Tag Archives: Digital single-lens reflex camera

Six Tips to Improve Your Bug Photography


I have been teaching workshops for a couple of years now, I have gained some idea of the most common areas that many aspiring macro photographers need to work on to improve their photography.

  1. Compose — first compose yourself, then work on your composition. The more excited you are about a subject, the more likely you are to make errors. Take a deep breath, check your equipment and settings, take a test shot then plan your approach before moving in to take photographs.
  2. Get down — down to the level of your subject: it’s eye contact you want. While other viewpoints can be interesting or helpful for identification, it is eye-to-eye contact that allows viewers to connect to the subject.
  3. Eyes in focus — in most instances, the lack of depth of field in macro photography is rendered acceptable when the eye is in focus. However, to make maximum use of limited depth of field, in may be best to focus at a point in front of, or behind the eye so that more of the subject falls within the zone of focus.
  4. Use a flash — learn to use flash to freeze your own magnified movements and the movements of the subject. Without good diffusion and an understanding of how shutter speed affects flash exposure, flash photos can appear harsh and unnatural. With good technique, the image should appear as if you have only one light source, without  blown-out highlights, deep obscuring shadows or black backgrounds. More on this in a future post.
  5. Work your subject— a quick glance at the LCD will tell you if your exposure is right. Now forget chimping and keep shooting: focus variation of fractions of a millimeter can determine the success of your photograph. Repeated shooting gives you a better chance of finding that magic zone. Staying with a cooperative subject often opens up new possibilities to produce better compositions or more interesting behaviors. Move yourself, your camera, and your light source to focus, to find a better plane of focus, to improve composition and lighting and to find better backgrounds that emphasize the subject.
  6. Practice — Finding your subject, approaching it, getting close enough, holding the plane of focus while you move and/or when your subject moves–all the while still paying attention to composition and good exposure is a challenge. Living in Canada, I have to deal with 4 or 5 months where there are no bugs to be found outdoors. Every spring I enter the field impatient and raring to go…and find that I have fallen out of the ‘groove’ and am making silly errors. Practice when you can: with table-top photography in the home, in the garden, at a local park or a nearby nature reserve. Don’t expect great results if you only do photography on a few weekends and vacation.

Despite all precautions and preparations and often a great deal of effort, there will be days when you come home with no outstanding results. Don’t despair, remember that you had the privilege of spending time in nature and that your failures are all part of the regular process of learning. Eventually, your patience and persistence will be rewarded.

Posted in Bugs, Equipment, macro, photography, Student, Technique, Workshop Also tagged , , , , , |

Last Scheduled Macro Workshop of the Year.

Introduction to Close-up and Macro Photography

Totaling 11 hours, this course covers all the macro essentials. We meet at the Centre for the Arts and Communication at MacEwan University on Thursday, October 1 for three hours to cover equipment, accessories, composition and basic skills. The following Saturday we will visit a natural area (or Muttart Conservatory) for 5 hours to practice macro techniques on a variety of subjects. Finally, on Tuesday, October 5 we meet again for 3 hours at the university to do photo and assignment reviews, share image processing tips and then take a brief look at more advanced techniques.

From the MacEwan University Continuing Ed Course Calendar:

Take a closer look at the wonder and diversity of nature with macro photography. Learn to capture amazing detail of flowers, fungi, insects and more with this hands-on workshop and location shoot. Working with natural light and electronic flash; you will learn various techniques to make the most out of magnification. Demonstrations, assignments and image discussions focus on both the art and skills of macro photography as well providing tips for low-cost equipment alternatives. Prerequisite(s): DSLR camera, SLR I or a good understanding of manual mode required. Participants are responsible for transportation and entrance fees to the location site.

Visit the MacEwan website for registration information.

Posted in Accessories, Alberta, Autumn, Bugs, close-up, Composition, Edmonton, Education, Equipment, General, macro, photography, Season, Technique, Workshop Also tagged , , |

An affordable Speedlite transmitter for Canon.

I don’t usually do sales blurbs, but I have been using the little Canon EOS 90EX for a few days and I think there may be some interested in its potential for macro photography.

