Thursday, March 7, 2013

HOW TO: Macro on the cheap.

I know i've done my post for the day for my 365 project, but I was thinking to myself, since i've been doing so much macro lately, I may as well explain how I do it.

There's a lot of different ways you can do macro photography, bellows, macro lenses, extension tubes, tripods, ring flash, no flash, hand held, etc etc. I do it the simplest of simple ways - The cheapest too!

              1. Camera
              2. Extension tube
              3. Lens that has an aperture ring to manually open and close the aperture.

And that's pretty much it.. told you it was simple. I've always loved doing macro photography, something about noticing things that people often ignore or overlook - Kind of the same feelings I have towards news/documentary photography and perhaps why I love them both so much? 

--------back to my how to-------

I used to do macro work with the D3s and i'd use extension tubes as well, however as those who are familiar with sensor size and all, I'd essentially lose magnification in my images due to the fact I was shooting on a full frame sensor. Macro is pretty much the only time I hate having full frame. The good thing about the Nikon was that I had all my fancy equipment that allowed me to do macro "properly" using flashes and such to illuminate the subjects better. Not only does flash illuminate your subject and potentially isolate it from the background, it also has the ability to 'freeze' an image in the frame. Now I know that sounds stupid cos you're thinking "hang on mate, images freeze action anyway." well yes, you are correct - to a degree. Flash freezing (not food) basically keeps your subject frozen in the shot even if there is a little bit of motion blur due to shakiness from the user or not a fast enough shutter speed. - Quick run down - Images are gathered on a digital sensor and exposure is determined by amount of light hitting the sensor as well as how much time is given to the sensor to expose a frame. How the flash works - in this case macro - is that, by pulsing out a beam of light at phenomenally fast speeds, you are essentially able to freeze an object in your frame regardless of your shutter speed. 

To prove how fast i'm talking here's an example. My camera, D3s has a max shutter speed of 1/8000 - 1/8000th's of a second.. that's, one EIGHT THOUSANDTHS OF A SECOND, flash speeds make that look laughable. On a Nikon SB800, depending on your power output, you're getting.. 

1/1050 sec.   at M1/1 (full) output
1/1100 sec.   at M1/2 output
1/2700 sec.   at M1/4 output
1/5900 sec.   at M1/8 output
1/10900 sec. at M1/16 output
1/17800 sec. at M1/32 output
1/32300 sec. at M1/64 output
1/41600 sec. at M1/128 output

So as you can see from that, that's INSANELY quick time durations. So long story short, if you can 'freeze' a subject at 1/41600th of a second, you can see how that will eliminate blurriness in your moving subjects. 

So like I was saying.. I used to use flash and all that on my D3s, yeah it looked a bit better but it was cumbersome, I'd use a TTL cable (basically a cable connecting the flash to the camera) and hold out approximately where I thought it'd be effective and fire away. 

There's a flash, bottom left of the frame illuminating this hover fly(?) making it pop out from the background as well as freezing him properly in the frame. How I fluked this image I have no idea, D3s + extension tubes. 

So, how am I doing it today? well like I mentioned earlier, I do it on the cheap. I use my trusty NEX 5n and there's a few reasons why I like it more than my D3s for macro. Basically it's smaller and lighter, has a 1.5x magnification due to the smaller sensor and the EVF with real time camera settings is handy for composing and seeing how the image will turn out. The BAD thing about the Sony is that it has this STUPID smart port thing that the EVF connects too, thus getting rid of a normal hot shoe, so NOONE can attach useful things like - A FLASH to it... however, if you DID want to use flash, you can use the flash from the 5n (which you have to attach and therefore lose the EVF) and fire it to set off a flash like an SB-900/910 wirelessly - Down side is that you're limited to a 1/160th shutter speed, so variable ND filters are needed if you want to shoot in the bright bright sunlight. 

As you can see from that, it's a lot of work using flash with the NEX to do macro, that's why I don't even bother. 

Enough talk, my setup. NEX 5n, Minolta 58mm f1.4 + cheapo eBay extension tubes. 

As you can see the extension tubes along with the lens and adapter make this camera look stupidly out of proportion, however, the results speak for themselves!

The extension tubes are made up of 3 sections, 1, 2 , 3. They don't line up like this I just did it for effect. Also, they're not in order because I tightened #2 too tight to the adapter that it now wont come off.. so... yeah... So how it works is, the more sections you have, the more "macro" you get. I like to shoot with all three cos I like to get in as close as possible. 

Unlike macro lenses - which are a lot more expensive - when you use the extension tubes, you can only focus SO far, I mean a few centimetres. Because the lens has been taken off the camera body, you've basically messed up the whole flange distance (distance to sensor from lens) so the lens can no longer focus from X to infinity anymore. With a macro lens you can focus from macro alllll the way to infinity,  whereas if I see something cool in the distance and try to take a photo with the extension tubes on - it's a no go. It does get annoying trying to change magnification sometimes when certain insects or such look too big in the viewfinder, so changing and swapping sections is a bit of a guessing game in how much macro I will get with different combinations of sections. 

So now that you see how my setup looks, how do I use it? well, it's simple. When using extension tubes you basically rock back and forth into focus like you're using a magnifying glass. It's as simple as that. This rocking back and forwards motion puts a little bit of stress on my back and such as it puts me in awkward situations sometimes, as well as making me hold in those sometimes awkward positions for long periods of time while I TRY DESPERATELY to hit focus quickly - PS the wind is NOT your friend when shooting macro.

Look, so that's about it. Pretty dry blog post but just thought i'd share with you all on how I do what I do. I'd post some examples but i'm sure you've all seen too many macro shots lately. ( -_-') 

Anyways hope you enjoyed my HOW TO: Macro on the cheap, and hopefully I can come up and write a few more in the future!