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Focusing on the small things in life... Macro Photography


Keeper of the Asylum
Feb 28, 2003
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:tab So last Christmas I got my self the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens. I also picked up a set of Kenko extension tubes. My work makes it hard for me to go places, so I figured I'd get a lens that I could use during spare moments at home. I've been experimenting with it on both the D750 (full frame) and my D7200 (crop sensor), both of which have 24Mp sensors. On the D7200, this lens is more like a 160mm Macro lens. I started out not using a flash, but have now switched to using it almost all the time. My oldest daughter, Sarah (13), has developed an interest in photography and this lets me do something fun with her as well. So this thread will be a sort of chronicling of our learning process.

:tab This first set of shots is from a Wisteria bush in our yard. In mid March, it was in full bloom and swarming with big bees. Sarah and I wandered over to see what we could find. They are shot with the D750.





:tab The bees were moving fast! It was hard to spot them, get in position, and grab the shot before they were already moving on to the next flower. I was using the auto-focus as well, which was frustrating because it would spend a lot of time hunting. I've since learned to just turn it off and manual focus.










A different kind of bee

:tab Just a few interesting shots from the bush itself...





:tab Sarah is a great spotter. She is able to pick out bugs that I don't see. She found this Lady Bug crawling around on the under side of some branches.




:tab Two days later a tornado came through our neighborhood. The intense hail completely stripped the Wisteria bush bare. It has since budded out with new leaves, but no more flowers. We lost quite a few trees, had damage to the house, garage, and cars, but everyone came out fine. Now we are just dealing with insurance and contractors.

:tab More to come...
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...are those significant crops?

I don't play near as much with my 105mm as I probably should.
Really like the ones with the bees. The amount of detail is incredible. How close physically were you from the bees? Keep posting .
:tab These are all single shot exposures. I've not yet attempted any focus stacking. These are cropped, some quite a bit. At this point in my shooting, I was not really thinking in terms of keeping the lens set at the 1:1 reproduction scale. Nor was I really trying to get in tight. Now I just set the lens to 1:1 and focus by moving the camera in/out relative to the subject. This makes the subject fill much more of the frame and results in less cropping. I'll be posting some pics in a later batch that have no cropping at all.

:tab twtex85, I don't really worry about getting close to the bees. They are busy going about their business and don't generally seem concerned with me or the camera. I grew up helping my Dad take care of 13 bee hives. For the most part, as long as you aren't going out of your way to annoy them, they aren't aggressive. Now, hornets and wasps... that might be a different story ;-) Shooting at the 1:1 setting on the lens means getting in within an inch or so from the end of the lens. Then I have to cram the flash right up there near the end of the lens as well. But I didn't start doing that until later. My latest batch of pics came out really good, especially the honey bee I got!
What's this 1 inch to the subject thing? My Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 has a minimum focus distance of like 12 inches. :ponder:
:tab So Easter weekend, we headed up to a family gathering at a cousin's place just outside of Elkhart. He has 50 acres of pastures and woods. I always take the cameras to get family shots, but this time I had the macro lens and Sarah spotted a few critters for me! These are all single exposure hand held shots, no flash, all cropped, and shot with the D750. I will leave it to you guys to identify the critters.







Common house fly I suppose...





These last shots were back at my parent's place. Sarah and I had been out riding around in the Kubota RUV and she spotted this TINY spider on the dash.






My left index finger for scale...

:tab The thing about shooting macro is that you are working with a depth of field that is razor thin, like a millimeter or two at best. So you REALLY have to work at trying to get the important bits in focus, like eyes. Shooting hand held, you REALLY need something to brace against to help hold the camera steady. Even then just your breathing and heart beat can be enough to cause motion blur even at relatively fast shutter speeds. For the spiders and the fly, I had the camera resting on something solid. For the Caterpillar, I was free holding and trying to shoot at the end of my exhales, like when shooting guns. Stopping way down on the aperture doesn't have a real big effect on the depth of field because the lens is so close to the subject. If you look at the grit on the surfaces under the spiders and fly, you can really see just how thin the DOF really is!

[I must have something screwed up on my LR export settings because the normal EXIF info for camera, lens, settings, etc,... is not showing up!?]
What's this 1 inch to the subject thing? My Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 has a minimum focus distance of like 12 inches. :ponder:

Whoops... getting my lenses confused! :doh: You are right. With the 105 (and no extension tubes) it is 12". I was playing around with it and a few other lenses with extension tubes and that lets you get the lens right up on the subjects. None of these shots were done with the tubes.
Thanks for the clarification. Man, I was going "what does he have I don't"? lol...
:tab This next series of images was taken outside our church. I'd never seen these little red strawberry looking thingies before. They are about the size of a green pea. All of these shots were with the D750+105mm, hand held, no flash, and cropped.












