Tag Archives: Macro

Seeing the subject… refining your vision

Beat it up!

• Beat it up! •
Click image to view large
Beat it up! By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page
To really look at a subject you have to see it as you have never seen it before.

Cultivating the photographers eye…

What the “eye” really means is difficult to define. One thing’s sure. As photographers “eye” develops you see things differently. Refining your vision to see differently is how you develop your version of the “eye”.

Looking at the scene

In Working the scene I described how to walk through the scene, understand the angles and ideas that relate to the scene and ways to find “the” shot. At first it is not a simple process. You are developing a habit. Doing things that you would not do naturally.

It is surprising how standing up and using the camera in your normal eye position makes your subject look like you always see it. Surprisingly it is also the same way most others see it too. Where is the novelty, interest and insight in that?

Well, you can change it all by studying your subject from new angles, new light and with new perspectives.

What if the scene is a close up subject?

A wonderful thing about photography is the ability to isolate a subject, get in close to it and examine it in a way we normally do not try to do with our eyes.

The challenge is to do things differently so we can see things differently. In this blog I often urge people to get in close – fill the frame. That is one way to see a subject anew. There are others. Here are some ideas to get you to see your subject differently.

  • Getting in close: Really close means a macro lens. If you don’t have one then you can get some macro extension tubes. These are an inexpensive way to do macro photography. However, the way to see things differently is to try and see the subject in ways that are different to the everyday perspective. Using a macro lens, tubes, or even very close with an ordinary lens you need to be versatile. Get around your subject, see it from at least ten different positions. Try to make every shot different. Take every shot as if you are seeing the subject as a new object. Don’t just look at the whole subject, get right into the tiny detail, all of the tiny details. (See Amazon search results for macro extension tubes External link - opens new tab/page)
  • Angles… Developing your vision is not just about details, even if there are lots of them. Try taking each detail from a whole range of angles, under, over and from the back too. Angles on a subject help to start you looking at the aesthetics of an object. Look for curves, pleasing intersections, great lines, diagonals… Anything that helps you to see the beauty in a subject and shows it in a new way.
  • Different lenses: If you have them, explore the subject using a range of lenses. Go wide. Go long. Go fish-eye. Go with whatever lenses you’ve got. The idea is to show the subject in a variety of different ways. Every lens has its peculiar characteristics and distortions. Training your eye to see a subject in different ways by using different lenses is one way to become sensitive to photographic perspectives. You will begin to see how a camera sees. If you only ever use one lens you will begin to see everything in a plain way. If you can see things in a variety of different ways you will begin to start looking at things differently.
  • Different light, different exposures: Light is the essence of everything we do in photography. While you are working with small subjects (like in my picture above) you can make changes to the light. You can use ambient light, window light, natural light, reflected light and domestic lights. Then there are coloured lights, soft light, hard light, and even laser light. Then, you also have dozens of different ways to use artificial photographic lights too. Added to these different illuminations you can also develop a whole range of exposures. You can explore your subject as under-exposed, over-exposed, dark or bright. You can use shadows, different light angles, different light heights. There are literally thousands of ways to light and expose any one subject. Explore as many of them as possible.
  • Other variables: Try different backgrounds, different colours and different textures on your subject. Try monochrome, colour variations, colour intensity… try it against black or against white. Use different depths of field, more bokeh, less bokeh. Blur, movement… Try everything.
Refining your vision

Developing your vision as a photographer is about understanding the way you can shoot things differently to other people. To find what you are good at, what your unique perspective is, you must explore a universe of different approaches, angles, light variations, colours… well everything discussed above and more.

When you see a new subject get into it, explore it, by trying everything you can to see it anew and in a new light (literally). After a while, with practice, you will see new ways that you can take a shot without actually needing to take it. Then you will be envisioning the shot in advance. You will also be developing your eye – your unique eye. You will have learned to see differently and to have put your particular style into your shots.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Broaden your lens and focal length knowledge

Mixed lens types

Mixed lens types – What do they all do?

There is a range of lens types…

If you know about the lens types you have, that’s good. But talking and thinking about buying others takes a wider knowledge. Here are two videos to give some insights on lens types. There are some interesting facts too.

Think about your lens types

Before you buy lenses, think about what you want. If you are just learning photography this is important. It keeps you in touch with what’s possible with each of the lens types. Also, it helps you to know what you can do with the skills you have. With each video, try to relate your experience with the lens types they are talking about. Then you will be able to extend your skills with kit you own now.

