All of my macro photos found here: My Free Stock Photo Gallery
and My Flickr Macro Set
and were taken with my Canon 30D, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens, Speedlite 580EX with this DIY Ring-Flash.
and the Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite Flash
Alright, here goes…
Just a bit of background first…everything before May 4th, 2007 consists of pretty much zero experience with SLR systems and knowledge for that matter. It was just before this time that I began desiring a DSLR and I stumbled across some stunning macro shots on the FM Macro Forum
. After digesting a lot of information here I decided to buy a Canon XTi and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens. At this point the FM Macro forum became my central area for information. Of course, TexasPhotoForum
has been my second forum of choice.
I want to take a brief moment to compliment two individuals from this forum who both helped me and everyone else on the forum greatly. These two individuals always contributed not only stunning macro samples, but much of the ancilerly information around the photo (how it was taken etc.). So here’s to you Brian Valentine (LordV Flickr Photos
) and John Kimbler (Dalantech Flickr Photos
) for helping me and so many others understand Digital Macro Photography.
I won’t bore you about how I learned to use my gear; rather, I will give you a high level overview of how I use it today and why I use it the way I do.
1. First thing to consider is what macro lens. From what I’ve seen there are generally 3 different focal length prime macro lenses (single focal length, 1:1 magnification <= key, it just ain't macro if it's not native 1:1 or greater); which are, ~60mm, ~100mm, ,~150mm, and ~180mm (Canon MP-E 65mm, Canon EF-S 60mm, Tamron 90mm, Canon 100mm, Sigma 105mm, Sigma/Tamron 150mm, Sigma 180, Tamron 180mm, and Canon 180mm) to name a few or heck in this case all of them. Key point in this list line-up is that the Canon MP-E 65mm is a 1-5X macro lens and is should be considered only if you have experience and good knowledge of macro photography.
a. I could be ball-parking some figures here, but the variances will show my point. The 60mm class will give you a 1:1 magnification; however the Minimum Focus Distance (MFD) will be the shortest of all prime macros at roughly 5 inches. The 100mm range macro lenses stretches that MFD to about 8 inches, and finally the 180mm at about 11 inches (I know I’m off, but this tells you the key differences between all of them). This key difference enables you to understand how close you need to get to your subjects at 1:1 magnification. Shooting jewelry with a 60mm prime macro is no sweat, but shooting a skittish butterfly with one…tricky to say the least.
b. Of course, there are trade-offs with everything right? When looking at the hand-holding ability the lens for easiest to hardest I have to put them in the aforementioned order 60, 100, 150, and 180.
c. Finally, I have zero experience outside of the Canon 100mm macro lens…but I feel comfortable saying that it’s a “happy middle ground” macro lens…not too long nor too short.
d. One last point to consider, for a given aperture such as f/11, at 1:1 you likeliness of better bokeh increases as your focal length increases, i.e. the average bokeh quality (smoothness of background blur) is better with a 180mm vs. a 60mm at 1:1 and f/11.
2. Now I’ll base the rest tutorial off of my Canon 30D, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens, and Canon Speedlite 580EX. About 90% of the time I use my flash system, which currently consists of a Canon Speedlite 580EX and this this DIY Ring-Flash.
The chief reason I use flash is not necessarily to illuminate the subject, but moreover, to enable me to shoot in the 1/160th of a second realm which consistently produces “clearer” photos while hand holding (by clearer I mainly mean in-focus and not necessarily sharper). I forgot, I enjoy shooting 99% of the time hand-held, so in keeping with the rule of thumb “1/focal length” for shutter speed, I like to bump it up a notch to 1/160th plus with my 100mm macro lens. However, again, you are faced with trade-offs, no matter what you end up with on the shutter speed, ISO, and stop settings, try not to produce images with the background completely un-exposed, i.e. black…having painted or lighted backgrounds make far better shots in my humble opinion (IMHO). Remember, these settings are not set in stone...I've shot at 1/100th second many times. Personally, I hate tripods for macro…just my taste. I do prefer tripods for landscape and firework photography or for that matter anything taking less than 1/30th second i.e. long exposures.