A tripod would REALLY help with the quality of images like these. Even me being willing to get down on my hands and knees would help... :-P
Thanks for the clarification. Man, I was going "what does he have I don't"? lol...

:tab Yeah, I have been doing a TON of reading as well, and most of those guys use the Canon 65mm macro that does 1-5 magnification. That one gets REAL close to the subject. So I tried the 50mm lens I have with a bunch of extension tubes and that gets me real close. I wasn't using the flash at the time though and I think I deleted ALL of those images! I may go back and try it again with the flash.

:tab When I first started this, my keeper rate was super low. It is still maybe 1 in 25 and that is really just so I have something to keep to gauge whether or not I am improving. Few of the shots so far have the sharpness of focus and DOF I'd like to see (without resorting to stacking). However, I can see an improvement now that I started using the flash. It is amazing what a difference it makes in color and in sharpness.
What's this 1 inch to the subject thing? My Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 has a minimum focus distance of like 12 inches. :ponder:

That's 12 inches from the sensor. So only a couple from the end of the lens.
So do I pick up that 50% effect using my crop body over a FF either of which is using the 105mm macro lens? ie: would I be better suited to use the crop body and the macro over the FF and the macro?
:tab Not being happy with my results thus far, I started Googling for tips on better macro shots. I found one blog in particular that I really like!

Extreme Macro: The Art of Patience

:tab This guy is a Canon shooter. He shoots hand held only, never crops, and never focus stacks!! His results are amazing. You can browse many of his shots here,


:tab I read his entire blog, from start to finish. As crazy as it sounds, reading his blog FINALLY got me to really understand how the exposure works with the flash. I had never been real clear on that. Now I realize that the camera exposure settings really just control the ambient/background lighting and the flash is a separate controllable light source, almost like a fourth exposure setting that works (mostly) independent of the other settings. So while in the middle of reading his blog, I made some changes.

:tab First, I switched to using the D7200 instead of the D750. Then I grabbed my SB-700 flash and extension chord so I could get the flash off camera. I set the exposure to 1/250, F11 and ISO 100. Then I headed out back to see what I could find on a BIG bush just outside our fence that was in full bloom and smelling REALLY strong! Here are the results,




















A starry night


:tab The flash helps. I was still having issues and at the time did not realize I had the red eye reduction setting turned on. This causes a few pre-flashes after pressing the shutter release button before the shutter actually releases. That makes timing my movements, focus, and shutter release hard. That gets changed later and makes a big difference in the number of keeper shots. Still, even with the flash related delay, some of these came out nice and the color is much better with the flash. I don't like the black backgrounds, but that also gets fixed later once I finally understood how to handle the ambient exposure apart from the flash.

:tab The light is pretty harsh because I wasn't using any kind of diffuser other than the little pull out flip down piece built into the flash. Later, I started adding the clip on diffuser, which does better, but is still harsher than I'd like. I will probably have to make something on my own. I want softer looking highlights.
So do I pick up that 50% effect using my crop body over a FF either of which is using the 105mm macro lens? ie: would I be better suited to use the crop body and the macro over the FF and the macro?

:tab Yes, most macro shooters that I have been reading use a crop body with either a DX or FX lens. The guy I linked above uses a crop body Canon with the FF 65mm macro. With the crop body and the FX lens, you basically get more of your subject on the sensor, so if you do crop, you still have more pixels in the final image. This assumes both bodies have the same Mp sensors like mine. If your FF body has a much higher Mp than the crop body (like a D800/850), then it might not make as much difference.
That's 12 inches from the sensor. So only a couple from the end of the lens.

:tab Okay, that makes more sense. I knew I did not have the end of the lens 12" from my subjects. I was having to push leaves out of the way to make room for the lens.
Yellowjackets get a little flustered when you stick that 105mm in their space. More so when it's 80*F outside. Just say'n..... :deal:

:tab So Sarah and I found ourselves with a nice afternoon and decided to do a walkabout to find some decent macro shots. The 105 was on the D7200 body and I had my 70-200 mounted with an extension tube (36mm I think) on the D750. We had the flash (still with red eye reduction on :roll:) with the off camera chord on the D7200 and no flash for the D750. Here are the shots from the D7200. This was the day that finally drove me bonkers with the flash and led me to finding out I had the red eye reduction turned on... after we finished shooting. So I deleted a LOT of out of focus shots from this batch. Even these are not as sharp as I would like where I would like.

