Tag: macro

Extension tubes open up a whole new world!

Ben Cherry Macro

Ben CherryWith travel photography, one of the issues is prioritising equipment. You simply can’t carry everything you could possibly want to bring. If you do then it often hampers the overall travel experience as you’re weighed down by equipment and have to constantly look after it. For me, on my current trip that meant I couldn’t justify bringing a dedicated macro lens, especially when I had the XF56mm and XF50-140mm covering the similar focal lengths offered by the two available macro options. Instead I chose to pack both the 11 and 16mm extension tubes (MCEX-11 / 16). Offering camera-lens communication that allows autofocus, these simple compact devices can turn nearly any lens into a macro option (but please check lens compatibility).

My primary role in Costa Rica is to work as a researcher for a scarlet macaw program, so macro functions weren’t really at the top of the list. However the wildlife in this region is remarkable and macro functionality quickly became important. One of the sites we regularly see is a trail of leaf cutter ants marching through the forest taking supplies from the canopy to their nest. Following the tiny motorway, which has been carved out of the rainforest floor you’ll eventually find yourself at the base of a tree that’s being harvested.

Although I am focusing on leaf cutter ants, the general principles apply to all types of macro photography.

Leaf Cutter F4

Leaf Cutter F4-2
It is possible to get macro photos with wide apertures, these were taken at F4 with the XF50-140mm and X-T1, using ISO 3200(!) because the rainforest undergrowth was so dark (ominous clouds were gathering) and the ants were moving so fast, I needed fast shutter speeds, 1/600, 1/400 to help freeze the motion as I wasn’t using any flash.


Macro Photography fundamentals

For this type of photography you generally want to be using very high F Stops e.g. F22. The reason for this is when you start to focus on very close objects; the depth of field becomes very thin with more regular F Stops like F4, 5.6, 8. Even the maximum aperture on your lens is often not enough to get most of the frame sharp. One technique employed is to focus stack. Taking multiple pictures of a static subject, moving the focus throughout the frame and then stacking the pictures in postproduction. This wasn’t an option for me unfortunately as the ants were moving continuously (so fast when you’re looking at a macro frame!).

Leaf Cutter F22 normal flash
Using flash helps to stop these fast moving insects in their tracks. Note that the bokeh does degrade because of extension tubes. Taken with X-T1, XF50-140mm and stacked extension tubes. I used a Nissin i40 to light the scene from just above the camera.


Extension tubes – what are they?

They are simply extensions of the lens barrel, extending the distance between the rear lens element and the sensor. This shifts the focus, so for example instead of focusing at over 10 metres according to the lens, you’re actually focused 0.5 metres away when using an extension tube. There are two extension tubes available from Fujifilm a 11mm and 16mm. This gives you three options as you can stack the two together. The greater the distance, the closer the focusing.


Some lenses have very close native focusing distances

There are non-macro focused lenses that do actually have very close minimum focusing distances. For me, the two lenses spring to mind – the XF10-24mm and XF16mm. Though not particularly helpful for ‘normal’ macro photography because of they’re wide-angle lenses. However, I really like using both of these lenses for placing my subject within its environment, the benefit of these two is that my subject can be an elephant or an ant, both lenses are capable.

XF10-24mm macro

A frog from Borneo
Above were taken with the XF10-24mm
Taken with the XF16mm
Taken with the XF16mm


Downsides to extension tubes?

Well as you might have seen on some of the images, the bokeh can regress from the wonderfully smooth circles we are all used to from Fujifilm lenses, to something more like heptagon! The high image quality we are also used to does degrade somewhat, but this is to be expected when you’re pushing a lens from what is designed for. What you have to remember is that these are ultra lightweight, convenient macro inducers that save you money and carrying around another lens.

I am only touching the fringes of what is possible with macro photography, there are many out there who know a lot more about macro, but the benefit of extension tubes for those on the go is obvious.


Macro Creativity

With a little time and patience you can really start to create some interesting images. Though the images below are nothing particularly new, it was nevertheless satisfying to produce them. Using an off camera flash, placed behind the ants shooting back towards the camera backlights the ants and produces some interesting silhouettes/shadows thanks to the leaf cuttings.

Ben Cherry Macro backlight

Ben Cherry Macro backlight-2

I hope this has been helpful. Here is a short video of how I went about creating these images. Filmed and edited by Ellice Dart. If you liked this blog and video then please leave a constructive comment below.

