not fast enough to compensate for the zoom of the lens to avoid shaken pictures. For that reason, a couple of pictures were rightfully not accepted by Dreamstime.  When you blow up the picture (100%) you can see the errors.

Terracotta Army in Xian, China (image is shaken)

Let us have a closer look at the contradicting circumstances and requirements in the hall of the Terracotta Army:

  • In the hall there is not enough light, maybe this has something to do with the preservation of the terracotta sculptures.
  • I wanted a large DoF (Depth of Field) to have several ranks of soldiers in focus.
  • The sculptures are a bit away from where I could stand, so to get enough detail I had to zoom in. Otherwise I would get only overview pictures with no detail.

If there is not enough light, there are four options: use a flash, slower Shutter Speed, wider Aperture, or increase the ISO. Remember, the last three determine the Photographic Triangle. See my post on this to understand the relationship between them: if you change one it at least affects one of the others to get a correct exposure. 
Let us have a look at these four options:

  • Use a flash This was no serious option because the sculptures were a bit too far away to evenly light the two or three ranks of soldiers I wanted to capture. And maybe I was not even allowed to flash.
  • Slower Shutter Speed Because of the low light conditions, the Shutter Speed was already pretty low, even further lowering would produce shaken pictures. Furthermore, there is this rule that if you zoom to for example 200mm, the Shutter Speed should be no higher than 1/200th of a second.
  • Wider Aperture Because I wanted several ranks of the soldiers in focus this was no option.
  • Increase ISO Given the above three, ISO was already in the 5000+ range. Going beyond 6400 (the limit of my Nikon D800) produces only darker pictures with a high noise ratio.

To handle this conflicting situation, I took a slightly slower Shutter Speed. As to be expected, this resulted in slightly shaken pictures. As long as the pictures are small, like in this post, you can hardly see it. However, to sell the picture commercially, the picture has to be perfect, even at 100%.

Terracotta Army in Xian, China (image is shaken)

So, what is the solution? Use a tripod. Because the sculptures don’t move using a slower Shutter Speed is no problem. You can take an arbitray long exposure time to get the right DoF and, at the same time, a low ISO to avoid noise.
So, I have learnt my lessons. Next time I take a small tripod (Traveller Mini Pro) that can be attached to the outside of my photography backpack (Lowepro Transit Backpack 350 AW).
Lowepro backpack with small tripod

Stock Images

Madonna del Sasso, Locarno

Madonna del Sasso and Locarno
Madonna del Sasso and Locarno

Madonna del Sasso is a sanctuary above Locarno. To go there, you need to take a very old, however, well maintained funicular from the city center to the pilgrimage site of Madonna del Sasso. In a short while it takes you a little less than 200 meters higher. From there it is an easy walk to the church.
The church Madonna del Sasso was founded in 1502 on the site where brother Bartolomeo d’Ivrea had a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1480. Because of that it is regarded a pilgrimage site. The church is a nice and quite place to visit. It has some nice spaces at different levels. Also the view of Locarno and of Lago Maggiore is magnificent.
View of Locarno
View of Locarno

I had taken only my general-purpose Nikkor 28-300 mm lens. It gives me the flexibility I need in unexpected situations. Most of the time if I go somewhere where I haven’t been before, and I want to travel light, and I also know there is enough light, I take this lens. Maybe it is not the best lens, however, in combination with my D800 it never let me down. For example, the picture in the church was taken with ISO 5600 and it still looks good.
Here are some of the pictures I have taken. Some of them are also on Dreamstime. Hope you enjoy.
Stock Images

From fisheye to macro

My children know that I love photography. So, last week I got four lenses: a fisheye, a wide-angle, a macro, and a super macro. So, you can imagine I was quite pleased with this present.
Currently, I have wide-angle (min 16mm) and telelenses (max 300mm), however, a fisheye is completely new to me. Also, macro-photography intrigues me, however, I have no experience at all in this field.
I guess I forgot to mention that these four lenses are a clip-on of Olloclip for my iPhone. One of the nicest things is that they do not weight anything. So, it is easy to take them with me all the time.
Here are the results of my experiments with the wide angles:

