Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fun with macro in PA...

I just got back from a 5 day vacation in PA. Every year my wife's family rents a cabin on Lake Walenpaupack in PA for two weeks. All the "kids" go up over the long weekend and we have a blast. And of course I have taken the opportunity to do some significant shooting.

For the last several years I have focused primarily on scenic work of the water, and sunsets. Of course by now I have shot that to death and decided that this year I needed to focus on something different. I decided that this year I would try my hand in macro photography, and maybe try to do some night sky pictures. I have tried the night sky thing before in PA but was hampered by clouds, and the lack of a real big wide view due to the crop factor of my camera.

In the past I rented various lenses from for my PA trips. I have gotten the 70-200 f2.8L IS a few times and liked it.. although it was pretty heavy. My favorite two rentals up to this point have been the 400mm f5.6L which did great with wildlife, and the 10-22 f3.5 which made up for the crop factor of my camera last year. If I didn't get the 5d I was going to get this lens. A big dud was a fish eye lens that I tried out last year and really had no idea how to work..

So this year I decided to go with something new and get the macro. My friend Brett (Hi Brett!) has one and it looked like it would be cool to try. I rented the Canon 100mm f2.8 IS. Cost me like $70 bucks with insurance and shipping included. Not too bad for 1 week.

So we get up to PA and I start shooting macro stuff right away. Everything from the caterpillars I see crawling around all over to the knotty wood of the side of the cabin. I quickly realize that natural light was not going to cut it. Pulling the limited knowledge I got with 20 minutes of research in macro photography (done the night before we left no less) I hooked up my 580EX using the off shoe cord and attached my lumiquest soft box. Using f22 and 1/160 (ISO 200) I found that I could get some nice results if I positioned the lighting just right.

So after a few days of messing around at the lake with this setup I can tell you one thing: Macro photography is HARD! Seriously the hardest thing I have done yet. The DOF even at f22 is tiny. Holding the camera steady is nearly impossible and that is amplified with the fact it is heavy as hell and i can only use one hand (with the other I am holding the light). I did use a tripod some of the time but when going after quick insects that just wasn't an option. Most of the good shots I got were of these flowers we brought in a vase. A few others were of insects I happened upon.

All in all it was a good experience trying macro and I think I want to get a lens the next time I have some cash to spend (no time soon). I won't be spending $1000 for the lens i rented.. maybe a less expensive Tamron.

In addition to the macro stuff I had two good sessions with sunsets using my 24-105 and going all out with the tripod and bracketed exposure. I plan on bringing those into HDR and seeing if i can make something nice with them. I did also get some time one night with a clear sky. I tried a variety of things like shooting the big dipper, and getting a wide field at long exposure. The 30-120sec shots seem usable but the longer ones I did of 20 minutes really were very noisy. I have no idea what I was doing wrong with that but I'll do some research and try again in a few weeks. The one shot I love from the night was a long exposure showing the streaks of the stars as they circled Polaris. If i can clean one of those up I think it will end up in my portfolio.

So all in all a good weekend. Now I have to get some time to sort and process in PS. I plan on bringing my workstation up from "The Dungeon" (my office in the basement) and putting it in the family room for a few weeks so I can get through my portfolio work over the next few weeks. I'll write more on that in a future blog.

Final observation.. I really really need to get a real big bag.. I have a LowePro Nova 5, Slingshot 200, and microtrecker 100.. and ended up using all three to bring all my stuff.. I am still debating on if i want to get a big backpack like the Tamrac Expedition x6, or maybe a monster sized shoulder bag... or maybe nothing. I rarely bring this much crap with me (3 bodies, 6 lenses, tripod, and all the trimmings).. my biggest issue is when I want to bring my tripod with me on a hike.. I dono.. still thinking. May end up doing what I usually do and deciding at the PhotoPlus Expo in NYC and ordering from B&H on the spot.

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