:tab We tried heading over to the lake across the street from our house, but the wind was CRANKING and there was no way we were getting any decent shots over there. So we wandered back across the road toward our neighbor's back yard. I shot the following with the D750 along the way,

















:tab The neighbor's yard is huge (like 10 acres) and the dam over flow from the lake bisects it. He has several bridges over the large creek and all manner of flowers and bushes. They are grand parents and love having our kids come over to play and pester them. All these shots are from their back yard.




I don't know how Sarah spots these things. This guy is maybe 3-4mm from end to end! Getting down on the ground to shoot him was killing my knees, ankles, back... So trying to be steady while focusing was a real chore.






:tab The flash REALLY brought out the color of what basically looked like a black fly to the naked eye. These guys really flit and flutter about, making it a chore to compose the shot you want, get it focused, and then capture it before they flick away or spin around.



:tab I was trying really really hard to get this guy's eye focused. No luck. I had the lens and flash crammed in his face and he didn't seem to mind much at all. He flinched once or twice like he might take off, but then changed his mind each time. I had a LOT of shots of him, but they sucked... bad.



:tab I like these two, but this guy is so small that even with a big crop he is still really tiny. I am thinking maybe those dipoter magnification lens filters that screw into the end of the lens might be worth trying. They aren't expensive and I have been seeing pics taken with them that look really good.



:tab Sarah and I were on the neighbor's back deck visiting with his wife when Sarah spotted the Daddy Long Leg above the wife's head... She moved. Then I grabbed a few shots.

:tab We both were getting tired and hungry, so we headed back to the house for dinner. I put the flash thing out of my mind for a bit. Next time out though...
And finally, the most recent shots I've taken.

:tab These were taken at a giant bush covered with white flowers on the edge of our church parking lot. It can be smelled from several hundred feet away!! It also had a ton of wild honey suckle growing all around it. So it was covered with bees and all manner of other buggage. This time I had the red eye reduction setting turned OFF! I was anxious to see how I could do with the camera firing the instant I pressed the shutter release button. I popped off a few shots without the flash to get my ambient exposure up just high enough to get some background color so things wouldn't be so dark. I think I had the camera (D7200+105 lens) set at 1/250, F16, and ISO 400 or so. I was using the ISO to control the background brightness as I moved around in and out of shade and direct sunlight. Then I would cram the flash right up near the subject and start weaving back and forth trying to grab the focus I wanted. All these were shot 1:1 and had minimal cropping.

The eyes are way out of focus but I included this one just because you can see how much pollen is all over this dude. How can he see!?

Look at the hairs growing right out of the compound eyes!! I had no idea they did that.


This dude was shy. As soon as I'd compose, he'd usually turn away before I could fire off the shot. I chased him a good while to get these.




No idea what this is. I was just amazed at how much pollen was on him.






Is the white dot the eye into his soul...? Check out the little red eyes...



And a parting flower pic... just because...

:tab Impressions? Getting the flash set right really helps! Also, on some of these I played around with FEC and got it down to -1.0 and -2.0 occasionally. I was trying to under expose to saturate the colors and then bring things back up in Lightroom later. The light is still harsh even with the diffuser cap on the flash. I think I will make one of those little soft boxes that go on the end of the flash and see how that works. The other issue is that holding the camera in one hand and the flash in the other REALLY wears out my right arm. I need to get a bracket of some kind with one of those articulated arms to hold the flash where I want it. That will also make it MUCH easier to hold the camera steady. As it was, I was kind of leaning my lens on the left hand to help stabilize the body/lens.
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It was surprising to me to see some of the colors on those bugs. Just beautiful, even those pesky flies! Favorite color combo? The caterpillar with blue, orange strips and beige spots. Spiders? Well, the one with his legs gathered on each side of his head - fascinating.

Time well spent I think.
If I keep looking at all these 'bugs' I may end up liking them .. .. .. :eek2:
Very nice pictures!!
My latest effort...



Just a white foam board tube with a high tech attachment strap! When I first tried it, it was harsh. So I stuffed the clip on diffuser from the flash into the tube backward. That works well. I’ll get the pics up soon.
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:tab Okay, so once I got the flash tube mounted on the camera, I wandered outside looking for test subjects. These are all shot with the D7200.

Some flowers on our back porch




Some local residents on one of our fire wood stacks.



