General Macro Questions

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Noah M
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General Macro Questions

Post by Noah M » September 4th, 2014, 2:08 pm

Just picked up a Sigma 105mm macro and have been playing around with it. My camera body is a Canon 60D. Has anybody else who shoots with macro found that the preset macro option on the camera body is worthless, and that unless you're shooting in the day, the aperture priority mode is also worthless?

I normally would shoot on P mode, and adjust as needed, but it seems like P mode with this macro is almost worthless. All it wants to do is crank the aperture to 2.8 which really screws with my DOF. And even on aperture priority, for night photography, when I bump the f-stop to something like f/8 or f/11 it wants a 0.5" shutter speed (with the flash on!). When in macro mode, it puts the f-stop at f/4, forces the flash, but then won't let me pick the focus point.

Here are some other questions I have:

What is the typical f-stop value when you use a macro lens at night with a flash?
How far away are you from your subject when shooting?
What's a good amount of DOF for most smaller herp subjects? Anything bigger than a sheet of paper, you're going to need to be so far back to fit it in the frame on my 105/crop-body the DOF problem no longer becomes an issue.

Here are some sample photos. The corn was at dusk with flash, the rest were at night, with flash. (just on-board pop-up flash for now)

I had trouble getting the DOF to my liking, with enough of the snake in focus (head, eye, good chunk of the body).

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I would probably fix this one next time by just turning a bit to get more of a profile.
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Finally something alright, but still not great IMO.
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MonarchzMan
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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by MonarchzMan » September 4th, 2014, 8:30 pm

I typically shoot in manual mode. For flash photography, I'll general shoot around f11 or f13 at 1/250 second and ISO at 100. I may shift that around to get the right lighting, but usually my first step is to adjust the exposure on the flash (which you should be able to do with the 60D, I would think). It really depends, sometimes I don't like the amount of DOF, and I'll tone it back. Depends on whether I have a distracting background.

The toad and the frog photos still have a somewhat shallow DOF for my tastes, although it depends on the effect you're going for. I would look into a speedlite, even one of the cheaper ones. The built-in flash is near useless if you want to get anything workable. It's amazing how much more power even the smaller speedlites pack. It's like night and day (almost literally). And you can angle it so that you don't get harsh lighting on the subject.

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ChrisNM
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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by ChrisNM » September 4th, 2014, 9:15 pm

captainjack0000 wrote:Here are some other questions I have:

What is the typical f-stop value when you use a macro lens at night with a flash?
How far away are you from your subject when shooting?
What's a good amount of DOF for most smaller herp subjects? Anything bigger than a sheet of paper, you're going to need to be so far back to fit it in the frame on my 105/crop-body the DOF problem no longer becomes an issue.
- Just as I do in the day I also use, depending on how focused I want the overall subject, anywhere from f/11 up to even f/22 at night. I'm typically at f/11 to f/16 for the majority of my shots though. In camera, my flash shutter speed is set to go no lower than 1/60 with the built-in popped up.
- This varies, however at night the farther away the more light obviously needed.
- This is subjective based upon ones' taste in their style of photos. I prefer to get most to all of the animal in focus, particularly if the animal aligns with most of the focal plane. If it carries out moderately then I'll play to that to work the foreground focused and lean towards getting good OOF/bokeh for the background.

The above in mind, I'm also shooting flash remotely via an SB-800 and SB-600, utilizing the built-in flash as the commander. The camera is a Nikon D300 and 9/10 times has my Nikkor 60mm micro f/2.8 attached to it. Though I can push the ISO, I typically shoot at 200 both night and day.

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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by chrish » September 5th, 2014, 6:13 am

captainjack0000 wrote:I normally would shoot on P mode, and adjust as needed, but it seems like P mode with this macro is almost worthless. All it wants to do is crank the aperture to 2.8 which really screws with my DOF.
This is the problem with P mode. It assumes you don't know what you are doing and generally favors faster shutter speeds over depth of field so you end up with f/2.8. However, most cameras (don't know the 60D), even in P mode you can turn the dial to have the camera simultaneously change both the f/stop and shutter speed to get it where you like it.
And even on aperture priority, for night photography, when I bump the f-stop to something like f/8 or f/11 it wants a 0.5" shutter speed (with the flash on!).


Something is wrong in your settings or camera then. You camera should choose the default flash sync speed (or faster) as the shutter speed when the flash is being used. The 60D has a flash sync speed of up to 1/250th of a second.

Are you sure you don't have the flash set to slow sync?
When in macro mode, it puts the f-stop at f/4, forces the flash, but then won't let me pick the focus point.


Macro modes on most cameras are only useful for specfic type of macro photography (flowers, etc). It is a waste of time for herps.
What is the typical f-stop value when you use a macro lens at night with a flash?
There isn't one really. The f/stop value should be determined by the amount of depth of field you want and the characteristics of your lens. Most lenses are sharper at f/13-f/16 than they are at f/22. So I only stop down past f/13 when you need the depth of field and f/13-16 isn't going to provide enough. When I am herping at night, I leave my camera of f/13 usually and only stop down more if I know the shot needs it.
How far away are you from your subject when shooting?
In macro herp shots, as far away as my lens will let me be to get the framing I want. Further is better with flash generally as the further the flash is away, the more even the lighting will be.
Three feet is a good distance for a tennis ball sized critter if your lens will let you get in where you want.

