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Macro photography

It”s been a while since I’ve been doing macro work, so it’s time to turn the tide.
This blog is all about the techniques and how I personally pursuit a macro image:

This guy had a stalker for at least 2 hours until I finally got the shot I wanted.

The gear:
Well, Choosing a macro lens was the easy part here, as there is only one option for the Sony a7, meaning I got the FE 90mm f2,8 Macro G OSS lens.
For lighting I use a LED light (Ice Light) to give an extra pop to the images, together with 2 small tripods.


Mindset:
Inspiration comes once I arrive at a location. The things I see makes me imagine certain composition and lighting. 
At that point, It’s about getting as close as possible to the image I have in my head.
Trying to express the things I see, the way I see them, is like a drug to me. 
I mostly try to isolate the subject and then I search for a background or other components that makes it more interesting.


Lighting:
In general I take macro images early in the morning, when dew is creating those nice pearls on the subject. And at this time, insects aren’t flying away that fast.
In order to break that rule I decided to make use of the Ice Light and do some macro / night photography. The main advantage here is that manual focussing is easy, using continuous lighting. The main disadvantage is that you are a mosquito magnet and you’re considered to be a late night snack.

The dark blue in the background is actually the night sky captured in between the trees.

I recently started experimenting with continuous lights and I am starting to appreciate it. I think it’s mostly because it gives me the ability to see while I am creating. It’s for the same reason I like an EVF. It’s of course not a replacement for a flash, but when I don’t need the output of a flash, I’ll use LED’s.

Being at night, I was able to turn the background pitch black.

Focussing:
If the subject isn’t moving, I’ll use manual focus, in following way:
I’ll chose the magnification that I want for the subject by using the focus ring and then move the camera and tripod in order to focus. Then, I'll fine tweak it, again with the focus ring. 
I must say that manual focus assist and focus peaking does make manual focussing child's play. So this may not be so easy, using a DSLR

If the subject is moving, I’ll use autofocus, or at least try to.
The autofocus on the 90mm macro is ok, considering it’s a macro lens (and terrible if you compare it to the 55 mm 1,8). But if it hunts to much, I’ll switch back to manual focus.
I’m not blaming this on the lens yet, as it seems to focus more accurate on my wife her A6000.
Once I see the images this lens produces, the mediocre focussing is forgiven. 

Side lit with an Ice Light

Settings:
Because of the small distance between you and the subject, your depth of field is very shallow, even at F14 or more. So most of the time I’ll be using a hi F-number, and if there is some wind, a fast shutter speed as well. This does lead you to hi ISO values.
Being able to use higher iso sensitivity is the main reason why I use the a7 for macro and not the a6000.
It’s however always a dilemma: The a6000 has better focussing and due to the fact it’s a crop sensor body, I’m able to get closer to the subject.

Overblown poppy

Final thoughts:
It’s been a long time since I tried macro photography but it is something I’m planning to do more.
The wind makes it impossible sometimes but I’ll figure out some solution for that.
The main thing with macro photography is that you can see in a way not many people can and it makes other appreciate those little things.

Thank you for reading

Forest on fire ...

1/40s; F5,6; iso 1600 with 55mm prime

Just a quick post about a recent trip to Germany:
While I was there for family reasons, I had the opportunity to shoot these images in a nearby forest ...

The best time shooting is definitely going to be near sunset or sunrise.
The light then turns into this magical glow of goodness which ads more depth and drama to the image.

ND Filter 101

For this post I went back to North France to have more fun with my ND filter. 

A ND or Neutral Density filter acts like a sunglass for you camera, blocking the light by a certain amount of stops. This gives you the ability to slow down your shutter speed and do a more creative type of shooting. It's often used to create movement or depth in an image. 

It's not always easy to use a 10 stop ND filter because it blocks to much light, needed for focussing the shot. The best way is to lock your focus before you put the filter on your lens (being on a tripod). 
You can turn on manual focus or use back button focus once you are locked. This way the camera won't try to refocus in between different exposures. 
 