Many others may have the same problem I do. My older model EOS T2i and 5D MkII do not have flash with integrated wireless Speedlite transmitter capabilities. The solution for many has been to been to buy after-market wireless transmitters, which do not all provide the same type of control as Canon’s system, or if they do, they also come at some expense. Others use Speedlite models 580 EX, 580 EXII and the macro flashes (Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX and Ring Lite MR-14EX) to act as master flashes, or they purchase the Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2. There is a less will known option, made by Canon, that will provide most of the same functions for only $60.00 US.

Remember the Canon EOS M? Released in 2012, it was Canon’s first mirrorless system camera. It did not fare well in initial reviews, but it did leave us with an EOS compatible compact flash, the Speedlite 90 EX, which is listed as:

A compact, high performance flash that delivers superbly lit everyday shots such as portraits and indoor scenes plus creative lighting effects. The ideal companion for the EOS M.

  • Slim, pocketable design
  • Shoot superbly lit portraits and indoor scenes
  • High power in a compact body
  • Explore creative lighting effects
  • Quick, discreet and fully automatic flash shooting
  • Powered by readily available AAA batteries”

Ignoring the usual exaggerations, the kicker line here is “Explore creative lighting effects“. That is Canon-speak for master wireless flash control. The blurb continues…

The Speedlite 90EX opens up countless creative lighting opportunities, thanks to its built-in Wireless master function. As a master flash unit it can wirelessly trigger up to three groups of other flashes, which have a built-in slave function such as the Speedlite 270EX II, from up to 7 meters away indoors.”

Through the camera menu with ETTL II you can also control hi-speed sync., metering modes (evaluative or average), 4 channels, add flash exposure compensation and adjust group A:B flash ratios. On Manual you can also control the output power level of each group, which is great for macro photographers. This means the 270 EXII, 430 EXII, and the 580 EXII can be controlled wirelessly through the camera menu.

So if you miss the benefits of master flash control, and are not yet ready to dish-out for a newer EOS camera, then consider the Speedlite 90EX. Today Canon’s US list price is 9.99but still only .49 at B&H!

(Images from Canon website)

Posted in Canon, Equipment, Flash, macro, Winter Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |



Image by Olympus

Continuing from Genesis, more nostalgia…

The Olympus OM2 was the first in a set of tools that allowed me to begin taking true macro photographs. Given to me by my father in the 1980’s, I had no idea of its full macro potential until almost 15 years later. At first my needs were simple, so I used the 50mm lens for a few years before investing in a used Zuiko f4 200mm telephoto lens. Later came a macro lens, and then the fun began.

To remind those too young to know, this was still the era of film cameras, with digital nowhere in sight. I switched from print film to slide film not long after I obtained this camera. Processing was slow, which meant a three-day wait for results if I was shooting Ektachrome or Fujichrome, and full week to wait if I was shooting Kodachrome…a long time when you consider that now, with digital, you can immediately check the results of each frame.

And besides the time, there was the money: unless you were prepared to run your own darkroom, you paid for your mistakes. There was no deleting of images before processing and you paid for all the prints/slides whether they were good or not . Film photographers on a budget shot carefully and spent some time improving exposure skills to avoid waste.

The OM line of SLR cameras were known for their small size and the extensive system developed to back them up. The first was the manual OM1, released in 1972, followed by the OM2 in 1975. The OM2 added an automatic exposure system with an aperture-preferred shutter. While having many improved features, the OM-2 stood out from crowd by having the world’s first OTF direct light metering system, which measured light reflected off the surface of the film (OTF), and was sophisticated enough to give automatic TTL flash control.

Olympus OM System by Wapster

Olympus OM System by Wapster

While many had formulas for using flash with manual cameras, in my experience the results were inconsistent, and wasteful of film. For me, TTL flash control opened the field of the macro photography of insects, because it would reliably expose photographs no matter what lens combinations and flash position I chose. It was brilliant.

But it took some time for me to get to that point. The fact that Olympus had a super-extensive system didn’t mean I could afford any of it! I started cheaply with extension tubes and the regular 50mm f1.8 lens, but I still had to find a true macro lens. Eventually I managed to find the Olympus 50mm f3.5 macro lens second-hand, and later added the well-rated Tamron 90mm macro. My first flashes were manual Vivitar flashes, but by 1995 I acquired the small but worth Olympus T20 TTL flash. In 1996, while on vacation in the Rockies with family, I took an image that was to set me on the slow path to macro bug photography…

Not very good by today's standards, this is a scan from the slide that made me begin to appreciate bug photography. Mt. Revelstoke National Park, 1996.

