Get down on the ground!
Warning: the following post contains images (OK, ONE image) which may be disturbing to some readers. Sorry.
Well, it’s been a while, but it’s not like I haven’t been shooting. Got a lot of shots lately, and I’ve learned a lot in the recent past. A couple of lessons on off-camera flash, one of which I’m going to add now. Here’s the thing about flash: one of the reasons I’ve avoided flash photography is that the only way I could do it (built-in flash or flash on the camera) created awful shadows and harsh lighting that I just didn’t like. With the new camera, I finally have the ability to get the flash off the body and create some interesting lighting. I learned recently that the flash “foot” (a little plastic stand that came with the flash) has a tripod mount, so now I can set the flash wherever it will create the proper effect.
But before I learned that, I was back in macro action and was wandering my yard looking for interesting subjects. The Little Tikes playhouse out back is just about the last thing one would expect to shoot with a macro lens, but there it was. And it has quite the collection of tiny (around 3/8”, mostly) spiders crawling on it when the sun is out.
Turns out, shooting spiders is a little tricky. First of all, when you get that close to a spider, he tends to do one of two things. He either turns around, giving you an excellent view of his… um… spinnerets; or he sort of crouches down, giving a view of his back but not much else. In addition, when you’re that close and the spider is that small, the flash on the camera (internal or external) doesn’t do you much good, as it tends to shoot past the spider.
Never one to be deterred, I went through the following steps… I set the flash in wireless mode, and took it off the camera. Couldn’t get it to stand up in the grass, so I said “heck with it” (literally—out loud; the spider thought I was talking to him) and set it on its side, pointing generally at the spider. Then I laid down in the grass myself, got really close to the spider, looked through the viewfinder and manually focused. Set the camera back to autofocus and started shooting. With fresh batteries in the flash, it was recharging pretty quickly and I was getting some pretty well-lit shots. During this time, the spider was moving around a little and I knew he was going in and out of focus, but there was no way to know for sure so I just kept shooting.
At some point, he turned around and looked right at the flash. I followed the front of him with the camera, and as a result, got the best shot of the bunch—that’s the one shown here.
Now, let’s talk about some techie stuff related to this shot. I had been shooting earlier in direct sunlight, so I had applied about -1.75 stops of exposure compensation for some flower shots. As is my usual habit, I forgot to check my settings before I started shooting the spider shots. That meant that the compensation was still in place, and I was therefore starting off dark. I had selected an aperture of f/10, to try to create a little more margin for error with regard to the focus point—the depth of field is shorter on macro shots to begin with, and reducing it even farther by setting f/6.3 or F/8 would have added to the challenge. This reduced the light even further, so the camera defaulted to the slowest shutter speed I had allowed, that being 1/60 sec. Since this is still too dark the next move was for the little computer inside the 60D to start bumping up the ISO until it got to an acceptable meter. The result, after all that, is what you see.
What I like best about this shot is the shadow of the spider. It looks like something out of a 1970’s cartoon, for those of you who are my age. And I also like the look on his face—reminds me of a Star Wars character, for some reason. Anyway… lessons here? Check the settings—you’re not in that big a hurry. And don’t be afraid to get dirty. It’s OK for you AND your gear to lay on the ground!