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11-02-2009, 11:38 AM   #1
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macro (insects)

I noticed yesterday a spider had built a web in our front yard and caught a fly. I very seldom try to shoot macro - flowers OR insects - but I could not resist the temptation. I wasn't UNhappy about what I came up with and I'm not looking to become a prize-winning bug photographer (like, for example, Thomas Shahan!). But I would like to know how to do this a little better, especially if it doesn't involve spending money. :-)

The attached shot was taken with a K10D and a Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6 LD Di macro, set to macro mode. ISO 400, f/8, 1/350th sec. It was late afternoon and the sun was pretty good. I did not use flash. The whole small gallery can be found here.

I was of course focusing manually. I was dealing with what I thought was a serious problem: there was a bit of a breeze and the spider's web was rocking back and forth an inch or two, so it kept going in and out of focus. I decided that using a tripod was out of the question for this reason.

I have several questions.

First, what exactly does it mean to put the Tamron 70-300 into macro mode? I know how to lock the lens to "macro" using the switch on the barrel. I just don't understand what this accomplishes, if anything. Is shooting at 300mm in macro mode different from just shooting in normal mode at the same focal length?

Second, is this the wrong lens for this kind of thing? I have a Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 macro lens. But using the Sigma lens requires that I get so close to the spider that I'd almost guarantee either (a) the spider would run away or (b) the web would sway into the camera, causing the spider to crawl on to my camera, bite me in the hand, and cause me to lose all future interest in spider photography. So I decided to use the longer lens, which allowed me to shoot from a distance of a couple feet.

Third, I have the feeling I'm probably doing everything wrong here. Any suggestions about alternate approaches? For example, should I use flash and stop the lens down even further, say to f/11 or f/16?

Fourth, what should I be going for here? I'm not even clear about that. I seem to have gotten some part of the spider's body - a leg or something like that - in nice sharp focus in some of my shots but depth of field was quite shallow. Should I be happy with that, or should I be trying to increase depth of field so that the whole spider is in focus?

Thanks in advance.

Will

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11-02-2009, 11:50 AM   #2
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By the way, if anybody knows what that spider is, I'd love to hear. I know nothing about spiders. I looked online (Insect and Spider Identification - Detailing North American Insects) and it looks kinda like something called an orb weaver, but I'm far from sure.

Will
11-02-2009, 12:11 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
I have several questions.

First, what exactly does it mean to put the Tamron 70-300 into macro mode? I know how to lock the lens to "macro" using the switch on the barrel. I just don't understand what this accomplishes, if anything. Is shooting at 300mm in macro mode different from just shooting in normal mode at the same focal length?

Second, is this the wrong lens for this kind of thing? I have a Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 macro lens. But using the Sigma lens requires that I get so close to the spider that I'd almost guarantee either (a) the spider would run away or (b) the web would sway into the camera, causing the spider to crawl on to my camera, bite me in the hand, and cause me to lose all future interest in spider photography. So I decided to use the longer lens, which allowed me to shoot from a distance of a couple feet.

Third, I have the feeling I'm probably doing everything wrong here. Any suggestions about alternate approaches? For example, should I use flash and stop the lens down even further, say to f/11 or f/16?

Fourth, what should I be going for here? I'm not even clear about that. I seem to have gotten some part of the spider's body - a leg or something like that - in nice sharp focus in some of my shots but depth of field was quite shallow. Should I be happy with that, or should I be trying to increase depth of field so that the whole spider is in focus?

Thanks in advance.

Will
1. The Tammy's "macro mode" allows you to focus more closely when enabled. I believe the minimum focus distance at 300mm in "macro mode" is about 39", whereas w/o "macro mode" it's close to 5'.

2. Without using a dedicated macro lens, or a diopter lens such as the Raynox DCR 150/250, the Tammy is about as good as you'll get - which, IMO, is pretty good.

3. Yes. f/8 gives a fairly small DOF for this kind of macro. I often will use my external flash and stop down to f/11-16.

4. Generally, when photographing animals, try to focus on the eyes/face.

5. Yep, the spider is an orb weaver.

6. That's a good-looking shot, very pleasing color. I see a couple spots of dust, though.
11-02-2009, 12:17 PM   #4
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Here's a "macro" at 300mm, uncropped. I used an external flash, ISO 400, f/11.



11-02-2009, 12:42 PM   #5
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Thanks, gazelle. I like your shot. That's more like what I'd LIKE to get.

Yeah, I noticed the dust too after I'd finished post-processing.

The spider seems to have gone away for the afternoon. When he comes back, I'll try again with some extra light from a flash and perhaps a smaller aperture.

My brother-in-law says he heard a lecture from a guy who shoots bugs here in Dallas who went to using a compact camera (fixed lens, smaller sensor). Why would he have done that [i.e. abandoned DSLR for compact camera]? Greater depth of field from the smaller sensor?