Another point worth thinking about is what you want to photograph. Long lens types, for example, get you closer to objects in the distance. They make things large in the frame, even when it’s far away. But some subjects are more environmental. So you might benefit more from showing a distant subject in its wider environment. Landscapes are a classic example, but there are others. So, think about what other creative views you can achieve with each of the lens types too.

Introduction to Camera Lenses PT1


Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page

Introduction to Camera Lenses Part 2


Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

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Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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Facts about focus… how much do you know?

Orb Out Of Focus

• Orb – Out Of Focus •

Focus is more complex than at first sight.

Focus, and the associated functions on a camera, take a little time to sort out in your mind. Here are some fundamentals and some obscure facts for you to think about.

Focus facts…
  1. When you point your camera at a single colour, blank space, solid blue sky or night sky the auto-focus will ‘hunt’ for some contrast. The lens will be unable to focus but keep trying. If it detects a difference of contrast in the frame it’ll be able to balance it out and use it to create a focus. If your lens is ‘hunting’, find something with a bit of colour or light contrast. Then it will stop hunting and focus. More…
  2. The light from your lens focuses on the “image plane”, the flat surface that is also the surface of the Digital Image Sensor. The circle of light it creates is bigger than the sensor. The light that falls outside the sensor area is normally inferior to the light which falls on the sensor surface. This is because the edges of the lens creates an inferior quality of light compared to the middle part of the lens. More…
  3. There is such a thing as a “fixed focus lenses”… they have no focus capability. They are put in the camera at time of manufacture and set to give a deep focus from a few meters through to infinity. Can you imagine why such a lens would be used in a camera? More…
  4. Bokeh appears in out-of-focus areas. Some people think that the prominent little circular highlights are the bokeh. This is incorrect. In fact bokeh is a statement relating to the quality of the out-of-focus blur. The blur itself is called… blur! More…
  5. Macro lenses are highly effective at focusing at short distances from the lens and to enlarging the image. Actually they will also focus at other distances too. Macro lenses produce a great portrait. More about macro lenses…
  6. When a lens lets light through the light follows something called the optical path. The focus is achieved on the optical path. However, in a DSLR when the mirror is down, the optical path ends up at the eye. The optical path is not the same all the time. More…
  7. Where you focus affects your exposure. Most people assume focus and exposure are two separate things. And, in fact, they are. But, your camera senses the light conditions where you are focusing and sets that focus at the same time as taking readings for the light meter. Change your point of focus and you may change the light reading. Even a tiny movement may change your exposure readings if your focus changes from a lighter to darker surface. Useful to know if you are in a darker environment with bright light sources around. Especially useful if you are trying to learn manual control.
  8. The ‘sensor plane’ is the surface on which the image is projected by the lens. It is the surface of the sensor itself. In former times it was the same surface that the film was laid upon. Any idea what other names might be applied to the same surface in a camera? More…
  9. Sometimes it is important to measure your focus distance precisely. For example if you want to repeat shots or vary the distance form camera to focus-point by a measured amount in a series of shots. Such measurements are often used in forensic photography, macro work and for working out scene sizes and distances. There is only one place where you can take a true measurement from on a DSLR. It is clearly marked. Know what it’s called and where it is? More…
  10. Consider turning off your auto-focus when using a tripod. The motor that works the auto-focus creates vibration that may affect your shot. It is less likely to have an effect on long exposures, but if you get into the habit of doing it you may help to sharpen your shots. Reducing any vibration is good when you are trying to sharpen your shots.
  11. The Plane of focus is a very important concept – it is about where you are focussing. It gives you an idea of what your focus is doing at any angle of the camera. You should really have a good idea about it if you want to make sure you are getting a proper focus on the subject of your shot. More…
Lots more to learn…

Focus is big subject and can become extremely technical. There is a lot more you can learn. These points are just some fun ideas to help you learn about different aspects of focus in general. If you have any comments, other ideas or want me to write about another aspect of focus – leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Tips and Tricks

• Oil and water •

• Oil and water •
These bubbles of oil in water were shot with a
Canon 50 mm f/1.8 and a +10 close-up filter
Click image to view large
Oil and water • by ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Easy, budget macro.

