Lord V PRO 1:30pm, 7 August 2005
Max asked me to put together some tips on macroshooting, I have only been taking them myself since the end of May 2005, so I cannot claim to be an expert and can only really talk about my macro gear and how I use it.

1. Equipment
I use a canon 300D or 20D DSLR with a Sigma 105mm EX macro lens. From the pictures I have seen around nearly all the fixed focal length 1:1 macro lenses from 50mm to 180mm are capable of giving excellent results, but remember the shorter the focal length, the shorter the minimum focus distance.My lens gives me only 4.5" from the front of the lens to the subject when at minimum focus distance and hence maximum magnification. I normally use a flash unit with this (Sigma 500 Super DG) which is mounted on a flash bracket. A picture of the rig can be seen here- www.flickr.com/photos/lordv/29274672/ . The last item is a softbox type diffuser necessary to reduce the harshness of flash. Dedicated macroflash units can obviously also be used but care has to be taken as they can give rather flat looking shots as the lighting is very even unless the power ratios to the the two lights are varied (ratios between 2:1 and 4:1 are recommended).
For increased magnification I sometimes fit a reversed 50mm lens (old Pentax Kmount lens) to the front of my macro lens. This lens is nearly wide open and the focus is set to infinity. This increases the maximum magnification to about 2.8:1 on my system but gives a DOF of about 0.5 mm and a minimum focus distance of about 1.5cms from the front of the reversed lens. I fit the lens onto my macro lens using a tube made out of duct tape and cardboard tube. I have since changed this and now use a closeup lens I obtained from the front of an old 35-135mm zoom lens- I again use a tube to attach it to the front of my macro lens made out of camping mat.
Since I started using extension tubes to take the magnification upto 2:1, I needed something to help stabilise the camera during shots. My solution is shown here-


[EDIT] I have now acquired an MPE-65 macro lens which is a totally dedicated macro lens. Maximum focus distance is 4" for 1:1 but it "zooms" up to 5:1 magnification
Pics of the new rig here-

Just made up a quick and dirty diffuser for a camera mounted external flashgun for macro shots- can see details in the following pics

A simpler diffuser for a camera mounted flash gun

New coca- cola can diffuser for bracket mounted flash here-

Recent pic of both macro rigs


[EDIT] Update on camera bodies - am now using a 350D instead of the 300D and after my 20D broke it's shutter after about 120000 clicks I panicked and bought a 40D. The 20D is in the camera hospital and should be back soon :)

Been using a 5Dmk2 camera with my MPE-65 lens for around 5 months now- makes a wonderful combination - the detail capture is excellent.

More recently have been playing with a new DIY lens set up shown here www.flickr.com/photos/lordv/4156846037/in/set-72157594293...
Simply a 10X microscope objective mounted on a body cap mounted on 75mm of ext tubes. Works suprisingly well but DOF is vanishingly thin - example pic www.flickr.com/photos/lordv/4173875722/

2. Camera Settings

I normally shoot with manual focus and the camera set in manual mode, ISO100- aperture F11-F13, shutter around 1/160th-1/200th (1/200th is the highest sync speed for my camera) and the flash in ETTL mode (Canon's advanced TTL mode). The reason for these settings is basically to get good Depth of Field (DOF). On my flash I have the built in wide angle diffuser deployed as well as using my homemade softbox diffuser.
For a slightly more natural look you can try upping the IS0 to say 200 and changing the shutter speed/ aperture unti the manual settings give only a 1/3 or 2/3 stop underexposure and then still use the flash.
For fully natural light shots upto 1:1 magnification I tend to use ISO 400, F8-F11, 1/120th- 1/200th in either Av or Tv mode depending quite what I'm shooting.

When shooting above 1:1 I've found that I need to increase the aperture to achieve good detail because diffraction softening kicks in as you up the magnification. Currently my settings tend to be
1:1 2:1 3:1 4:1 5:1
F11 F9 F8 F7.1 F6.3

Pic showing aperture/diffraction effects at 5:1 here www.flickr.com/photos/lordv/2655235152/

Flash Exposure compensation (FEC)
When using ETTL flash regularly for macro shots, you tend to find a FEC setting (on flash or on camera but not both) that gives you pretty good results most of the time. For my normal settings with my coca-cola can diffuser this is about +.33 FEC on my 430EX. After a while you begin to notice that in certain situations this can lead to overexposure or under exposure of the subject. This happens when the background is predominantly either very dark (leads to over-exposure) or very light (leads to underexposure). I've now got in the habit of changing the FEC in these situations, so for a very dark background I reduce the FEC by about .66 to -.33 Fec and for very light situations, I increase the FEC by about .66 to + 1 FEC. This gives much better exposure of the subject.