It isn't easy to compose as well. Your viewfinder will be quite dark and being set with the wright exposure, live view or an EVF can be tricky. In order to compose correctly, you can open you aperture, letting in more light for the live view or EVF to pick up. 


This is an image she took with it while I was creating the shots above.

A tripod is inevitable for taking those long exposures. A heavy tripod is technically the best option, especially when there's a lot of wind. But to be honest, I don't like to drag it all over those rocks. Having less weight with my mirrorless system, I am able to use less weighted tripods like the Coman Hummingbird. As usual, the best tripod is the one you have with you. 

When my wife and I went shooting last time, I tried out te Sony A7 (see post). Yes, she got a bit jealous of the flexibility and compactness of the A7, meaning she sold some of her DSLR gear and went mirrorless with the Sony A6000.

I still haven't got the shot that I had in mind ... (Is a great reason to go back)
So what is my main goal as an amateur photographer ? 
The proces of going there, hiking, enjoying the landscape, enjoying photography together with my wife,... are the most important things. Coming home with a nice image is just a bonus. In other words, the chase is better then the catch. 

Thank you for reading ...

Switching to a Sony a7

First of all, there was nothing wrong with my Canon setup and for long It was worth carrying the weight of my DSLR and lenses. But with recent developments in the mirrorless world and considering which direction I want to go in photography, I decided to pick up a Sony A7.
I don't have the versatility of lenses yet, but over time I think it's worth investing in. 


These are some test shots that I've taken with the Sony 55mm f1.8. 

I've used a 10 stop ND filter to smoothen out the water and the legs of a tripod to draw the heart. A shutter-speed of 30s gives you those saturated colors (without enhancing in post). 

Light and composition are quite important when shooting landscapes. So I waited until the evening in order to use those deep shadows as a line to draw you in the image.

The fact that the A7 has a full frame sensor means that I have less depth of field at a same aperture, compared to a APS-C sized sensor. This however takes some getting used to. 

All these shots are taken along the cost in north France and typical there are the cliffs with lots of rocks on the beach. I wanted a sunset image using a ND filter for smoothing out the water passing along the rocks.  However the tide didn't work out at that point. So this was the alternative:

I find the Sony A7 combined with the 55mm 1,8 prime lens an excellent combination for travel and yes, even landscapes. It's light and easy to carry around without compromising image quality at all.
But lets be honest, you can't do much wrong with a 50mm prime from any brand, this lens however does give you that little extra. It is for that (and the Zeiss badge) you pay three times the average indeed, which may make it a little overpriced.

I am planning to go back there, so stay tuned for more ... 
 

Life at it's finest

I’ve taken this image a while ago and it has been one of my favorites for a long time, however I’ve never blogged about it …

You should know that this is actually a very lucky shot …

We were on a hike in “PetiteSuisse” in Luxembourg when we spotted a little bird fallen from the nest. At the time being I had a 24-70mm and a flash mounted. So with no time to lose I crawled towards the subject and took some shots of the bird, sitting on the ground.

Just when I found the correct settings, the bird climbed on a nearby tree and flew away. I was lucky to pan along this newborn and took this shot at a focal length of 70mm. It wasn’t very bright out there so a flash was needed to freeze the action.

Traveling with the Samsung NX300

The thought of leaving the country without my DSLR, did frighten me a bit. However I knew we were going for a relaxed holiday to Turkey so I took the plunge bringing only the NX 300 with  the 45 mm 1,8. 

This squirrel was accustomed to the hotel park so with some nuts I was able to get pretty close. 
As much as I love the 45mm F-1,8, this image brings me to some of its downsides:
It takes a while for the lens to focus and I find the minimum focussing distance to be quite long.
Meaning a lot of the bait (nuts) was eaten before I got the image I wanted.

At night the little camera handled the long exposures good enough. I did shoot in RAW, so I was able to even out the light in post production. I used a rock and the camera's build in timer mode to avoid camera shake during the 8s exposure. And for once you don't need to worry about using the mirror lock up.