Happy Shooting.

 

Ben is an environmental photojournalist, zoologist and Fujifilm X-Photographer. His passion is showing the beauty and fragility of the natural world. Find more of his work at:

Plastic fantastic!

This colourful effect is known as cross polarisation and the good news is, it’s incredibly easy to do. In the days of film, this technique would have regularly required sheets of polarising film placed behind the subject and a polarising filter on the camera. Now, all you need is a polarising filter, a computer screen and a plastic geometry set. Here’s how it’s done:

DSCF9582

1 As mentioned, the pre-requisite parts are a geometry set (we pushed the Fujifilm budget to the limit spending £1.59 on this one), a polarising filter and a computer screen. It isn’t essential that the filter is the correct size for the lens you’re using – just as long as it covers the front element. I used the super-sharp XF60mm macro for these image, but didn’t have a 39mm filter, so I just used a 72mm one instead.

 2 All these shots were taken with the X-T1, which I set to aperture-priority, ISO 200 and spot metering. The camera was tripod mounted and positioned directly in front of the screen.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 08.48.103 The computer background needs to be white. As I was using an Apple Mac, I did this through the System Preferences window. With the background white, I positioned the pieces from the geometry set directly on the computer screen in the order I wanted them.

DSCF9587

4 Here’s the magic bit! Put the polarising filter in front of the lens and slowly rotate it, as you do, you’ll see the screen turn grey, then black. As this happens, the vibrant colours in the plastic will appear. Make sure you spot meter from the plastic, not the black background and you’ll get a result like this.

 5 Once you’ve perfected the technique, you can start getting creative. Here are a couple of extra shots of individual pieces from the set where I cropped in in post-production.

Quick tips

There is a ‘sweet spot’ when you’re turning the polarising filter, make sure you experiment so you get a pure black background, otherwise you’ll end up with a less-appealing grey as you see here.

DSCF9589

Use the Velvia Film Simulation mode for really vibrant colours.

On some screens, when you find the optimum position for the polarising filter, small white dots will appear in the background. These may disappear when you spot meter accurately, but if they don’t you can get rid of them by boost the blacks in post production.

We’d advise you to buy a new geometry set rather than using an old one, which will almost certainly be covered in scratches and will dilute the effect. Besides, everyone needs a protractor, right?

Python Close Up – Story Behind the Photo

I have been lucky enough to be using a prototype of the XF16mm F1.4 since March and I have to say it is brilliant. I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d end up using it for, but as it turns out it is an extremely flexible lens and helped to produce some shots that would otherwise have not been possible.

This particular story has a bit of an unusual beginning. The location is the Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysia, I was in this region with another photographer, Christian Loader from Scubazoo who I’m currently doing some work with. I have to thank Christian for some of the photos of me here. One morning, we headed up river briefly as our guide Osmon wanted to show us something he had spotted the previous night. We slowed underneath some low lying branches. Before I knew what had happened we had come across a relatively young python and… it fell in the boat! At which point I almost jumped out, much to the amusement of the other two who have handled snakes extensively before. The snake then decided to snuggle up to my Millican Dave camera bag! They calmly caught it and we relocated it inside the forest on a nice tree branch, in return it kindly sat still allowing us to take some pictures.

Python-2

The close focusing capabilities of this lens really impressed me and allowed me to get some really close wide-angle shots, allowing me to fill the frame with the python and to also capture the environment.

Python-5

Python-3

I used the X-T1 with the XF16mm F1.4 attached as well as a Nissin i40 flash I used a rogue flash bender. But because this would involve getting very close to the snake I decided to put the camera on a monopod and used a wireless trigger set up to keep me working at a safe distance. To stress, the snake was absolutely fine and did not once try and strike the set up. The angled screen on the X-T1 was very helpful here as it meant that I could see exactly what was in the frame, regardless of slight angle changes to composition.

Ben shooting in Sabah - Christian Loader - Scubazoo Images-15
Here is the set up. Please excuse the ‘jungle hat’!

Because I was using the i40 flash in TTL mode, I couldn’t shoot above 1/180sec so I had to stop down to F8 for much of the photos. The location was very dark and flat as the vast majority of the tropical sunlight is absorbed by the canopy above. Thankfully the XF16mm seems to have very quick and accurate autofocus, even in these less than ideal conditions.

Python-4

In an up and coming blog I’ll show the benefit of the F1.4 aperture when photographing Pygmy Elephants.

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