Normal iPhone lens
Regular iPhone lens

Olloclip wide-angle
Olloclip wide-angle

Olloclip Fisheye
Olloclip Fisheye

The first picture is just the regular iPhone lens, the second one is with the Olloclip wide-angle, and the third is the Olloclip fisheye. Really impressive and so easy to use.
Now we will have a look ate the macro lenses. To use them, I have to unscrew the wide-angle and fisheye lenses. Under the wide-angle there is the macro 10 times and under the fisheye is the macro 15 times. Below are the experiments with the macro lenses:
Regular iPhone lens
Regular iPhone lens

Olloclip macro 10 times
Olloclip macro 10 times

Olloclip macro 15 times
Olloclip macro 15 times

Again the first one is a regular iPhone lens, the second one is the Olloclip macro 10 times, and the third one is the Olloclip macro 15 times. As you can see, which is true for macro photography in general, it is difficult to get the right focus with a handheld camera.

This was just my first experience with these lenses. They are great fun, so I will continue my experiments with these lenses, which is quite easy because I carry them with me everywhere. Great present!

Pro approach to autofocus

AF-ON
AF-ON

Most of us completely rely on the autofocus of our camera. On my Nikon D800 there are two options: AF-S and AF-C. The first one is used for still life objects and the latter for moving objects. The S stands for Single Servo and the C for Continuous Servo. If you know in advance which situation applies it is easy to set the relevant option.
However, in practice when I shoot a group activity, I like to combine sport photography of activities and journalistic portrait photography of individuals. I have to act fast, so, there is no way I will continuously change from AF-S to AF-C and back again. For me this is not going to work.
After reading the extensive guides of the Nikon D800 by Thom Hogan (he writes excellent guides) I found out about the Pro Approach to Autofocus. The idea is to separate focus and release.
Standard they are combined in the Shutter Release. Pressing it halfway is to focus and pressing it completely is releasing the shutter. In the Pro Approach the focus is assigned to the AF-ON button. The only function of Shutter Release button is release. Furthermore, set the focus mode to AF-C.
This enables us to do the following:

  • Portrait Focus on, for example, the eye by pressing the AF-ON button, then let go the button. Reframe and then press the Shutter Release.
  • Sports  Press and hold the AF-ON on the subject to focus on. While holding the AF-ON press the Shutter Release. In this case the AF-C mode makes sure the subject is followed even though it moves through the screen.

In the beginning it takes some time to get use to. Now it has become second nature. The only disadvantage is that it is not easy to give the camera to somebody else to take a picture. However, for me it makes life a lot easier.
 

Radio Triggers

In the past, for a studio setup, we used cables to somehow connect the camera to the various flashes. Furthermore, we had to set the power of each flash individually, by hand. Nowadays, all major camera manufactories have a wireless system to connect the camera to the speedlights of the same manufacturer.
For example, when using a Nikon camera and Nikon speedlights it is relatively easy to get a correctly exposed picture by using AWL (Advanced Wireless Lighting).
The idea is that the pop-up flash of the camera gives a number of small pre-flashes to tell the speedlights to give an orchestrated pre-flash. In this cycle the camera measures and calculates, using Through-The-Lens (TTL) metering, what the strength of the final flash of the various speedlights should be. This is all done just before the mirror goes up, so before the actual picture is taken. It goes so fast that we do not even notice that the pop-up flash flashes several times.
This means that with my D800 I can manage two groups of speedlights, A and B. For simple portrait photography this is fine. I have been using this for the last couple of years with some great pictures.
However, there are also some drawbacks: it only works when there is line-of-sight between the camera and all the speedlights, it is difficult to add a studio flash, and in some cases three groups (for example: main, background, and kicker for the hair of the model) are required.
So, recently I bought:

IMG_1186
The Flex TT5 is both a transmitter and a receiver. So, one goes on top of the camera and per speedlight or flash another one is needed. The advantage is that line-of-sight is not important anymore and it can handle 3 groups (A, B, and C).
IMG_1188With the AC3 it is possible to control the strength of flashes of the speedlights in the various groups (max 3 groups).
IMG_1187For my studio flash, an old Linkstar FS-200D, it is only possible to control whether it will flash or not. As you can see, the Flex TT5 is connected to the studio flash with a cable. The strength of the flash has to be set manually on the studio flash itself.
The Sekonic L-478DR allows me to trigger each group of speedlights separately (without using the camera) and get a per group and a total reading for shutter speed and aperture. It also shows how much each group contributes to the total light. It is really impressive.
In a future blog I will come back to how the equipment works in practice.
 