This image is shot in Ephesus which is really worth a visit. I saw this cat modeling on one of the many pillars and couldn't resist capturing its portrait.
At this point something happened witch I've never experienced before. It may sound silly, but as this is a touristic area, one of the local photographers (using a DSLR) saw me doing this and started explaining how to take an image and why this wasn't the right composition,...  I just said, ok, thanked him for the advice and moved on. But the point here is that you lose your credibility. I didn't feel like I was in a position to argue with him, just because I was using that small NX300.

This image is taking during a visit to the olive museum, There wasn't a lot of light indoors and it was getting dark outside as well. However I was armed with a f1,8 lens so it dit a good job keeping the iso relatively low.
I would not recommend using high ISO settings. Like on most crop sensor bodies, I try to keep it under a 1000, unless you have no other option. I really don't like noise, but I hate blurry (due to the low shutter speed) images even more.

This image is shot handheld at 1/10s at f2,2, ISO 800

As you may remember I’ve said in earlier blog post, that there may be more to this little camera then I first thought.  Well I must say the main advantage is that there is less to it, in terms of gear. Walking around with this small camera makes me blend in just fine, and in some places in Turkey, that’s exactly what you want. 

A quick iPhone shot gives you an idea of how light and compact it is to walk around. It still isn't my DSLR, right know there are still some gaps to close. But I'm excited how this technology will evolve within the next years or decade. 

We'll see what the future brings.

 


Thank you for reading and see you in the next blog post.

 

The Pyrenees

In this blog I'll reveal 7 of my favorite images from my trip to the Pyrenees and I'll share some ideas about traveling with your camera. 

I find holiday images to be THE best souvenirs of a great period of time, which deserve to be from descent quality in order to preserve all your precious memories.

For more, Click on the first image.

Image taken while hiking back from the Pena Foratata, towards El formigal.

Image taken while hiking back from the Pena Foratata, towards El formigal.

For me in general, everything looks better an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise but it is simply not always possible to shoot a certain scene at a certain time, meaning if you reach a  mountain top with a magnificent view at the golden hour and you still need to climb/hike 4 hours back to the hotel,... you are in trouble unless you spent the night there. 

Image taken while hiking back from Pico de Anayet. Click here to see the track.

I try to hike with a minimum of gear, so I try to keep it down to 3 lenses (wide angel, standard and zoom), a body and a flash. This way I still have some room for things like a first aid kit, food, a rope,... My fiancé doesn't even think about carying her DSLR all the way to the top, she brings along the mirror less nx 300.

Just Climbed the Pico de Musales, Click here to see the track.
Image was taken with a wide angle lens, holding the camera up in the air.

The toughest thing is trying to transfer the magnitude of the mountains onto your sensor. Yes, you can try by using leading lines into your frame or work with layers,... But when I find myself in the landscape, seeing and feeling the magnitude of the mountains,... I realize I can not capture this on sensor, I can only try to. 

Climbing Pico de Anayet ... 

The magnificent view from Pico de Anayet. We climbed this mountain exactly 7 years after our first kiss and It was here, with a 360 view over the surrounding mountains where she said YES.

Most of our hikes started at El Formigal or a nearby parking but it is definitely worth visiting Torla, a typical village at the beginning of the mighty  Ordessa. The town is full of narrow passages and curved streets in between old settelments. Taking an image there is a light seeking quest of hide and seek...

And if you think you've seen it all, here is a "Footsie" with a view ...
If you like to see more image, click here.

Image taken while sitting on the Pena Foratata... 

Samsung NX300 + 45mm F1,8

Yes, a  mirrorless camera, indeed. Don’t worry, I am still a die-hard DSLR shooter, but I wanted something light to carry around, without losing lots of functionality or quality.
It’s the type of camera you bring along when going to the beach or when you visit some friends / family without them having to feel like they are in a photo shoot.
It’s a decent common or garden camera so far.

Then I bought the 45mm F1,8. It offers great value for money; it’s sharp, fast and has a very nice bokeh.
If it only would focus a bit closer...

However, I don’t want to make this a tech review so, I’ll conclude by saying there's probably more to this little camera then I first thought.