3. Learn to compose by taking particular attention to the subject in relation to its background. Just a slight movement upward or to the right or left can mean all the difference between a normal shot and a stellar shot. I typically try to position background matter the furthest away from the subject and I try to choose brighter BG’s over darker BG’s so there’s pleasant life to the BG.
4. Almost there…practice, practice, practice…I remember one evening spending 2 hours shooting stuff around the house, including my son’s Lego men. The more you practice the more you will become aware of how your gear behaves in certain lighting conditions. Some examples (1:1 or near 1:1): In direct sunlight, I use flash as fill in manual at 1/64th to 1/128th power just to help colors pop and soften shadows, usually I try ISO 100, f/11ish, with shutter speed around 1/200th sec. In medium outdoor light with strong ambient I use the flash at about 1/32nd pwr and ISO 100, f/8-11, 1/160th. In shade with low ambient light I use the flash at 1/8 to 1/4 pwr, ISO 160, f/8, 1/125th to 1/160th sec. All of course in full manual both flash and camera. When I first started using the flash I had to chirp (set) the settings across several shots (4-5) before getting the exposure and histogram I wanted. Now after just 4 months of using my flash a lot, I can hit it on the first or second shot. Remember, you are going to see a lot of noise in macro bokeh if you use ISO 200 or greater, too much IMHO.5. Finally, the end product doesn’t come out in the field alone. My method of post-processing really helps bring out the best in my shots. Here’s my work flow:
a. From RAW I use Bibble Pro 4.9 to process to full 100% quality full resolution jpg. Using, on average, about 30% noise ninja, 30% sharpen, highlight recovery (when needed, it the tell-tell indicator doesn’t show any blown highlights, then I uncheck and disable highlight recovery, about 2 on contrast, 3 on color saturation, and fill/exposure as needed.
b. After Bibble, I then open the full-resolution jpg in Adobe Photoshop CS3 and use a noise reduction (NR) filter called Noiseware Professional at the default settings. I usually make a layer mask and apply the NR and then use a white soft brush on the layer mask and remove the noise reduction on the in-focus subject areas. If you haven’t already realized, saving from RAW to 100% jpg and then re-editing the jpg and saving again is not the “best” way to edit. Your goal should be to fully edit in RAW and then save to 100% jpg
, but for me, the Adobe RAW converter just doesn’t stack up to Bibble and I’ve done plenty of tests and they all favor my current process. I plan to buy Adobe Elements 6 RAW which I hope will stack up to Bibble and thus integrate with Photoshop and allow me to do full processing in RAW before converting to 100% jpg.
c. After the noise reduction, I use a filter called Re-Dynamix (thanks to Dalantech for sharing this with us on his Flickr account) WHAT, I HDR MOST OF MY MACRO SHOTS? LOL, yep, sure do, but ever so slightly (when I really want HDR, I use PhotoMatix
). Reference the screen shot of the plug-in settings I most commonly use…if you do get this plug-in you will see what a subtle yet desirable effect it gives the shot (my settings below are wayyyyy tuned-down from default). In many cases when I open the jpg, I duplicate the base layer and create a layer mask and apply the Re-Dynamix filter to the layer mask and then paint away with a white soft brush the areas of the shot I want to remove the Re-Dynamix filter because it does tend to create extra noise in BG areas or areas of monotone color aka the bokeh areas. I then duplicate that layer and do some minor levels/burning and then apply a very slight un-sharp mask of radius .9 at about 30%. I will have a video tutorial of these steps very soon.
Here’s that screen shot of my Re-Dynamix Photoshop Plug-in-In settings:
And of course, here’s my Lens Photo Review stream for the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens: Some of my Macro Examples