Larger than life

Spring Peeper
Spring Peeper – 100mm Macro lens

I like to photograph almost anything in nature. This past weekend I spend some time looking for salamanders and frogs. These guys are small and low to the ground, so how do you capture them?

First off you need to get low. Down on their level. This means the proper clothing and knee protection. I always wear my rain pants so I can wallow around in the mud and wet leaves. Knee pads or a garden pad are great ideas to protect your knees – we’re not getting any younger. A couple of Ibuprofen may also be in your arsenal to help with those aches and pains of getting low!

A macro lens, extension tube or close-up filters help you focus close and make your subject bigger if you’re using a DSLR or mirror-less system. If you’re using a point and shoot camera, then switch to macro mode. This is marked with a flower usually. This mode will allow you to focus closer. Try not to use the zoom when in the this mode, unless you can’t get close enough to the subject.

A macro lens is the best as it will render your subject life size on the sensor at it’s closest focusing distance. They have wonderful quality and a wide range of f stops, often opening up to 2.8. They also make great portrait lenses so you have multiple uses for them. They usually come in 50mm, 60mm, 100mm, 180mm, and 200mm focal lengths depending on your manufacturer. I prefer the 100mm for it’s size, distance to subject and  focal length. However, this may not be in everyone’s budget.

An extension tube is a great alternative that I used for years with my 70-200mm lens until I could afford the 100mm macro. This is a hollow tube that goes between your camera and the lens. It changes the focal length of the lens so it will now focus closer and it doesn’t impact the quality of the lens you are using unlike the close-up filters.  I also used it to great effect on my 400mm lens by reducing the 11.5 foot minimum distance. Now I was able to focus on a subject out in the water that I couldn’t get real close to but was closer than 11.5′ and still make him good sized in the image.

Bull Frog - 400mm lens with  25mm extension tube
Bull Frog – 400mm lens with 25mm extension tube

The cheapest method, but also lowest quality, are close up filters. These are essentially magnifier filters that enlarge the subject. They are an economical way to get started and see if you like this type of photography.

Armed with your set up, get low and get close. This brings your subject to life! You don’t want to have to crop 75-90% of your image to see your subject.

Marbled Salamander
Marbled Salamander – 100mm macro lens

 

Happy New Year!

So it’s cold and the landscape is barren. Most popular photography magazines say winter is a wonderful time to shoot and show you spectacular images of snowy landscapes and colossal mountains(well at least they look that way to east coasters). So unless you live out west and up north you are out of luck for consistent amazing snowy landscapes. We get a few here and there but they are few and far between. So what is there to do? While our landscapes are not the most inspiring this time of year, look to the details. Today we’ll look at ice formations.

While the temperatures may fluctuate wildly down here, up in Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest it stays relatively cold and all of those weeping rocks you see driving along during the spring and summer turn into amazing ice formations.

I found these images a few miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ice creates interesting unique formations. Find some icicles or look for interesting patterns in a mass of ice. Also notice what the light is doing. The image on the right was taken at sunset and gives an interesting warm glow to an otherwise cold subject. The color of the light greatly influences the feel of an image.

I love close up patterns. Take your time and experiment with different views and focal lengths. Once you find a good shot don’t just click on auto and move on, use the camera and what you’ve learned. Set up your tripod and set the camera to manual. Adjust the depth of field to maximize how much of the ice is in focus and clear. Using a tripod will give you a sharp image since the shutter speed will not matter. All too often we are in a hurry. Why? Winter is a beautiful peaceful time of year. Make sure you are comfortable and warm. Slow down and create a few great images instead of running  from shot to shot like some caffeine crazed hyper psycho. SLOW DOWN and ENJOY the experience. Life is too short to run from thing to thing never remembering what you saw.

So bundle up and take a drive up the parkway/skyline drive, it’s incredibly uncrowded this time of year.Have fun, get up close and take your time! If you want to learn about how to get more out of your camera in the manual modes I have a ton of classes open for registration this spring in Charlottesville and Richmond. PVCC is registering and filling up fast, plus I offer one day workshops and private lessons. So click on Classes/Workshops above and sign up for some fun classes!