Lately I have been chasing around bugs with my macro lens. Ever since one of my photographer friends said, “Lets go photograph dragonflies” a couple of weeks ago, it has been non-stop bug action. This is really a continuation of the Dragonfly Macro Photography – History Park – Punta Gorda, Florida post. If you missed that post, I would recommend going and reading that one first.
What makes this post different than the previous one? Light, and lots of it. In the previous post, it was all about getting as close as possible with the available light. Available light gives a natural look and is everywhere. You don’t have to buy expensive pieces of plastic that shoot out photons at a fraction of a second to make an exposure. All one may need when working with available light is a piece of white paper or foil. This can help fill in dark shadows and even out high contrast areas. However, since I’m a guy and guys like to do things to the max (and I have five speedlights at my disposal) I wondered what some of these bug photos may look like with flash. I have seen many photographers that use special ring flashes with shooting macro to engulf the subject with light. I packed my gear and headed out to see what I could get or whom I could blind.
The first stop was back at the History Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. This is where I shot the original set of photos in the first post. Again, with friends in tow we knew where the dragonflies were going to be hanging out. Once we arrived at the location, it wasn’t long and we were greeted with all kinds of specimens. I set the camera up in manual mode with ISO 400, f/11 at 1/200. A curious dragonfly came along and I snapped his photo.
As you can see, the exposure is correct for the scene. There is detail in the frame without any hotspots. However, there is a huge problem, I’m on the shadow side of the dragonfly. He’s dark, yes I could readjust the camera settings to expose for him, however I would have lost the background. I turned on the flash and set it for ¼ power. Yes, I shoot manual flash as well. I took another shot.
OK, this is well lit, ugh well, maybe a little over done. I’m sure that the dragonfly was blind as well at this moment. This is what I wanted, but I needed to dial down the power of the flash. This is usually the culprit when folks say that they don’t like flash photos. What they really mean is that the flash nuked poor grandma. I adjusted my power down to 1/16 power and took another photo.
As you can see, he’s properly lit and still happy with me. Also, you might notice some “snappiness” to this photo. This is from the flash. When flash is used properly, they will give you excellent results. This photo required about 30 seconds of processing in Photoshop. Another benefit of using flash, you are creating and finishing the photo in the camera all in one shot. Pretty cool stuff.
The next day, I taught a photo class at Urfer Family Park in Sarasota, Florida. This is quite a diverse place as there are three playgrounds for kids as well as a nature park and a place to run the dogs and throw a Frisbee. As the class was out shooting, I was on the hunt for more dragonflies. I had made a mental note of this place before, since I had seen these types of insects there before. They have a pond with cattails where they like to hang out. I didn’t realize what I was stepping into when I got there. I was flooded with dragonflies in a rainbow of color. I had that same feeling as I watch the glazing machine at Krispy Kreme. I was in a photographer’s bliss. It was time to start shooting.
This was one of the first fellows that came to check me out. As you can see, he is backlit again, so I employed my flash. There was one change that I had to make; at the edge of this pond was about six feet of mud. I’m crazy to a point, but I wasn’t about to ruin my only pair of shoes. I went back to the car and swapped out my macro lens for my trusty Nikon 70mm-300mm lens. This was going to have to get me over the six feet of mud. As you can see it worked. The rest of the photos were taken with this lens.
This guy was shot in available light. He was in total shade so I was able to get an even exposure in the scene. At this point I was stopped by folks walking by and even a Sarasota County employee, all asking the same question, “What are you looking at?” I wanted to say the moon, but I was nice, and explained the situation. I got the typical answer, “Oh” and they were on their way.
Here is another gold dragonfly and as you can see, he’s eating another bug. The circle of life as it’s happening, how exciting is that. This is when I’m glad that I have manufacturer lenses, these are going to give me the maximum quality possible.
I followed this fellow around for a bit and once he got accustomed to me, he landed on a stick and stayed put. This was another photo that was shot in available light. I could have removed the stick behind him to make it look less cluttered. Oh well, there’s got to be time for sleep somewhere!
Once again, I was on the shadow side of this creature. I used the flash to full in some of the shadows. You can see the reflection of the flash in his eyes. I was amazed to see purple dragonflies; I had never seen one before.
This one landed on an interesting plant. I liked how the texture of the plant kind of matched the insect. This was shot with available light as he was in shade.
There you have it, how to flash the insect world. Well that kind of sounds funny, but you know what I mean! You don’t have to go far to photograph these types of bugs, they congregate around bodies of water. Check your local park and I’m sure you can find some. Most of the time I picked a spot where I saw them landing on a particular stick, and that is where I planted myself for a while. In time, they realize that you aren’t there to eat them so they will stay still. If you don’t have a macro lens, use the longest lens that you have and see what you can come up with. You never know what you are going to come back with.
Until Next Time…
Keep Your Glass Clean