Don’t even breathe!
One of the problems I’ve found in the short time I’ve been shooting with my 60mm EF-S Macro lens is the incredibly shallow depth of field that you get at macro distances. Put simply, depth of field is the amount of the objects in the photo that are in focus, usually measured as a range of distance from the lens (or more correctly, the sensor). In the case of macro lenses, when focusing up close, this distance might be measured in millimeters—for those who are metrically challenged, a millimeter is around 0.04 inches. That means if you are trying to hand-hold your camera and you even take a breath while you’re shooting, you might move enough to get the important part of your subject out of focus.
Recently had a chance to shoot a very nice little orchid plant belonging to a friend at work. Nice flowers, great color, and since it’s quite likely that he’s going to find a way to kill it eventually, I thought we’d keep a record of how the plant used to be! So I chose my macro lens, and set about to work on shots of this orchid.
In the last post I alluded to “bokeh,” that soft, out of focus background that makes many professional (and even amateur) shots so appealing. Let me explain a little bit about the relationship of bokeh to camera settings. Primarily, bokeh is a function of aperture size, and I’ve been told it also relates to the distance from the background to the sensor (or film). Not sure how to use the latter element, but I do know that when I use smaller f-numbers—larger apertures—I get more background blur. Since I wanted the background to be out of focus for this shot, I picked the largest aperture I could…and since I was shooting inside, this would give me the most light coming in, too. Camera shake wouldn’t be an issue, because I’d get a reasonably fast shutter speed. Everything pointed to the smallest number for this lens…the largest aperture…f/2.8. In Av or Aperture Priority mode, this means that the camera picked 1/80 second and ISO 500. Perfect. Right? Yeah, sure.
What I DIDN’T consider is that I was going to be breathing during this shoot. And that I didn’t have a tripod.
I steadied my camera by putting my elbows on the table—in a shocking breach of etiquette—and moved the camera as close as I could get it and still focus; then I blasted through about twenty shots, at varying exposure compensation settings. And when I looked at the images on the PC later, I saw immediately where I had failed. There’s not enough depth of field on the subject, and unfortunately, I decided to breathe!
This shot is the best of the bunch and still not all that good. What I was going for was the sharpest point in the image to be inside the “guts” of the flower. Kind of got it, but I would have been much better off with another half an inch in focus. The focus point is just barely off of where I wanted it to be, and that seems to be because I moved during the act of shooting. The lesson here is that when shooting macro, close your aperture into the range of f/8 or so, and compensate for the loss of light in other ways (slower shutter speed, higher ISO) and use a tripod to make sure you keep the focus you’re aiming for. This would have been a much crisper shot if I’d followed these simple premises.
Incidentally, I know that this shot is overexposed (too bright, with the corresponding loss of detail)—that’s the look I was going for. Call it artistic license. The camera metered for the shadows inside the center of the flower, so the computer inside the camera tried to get that part of the scene bright enough. In doing so, it overexposed the petals. I like it, and I think once I’ve had a chance to mess with it in post-processing, I’ll like it even more.
As usual, questions/comments are welcome. Shoot me a note!