Shot discipline revisited by Robin: macrophotography

One of my favorite posts by MT and an absolute must read is “The Importance of Shot Discipline”. Everything in that article is strongly relevant when it comes to my attempts at insect macro shooting. Each factor plays a significant role in getting the shot: timing the shutter just right, nailing accurate focus, achieving sufficient depth of field, stabilizing the shot, watching out for diffraction and paying attention to the off camera flash. I have to make sure I do not forget any of these variables as any single screw-up means I will have an unusable shot.

A few friends who’ve tagged along for my macro shooting sessions have been impressed by my high hit rate despite shooting at full magnification of the macro lens. To understand my insect macro shooting technique, please read the article I have shared previously here. There is no simplification of the shooting process, and there is no compromise possible if you want to achieve the best results. The only way to efficiently get great results is through persistent practice.  Not just practice until you get the shot right, keep practicing until you don’t get it wrong anymore.

All images in this article were shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 and MZuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens.

My friend Matti Sulanto was with me, and he was putting together a short video about macro photography which featured me in action. I thought sharing the video here was a great idea for those who want to see my process. Matti also shares his experience from his commercial photography career decades ago dealing with the challenges of macro photography with film.

I am going to end with my favourite shot of the day below. As much as we can prepare for a shot, sometimes it all comes down to being at the right time and place. Luck is something we cannot control, but is undoubtedly crucial. In this case, this was a rare moment when I encountered a praying mantis ripping the head off a dragonfly and devouring it. Quite a brutal scene, but this beats any other typical insect “portrait”. Even though the head of the mantis is looking away.

Nevertheless, for everything else that we can and have the power to control, please check out and apply MT’s shot discipline.

The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 60/2.8 Macro is available here from B&H

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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2018 onwards. All rights reserved.

Comments

  1. Beautiful images and great technique, but…. It feels as though you are shooting insects in the equivalent of a zoo. Come to my garden and try to rock in and out to get optimal focus at 1:1 or even 1:4. The bees are hard at work, as are the butterflies, and they sit for a second at most. And with dozens of blooms you can’t be sure where they will land, or where on the flower they will pause for even a couple of seconds. Camping out on a flower doesn’t work that well. Dragonflies can be had if they are not hunting. They will sit still for as much as a minute, but not necessarily anywhere you can reach. Make too quick a move to reach over to them and they say goodbye.

    The answer for me is to use autofocus and hold down the shutter. That doesn’t work well with a flash. The success rate isn’t great, but I’m pretty much guaranteed there will be a winner, and I really don’t need more than a couple of good shots if I have managed the lighting and technical issues properly.

    Wild insect microphotography is probably as tough as it gets. At least on safari shooting the big cats and the like there is some depth of field. A 600mm at f8 on a DX body at 200′ will give you about 10′ to work with. A 90mm at f11 on DX body at 1′ gives you 0.1″ to work with.

    This is not a criticism at all, your work is excellent. My comment will perhaps encourage those who are shooting insects in the ‘wild’ to work on techniques that make sense for their circumstances. I would love the subjects to provide me the time to rock into focus while shooting, but autofocus for all of its, and my own, weaknesses is my friend. Thank goodness I’m not paying for film and waiting a week to see how things turned out.

    • Robin Wong says:

      I have done extensive shoots in actual rainforests (tropical here) in the middle of the night, with my current setup. It works. I have shot bees, butterflies, anything I can find in the jungle. Of course insect macro photography at extremely large magnification isn’t easy. It is the challenge that makes it fun, and for me to continually push myself to experiment and improve my techniques. It is an on-going learning experience and I enjoy every single part of it.
      Come to Malaysia. And I shall bring you deep, deep into the forest with me to shoot some insect macro.

  2. Great shots! 🙂 I have the Zuiko 60mm Macro.

  3. I’m not certain you meant shot discipline “resisted.” Perhaps you had actually intended to write “revisited”?

    • Robin Wong says:

      Yeah, it was supposed to be “revisited”. Thanks.

      • I find the images striking. I’ve almost never felt the impetus to make images of insects, but your images are striking. Thank you for sharing these (and the video).

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