Monastery hike and Komoot

Near my home town there is a small village called Zenderen. It has a rich history of monasteries and churches. So, I decided to take the Monastery hike. Without actually noticing, I took the 9 km hike instead of the 13 km one.
On occasions like this I take my GPS with me for two reasons:

  • to know where I took my pictures
  • to create a gpx file, so I can share it with others

I normally take my Garmin GPSmap 60CSx, a very versatile and accurate gps, and download the track to my iMac using Garmin BaseCamp. Then I make some corrections (I often forget to switch it off when getting back to my car), and export a gpx-file. This can easily be imported in Photo Mechanics to assign the GPS-coordinates to the individual pictures.
Recently, I discovered Komoot, an iPhone app (also available for Android). It is mainly intended to plan routes for hiking or biking, and share it with others. However, it also allows me to record a hike, to store it in the cloud, to share it with the Komoot community, and to export a gpx-file. It has many nice features, among which giving directions on my Apple Watch. So, there is no need to take my iPhone out of my pocket to find out where I should go. Check it out, I am really impressed.
To come back to my Monastery hike, here are my pictures. The hike took me along De Zwanenhof, Karmelietenklooster, Carmelitessenklooster, Het Seminar, and the Mariakapel. Nice buildings to see. Enjoy hiking and shooting pictures.

Which camera bag to use?

For long hikes I am very fond of a backpack. It gives me freedom to move around easily and the extra weight is at a comfortable place. I used to have Lower SlingShot 100  AW (All Weather), however, with first getting my D700 and later my D800, I had to look for a larger backpack. The SlingShot had the advantage that in one swing I could take out my camera and have easy access to the accessoires.
IMG_0875Nowadays, I use the Lowepro Transit Backpack 350 AW which is almost as easy to use as the SlingShot and at the same time offers more space to take several lenses with me. The additional advantage is that I can also take my MacBook Air and iPad. I am also able to attach a Bottle Pouch to take a bottle of water.
Last year I also took it to Barcelona. For strolling through the city it is very convenient, however, in the metro, where I almost got robbed, I felt less comfortable. So, now I use a Lowepro Messenger 180 AW which I can carry in front of me, to keep an eye on my equipment. I can also carry it on my side or back. It is very spaceous, so no problem taking my D800 and several lenses, and my iPad. When I take the car to a photoshoot I usually take this bag.
IMG_0876
In case I only want to my camera with one lens I take a simple toploader.

Carrying my camera in the Alps

When my family and I are in the Alps, we hike trails that last 6 to 7 hours. My main challenge is how to carry my camera during these hikes. I normally take my camera and my 16-35mm lens. Together this weights something like 1.6kg. Preferrably, I like to carry my camera in a backpack, however, around “every corner” there is another beautiful scene. This means that I have to take out my camera almost continuously. So, in the end I was carrying my camera with a strap around my neck, which is not a good idea. It is too heavy around the neck and the camera continuously bumps against my body while walking. So, I started to look for another solution.
First I found a strap that firmly presses the rear of the camera against my belly. For regular hikes and a lighter camera this works fine. For me it did not work. Recently I found the B-grip. It allows me to carry the camera pointing down around my waist. It is very comfortable to walk with and the camera is always ready to shoot with. I still take my backpack for another type of lens, food, water, and, if necessary, warm clothes. Sometimes, when it is foggy, it gets pretty cold.
IMG_0860After becoming a fan of the B-grip I also bought the handstrap. The release plate of the handstrap can be used both on the belt holster and on a regular tripod. So, it is very convenient for shorter and longer hikes. Only during portrait photo shoots with the battery grip attached, which is very convenient for vertical shots, it would be nice if the handstrap could be removed from the camera quickly.
Here are some nice pictures of the Alps I took during my hikes.