Remember, your 60D produces an 18MP image (5184 x 3456 pixels). Almost anything you do with your images (unless you are making billboards!) is going to require you to resize the image. So if you are going to not need 5184 x 3456 pixels, why not resize by cropping a bit? That gives you room to stand back a bit, get more even lighting, prevent scaring the animal as much and still get the macro shot you want.
What's a good amount of DOF for most smaller herp subjects? Anything bigger than a sheet of paper, you're going to need to be so far back to fit it in the frame on my 105/crop-body the DOF problem no longer becomes an issue.
There is no "good amount" of depth of field. It is really how much you want.

Here's a night shot of a frog at f/6.3 where the DOF is small and even the back legs of the frog are out of focus. But it doesn't matter in this photo. The frogs legs are irrelevant to the subject of the photo and so I would argue it is better that they are out of focus.

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In this shot (a captive snake), I wanted the rostrum and eyes in focus, so I stopped down to f/13. I didn't need the neck or the background in focus (and would prefer they weren't) so I didn't use f/22.

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In this Concho Watersnake shot, I shot at f/11. In hindsight, I wish I had stopped down to f/16 to get the anterior coils a bit shaper.

Image

Chris

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chrish
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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by chrish » September 5th, 2014, 6:28 am

The problem with the DOF in your shots is that you aren't stopping down.

This one was shot at f/8

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This was shot at f/4

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These two anurans were shot at f/2.8

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Image[/quote]

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Noah M
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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by Noah M » September 5th, 2014, 7:59 am

The problem with the DOF in your shots is that you aren't stopping down
Yes, I am aware of this - I was playing around with the settings to see what worked and what did not.

Thanks for the tips, I'll have to check the flash setting. I was thinking starting off at f/11 and going from there. I've been playing around with it in other contexts (shooting flowers and stuff found in the kitchen) and it seems like f/11 is a good starting point for me.

I plan to invest in a good speedlight when my budget will allow.

Thanks everybody else, your comments have been useful. I'll post any new photos using the advice given when they happen.

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Noah M
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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by Noah M » September 5th, 2014, 8:26 am

Is it sad I keep a copy of my cameras manual at work?

It says that for P mode I can temporarily adjust shutter speed and aperture (one picture at a time), but only when the flash is off.

In AV mode, there are 3 flash sync settings, Auto, 1/250-1/60 and 1/250 fixed. The default is Auto, trying to illuminate the subject and have some of the background lit. The middle one says it will properly expose the flash (TTL) but that background will be dark. Seems like this is the setting I want for AV. I don't see the need to keep it fixed at 1/250 right now. If I want that, I can move up to full manual. This, plus f/11 as a starting spot should make a huge difference.

This is fun to play with too. http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

If I am 3ft away at f/11, my DOF is a bit over 1", which should be enough for most small things. Pulling back a foot nearly doubles the DOF (as opposed to doubling the f-number to double the DOF)

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Kevin Price
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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by Kevin Price » September 5th, 2014, 4:33 pm

Without reiterating what Chris stated, which was excellent info, I do want to address a couple of your questions.
What is the typical f-stop value when you use a macro lens at night with a flash?
That is entirely subjective to the type of shot I'm looking for. I rarely try to get everything in focus and sharp. I want some form of out-of-focus bokeh in my shots; this is due to being further away from the subject. The closer you are to the subject, especially with a prime macro lens, the more you'll need to stop down to to have everything in focus. The down side to that is that the flash will have to work much harder to properly expose the image at f16 then it would at say f5.6. The result will be considerably more battery usage and a longer delay in flash recycle times.

I always shoot in manual mode at night, no exceptions. In P and A/V modes the camera is still in a semi-automatic mode. In A/V mode you may set the f-stop, but the camera will still do the thinking and select a shutter speed. P mode will let you select aperture and shutter speed but won't fire the flash. This is based on the camera's ability to attain an 18% neutral gray. The camera will not take into account in those modes whether the flash is set to fire or not.

In manual mode you get to set the f-stop you want as well as the shutter speed you need. By that I mean, do you want to freeze the extended tongue of a snake? Show the blur of a rattlesnakes rattle while rattling? Show the blur while panning with a fast moving lizard? Manual mode gives you the flexibility to create what you want.

Here's a recent example of this. This shot was taken in late afternoon with the sun behind the snake. Without flash the face of the snake would have been in shade and very dark. In manual mode I set the camera for the ambient background light and used flash to fill in the shadows. If I shot this in either A/V, P, or T/V modes I would not get the shot I wanted; which was a shallower depth of field with a fast enough shutter to freeze the tongue. Shot at 1/160 second at f5.6

Image

The max flash sync rate for your camera is 1/250 sec. In manual mode you can shoot with any f-stop you desire and at any shutter speed up to 1/250 second with the flash popped up. Just remember the pop up flash will struggle to provide enough light for a proper exposure with a setting such as f18 and 1/250 second. The image will most likely be under exposed. You can change ISO, as well as adjust the camera's flash exposure compensation to get a more properly exposed image.

