Tips for Handheld Macro Photography

guest-blogger-strip-blackBy Nicole S. YoungBumblebeeMacro photography is an fascinating way to get a close-up look at everyday items. Photographers will oftentimes use a tripod to create their photos, but in some cases it is necessary, and also more convenient, to hand-hold the camera to create these images. However with hand-held macro photography you will also face certain challenges along the way. Here are some tips to help get you started creating your own beautiful macro photographs.

Camera gear used in this article:

  • FUJIFILM X-T1 Camera
  • FUJIFILM X-T2 Camera
  • FUJINON XF60mmF2.4 R  Macro Lens
  • Neewer CN-216 Dimmable LED Panel

Add More Light

I like to photograph macro images in the shade or on cloudy days so that I have a nice even light spread across the scene. However, sometimes the existing light is not quite enough for the camera settings required to get a good image (a high shutter speed and lower ISO). To compensate, I will oftentimes use a simple and inexpensive LED light that can either be attached to the hot-shoe of the camera, or held off to the side. This not only adds a good amount of fill light, but it also will help add catchlights to whatever you are photographing.

01_nicolesy_macro_light
The Neewer CN-216 Dimmable LED Panel adds a nice fill-light to a macro photo without being too harsh.

Focus Manually

When photographing something that is moving, just like I did with these images of bees, it was very difficult to use auto-focus. The bees were moving to quickly and positioned themselves out of focus before I could even press the shutter. To work around this challenge, I decided to pre-focus the lens and moved the camera back-and-forth until I could see the bee in focus, and then I pressed the shutter and fire off several consecutive frames. You will end up with a lot of throwaway images with this technique, but you will also have a higher chance of getting one of the images from that set in focus.

Here’s a step-by-step on how I performed this technique:

  1. First, I pre-focused the lens so that the focus point was an appropriate distance from the lens for the subject (in this case, a bee on a flower).
  2. Next, I set my drive mode to “continuous high”.
  3. Once I found a good subject (a bee on a flower), I moved the camera back and forth on the bee until I could see it come into focus on the preview on the back of my camera. As I saw it pop into focus, I pressed the shutter and created several images (with the hopes that one of them is in focus).

Focus on the Eyes

If photographing a bug or small animal, it’s important that you focus on the eyes. Small bugs can move around quickly, and so it can be tempting to feel like you are getting a good photo if the creature is facing away from you. While it won’t hurt anything to fire off a few photos (pixel are cheap, after all), a photo of the eyes of a bee, for example, is much more compelling than a bee butt. Have some patience and position yourself so that you can create the best creature portrait as possible.

02_nicolesy_macro_butt
This photo is in focus, but it’s also the wrong end of the bee! (FUJIFILM X-T2, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/680 sec at F2.4, ISO 400)

 

 

03_nicolesy_macro_eyes
Your best bet is to position yourself so that you can photograph the eyes of your subject. This image shows just how detailed the eyes of a bumblebee can be when zoomed in close. (FUJIFILM X-T1, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/1000 sec at F5, ISO 3200)

Find a Clean Background

Creatively speaking, the composition of your photo is going to be one of the most important aspects. You might have a “technically perfect” photo, but if it does not look good compositionally then it it loses its appeal. I find that one of the easiest ways to get a good composition is to angle myself so that the background is clean and not busy. There are a few different ways you can accomplish this:

  • Move your camera (or yourself) lower to position the frame at eye-level (instead of shooting down). This will help create a blurred background to separate the subject from its surroundings.
  • Find a subject that has contrasting elements behind it so that it stands out.
  • Use a wide aperture to add more blur to the background.
04_nicolesy_macro_composition1
The bee in this photo is on a very distracting background, and makes the image less pleasing. (FUJIFILM X-T2, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/420 sec at F2.4, ISO 400)

05_nicolesy_macro_composition2

To get a better photo, I waited for the bee to move and positioned myself so that the background behind the bee was less busy. (FUJIFILM X-T2, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/320 sec at F2.4, ISO 400)

Use a Fast Shutter Speed

With hand-held photography it’s important to make sure that the shutter speed is set fast enough to prevent camera shake. A good rule of thumb is to set the speed to at least the same number as the focal length of your lens. For example, I was using a XF60mm lens for these photos, so I would want to be sure that the shutter speed was set to no slower than 1/60th of a second to make sure that I don’t add motion blur to the photos. However I also needed to make sure that the shutter speed was fast enough to freeze the action of the bees as they moved around. For these photos I found that a shutter speed of 1/250 (and typically higher) was a safe setting.

