Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sharpening my Skills

by Kelly

To conquer frustration, one must remain intensely focused on the outcome, not the obstacles. ~T.F. Hodge

"I should really use my macro lens more."  That's what I think to myself any time I read one of Terri's posts about her love for macro photography.  But rather than feeling delighted and inspired, shooting with my macro lens often leaves me feeling annoyed and frustrated.  And my frustration is due to the fact that I have a very difficult time getting tack-sharp focus where I want it.

My biggest problem is camera shake.  (Well there is also the spring wind in Oklahoma, but that's probably another blog post for another day.)  Anywayover the past couple of weeks, I've been forcing myself to practice with my macro lens more (on non-windy days of course).  And, as with any kind of regular practice, I've sort of found my groove if you will.  So today I thought I would share with you some tips that have really helped me with regards to the sharpness in my macro photography.

  1. Become a human tripod:  Swinging and swaying are fine when you're listening to music, but they are no help for creating tack-sharp images.  I have a terrible time with this (especially in the morning after having a cup or three of coffee), so I always try to either a) bolster myself against a wall or b) keep one knee and/or elbow anchored on the ground.  It also helps to keep your arms pulled in tight next to your body.
  2. Back-Button Focus (BBF):  I have been utilizing this feature for a few years now, and it made a big improvement in the sharpness of my overall photography.  I find that it is even more beneficial in macro photography.  There is a great article at Clicking Moms that explains BBF in further detail, but simply put, BBF separates the shutter and focus functions of your camera. It's ideal for moving subjects which is why it helps me with my macro photography.  Keeping one finger on the BBF, I can press the shutter button whenever my subject comes into focus.
  3. Decrease aperture:  Because macro lenses allow you to get so much closer to the subject, shooting with a very wide aperture setting creates an even more shallow DOF than with a wider-angle lens.  By decreasing the aperture size (larger f/stop), more of the subject comes into focus and I find that my camera will lock onto to my focal point and focus more quickly.
  4. Increase ISO: Related to aperture, since I know that camera shake is an issue, I find that having a shutter speed of at least 1/125th is crucial.  Often times, that means I will need an ISO setting of 800 - 1600 to properly expose my images.  

Beyond these tips, I find that shooting with a macro lens requires two things that are not always in my wheelhouse in the course of my regular days...stillness and patience.  Thinking about the dinner I need to cook or the laundry that needs to be folded is not conducive to sharp, macro images.  

It turns out that breathing and mindfulness seem to be the very best tools at my disposal.

It's always a good thing to be reminded how much there is to learn...both in photography and in life.

At any rate, if you have any other good tips for getting sharp focus, please share them in the comments.  We so appreciate your feedback!

Until next time, 



Dotti said...

Kudos, Kelly! These are beautiful macro photos and your tips are, well, tack-sharp. Swaying is a problem I have, too, and of course, it is recommended that we use real tripods for macro photography but I find that an insurmountable obstacle to going around the garden shooting macro shots of flowers. Thanks so much for the beautiful pictures and great tips!

AFishGirl said...

I'm going now to read about back button focus... thank you!!

Katie said...

And if you DO find yourself out shooting macro on windy days, don't hesitate to up your shutter speed to 1/500 or higher.
Gorgeous photos as usual, Kelly. : )

terriporter said...

Oh, Kelly, I certainly understand the frustration! As much as I wanted the 100mm macro, it definitely wasn't love at first click! I would have to take 10 shots just to get one in focus. Yes, everybody recommends a tripod for tack sharp focus but, as Dotti said, it's very inconvenient. Back-button focus was the answer for me, as well as lots of practice. Swaying is no longer an issue because once I achieve focus with the back button, if I've swayed so the shot is out of focus, I just keep my finger ready to hit the shutter button and sway back and forth until I see my subject in focus and then hit the shutter button. Also I have had to get comfortable with selecting my focus point rather than focusing and composing. Not foolproof but I end up with so many more in-focus shots than I did before so I'm happy. You're so right about increasing your aperture -- the slightest sway when you're shooting at 2.8 is going to throw you out of focus for sure. And it definitely looks like your practice is paying off! The bee and the center of the rose are particularly amazing!

Beverly said...

Ah, Kelly, this post and your tips are very helpful. I pretty much LOVE my macro lens, but I do often find I have to take multiple shots to get it just perfect. Now I see what I need to to, and I've been using BBF recently, and it's interesting about the aperture. Thank you for sharing these tips and I hope you enjoy your macro shooting now!!

Anonymous said...

Great macro tips, Kelly! Im with Terri, when I say that my macro lens rarely comes off my camera! Theres just something magical about seeing the tiniest details of your image! Ive been working on these skills and some days it just doesn't come together, but I never give up! Your photos are breathtaking and the macro skills tips are very much appreciated! Thanks for sharing!

Carol said...

Thank you,Thank you! I feel that way every time I see macros from Terri too. I rarely use my lens for the same reasons. You, however, take the time to study why! Thank you for this cheat sheet that allows me to skip the homework and go practice the shots. I am inspired!

Cathy H. said...

Oh, Kelly, this is just the help I needed! I've not been at all happy with the most of my pictures taken with my macro lens! I'm taking your list of tips and trying again! Thank you! This post and the comments are encouraging. I thought it was just me!

kelly said...

thank you everyone for your kinds words as well as your helpful suggestions! it's always nice to know that I'm not the only one who struggles! xoxo

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