No-Fail Checklist for Macro

Have you ever had something like this happen to you?:

You spot an insect trapped in a spider’s web at ground-level at the base of a river bank. You slowly lower yourself to your knees and shuffle ahead. Leaning forward, you gently ease yourself down until you are lying on your belly. You carefully inch the camera forward, shifting to achieve the correct plane and angle, moving slowly so as not to disturb your prey subject. It has taken 15 minutes to get into the position where you are perfectly placed: the plane of  focus is just right, the composition is golden and you ease your finger down on the shutter…

FLASH FAIL!

Drat!  

(insert expletive of choice…)

Your flash does not trigger/Your camera gives a low battery signal/The shutter won’t release/You have no memory card installed!

Am I the only photographer who has had situations where the perfectly set-up shot was ruined because some key setting was wrong or a piece of equipment failed?  There are times when the LCD view-screen is impossible to view properly outdoors, even if you dare to take your eyes off the subject for fear of losing the moment. In the case of macro photography, moving to correct a faulty piece of equipment can mean your subject is disturbed. Worst of all, you may only notice your error later, when it is too late to repeat the opportunity.

That led me to write-up this Checklist for Macro Photography.

This list is for a typical set-up of my own: a single flash with a softbox set on a bracket:

Camera
– battery charged?
– memory card installed and with more than sufficient space for the project at hand?
– go through the menu – check ISO, white balance, image quality and other relevant settings
– set camera mode and appropriate shutter and aperture settings
– make sure that previously entered exposure adjustments are off, or where they should be.
– be sure that camera-controlled flash settings are correct
– if shooting with two camera bodies, synchronize date and time
– turn off the focus-assist light if possible

Flash
– are the batteries fresh?
– are the flash settings correct? TTL, exposure compensation, auto-zoom etc.
– if you are not shooting with the flash in manual mode, have you turned off the pre-flash?
– is the flash properly seated on the cable hotshoe and locked down?
– is the cables seated fully on the camera hotshoe and locked down?

Bracket and Softbox
– will the flash angle cover your full field of focus?
– are the velcro tabs on the softbox firmly attached?
– is the softbox positioned so no stray light will hit the lens surface?
– are all the bracket joints firmly tightened?

General
– do you you have the necessary accessories near at hand? (e.g. right-angle viewfinder, reflectors, supplementary flash, spare batteries and memory cards?)
– have you removed or tightened your hat (twice I have had wind gusts blow my hat on my subject!)
– kneepads on ?

This list can be adapted for your own circumstances. It is especially useful at the beginning of the season when your normally finely honed skills have become a bit rusty.

And if you have a fail story you would like to share, please do so in the comments.

After all, misery loves company.

(revised and re-posted from The Bug Whisperer –  31 August, 2009)

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