From your questions, I think if you start shooting in manual mode at night you should resolve your issues quickly. Stay away from auto anything while shooting at night (ETTL flash being the exception).

Practice with your camera in manual mode, flash set to fire, and with various f-stop settings on small objects at home. You'll see it's remarkably easier than you think, and you'll get a much better understanding of what f-stops work best with various subjects and distances.

Oh, by the way I think its great that you read your owners manual at work!

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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by chrish » September 6th, 2014, 7:57 am

Kevin's points about the value of using manual mode are good. Being able to control the f/stop and shutter speed is good, but you should always be aware of the way the camera is calculating the exposure. But "manual" on todays cameras is not really manual control of the exposure (unless you turn off TTL and manually set the flash power).

A flash exposure depends on:
f/stop
shutter speed
ISO
flash power

If you set the first two by using manual mode, make sure you set the ISO as well. Auto ISO is terrible on most cameras, IMHO, and shouldn't be used even if you are in P mode. There are some cameras which let you narrow the range of choices the auto ISO is allowed to use, but even then I don't like it.*

So you are telling the camera, I want to set everything else, you figure out how much flash to use to make this exposure work. This is fine as long as you are aware of the limitations.

1. Pictures with high flash power can look washed out in some cases. The exposure is correct, but they have that "flashed" look. This is unavoidable, but something to keep in mind.
2. If you get outside of the range of your flash's power, the photo will be underexposed. You can't just set your camera at f/22 and 1/250th of a second and fire away.

Back in "the good old days" (before TTL flash :shock: ), flashes had a nice flash calculation table printed right on the back. You had to read the table, estimate your subject distance and then the table told you what f/stop to use to get a proper exposure. The shutter speed had to be set to the "x-sync speed" of the flash or slower.
Unfortunately, with the advent of TTL flash (where the camera reads how much light the flash is giving off through the lens and shuts it off when the exposure is correct), these calculations were no longer necessary. So they stopped printing these tables on the flash heads. (Don't get me wrong, I would hate to have to go back to my old pre-TTL flash days!)
But those tables were good for us herp photographers, because they effectively told us how far our flash would reach at each f/stop/ISO combination. It was very convenient to be able to look up and see that you were going to have enough exposure! Now you don't know until you take the shot and see that it came out underexposed.

Fortunately, you can make such a table with ease if you put the formulas into Excel if you know the guide number (GN) of the flash which is usually in the specs. I happen to have an excel spreadsheet that does this for me so I can have a cheat sheet for each of my flashes.
When I plugged in the Guide Number of the Canon 60D flash (43 feet at ISO 100) it gives me this data:

Image

So at ISO 200 at f/16, your flash will only give you a proper exposure from 3.8 feet away or less. So if you are 5 feet from the subject, you need to open up to f/11 or increase ISO to 400. I know a lot of people would think, I'll just try it, if it is too dark, I will open up on the next shot. That's fine in a digital photography world, but sometimes you only get 1 shot because the animal leaves or the behavior you are trying to catch finishes. Sometimes it is nice to know in advance that your flash exposure is going to be correct.

Sorry for the technical "lecture", but I think if you can understand how flash works and how your camera uses flash to make exposures, you can really master its use......something I have yet to do!

* I've always thought the dream camera for me would be one where you could "program" in the choices the camera makes and the order in which it makes them. So you could program in the following options in this specific order
1. I will set the SS and f/stop and ISO where I want them.
2. if that isn't enough exposure, you (the camera) may then increase the ISO, but only up to XXXX ISO.
3. if that still isn't enough exposure, then you can open up the f/stop, but not farther than f/xxxx.
4. If that isn't enough exposure, then you can decrease the shutter speed, but only down to 1/xxx
5. If that isn't enough, beep and let me know to fix it myself.

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Noah M
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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by Noah M » September 7th, 2014, 5:50 am

That table is helpful. For 99% of the night photography I do around here I am within 3' of my subject. It looks like at ISO 200 my on board flash can cover most of that. I was thinking about buying a Fong to hold me until I can afford a Speedlight. This should cut the working distance down if I want to keep everything at 200 ISO, honestly I think the 400 ISO photos don't look bad.

There are two modes of thought for me in herping with a camera. 1. Taking a voucher shot. This is just a more or less in focus picture that covers enough of the animal to verify its species and offer evidence that it exsited where and when I say it did. And 2. The creation of a photograph with an herp as the subject. Honestly, most of what I do is #1, but I like knowing how to do #2 because when the situation calls for a #2 photograph, I don't want to be lost.

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Re: General Macro Questions

Post by Noah M » September 12th, 2014, 7:04 pm

Notice any improvement?

These were shot between f/5 and 5/10, and I am much happier with the results.

f/5
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f/5
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f/10
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