Macro or close-up photography is accessible without investing in a pricey macro lens. The first three articles in this series covered techniques for inexpensive macro-level results: close-up lenses, reverse rings, and extension tubes. In this article, I offer suggestions for achieving great-looking results using any of these three techniques.

Choose Your Depth of Field

Depth of field is a term that refers to the area of the image that is acceptably sharp and in focus. Depth of field is a function of many things. Our interest is in three factors. These are aperture, the distance between the camera and the subject, and the orientation of the subject relative to the camera.

Aperture has a direct influence on the depth of field. A wide aperture (smaller f number, such as f/1.8) creates a shallow depth of field. Areas of the image outside of the zone of sharpness fall out of focus quickly. Wide apertures can be used to create bokeh – unsharp sections of the image.

A narrow aperture (larger f number, such as f/22) creates a deep depth of field. The majority of the image is in focus. Narrow apertures are often used by landscape photographers to capture front-to-back sharpness throughout an image.

The distance between the camera and the subject also influences the depth of field. Generally, the closer that you are to your subject, the narrower the depth of the field becomes. This is particularly important when using macro and close-up photography techniques where you need to be physically close to the photographic subject.

• Bokeh penny •

• Bokeh penny •
Penny shot with a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a full set of three, generic extension tubes (7, 14, and 28 mm). The plane of sharpness lies parallel to the flat of the lens. If the plane is not parallel the focus is quickly lost.
Click image to view large
Bokeh penny • By ArchaeoFrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

It is also important to consider the orientation of the subject relative to the camera. The depth of field can be thought of as a plane that is parallel to the camera lens. If you can orient yourself so that the subject is parallel to the flat of camera lens, more of your subject will be in focus than if it is at an angle to the camera. In the penny shot above, I tilted the camera lens slightly away from the parallel position. The loss of focus from right to left is obvious.

• Flowers and Depth of Focus •

• Flowers and Depth of Focus •
Click image to view large
• Flowers and Depth of Focus • External link - opens new tab/page

The flower photographs show how depth of field influences an image. Both were taken with the same lens (Canon 50 mm f/1.8), the same aperture (f/1.8), and the same technique (reverse ring). Both images have a shallow depth of field (wide aperture) and are close to the subject. The appearance of the depth of field is very different. The yellow flower (left) is sideways to the camera. Only the closest edges of the petals are within the depth of field and are in focus. The purple flowers center is shot parallel to the camera. The entire center of the flower is within the depth of field and appears in focus.

If you want more of your subject in focus use a narrower aperture. Increase the distance between yourself and the subject, and set the camera (and thus the depth of field) parallel to the subject. If you want less of your subject in focus, you can use a shallow aperture, get in closer to your subject, and orient the camera and depth of field perpendicular to the subject. Try it many different ways and see what works best for what you envision!

The Tripod: With and Without

It is possible to achieve acceptably sharp macro results hand-holding the camera. The majority of images in these articles were shot hand-held. If you have a stationary subject using a tripod will greatly improve the sharpness of your image. A tripod allows you to use longer shutter speeds. This helps you get crisper images in lower light. It also allows a narrower aperture to gain a deeper depth of field. The steadiness of the tripod will significantly reduce hand movement.

If available, also use the Live-View function on your camera to fine-tune your focus. Live-View lets you use your display screen rather than the viewfinder. Many cameras allow you to zoom in on a portion of the image to check the focus.

Without a tripod a good stance improves stability while hand-holding. Create your own tripod with your body by bracing yourself or your camera. In the diptych image below, I am using my elbows for support. The elbows in combination with my feet create a similar a three-point stability like a tripod. In the extension tube article, I demonstrated a similar human-tripod by bracing my elbows on my knees while shooting.

• Simultaneous diptych •

• Simultaneous diptych •
These two images were taken at the same time and show my hand-holding position as well as the image captured. The flower was shot with a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens.Click image to view large
• Simultaneous diptych • by ArchaeoFrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

This three-point position allows me to lean in and out very slightly with the camera. I can manually find the exact focus that I want in the photograph. Focusing with body movement allows me to place the depth of focus exactly where I want it relative to the subject.

