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Gearing up for macro season!

As the nice days are settling down (well, we are still waiting for them here in Denmark, as I am gazing at melted snow falling out the window!), nights are getting dangerously shorter (word of an astrophotographer). Bugs and flowers are at last waking up from a long frozen dormancy and it produces a real excitement in a photographer's head. Yes! It's here again... the season for macro-photography.

The art of photographing the ridiculously tiny is radically different from all other techniques. The key to succeeding and being a boss at it is to get the perfect balance between a blurry (and dark) background, and a subject entirely lightened and in focus. It means you're going to have to give the job a lot of patience to find your perfect aperture width. Most of the time, I can find a good compromise working with f/16, 20 til 25, but f/32 starts giving me too much detail in the background. It all depends on your angle, your focal length, the lighting conditions...etc.

Then the rule number two is, since you will work with high f-stops, you have to give your subject more light. You will either have to increase your ISO dramatically risking a noisy frame, or increase your exposure time risking a blurry subject (counter: use a tripod and do not use too long exposure times). A diffuse light is then recommended and I have built a light box, mounted on top of my flash to soften the light. I personally do not bump my ISO too high for fear of noise. The full-frame mode on my a7r2 has high-ISO limitations and already at ISO higher than 800, noise is starting to show up. The crop-sensor of the 70D is not that good either with high ISO's.

Spider trapped in a raindrop

The last trick is that all these perfect settings take some time to figure out given the situation. But once you did figure them out and ready to take your shot, your face will probably go from smiling to sour because your bug has taken its leave and moved away from the frame field. I advise you to take a lot of shots (in burst mode) and you can always stitch them up in PS afterwards to get your whole subject in total focus. If you don't want to deal with composition techniques, just take as many shots as possible and at least one usually turns out satisfying enough.

This is why macro is a really difficult, but exciting discipline and I can't wait to share more of my pictures with you as we advance in the season and I get better at it. In the mean time, get your macro on!

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