Not very good by today’s standards, this is a scan from the slide that made me begin to appreciate the potential of bug photography with flash. Mt. Revelstoke National Park, 1996.

Excited by the potential of the system,  I was later to add an OM 1 camera, the Olympus bellows unit, a 28mm wide-angle lens, more T20 flashes, the 65–115mm telescopic auto-tube, and finally that to-die-for marvel, the OM 4 camera.

All these additions were previously owned items. I should have thought more about why all this film-based equipment was entering the market…

Digital happened.

Olympus had fallen.

Posted in Alberta, Nostalgia Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


Exa, Version 4, from Wikipedia, by Jaroslav A. Polák.

Exa, Version 4, from Wikipedia, by Jaroslav A. Polák.

Exa, Version 4, from Wikipedia, by Jaroslav A. Polák.

Exa, Version 4, from Wikipedia, by Jaroslav A. Polák.

William and Martijntje Thysse, July 1964, Wawa, Ontario.

The Exa, with William and Martijntje Thysse, July 1964, Wawa, Ontario.

I entered  photography in the 1970’s while living in South Africa. Just a teen, I was lucky to receive as my first camera an old Exa (version 4, manufactured between 1956 and 1959) that my father had outgrown. It came with a 50mm lens, extension tubes and a hand-held light meter. This was the camera my father had used to document the family since the early 1960’s.

Unfortunately, my allowance was meagre and film was not often purchased so I gained little experience from this camera except that it taught me the basic principles of exposure. It was auto-nothing: no auto-aperture, no auto-mirror return, no auto-exposure, no auto-advance…just a fully manual mechanical SLR with a vertical viewfinder that gave an inverted (left to right) image. Working with the hand-held light meter and having to twiddle all the knobs, rings and dials to get the settings right, soon taught me the essentials of exposure. Later, I was also given the oddball Zeiss Ikon ‘Movikon 8, a clockwork 8mm manual movie camera, that helped cement my understanding of exposure.

The Exa was the budget line of the Exakta series of cameras, made by Ihagee Kamerawerk Steenbergen & Co, Dresden, Germany. Even as a budget version, it was still well made, a solid camera strong enough to defend yourself with. It had a few quirks, even for its day, but if all you have experienced is digital SLR’s, the following features should amaze you:

  • It used 35mm film (pronounced ‘fill-um’)
  • It had an interchangeable viewfinders, although we had only the hooded vertical finder (as above), so…
  • …the image was reversed, side to side, when viewed.
  • There was a ‘Sport’ finder, just a rectangular hole in the hood, that allowed for quick, if not accurate framing.
  • You could replace the viewfinder with the ‘Special Prism’ , a pentaprism like on todays DSLR’s.
  • The shutter was a function of the reflex mirror, not independent.
  • Shutter speed range was immense: B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/150 (that’s it!)
  • The shutter release was on the front, on the left-side of the lens. If you pressed the button where today’s shutter release sits, you would have activated the film rewind.

The lens was likely either an early version of the 50mm f2.8  Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens, a four-element lens that came with either coated or uncoated glass, or the three-element 50mm f2.9 Meyer-Optik Görlitz Trioplan. (I can’t quite make it out from the few pictures we have)

The IHAGEE & EXAKTA PRODUCTS AND HISTORY website has lots of information on the Exacta and Exa cameras, and also has the pdf manual for our version.

pop22_om2I photographed everything I could then, mostly family outings and nature, within the limits of my budget. That Exacta was left behind in South Africa in 1977, when my father commandeered it and traded it in for the latest technology, the Olympus OM2. For a few years my only camera was the Movikon.

Back in Canada, sometime around 1980, my father tired of the OM2, which he thought too small for his hands. He moved to the heftier Canon A1, and I, in turn, inherited the Olympus. That was a camera designed for macro…but that’s another story.

Posted in Camera, Canada, Edmonton, Equipment, General, History, photography, Season, Summer Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |