Sunday, 2 March 2014

Thoughts about macrophotography (of bugs)

Today I've been speaking with an estimated friend about macrophotography. We have been speaking about the depth of field, and I think that it is a very interesting topic to discuss.

I think that it's a personal decision in each case, but is there a "best option" for DoF in macrophotography?

Our conversation was about photography of bugs, so I'm going to try to illustrate this entry with my own pictures from The Wild Window.

In macrophotography, the depth of field is usually very short. When you are taking a picture of a bug, what is the properly depth of field? There are two options: some people think that a bigger DoF is better, because you can watch sharper the principal subject, but others think that macrophotography is about "short DoF", taking more symbolic pictures.

If you think in the first way, you have some technical problems. The gear for macrophotography usually produces very short depth of field, even using very closed apertures. One option in this case is to take several pictures and join them with a computer. This option have other problems, like the stability of the system (your photographic system is usually vibrating, so is very difficult to take two or more pictures in the same position). By other hand, the bugs usually are in movement.

If you chose a short depth of field (wide apertures), you can shoot faster, but to put it in focus is harder.

Forgetting the technical aspects, what do you like more? A symbolic picture with only a detail in focus or a sharper image of the same bug?

A very short depth of field
A larger depth of field
A very short depth of field
A larger depth of field
A very very short depth of field

Maybe my pictures are not good examples, I usually choose shoot with large depth of field and I need to practice the other modality. You can view this pic of bachullus ♥ © as example of extreme short depth of field.

Maybe to ask "What is the best option?" is a stupid question, and every situation requires an individual study. However, photographers seems to be agree about similar rules, like to shoot with short DoF in portraits, for examples. By other hand, every rule in photography was made to be broken.

I'm usually shooting at f/16, during 1/250 secs, ISO 400 and flash TTL. With my gear, these parameters produce a depth of field large enough to capture a little bug, or a significant part of a bigger bug (its head, for example). That is my first choice. Maybe, if the bug is quiet, I could to try later other options (DoF shorter, for example).

The second part of this entry is about the above parameters. My macrophotography gear is very dark. A close aperture (f/16) and a high speed (1/250 secs) make the system darker yet. I solve it with a ring flash TTL. I've been reviewed my last photographs and I use too much artificial light.

The artificial light solves the problem of the lack of natural light or the large shooter speeds, but you can lost the details of the original scene (the original ambient).

I show below two different situations:

In the first one we can view the effect of the natural light and the ambient that it generates. In the second one, we can view bigger the bug, with a more dramatic light, but the environment light has been lost. Maybe the second option is interesting for some situations, but I would like to rescue the environment light.

Why I've lost the environment light? In the past, I shot without flash, or with a powerless integrated flash. Now I have a powerful ring flash, and it makes all the work. I can not to allow it!

I think the best solution is to use larger exposition times, wider apertures (shorter DoF), higher ISOs, and reduce the flash compensation. I would like to try these changes:

f/16 <-> f/9
1/250 secs <-> 1/125 secs
ISO 400 <-> ISO 800
0EV <-> -0.7EV

I've been testing and some of the last pictures in The Wild Window already have these changes (or similar), for example, the next:

f/10, 1/100 secs, ISO 500, -0.7EV

The focus and the sharpness are my current problems. My goal for the next sessions is to rescue the lost environment light and to use the flash in equilibrium with it, looking for the correct focus and the properly sharpness.


  1. Interesting article... It would be better to read if you could put a picture in the background that doesn't affect the font colour you have chosen for your text... My first intention was to close the window because I can't read the clear text against the sky in the background image...

    1. Thank you very much for your feedback. I view OK the contrast between letter and background. Sometimes, there is a semitransparent layer that loads too slow (this layer increases the contrast). I will think about to change the design.

      Thank you :)!


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