More after this…

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When you are hand-holding practice breathing slowly and pushing the camera shutter button gently, without imparting additional motion to the camera. (More tips on stance)

Play, Combine, and Find What Works for You

You can use extension tubes in combination with either a reverse ring or close-up lens for even more detailed images. However, the working distance between the lens and the subject is narrow and the depth of field is incredibly shallow. With the pennies below, I found it impossible to keep both Mr. Lincoln and the columns of his memorial in focus together, as the columns are slightly raised relative to the surface of the penny.

• Penny diptych •

• Penny diptych •
These pennies were both taken with a Canon 50 mm f/.18 lens and a set of three, generic extension tubes (7, 14, and 28mm). In the left-hand image a +10 close-up lens was added, and in the right-hand image the lens was instead reverse mounted.
Click image to view large
• Penny diptych • By ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Close-up lenses can also be screwed in to each other for greater magnification. I used both a +4 and +10 close-up lens for the snowflake image below. There is some distortion visible in the image particularly around the edges. I also found it more difficult to focus when looking through both lenses.

• Macro snowflake •

• Macro snowflake •
Snowflakes shot with a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a +4 and +10 close-up lens.
Click image to view large
• Macro snowflake • By ArchaeoFrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

The final curtain

The varieties of subjects for macro and close-up photography are endless. I have tried to highlight a variety of them during this series. Flowers, insects, and falling water are perennial favourites, as are coins, Lego figures, and other small objects. Your imagination and creativity are your only limitations. Enjoy!

• Macro snowflake •

• Lego water crown •
This Lego mini-figure and falling water crown were shot using a
Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens and a +4 close-up lens.
Click image to view large
• Lego water crown • External link - opens new tab/page

Articles on Close-Up and Macro Photography
by Katie McEnaney

Part 1 of this series focused on using close-up lens, Part 2 covered reverse rings, and Part 3 explained extension tubes.

Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Reverse Rings
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Extension Tubes
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Tips and Tricks (this article)

By Katie McEnaney (contributing author)

Katie is an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin, USA. She is an avid photographer with wide interests. She is always interested in learning more and growing in her photography. Katie is in the third year of her 365 project as ArchaeoFrog (profile)  External link - opens new tab/page. Her 365 project can be found at 365Pproject.org  External link - opens new tab/page and she has a growing body of work on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page.
By Katie McEnaney :: Profile on Google+

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Write for Photokonnexion...

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Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Reverse Rings

Bubble Wrap

Green bubble wrap shot with Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens reversed.
Hand-held to the camera body.
• Bubble Wrap • By Archaeofrog on Flickr  External link - opens new tab/page

Anyone can use reverse rings.

Close-up or macro photography is something every photographer should try. However, a macro lens can be an expensive investment. This series covers inexpensive ways to get great close-up results. The first article “Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings” discussed using close-up lenses that attach to your existing photographic lens. A second way to achieve close-up results, surprising as it may sound, is to reverse your DSLR camera’s lens by mounting it on backward.

It is possible (but awkward) to simply handhold your lens backwards against your camera body, as in the top photograph. I don’t recommend it, as it can allow dust or other debris into your camera that may affect the sensor. The inexpensive alternative is to purchase a reverse ring camera mount adapter that fits your lens (based on its diameter) and the make and model of your camera body.

Canon Reversed Lens

Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens attached backwards to a Canon T1i body using a reverse ring. The depth of field preview button is visible underneath the lens release button.
Click image to view large
Canon lens attached in a reversed position by Archaeofrog (Flickr) External link - opens new tab/page

How to use the reverse ring

First, remove any filters you have on your lens. To use a reverse ring, screw the ring securely on to the front of your camera lens filter thread. Hint, it is easiest to screw the ring on while the lens is in the camera body. After attaching the reverse ring to the lens, remove the lens from the camera body. Now reverse it and fit the lens-mount side of the ring into the camera body and lock it in place. You will no longer be able to use the autofocus function of your camera or adjust the aperture of the lens once it is reversed, but you will be able to adjust the shutter speed and ISO. Your camera may display an aperture value of F00 or other default. I recommend that you change the shooting mode on your camera to aperture priority or manual. In aperture priority mode, the camera will calculate and set the shutter speed for you, while in manual, you will set it yourself. Now you are ready to use the lens.

Origami Crane

• Origami Crane •
Click image to view large
Origami paper crane folded from a bite-sized Hershey wrapper.
Captured with a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens
Origami Crane • By Archaeofrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

A reverse ring gives better results when used with a prime lens rather than a zoom lens. Prime lens are often faster, which means that they have a wider maximum aperture and can use a faster shutter speed, even in lower light.