06_nicolesy_macro_slow
At 1/30th of a second, the shutter speed is WAY too slow to both hand-hold the bee and photograph it without moving. As a result, there is a significant amount of motion blur in this image. (FUJIFILM X-T2, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/30 sec at F4, ISO 200)

Bumblebee

Using a faster shutter speed, such as 1/500th of a second, gives you a better chance of getting a photo without any movement. (FUJIFILM X-T1, FUJINON XF60mm Lens, 1/500 sec at F4, ISO 640)

The intensity of the light in the environment you are photographing will determine if this is going to be an issue. If there is a lot of sunshine or it is very bright (even in a shaded area), then you may be in the clear. However if you do need to increase the shutter speed, here are some tips to help you add more light to the scene:

  • Try adding an additional light source (similar to what I mentioned at the beginning of the article).
  • Increase the ISO setting, or set it to “auto” and let the camera decide for you.
  • Use a wide aperture, such as ƒ/2.8 or wider. Doing this will allow more light to the sensor, but it will also increase the blur and narrow your depth of field (the area that is in focus), so it may be more difficult to get an in-focus photograph.

About the Authornicole_s_young_portraitNicole S. Young is a full-time photography educator living in Portland, Oregon. She owns and operates the Nicolesy Store where she creates and sells photography training, presets, and textures for photographers of all levels. Nicole has also been a stock photographer for over 10 years and licenses her work primarily through Stocksy United.

How to use the Interval Timer function

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerThe Interval Timer feature built into some of our X series* cameras can be an excellent tool to express your creativity.

It can be used to capture multiple images one after the other with the knowledge that you will simply pick your favourite image later on. Or the most likely the reason you would use this feature is to create a time-lapse movie like this little Lego guy doing a dance (rather badly I might add!), or perhaps a flower bud opening up, or even the sun setting behind the horizon – the possibilities are truly endless.

animation-example
Example of time-lapse movie – The Robot Dance

In this tutorial I want to give you a basic idea of how to use the Interval Timer function to create timelapse movies. For in-depth advice on timelapse movie creation and some of the more detailed do’s and don’t’s I would strongly recommend searching ‘How do I get great timelapse results from my camera?‘ as there are so many good tutorials already out there.

The option for timelapse is found in the main menu of the X series cameras under the title ‘INTERVAL TIMER SHOOTING‘, choose this option with the menu/ok button.

From this, select the interval (the time between each shot) using the navigation buttons (up, down, left and right). Once you are happy with the intervals, you will need to choose how many shots you want in total – this is found under the title ‘NUMBER OF TIMES‘. To help with how many shots you want see the tip below:

TIP! In Europe and Canada we normally use 25fps (frames per second) also known as PAL for our movies. Below you can see examples of how many photographs you would need to take to achieve the required length of movie.

Examples for 25fps:

1 second of footage = 25 photographs
2 seconds of footage = 50 photographs
10 seconds of footage =  250 photographs
1 minute of footage = 1500 photographs

Another way to think of this is Video length = Number of pictures ÷ Frame rate

The last step is to choose when the camera actually starts taking pictures, this could be immediately, in which case you would select 0h 00m or for example 20 minutes time (0h 20m). When you are ready to shoot simply press the menu/ok button and this will start the timer.

At the end of the sequence of shots you will then need to put them into a movie making program such as Adobe Premiere Pro or similar to create the timelapse itself – for that part I’d recommend looking up a software specific tutorial, so if you use Premiere Pro try a search like ‘Create a timelapse video in Premiere Pro‘ in your favourite search engine.

TIP! I normally use YouTube for this part to see exactly what buttons the teacher is clicking / using to create the timelapse video – that should stop you getting lost along the way!


TIPS, TIPS, TIPS!

Use a tripod for best results
Use a tripod for best results

Here are some bonus tips to think about when creating a timelapse video:

  • Use a tripod  Otherwise your timelapse video will look like an earthquake is taking place!
  • Set the camera to 16:9 ratio – This will be the correct image ratio for a 1080p Full HD movie file, so you will not need to crop hundreds of images!
  • Plan ahead – If you are shooting a sunrise or sunset, know exactly where the sun is going to end up. Apps like The Photographer’s Ephemeris can really help you achieve this.
  • Think very carefully about composition – This kind of goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway.. 😉 Take your time framing the shot, after all you are going to take hundreds of pictures of your landscape and it would be a real shame to get 300 images of the horizon all wonky!
  • Shoot Raw & Jpeg – Although Jpegs are preferable for many users, if the lighting changes dramatically whilst shooting you will find editing & correcting a RAW file much more flexible as it retains all the detail from an image rather than a compressed version.
  • Shoot manually – To ensure consistently good results always shoot fully manual – set the shutter speed, the aperture, ISO and focus yourself rather than allowing the camera to do this for you.

Below is an example of a timelapse movie shot on the X-T1 and played back at 25FPS. The movie consists of 150 shots.

I hope this has inspired you to go out and give it a go! It can be truly rewarding and really fun too!

Happy Snapping! 🙂

*The Interval Timer feature is available for the FUJIFILM X-T1, X-T10, X100T and X30.

 

Tutorial: Understanding exposure & using it creatively

exposure

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Exposure”?

We’ve all taken them – an amazing once-in-a-lifetime photo but when we look closer, the photo is too dark or too bright or the subject doesn’t pop enough. A properly “exposed” photo will show details in both the lighter and darker areas of a photo AND show the subject and background in proper focus.
exposure triangle
Exposure can be defined as the amount of light that enters the front of the lens and hits the sensor of your camera.