Will

Last edited by WMBP; 11-02-2009 at 12:56 PM.
11-02-2009, 12:47 PM   #6
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in addition to flippedgazelle:
i also like the colors of your shot.
but the problem is: you are describing the action because it cannot be seen on the picture.

it is very important to get the eye or the face. same with people, i think.

i use the DFA 100mm.
11-02-2009, 12:50 PM   #7
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Right, Will.
Apertures of f/64 are attainable in many P&Ss, and can handle low light well (?smaller sensor size, less light needed to register on the photosensors - I don't know the physics of it).
But the DoF is the definite advantage...
11-02-2009, 01:02 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Deimo Quote
in addition to flippedgazelle:
i also like the colors of your shot.
but the problem is: you are describing the action because it cannot be seen on the picture.

it is very important to get the eye or the face. same with people, i think.
I agree, in fact, I blogged about this very thing recently. But I was having problems FINDING his eyes and getting the light right. I've since read that it's a behavior of the orb weaver to stand in the web facing downwards. To be honest I was a tad nervous about crawling underneath the web. Perhaps one prerequisite for successful bug photography is getting over your fear of bugs. :-)

I noticed the spider was back in the web about 5 minutes ago. Grabbed the camera and the Metz flash with a Flashwave radio trigger and headed outside. The spider saw me coming and skedaddled back into the tree. I would love to sit outside and wait patiently but I have work to do, so I'll just have to keep trying until he stands still for me again.


QuoteQuote:
i use the DFA 100mm.
Glad to hear that. I'll be getting that lens or the Sigma 105 next, probably. How close do you have to get to photograph something like a spider? I prefer to stay farther from the spider than the spider can jump.

Will

11-02-2009, 01:20 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
I agree, in fact, I blogged about this very thing recently. But I was having problems FINDING his eyes and getting the light right. I've since read that it's a behavior of the orb weaver to stand in the web facing downwards. To be honest I was a tad nervous about crawling underneath the web. Perhaps one prerequisite for successful bug photography is getting over your fear of bugs. :-)

I noticed the spider was back in the web about 5 minutes ago. Grabbed the camera and the Metz flash with a Flashwave radio trigger and headed outside. The spider saw me coming and skedaddled back into the tree. I would love to sit outside and wait patiently but I have work to do, so I'll just have to keep trying until he stands still for me again.




Glad to hear that. I'll be getting that lens or the Sigma 105 next, probably. How close do you have to get to photograph something like a spider? I prefer to stay farther from the spider than the spider can jump.

Will
Heh, orb weavers can be very skittish. However, if you are around them a while and don't do anything they consider "threatening", they can be reasonably accommodating. I took this shot on a job site a couple months ago, and made a point to visit him and a couple of other spiders every day. I don't know if this made a difference, but I was able to get some decent shots.

11-02-2009, 01:24 PM   #10
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Stop posting those great photos or I'm going to give up and go back to shooting people! :-)
11-02-2009, 01:43 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Stop posting those great photos or I'm going to give up and go back to shooting people! :-)
As long as it's with a camera!

With a little practice you will do just as well, if not better.

You'd be surprised (at least I was) at how much of a non-issue you are to many bugs. I've gotten within a yard of a bush swirling with a couple hundred bees, and the expressed no interest in me. Of course, I was sitting very still!

Here's a shot I took of an orchard spider (who are not terribly skittish), with the Tammy 70-300 & Raynox DCR-150. I crawled underneath the broken flower box she was residing in... I'd say the tip of the lens was about 12" from the spider. The Raynox DCR-150 is fairly cheap - around $50 - and a lot of fun (if a bit difficult) to use.

This is the full frame, external flash, f/29 at 300mm.

11-02-2009, 02:22 PM   #12
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i am a newbee when it comes to macro/insects.

but what i have already learned, you need light and luck and
- as long as u don't handle with movie trained insects ;- ) - a lot of patience when you want to get close.

btw: ncie shoot flippedgaz
11-02-2009, 03:34 PM   #13
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Spiders are a heck of a lot of fun!

I rarely shoot ones on a web so the picture below is actually my first. It was in shade so I had to bump the ISO and accidently overexposed. Sadly the little bugger scurried to the shelter of a folded leaf before I could properly dial in the settings. None the less it is a good example. I like the odd angles you have on a few, but generally as a rule of thumb you want the eyes of the insect in focus (just like with portraits). There are exceptions which you have illustrated.



this was taken with onboard flash (iirc) and Sigma 105mm + extension tubes (this was a small small spider).


Edit: one more point you should be weary off is the bokeh. Before taking the picture look through the viewfinder and make sure the bokeh is not busy or with erratic colors.

Last edited by yeatzee; 11-25-2009 at 06:53 PM.
11-02-2009, 05:02 PM   #14
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take 2

Late this afternoon, the orb weaver in my front yard finally allowed me to try again. What was different this time?
  1. It was less breezy than yesterday so the web wasn't floating around as badly.
  2. I stopped down to f/16
  3. I (mostly) used flash
  4. Dropped ISO to 200
  5. I tried to get lower on the spider's top side so I could see its eyes. But I'm afraid that I still don't know where the eyes are - and that makes focusing on 'em a bit tricky.

What hasn't changed is camera (K10D) or lens (Tamron 70-300 macro).

I tried using AF.C (continous auto-focusing) and also tried tying auto-focusing to the shutter button. (Usually I have it tied only to the AF button.) But I ended up getting the best results focusing manually.

Anyway, results are improved. I'm attaching two samples; view short slideshow of full gallery (five shots total) by clicking here. I had a little trouble with my radio triggers (trigger's battery might be weak) so I ended up with the Metz 58 in the hot shoe, and I think that means that the lighting wasn't optimal (too direct). But it's certainly an improvement.

Thanks to everybody - especially flippedgazelle. I'm going to have to practice a lot to get some shots as good as the ones you posted, but it appears that I am teachable. :-)

Will
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11-03-2009, 04:18 AM   #15
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Looking for some inspitation?

Check out this fellow.

He uses a Pentax, too.

Thomas Shahan (and a Salticid) on NBC's The Today Show! on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Cheers...
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