I expected some getting used to in order to change things like F-number, shutter, or ISO, but it all felt natural or similar to a DSLR. The only thing I miss is a back focus button, especially during sports. Still, regardless of which camera you are using, composition is as important as your settings.
Here I got them sitting near a window, in order to give me that soft light on their face. The bookshelf gave me a nice colorfull background in order to add some ambiance. 

F1,8 is great, but it doesn’t mean you have to shoot wide open. In this image, it would probably mean that only one eyelash would be in focus, so I shot this in aperture priority at F2,5, same for the other images in this post.

I think my wife is in love with this little guy here, as I see her spending time with her godchild, I believe I’m up for no good in the future.

 

Taekwondo 35st Belgian open

Once again I had the pleasure of shooting the Belgian open.
Only this time I brought assistance, my wife came along with her EOS 60D and actually we made a hell of a team shooting this 2 day event.

We practically used the same shooting tactics as I used LAST YEAR, meaning, we were flashing in aperture priority (or manual if the light was stable) at 2,8.
This way we kept or ISO below 2000, which I do prefer, using a crop sensor body.

In this blog they’re a small selection of images from both of us, which we liked the most.
Images from the complete event you can view HERE.

This is the beginning of a Poomsae, a fight against an imaginary opponent. I made the subject stand out by shooting against the window-light at a wide aperture and a fill flash for her face.

Beside the Poomsae, there’s Kyorugi, where the opponent is, as you can see, less imaginary. The light striking down over the seats did only last for half an hour, so I got myself in the right position and shot the last action shots of the day.

This image is my wife her favorite one, she recently got a 60D in to replace her 40D and I’m amazed how this turned out, using ‘just’ a sigma 17-70 F/2,8-4 DC marco HSM.

This is why we make a good team, we both were shooting this fight and while I flashed at the other side, she took this image, creating a beautiful light on her face.

As I explained in previous Taekwondo blog post, using a flash gives me the best result, you just have to cope with the fact that the flash (speedlite 430EXII) can’t keep up with the frame rate of 8fps on the 7d, so you need to anticipate the action and shoot in small bursts in order to get the peak of the action.

Eyes and levels

The eyes or eye, is mostly what you go for in a photograph of people, animals…
It tells a huge part of the expression and it’s where we are drawn to look.
Like in my bird of prey shots, I always tried to have the focus in the eyes.

Not only you want the eyes in perfect focus, you’ll want to get to their level.
If the eyes of your subject are lower or higher then your camera lens, you'll want to
get to their height by crunching down or levitate (some way or another).
Unless you are going for a certain style or perspective, this will improve your images regardless if you are shooting with an expensive DSLR or a point and shoot or even with your smartphone.

If I took this image from a higher point of view, I would not get that separation from the background or background at all and you would not be that much involved in the world of this little duckling.

 Note: Click the image to view in the Lightbox.

Evening "Townscape" of Clervaux, Luxembourg

This shot was taken during last holiday; a painting, hanging in the hotel corridor, inspired it. I looked up the place and scouted but sadly there where few shooting positions because of all the trees along the mountains surrounding this town.

When I found this location and while trying to work this scene, I got to three different framings I liked. Number one (above) is my favorite because the framing gets your attention more inside the town while still giving you a hind of the sunset on the upper left corner. (It’s a compromise of the two other shots underneath)

note: click on the image to enlarge. 

A night photography tip:
If you don’t want the illuminated building to be part of a nuclear catastrophe (blown out), underexpose by 1 or even 2 or more stops. It will not only even the light, it will give you a nicer saturation as well.

Why? The camera want’s your image to be 18% grey at all times. If your DSLR registers so many dark areas, it will try to brighten them. Result: The illuminated buildings will tag along, becoming nuclear. So if you two understand each other, that problem should be fixed.

A post processing tip:
Even an underexposed image can still have problems with some bright highlights. Lightroom however delivers a good job in reducing them by pulling the histograms highlights down.

