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Macro work - photographing the little stuff

There's lots of types of photography, and my bag, obviously, is natural history subjects. Even within that sphere, there is quite a range of topics: birds, bugs, plants, landscapes, etc. To cover the gamut requires multiple lenses, if you are using a DSLR. Of all the possible subjects to found in the natural world, my favorite to shoot are the little things. Macro photography is quite rewarding, at least to me, and good shots can bring to life up close and personal the wee flora and fauna that our eyes largely skip over.
I look at this picture and nearly cringe, thinking how far the photographic addiction has taken me. A short eight years ago, I got my first digital point & shoot, and steadfastly resolved NOT to EVER get into SLR cameras and their interchangeable lens. If things went that far, I reasoned, I would end up devoting more time to photography and less to covering ground and finding the maximum amount of COOL THINGS when afield. Well, no regrets on the burgeoning camera addiction, at least yet.

Anyway, macro photography (shooting small subjects) is often challenging and requires a good combination of gear. The rig above is the best combo I've hit on so far. The camera body is Canon's stellar 5D Mark III, and bolted to it is their superb 100 mm macro lens. That pairing is tough to beat. But one issue that oft arises when engaging in macro work is the need for flash. I've tried several rigs, and finally got the strange contraption that is wired to the camera, above. It is the Canon MT-24 EX Twin Lite flash unit, and so far I love it. The outrigger lamps at the end of the camera barrel can be rotated in any direction, or quickly unsnapped and held anywhere within the range of the power cables. This provides excellent lighting versatility in a fairly portable package.

Last Thursday, I found myself at the Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve in Ottawa County, camera and newfangled flash system in tow. I - duh! - wanted to test it out, and knew there'd be scores of suitably tiny subjects at the preserve. The flower above is attached to one of our rarer mints, the highly aromatic Limestone Savory, Calamintha arkansana. Those flowers are only a few millimeters across, and a soft flash allowed me to obtain a steadier image, and send some fill flash up into the flower's innards.

One of the best things about flash is that it allows you to shoot a faster shutter speed - important when photographing objects that are prone to movement. Insect photography can be highly rewarding, but it's also challenging. One must often stalk the subject for some time, and might be lucky to get a few good opportunities for a shot. When an opportunity presents itself, you don't want to miss it.

The animal above is a male Calico Pennant, Celithemis elisa, teed up on the tattered and aging receptacle of one of our rarest plants, the Lakeside Daisy, Tetraneuris herbacea. Following are a few more shots of small stuff, taken with my new rig.

Looking quite different, and arguably even more beautiful, is the female Calico Pennant.

This is a male Band-winged Meadowhawk, Sympetrum semicinctum, with its cherry-red body.

As with many dragonflies, the female Band-winged Meadowhawk is sexually dimorphic: it is visually different than the male. This individual was quite cooperative and allowed me to get right up in her grill. Gusting breezes swayed her perch however, adding to the challenge of making a crisp image.

To me, this was the most pleasing subject of the day: one of our tiniest damselflies, the Citrine Forktail, Ischnura hastata. One of these beasts measures less than an inch long, and they stay low to the ground in the vegetation. It is extremely easy to walk right through a posse of forktails and never notice them. Seen well, the animal is a thing of great beauty. This one is perched on a fairly rare plant, the Narrow-leaved Summer Bluets, Stenaria nigricans. It is consuming some tiny bug so small it is nearly invisible.

Dragonfly/Damselfly Photo Tip: Furtively and discreetly stalk your photographic prey until it catches a victim. Once settled in with a meal, damsels and dragons are less apt to flush, and often allow closer and easier approaches.

The hypnotic mass of Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, disk flowers seems to move and rotate if you stare straight at it. A good macro setup opens up worlds that would otherwise go largely unnoticed.


jaredmizanin said…
Awesome stuff! Glad to see you're enjoying your MT-24EX. I have been considering picking one up myself. Pricey piece of gadgetry, however! Someday I hope to see you using it in conjunction with the mp-e 65mm!

Love those odonate shots. I have trouble getting anywhere near them!

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