You can use any type of lens, although light lenses are recommended. Very heavy lenses may damage the reverse ring mount adaptor or the lens filter thread.

Using a zoom lens, particularly when fully zoomed out, can be awkward to support. Because the lens is reversed, zooming the lens requires you to be further from the object you are photographing and does not give such a close-up view of the subject. The working distance (distance from the lens to the object in focus) is about five inches with the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens reversed. Using my Tamron 18-270 mm zoom lens at 18 mm, I have to be within about two inches to get an object in focus, while it is greater than six inches at 270 mm.

Adjusting the aperture

When your camera lens is not attached to a camera, its default position is to be open to its widest aperture. So, for the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 that would be f/1.8, which results in a very shallow depth of focus. In the crane picture above, the neck of the crane is in focus, while the beak and tail are not. When I reverse this lens on my camera, the aperture will still be f/1.8, and I will be unable to adjust the aperture value after the lens is reversed on the camera. But there is a work-around.

Most DSLR cameras have a ‘depth of field preview’ button. The purpose of this button is to allow you to look through the viewfinder and see exactly what your camera will see at the aperture that is set. When you press that button, the blades inside the camera lens close down to the selected aperture. This will allow you to set the aperture for your lens. (Please note: not all DSLRs have a depth of field preview button).

Carnation at F22

• Carnation at F22 •
Click image to view large
Carnation at F22 By Archaeofrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Here is the procedure. Using aperture priority or manual mode on your camera, dial in the aperture that you want to use for the shot. Next, depress and hold the depth of field preview button. While still holding down the button, press the lens release button and remove the camera lens. Then you can mount it on your camera body using the reverse ring. The camera lens will maintain whatever aperture you had selected. If you want to return to the default position or change the aperture again, simply put the lens back on the camera the regular way and repeat the process. Tip: if working outside, you may want to set your aperture first and reverse the lens indoors, to avoid dust getting into the camera body and on the sensor.

Advantages and limitations of reverse rings

The reverse ring is a fun and easy way to experiment with close-up photography. The ring itself is very inexpensive, usually less than $10 USD (around £7-£8 UK), and is small enough to fit in a purse or pocket. Depending on the lens that you reverse, you can get very close to macro-level results.

Ruler

• Ruler •
Click image to view large
This photograph of a ruler demonstrates the scale of a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens, which gets down to an image of about an inch and a quarter wide and has a working distance of about five inches.
Ruler • By Archaeofrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Like other close-up techniques, using a reverse ring does require you to be physically close to the objects you are photographing. Depending on your lens and your comfort level, however, you may still be able to capture detailed shots of slower moving insects, such as the bee below. A reverse ring is also ideal for indoor shots or other stationary details.

Bee

• Bee •
Click image to view large
Bee photographed using a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens.
Bee • By Archaeofrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

You will lose some of the automatic functions of your camera, including autofocus, with a reverse ring. The electrical contacts that normally carry signals to the lens are not in contact with a reversed lens. This is not that much of a disadvantage. Generally, with close-up shots, you get better results when using manual focusing.

While you can adjust the aperture (on some cameras), there is an additional step of setting the aperture using the ‘depth of field preview button’ before reversing the lens.

As with any close-up or macro technique, the depth of field (area in focus) will be very shallow. You can maximize sharpness by keeping the camera lens parallel to the object being photographed. In the photograph of the bee, above, the body of the bee is parallel to the camera lens and stays in focus. The flower is perpendicular to the lens and falls out of focus quickly.

Another technique to maximize sharpness is to use a smaller aperture like f/22, but this may require a longer shutter speed than you can easily hand-hold. You can solve this problem by using a tripod for stationary objects, which allows you to use a longer shutter speed to achieve the desired sharpness.

All close-up techniques benefit from the additional stability of a tripod. Although, as you can see from the shots above, you can get effective results from hand-held techniques.

A flexible option

Overall, a reverse ring is an inexpensive and portable way to use your existing lens for close-up photography. Depending on the lens you reverse, there is enough working distance to photograph insects, flowers, or any other small subjects that interest you. There is flexibility to adjust the aperture value before reversing the lens, which gives you a little control over the depth of focus. It is an inexpensive option to get you started in the tiny world of close-up photography.