And If you want more range between the bright and dark areas, you can light up the shadows and decrees the blacks in your histogram as well. (It may need some desaturation afterwards)

Qw: What's your favorite of the three?

Red kite caught in action

This is a classical shot of a red kite, during a bird of prey show at a local zoo, so this is no actual wildlife. However it is the place to be to practice your aiming accuracy, fast focusing and decision making. So following in this blog post are 5 tips and tricks to shoot animals at the zoo.

1st, Make a schedule:
In general, know the place and know when the shows are. Keep in mind that animals you want to see or photograph will be more active during feeding times. So have a schedule in mind, considering, if you want a good shot you'll probably need some time and patients.

2nd, learn the dance:
Mostly there is more then one bird show a day, so as you go for a 2nd run, predicting which bird is going to be where and when becomes easier. This way you can execute next tip more properly.

3th, Anticipate in stead of shooting blind.
With a zoom lens it is hard to scan the area and track, catch the bird. I usually (back) focus on one, sitting on a branch, seconds away from take off, then, During the first strokes, I spray, trying to keep my AI Servo focus point on the eyes. 

4th, Shooting position

In every zoo this will be different for sure, but having in mind where you want to anticipate your shot, you can try to get a good shooting position in order to have a natural background and good light. Depending on your goal this may vary.

5th, get the right part sharp.

This is probably the hardest part and has a lot to do with how you focus. Back focusing (as I explained earlier in my peacock post) gets most of the credit for this part as it gives you the control when and when not to focus while you take your shots.

Most of the time you want the eyes in focus. A trick you can use to give yourself more “room for error” (if there is enough light), is by using a higher F number. Using a smaller aperture gives you more depth of field so a deeper focus area.

 

Freezing motion

When shooting this one, I first tried to pan (with a slower shutter) to get more motion in the background and wings, however that didn't really work out. Mostly because they were so unpredictable. Panning a car and getting it in focus is probably not a one shot deal. Panning a bird however, going not only from left to right, but up and down and all combined, is hard, and I'll surely blog it if it works out properly someday. I got it close for this one, to really get the viewers attention on the head and eye. The eye is your focus point for this image. 

What I used was a center point focus on servo. Whatever the bird does, I try to aim that point towards the eye, if necessary I can frame it as I want in post production. I did pan (track) along for this image, but on a 1/1600s shutter speed at 2,8 to freeze the action.

Taekwondo 34st Belgian open

Shooting sports in low light situations

I have to admit, this is out of my comfort zone, but I really liked doing this. 
During this day, I wanted to capture motion as well as the emotion of the athletes.
To do this I used a 70-200 mm most of the time and good access to get in close.
I was on the 7d which still has a fairly fast burst mode up to 8fps, using burst mode is key to get the peak of the action shot.

For focusing I used back focus on servo mode. The most important thing about this is that the extra button let’s you decide when you want to focus and when not to, separately from taking the shot. 

Timing was of the essence, as I decided to use a Speedlight. Depending on the output, I could only burst 5frames at 8fps before it needed to reload for maybe a second.
Why did I decided to do this:
First of all, It was aloud;
I was able to get up to a few meters from the action, (in this case I had to watch out for the debris flying around) so I was on av at 2,8 adapting my ISO (800-1600) to get a shutter speed near the flash sinc speed. Freezing the action with no flash (min 1/500s) would have taken my to ISO settings beyond my personal noise tolerance.
Plus, to me, the white suits and colors where nicer lit and saturated with the flash.

Another very important thing is knowing the sport and to anticipate the actions.
This was captured in between the fights, the coach was pep talking and just that one moment she gave that focusing look. I hoped for this and was already pre focused, waiting for an interaction.

If you are looking for emotion, don’t forget to zoom in on the coaches and wait  …
This counts for the spectators as well. 

This image I liked because it tells a story: The coach is arguing with the referee, probably a misjudgment issue or so, while the girl is thinking, come on,… and the referee, trying to keep both coaches at ease.
Shooting fights from this location isn’t coincidence. It’s the only spot where you get this background I liked. Not only is your subject important, the background is as important to keep in mind while shooting.