There are 3 elements that determine the correct Exposure and they are heavily dependent on each other – ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. There are many combinations of these 3 elements that can produce a correctly exposed photo BUT the “effect” of each combination will drastically impact the creative look of the photo. Let’s look at each element.


ISO = Film speed

If you’re old enough to remember using a film camera, you would have bought various “speeds” of film depending on the lighting conditions you were shooting in. ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light.

Today’s digital cameras allow you to adjust the ISO (aka film speed) either through an ISO dial or through the menu system. The downsides of using a high ISO is that the photo will become “grainy” or noisy. It might be properly exposed but it will not be as sharp.

Generally, you don’t need to fiddle with ISO, as it has the least effect on the creative side of your image out of the 3 elements. To minimise the grainy effect simply set your maximum AUTO ISO to 1600 through your menu system and your photos should never appear grainy. Or if you prefer, you can also set your ISO to a specific number like 200 or 400 and adjust the other 2 elements to get the correct exposure. You may need to use a higher ISO if you have manually set the other 2 elements and your camera is still warning your photo is underexposed. Most cameras have the capability to shoot at ISO 12,800 or higher if needed, but generally you are ok at ISO 3200 before you will see any “noise”.


Aperture = Focus Depth of Field

We’ve all seen them. Those professional looking photos of Aunt May where only she is in focus and the background is blurry. This is easily achieved by adjusting the Aperture setting on your camera. Aperture is the amount of light that can pass through the camera lens and determines how much of a photo will be in focus (called depth of field).

Depth of field example

Click here to learn more about Depth of Field

Setting the correct Aperture setting (called f-stop) will provide you with the desired effect for your photo. BEFORE you set the Aperture you need to know what type of “effect” you want depending on what scene you are shooting.

Aperture blades at different f/stops

If you are shooting a landscape, for example, you will want to have everything in focus so an F-stop of F8 or higher should be used. If you are shooting close-ups or portraits, you will want to blur out the background to make the subject stand out so you should use the lowest F-stop your lens allows like F2.8 or F1.4. Or if you are shooting in low light, you will need as much light as possible so an F-Stop like F2.8 will be adequate. Each lens you use will have different F-stop ranges so be sure you use the right lens depending on what you are shooting.


Shutter Speed = Controls motion

Next to Aperture, Shutter Speed is probably the next element that you will adjust the most. Shutter Speed is defined as how long the sensor is exposed to the light and scene you are shooting. The longer the exposure (slower shutter speed), the more light that hits the sensor and the more movement will be captured. The shorter the exposure (faster shutter speed), the less light and less movement will be captured.

Shutter Speed comes into play mostly when you are shooting moving objects OR low light scenes. Again, you will need to determine beforehand what kind of “effect” you want your photo to show. If you are shooting a moving object like your child playing soccer or a friend playing badminton, you can “freeze” the action by selecting a high shutter speed of 1/500 or faster.

11417774_10155657707360534_6520493767888390111_o
Fast shutter speed used to freeze the movement in the image.

Likewise, if you are shooting a moving object like a flowing water, you can show “movement” by selecting a slow shutter speed of ½ second or even longer with the use of a tripod.

Slow shutter speed used to increase movement and create a fog-like water effect.

You can even use a slow shutter speed to help capture the drama in an image by panning with the subject as you take the shot.

11952734_10156017990690534_1081162171390231172_o (1)
Shutter speed set to: 1/40 – image taken whilst panning with the car.

Or if you are shooting low light scenes, like a night sky, where fast moving objects is not an issue, you can select a slow shutter speed of 1 to 30 seconds with the use of a tripod. You can also use slow shutter speeds to create light trails from cars and other similar light sources.

10460865_10155080157000534_7647043384773184242_o
Slow shutter speed used to capture the light trails from car headlights

Keep in mind, that slow shutter speeds will usually require a tripod as even the smallest hand movement will cause a blurry image. General rule for hand holding, is to take the focal length you are shooting at, say 100mm, and use the reciprocal number for the min shutter speed 1/(focal length) or 1/100. Any slower, and chances are you will get a blurry picture.

One of the hardest photos to take is an action shot in low light, like your child’s school play. You will need a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action and prevent “blur” due to camera shake so an f-stop like F2.8 or lower is required to allow as much light in as possible. In this instance, you may need to increase the ISO setting to ensure the photo is properly exposed up to 1600 or higher.

How do you know if your scene is properly exposed BEFORE you shoot? Most of our Fujifilm cameras will either show on the LCD screen the shutter speed or aperture settings you have selected in RED if it’s not exposed properly. OR your LCD screen will actually preview the exposure on the LCD screen itself before you shoot.

We know that this topic is probably one of the hardest ones to get your head around at first, but don’t worry, you definitely will and it’ll be sooner than you think!

Happy snapping! 🙂