Buyers guide

The inexpensive nature of these rings makes a quick purchase worthwhile. Remember that you will need to buy the ring that suits your specific camera mount (eg. Canon, Nikon etc). The size of the filter thread on your lens is important too. On the following link you can find a range camera mount types as well as thread sizes…
Reverse ring camera mount adapter products  External link - opens new tab/page

A great lens for doing close-up work is a 50mm prime lens. More information on buying 50mm prime lenses including product links can be found in…
Are your pictures distorted? Considered a 50mm?

For general reference: 50mm Prime lens product listing  External link - opens new tab/page

Lego

• Lego •
Click image to view large
Lego explorer mini-figure.
Using a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8.
Lego • By Archaeofrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Articles on Close-Up and Macro Photography
by Katie McEnaney

Part 1 of this series focused on using close-up lenses. Part 3 will cover extension tubes, and Part 4 will bring all these techniques together with a range of close-up ideas and tips.

Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Reverse Rings (this article)
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Extension Tubes
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Tips and Tricks

By Katie McEnaney (contributing author)

Katie is an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin, USA. She is an avid photographer with wide interests. She is always interested in learning more and growing in her photography. Katie is in the third year of her 365 project as ArchaeoFrog (profile)  External link - opens new tab/page. Her 365 project can be found at 365Pproject.org  External link - opens new tab/page and she has a growing body of work on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page.
By Katie McEnaney :: Profile on Google+

Can you write? Of course you can!
Write for Photokonnexion...

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The advantages and disadvantages of live view

• DSLR Camera •

• DSLR camera diagram (side veiw) showing mirror down position •
Click image to view large
• DSLR Camera • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Live view is here to stay.

What are the good and bad aspects of this technology? Should we be using it? What does it offer the DSLR user over the time honoured viewfinder system? In this post we look at the pros and cons.

The DSLR mirror system

If you are not familiar with the inner workings of the DSLR you can read more about it in this post: DSLR; Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera.

The essence of the mirror system is simple. The photographer peers through the viewfinder (see the diagram above) and the eye receives light directly from the main lens. Light reaching the eye has been redirected by the mirror up through the camera to the viewfinder eyepiece. When the photograph is taken the mirror flips up. Then the shutter opens allowing the digital image sensor to be exposed to light entering through the lens. While the mirror is up the photographer is unable to see through.

Live view…

When using live view the mirror is flipped up. You cannot see through the viewfinder. The view detected by the image sensor is instead created electronically on the camera screen on the back of the camera. In the most up to date mirrorless cameras the view is projected electronically into the viewfinder so you can use that instead of the screen-view on the camera.

The screens on the back of the DSLR, bridge cameras and point-and-shoot cameras provide a good, clear image on the screen. The displays offer a pretty good representation of the image seen through the lens. Reviews of the new mirrorless cameras suggest that electronic viewfinders are apparently not as good as those using mirrors. However, the technology is young and significant advances have been made recently. I think eventually electronic viewfinders will provide as good a view as the back screen.

Why do we need a viewfinder?

One of the problems of a back-screen is holding the camera steady. When you have a big lens on a camera the sheer unbalanced weight-in-hand makes it difficult to steady the camera with two hands held out in front of you. For a professional, or the keen amateur, the extra softness this induces is intolerable.

This is less important with light point-and-shoot cameras which can be held steady with one hand. Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter than DSLR counterparts. Bigger lenses still make them relatively heavy. Pressing a camera-lens combo to your eye while also held in both hands gives a third point of stabilisation to your camera – a steady position. So, a practical consideration for more substantial combinations of large camera and lens.

Retaining a viewfinder also ensures the “eye-view” is actually available to the photographer. By this I mean that the camera can be placed where the eye actually is on the body. Then the photographer sees through the camera in the same plane and level as the eye. I find this leads to better composition. We are more used to using eye-level views in our everyday vision. I acknowledge that the free-roaming screen composition may provide a more unusual point of view. However, artistic considerations aside, when composing an image I find close scrutiny of the scene leads to cleaner images and a rigorous composition. OK, this is not for everyone. It is a point to bear in mind for the more discerning photographer.

In my experience doing a back-screen composition is difficult because the eye is distracted from the screen. This leads to limited, incomplete composition, or missed details. I have been guilty of this sort of sloppy composition and have seen it in the images of others. Personally, I think the viewfinder helps me to compose accurately and cleanly allowing proper examination of detail.