There's a big bush in our yard in full bloom and it is SWARMING with love bugs...



and among them I found a few other critters as well.

I really liked the color of this guy but couldn't get the shot of his head that I really wanted.



A little surprise popping up unexpectedly in front of our house under some bushes

This guy was really cool looking and fast moving. He was back up in the bush which made it hard to get close to him and still be able to even remotely keep myself steady for focusing.



and the last critter from the bush before I got tired of being mobbed by love bugs and headed inside to see how these pics came out.

:tab The foam board diffuser helps, but the light is still causing pretty bright highlights.While I was going through these images in Lightroom, the kids started pestering me to go across the street to the lake with them so they could fish. By this time it was early evening and I figured there would be plenty of photo ops at the lake, so I grabbed the camera and went with them.

:tab The shots above were mostly done at f11 and ISO 100. I wasn't happy with the DOF I was getting so I decided to go back to f16 at ISO 400. I also tried backing off the 1:1 focus range a bit to see if putting a bit of distance between the lens and the subject would give me better DOF.

I found lots of these guys, which were maybe 1" long from head to tail.







This guy was hiding among some flowers that had all manner of little flying critters flitting around. From the holes in his web, I am thinking he's been busy with dinner.


Another tiny dragon fly



I think this is Purple Vetch. It grows all over the dam at the lake in our neighborhood. There were so many variety of bees that I could hear the humming as I got closer.



I chased this guy for a while and this was the best shot I could get of him. I wish the head had been facing more my direction. Still, I do like this one.

Another bee...


I really like this shot!

There were Lady Bugs EVERYWHERE!





Lastly, I stumbled on yet another spider that just happened to be crawling along a weed and caught my eye.




:tab I think the f16 ISO 400 setting works pretty well. I like the bee pics in particular.
:tab So I had some time Sunday afternoon and decided to play around some more. I took some of the foam board left over from my flash tube project and basically made a reflector that I strapped to the lens with one of the girl's pony tail holders. It sticks out about 3" on the bottom and both sides but does not enter into the field of view of the lens. I am hoping it will reflect some of the light from the flash and act like a soft box of sorts. Ideally, the subject will be almost encompassed in the open end in front of the lens. Here are some shots from the back yard.

I revisited some flowers




A death trap on another wood pile, but I could not find the owner...

:tab So the big bush in the back yard that was blooming a week or two back has played out. The bees have moved on to sweeter pastures. But the love bugs and a bunch of these TINY flies were still hanging around. So I chased them for a while because they have really cool colors.












I included this one just because it had three of them in the shot and it was soooo close to being a really cool shot, IF ONLY that one guy in the foreground had been in focus!! This was the best of about 10 tries with one or more of them in flight.

:tab So while I was messing around with these flies, I felt something on my hand suddenly. When I looked, I realized a small spider had leapt onto to me while I was holding the chain link fence in front of the bush to steady the camera.

That is my thumbnail. He is tiny.

:tab Moments after the above shot, he leapt onto the lens. Then he started running up the side of the flash tube. I tried herding him back to my hand without any luck. So I decided to just head inside and sit down at the kitchen table with him and see what kind of pics I could get. One thing about chasing bugs for pics is that it is hard on the body with all the squatting, kneeling, and bending over in awkward positions to get shots. My back was already killing me and I needed to sit down for a bit. I also pulled the reflector thing off the lens. It might be helping, but it just gets in the way of me being able to adjust the focus setting of the lens. In retrospect, I should have grabbed some leaves or sticks to put on the table for posing the spider. Maybe next time...





:tab I REALLY want to figure out how to get good shots of little spiders like this. They are pretty cooperative and not really afraid. They are quite curious and didn't seem too worried about me nudging him here and there in an attempt to get him to move for better shots. When I got tired of messing with him, I let him go on a flower outside. Then it was inside to do the LR thing and see how the shots worked.

:tab All of the above shots are crops. Getting in really close to get the subject bigger on the sensor is great for getting good resolution and detail. But there is a serious trade off in terms of loss of DOF by getting so much closer. Starting at 24 Mp and cropping, I think I can still get a decent shot in terms of detail unless I go nuts with cropping. The shot of the spider on my thumb is heavily cropped. Here are a few before and after for comparisons:





:tab That last one is really pushing the effective limit of cropping. And lastly, here is the spider on my thumb,



Outstanding images!

The great thing about the macro lens is you can find an endless supply of insects, plants and other critters within your backyard.

...I wander what type of magnification is needed to get a really close image of the "compound eye" of the ant?