3. Technique.
I preset the focus at the required magnification level. Focusing on the subject is then achieved by gently moving your whole body back and forth and shooting as you pass through the focus point.
This sounds a bit hit and miss, but when I first started I found about 8 out 10 shots were not in focus using this method and a lot of practice I'm now up at about 8 out of 10 shots with the focus where I want.
You can on my camera, part hold the shutter button half in and it lights up a focus point and beeps as the subject comes in focus.
I have two methods for approaching subjects. The first most obvious one is to slowly move in on them trying not to block any light on them, I have most success doing this if I am either level or slightly below the subject.
The second method is to stay near where you have seen the subjects and wait for them to come to you. This often works even when you have scared the subject off in the first place.

4 Image processing.
I am certainly no expert at this, but this is what I normally do.
I shoot in RAW format so have to use a software conversion utility to change them to JPG. I most frequently use Canon's own DPP software set to max sharpening. I also at this stage correct any exposure problems normally not more than + - half a stop.
I use focus magic Photoshop plugin to further sharpen the pics at level 2 and lastly sometimes use Paul's Velvia action to enrich the colour.If I have significantly cropped the picture during processing ,then I frequently use neat-image (freeware version)to reduce the noise.

[EDIT] been a year or two since I wrote this. My current workflow is

DPP RAW conversion, De-noise with noisewarepro with weak settings, levels adjustment if necessary in PS,sharpen with USM at 200,1,1 but fade to 50% or lower. Save result. Reduce size for web use (180DPI 9cm short side) further sharpen same settings but faded to 30%

Only other thing worth mentioning is focus stacking. I frequently take several pictures of the same subject at different focus depths and then use the freewaware programme combinez5 to automatically stitch them together. This seems to work about 50% of the time for handheld shots. Tutorial on this here
Plus a tutorial on how this is applied to taking dewdrop refraction photographs here.


5. Finding the Insects.
All of my shots (so far) have been taken in my garden. I have two ponds and a lot of shrubs. I have not used insectacide for many years. This seems to result in a lot of bugs around!
One unexpected advantage I may have is one of my other hobbies is bonsai trees.
These are great for taking insects on as you can sit down plus if the insect goes into an arkward position, simply turn the tree around :)
Hoverflies seem to like many of the shrub/perennial flowers including Hebes, Rhodadendrons and Fennel.
The seed pods on several of my rhodadendrons seems to produce sap at their bases which attracts many insects.
Here's some pics of my garden to give you an idea.


6. Cross-eye sterograms.

They are in fact easy to do.
basically you take one shot of the subject and then move the camera sideways approx 1/30th of the subject distance (for macro shots this around 1-2cms) and take another pic. For flowers I use a tripod to do this and just move the tripod but you could do it on a macrostage if you have one.
You may need to recentre the subject after moving. Take the shots into PS and crop and align them - I normally crop one, copy it and paste it on the other and adjust the opacity of the layer so I can see both shots- and crop around the layer- then delete the layer.
You can then check the stereo content by putting the pics side by side- remember to create a cross-eye stereogram you have to swap over the L&R pics as taken so they are on R & L side. You can in fact do all of this in a neat piece of freeware called stereophotomaker (just google for it). It's handy to have a pair of anaglyph glasses for this (those coloured stereo pic viewer glasses).
Frequently when I'm doing flower closeup shots I also use focus stacking to increase the focus depth. This just means I take several shots to cover the focal depth of the subject for each half of the stereo pic and then use combinez5 (again freeware) to stack the images before starting the alignment process above.

The more aligned you make the shots (size, rotation and vertical alignment) the easier they are to view and the less likely to give you a headache trying.
The other "rule" which I frequently break is that if you imagine you are looking at the 3-D picture through a window (the frame around the edge) you should not have any objects touching the frame as this makes it difficult to view. You are allowed to have things coming through the window as long as they don't touch the sides. You adjust this apparent behind the window depth in stereophotomaker but it's to do with the pic spacing and view overlap.
If you can actually view the pictures they are great fun to do yourself.
Brian V.

Please add any comments or your own techniques to this thread
mimbrava PRO 13 years ago
Brian, you can indeed claim to be the expert you are.
Rey Nocum Posted 12 years ago. Edited by Rey Nocum (member) 12 years ago
We have almost the same technique except that I use 50mm macro and 50mm non-macro lenses with a 68mm Kenko extension tube. I shoot handheld only but always at 1/200 secs. I have no external flash just the built-in (pop-up) flash of my Canon 350D. With a Sigma 50mm macro and extension tube I can have up to 3:1 magnification but I seldom use this combination. For my flying hoverflies, I use 70-200mm with 56mm extension tube.
Badger Badger Studios 12 years ago
Thanks Brian. This is quality advice that you probably couldn't pay for, so thanks so much for offering up for free.
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