What live view can offer…

Despite the shortcomings of back-screen composition and lack of steadiness there are good reasons to use live view.

On a tripod… While using a tripod to compose for landscapes, macros, wide angle and fish-eye shots do a quick check in live view before the shot. I suggest you do your initial composition using a viewfinder on the tripod. Once composed quickly check the live view simultaneously scanning your scene by eye. This enables comparison of the lens-distorted view against the scene as the eye sees it. This cross-checks your composition against your vision for the final outcome of the shot.

Mirror lock-up… When using a tripod use mirror lock-up to help sharpness. This mode sets the camera to flip-up the mirror ahead of the shot. The vibration from the ‘mirror-flip-up’ then passes before the exposure takes place. This reduces vibration enabling a sharper shot. Most DSLRs offer the mode which is found in the menu screens. Live view also performs a mirror lock-up action on many cameras. If you have a “live-view” button, do your composition, perform a live view check and take a mirror lock-up shot in the same sequence.

Access to the viewfinder is restricted… Yes, sometimes I simply cannot get to the viewfinder. When doing macro work, complex close-ups suspended under a tripod and when holding the camera high all create situations when the eye cannot easily get to the viewfinder. In this case the live view mode is a definite advantage and enable otherwise impossible shots.

Depth of field… The viewfinder has its own optical characteristics additional to the main photographic lens. Normally viewfinder lenses are pretty faithful and do not affect the view through the main lens. When using a fast lens, say f1.2 wide open aperture, the depth of field may be distorted by the viewfinder. It’s said live view helps you better see the areas of bokeh. I am sceptical. I have not seen this effect accurately on my Canon 5D MkII to make any difference. I am prepared to accept it works on other cameras. Try it and see.

Horizons, converging verticals and straight lines… Live view offers a set of lines dividing the screen up into thirds (nine segments). This “rule of thirds” grid is helpful in composition. I find it most useful when checking converging verticals when lining the camera up. However, a good electronic display of focus points laid out in your viewfinder is excellent for most compositions. The focus points usually allow for rule of thirds composition and more. So, live view offers an option, but no better than the viewfinder. Other cameras may differ on this, make your own choice.

Live view histogram… Some cameras allow the display of a live view histogram. This enables you to check your colour and light intensity prior to the shot. This saves later examination of lots of frames online. However, I prefer “Chimping”. The post-shot histogram review is the best way to tell if you have a good shot or not. If you do use the live view histogram beware of poor composition. The histogram takes up screen space I prefer to use for composition. So, not to my taste, but the opportunity is there on some cameras.

Live view can be useful

More cameras are providing good live view mode and offering more facilities with it. I think there are some good reasons to use this mode especially with a tripod. It certainly provides some useful functions. There are some severe shortcomings with live view composition and personal stance when using it. The good old viewfinder still wins the day for me. However, a lot depends on your camera. I hope these points have opened your eyes. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Three quick tips for working with a tripod

Some clever ideas for tripods

OK, it takes a little practice with a tripod to get into it. But if you want to be a good photographer there is at least some occasions when you just have to work with them. So here are three very quick tips to help you get better with them…

1. When its windy

Wind is a problem. We all have tripod problems in the wind. So, just hang your bag on the tripod. The weight will reduce the wind vibration. There is usually a hook or loop to use for hanging. That’s a quick tip eh?

2. Work with two legs

I find that working with flowers and doing macros in the field you need to work at really close quarters. Getting up close means that every movement is exaggerated. Doing those close-up position changes really can be awkward with a tripod. Well, I just shut down one of the legs. Work with two legs only. With the left and right leg down you get no sideways movement. And, it is easy to adjust your distance from the subject. Slight forward and backward motions give you the distance you need. Then you only need to worry about keeping the shot still in one dimension (forward and backward).

3. Keep a sprung cloths peg handy

I keep a clothes peg (sprung clothes pin) handy in my kit bag. Wind catching a camera strap is a classic cause of vibration. Getting your camera strap caught in a button is a classic way to pull over your tripod and break something. A simple clothes peg stops the problems straight away. When its windy, or if my camera strap gets in the way, I can pin it in one position on the tripod. Then it does not blow about or catch on anything.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.