Recently I was thinking about how I regained my interest in photography. While there a few things that came together, it really came down to one subject thatI enjoyed shooting. And that was…. insects.
Prior to my discovery of the fun it was to shoot them and even more fun to study the images after, I hadn’t picked up a camera for many years. Other than for a few vacation snaps that is. But I found myself going to warm climates for vacations and there were usually some insects around. I had upgraded to a 10mp camera (big, right?) at the time and I was having fun with how you could zoom into the pic after you took it.
At first it was just a fun thing to play with but I started to take some shots of the random dragonfly, bee, fly and ladybug and the detail I started to see when Izoomed in was far beyond what I imagined. The dragonfly’s eyes were beautiful and the bees came in so many varieties. I found that some of these were reasonably cooperative models while others seemed to take the concept of “stranger danger” to a whole new level. I realized I needed a camera that let me keep my distance. So I got myself a super-zoom which kept me far away.
At that point I started seeing other people’swork on Flickr and felt I could improve my own. This was when I started to learn the difference between macro and zoom. And while the zoom could get some great close-ups, I just couldn’t get that filled frame shot with a creamy background. I wanted more control of my shots through the settings and the ability to shoot macro so I got myself my very first DSLR. The first specialty lens I bought was a Sigma 150mm. The difference in the photos was amazing. But, like everything, macro came at a cost. First is autofocus and second is depth of field.
Autofocus is useless for macro and its loss is frustrating when you first start since most of us rely on it so much. After a while though, you start to find it’s actually a bit liberating because AF tends to be a bit slow and many times chooses a different focal point. With AF in your control you start to become more aware of how your shots are framed and you can start playing around with different compositions.
The second, depth of field, is quite drastic. When you’re at full macro, the depth of field is literally a slice measured in millimeters. It’s so narrow that a bee’s mandibles can be in sharp focus while its eyes have lost significant detail. To complicate matters, when your handheld, something as simple as your breathing or a mild breeze can put your subject out of focus. Digital review is essential here. Because of the shallow depth of field and my less than steady hand, I have to take a lot of shots to get a few keepers (results may vary).
Even with these two challenges, I love macro. It has made me think about my photography in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. It also gets the creative juices flowing by making you think about how to get different shots and how to overcome these challenges. What I want to do next, is to go beyond appreciating the close-up beauty of these insects and get to know more about their life cycle and habits so that I can improve my chances of getting better, useable, shots. I’ve even been thinking about getting a macro adapter for my iPhone so that I won’t miss an opportunity if it comes up.
Hopefully someone will post a great article about bees here soon. If you want to share your own story, let me know and we can get it up here too. I’d love to hear why people started up.