 

Side mirror view

To me, photographs are the best souvenirs you can get from a holiday. Being creative as a photographer during a trip makes a difference in what you saw and what maybe the other 1000 tourist shot. 

This image is one of my favorites off last trip, it is shot during a jeep safari in turkey. When we pulled over and saw the landscape in the mirror, I got this idea. 

Not that it's never been done before, but for me travel photography, or just holiday snaps is all about keeping memories alive.

Godwit

Testing my 2x extender with a 70-200 on a Godwit: 

On a 7D this means you get a range up to 640 mm. A tripod is almost a must. This however is handheld, leaning against a wall. There simply wasn't enough time moving my tripod. 

This was late in the afternoon light, so I was in aperture priority, at F5,6 and adapting my ISO settings to get a shutter speed of at least 1/1000. 
Burst mode worked best, as I was handholding, I shot more then 300 images to get maybe 50 in focus and 5-10 I actually liked.

Result of the test: 

To me, the image quality of the 70-200L lens is amazing, putting on the 2x extender (even when using a tripod) means losing a bit of the sharpness and light, plus u need to keep your camera really still.

Smoke

Things to do when the weather turns against you:

This image is something you can probably do at home. The only thing u need is a camera, 1 or 2 external flashes, 2 black desk mats (1 as backdrop and 1 to put your cup on). The smoke itself is from a candle I've put in there. But it gives the look of hot coffee.

So, let's talk about settings: I used 2 speedlites, one on each side of the subject in a A:B ratio, underpowered by -3. 

Speedlite A on the left was aiming for the stick itself and speedlite B on the (rear) right was aiming the smoke, causing a little bit of backlighting. Both speedlites where set on max zoom. Both where fixed with improvised barn doors so there was no spill light on the black backdrop. 

The shutter was set at the camera, flash sinc speed(1/250) with an aperture of around F8 - F11. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using just 1 desk lamp to get an AF, these setting will kill all ambient light in the room, so there is no detail in the backdrop. With some wind you can start to see shapes in the smoke, like here, it looks like a portrait of a person. 

Tip: get an Incense stick you actually like to smell.

This image has the same setup as previous one, but I added an orange card in frond of the left speedlite, 

Just to get that warm look on the candle/rose. 

Tip: get a good lighter, it takes a lot of attempts to get the smoke where you want, even when you try forcing luck with some wind.

 

Bruges After sunset

Everyone who has been to Bruges, saw this seen for sure. 
Going there on the wright time, just after sunset, combined with a long 30s exposure, gives you this beautiful deep blue sky, what creates more contrast along the buildings.

Reflections of buildings aren't always that clear to see with the naked eye, especially when there are some waves in the water. Using a long exposure is an easy trick to flatten out the water a get a nice reflection of the subject. 

Some tips and tricks: 

During long exposures, camera shake is the enemy. A good, strong tripod is one thing, there are some simple minor setting you can apply: 

If you don't have a remote, you can set the timer (preferably on 10s to stabilize). But, without remote no bulp mode. 

Using the mirror lock can avoid shake as well. I'm not sure with Nikon, but if you are a Canon user, you can simply go into live view mode before you press the shutter, that way the mirror goes up as well. 

Don't let you neck strap of your camera swing in the wind during the exposure, remove it, hold it, or get a removable one. 

If you have more tips and ticks, feel free to post or mail.

 

For this image I tried a zoom-"blur" effect. So halfway the exposure I changed my zoom from 32mm to 24mm. I tried different zooming methods but this one was the most "realistic" one and it makes you look longer to the image, giving it a little extra then a classic shot of this scenery. Like it or not, at least it gives you an idea of how people see Bruges after going to one of the pubs.

To make this scene more interesting, I highlighted the bench and girl with an of camera flash on full power (I think 5 pops), during a long exposure. It's sometimes difficult to stay unseen as "lighter" in front of the camera, even during a 30s exposure, a shadow can appear. Moving helps, but even here, when I was jumping on and of the railing/wall, u can still see a little shadow of me.