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An Active Participant – To Better Macro Photographs

Macro photography requires concentration on technique and thus makes the photographer a very active participant in the picture taking process. With the wonderful cameras of today it is all to easy to just point the lens and click away and have the image captured within five seconds or less of having conceived it. Macro is very unforgiving of this quick approach – indeed it is difficult to capture a good macro image without significant thought and planning. In this post I will talk about some of the lessons learned from our new hobby, which are applicable to general picture taking as well.

Paying attention to the background: All too often a busy background will call away attention from the subject and ruin an otherwise good composition. Sometimes a background blur can solve this problem, but sometimes it cannot. While photographing this Buho Gigante I noticed that some reeds were causing a busy background, a problem that was fixed by simply holding a leaf between the reeds and the subject.

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Canon EOS 20D, Sigma 180mm, 1/1.6 f/32 iso 100

Simplify Background!

Canon EOS 20D, Sigma 180mm, 1/1.3 f/32 iso 100

Capture interesting behaviour: Catching a lion yawning, or a monkey scratching will often make for a more interesting composition that a static picture of the same animal. Macro is no different. This butterfly larva likes to disguise itself as bird poo, pretty interesting in itself. But upon perturbation, such as that supplied by my finger, it raises itself up in a menacing pose and emits nasty looking orange antennae.

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Canon EOS 20D, Sigma 180mm, 1/50 f/32 iso 1600

Digital Stimulation!

Canon EOS 20D, Sigma 180mm, 1/125 f/3.5 iso 1600

Keep an eye on the Depth of Field: When working with a subject this close the depth of field reduces drastically, sometimes to a few millimeters. This can make part of the subject in focus and another part out of focus, causing an unpleasing effect. Decreasing the aperture from f/4.5 to f/11 increases the area in focus and eliminates this technical problem. This is a good time to pay attention to the ISO, as reducing the aperture may increase the exposure time too much for an active subject.

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EOS 20D, Sigma 180mm,
1/100 f/4.5 iso 100

EOS 20D, Sigma 180mm,
1/250 f/11 iso 1600

All of the above tips point to one simple fact: pay attention when taking a photograph! I notice that when I am more aware I take better photographs (duh!).

For more pictures taken with the macro lens, click here.

20 Responses to “Lessons in Macro Photography”

  1. suhasini taskar says:

    Shreesh and Neena,
    Amazing pictures of butterflies!!! How long will you be in Panama? How many miles have you traveled so far in this voyage? How is your car holding up?
    When do you expect to go to the Galapogas island?
    Aai

  2. Fred says:

    Cool bugs!

  3. Vinay says:

    Nice! Good to hear about all the processes that go into place before we get these great end products..

  4. madhuri says:

    Wonderful pictures, as always!

  5. Shreesh says:

    It is easy to take nice pictures when there are such colorful and interesting subjects! Having the right equipment helps a lot and avoids frustration.

  6. Shreesh says:

    Nice article Vinay! Neena and I debate what is the best strategy with uncontacted tribes – to try to contact them or just leave them alone. I argue to leave them alone while she argues that every should have the benefit of McDonalds and Wal-Mart. :)

  7. Vinay says:

    Yeah, I think either sides to the debate has it’s merits. This is definitely an interesting area of thought. For example, knowing what we know about diseases etc., shouldn’t we share that knowledge? Also, at the time of natural disasters like floods in the Andamans, do we try to help the indigenous tribes?

  8. Shreesh says:

    To me the dividing line is whether they want our help is such a situation. If the accept then I think its cool, but if they shoot arrows then its clear they don’t want us.

    Our record is pretty poor in these interactions. Most uncontacted tribes dwindle significantly upon contact, mainly due to their immune system not being able to handle modern disease. The Onge and the Great Andamanese tribes declined precipitously after contact.

  9. Neena says:

    My argument is that most certainly they will not want our help – and this is out of ignorance more than anything else. How about self flagellation during the plague? Witch huntings? More recently, how about female circumcision among tribes such as the Maasai in Africa? What do we do about such cruel and inhuman practices largely in use due to ignorance?
    In San Juan de Chamula, we witnessed “purification” ceremonies in the church. I witnessed such ceremonies in India and I must say they always filled me with repugnance. The only way that the hyperventilating, illiterate village women could help the ill is based on the faith of that person. But is it moral to allow illiterate parents to deny their kids medicine based on their own ignorance and superstition?

  10. Vinay says:

    Shreesh, but they’re gonna shoot arrows anyway, because they will not understand our intention. They’ll react like a tiger does when the ranger is trying to give it a malaria shot or something. Also, the actions of the civilized are going to affect them anyway, even if it is not protracted explicitly. For example, global warming, or even the logging issue from the article. So, a time may come when we may need to redress..
    I do not know anything about the track record of contact in the post colonial world, so I am not sure whether it is automatically bad..

  11. Vinay says:

    Neena, I agree.. But I think the issues are around how many of our values can we transmit to them morally. It is a complete change in value system that needs to happen before the atrocities of some practices become visible to the natives. Until then, should we impose our values? Dunno, it’s tough.

  12. madhuri says:

    Well, i dont think they shot arrows to because they want to refuse our “help”. i think they are aggressive because of fear of unknown. If an alien spaceship tries to land in US, Bush wont be standing there to welcome them with flower garlands, he’d aim his choice weapons at them!
    Besides, western society is not really known to be polite visitors. Case in point, the Inuit tribes in Alaska. When Amundsen apparently to cross Northwest Passage, he and his team spent years with a certain eskimo tribe. They learnt cold weather survival tips from the tribe to help their mission, but all along the stay they sent the point across it is not ok to anger them in any way since they are the masters. Quoting Amundsen from “my life as an explorer” :(http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/arctic/amundsen.html)
    _______
    As soon as the Eskimos began settling down around us, I was
    confronted with a situation that the commander of every expedition has to meet on any exploration that brings white men and savages into contact in the wilds. To all savages, the civilized white man has some of the attributes of the gods. His deadly and mysterious weapons, his devices for producing instant fire and light, his wealth of equipment and variety of food seem to these untutored minds to stamp him with divine origin. This superstitious fear is the strongest safeguard of the explorer. So long as it persists, one man like myself with six followers would be safe among 200 Eskimos, for example.

    But one thing, more surely than anything else, can dissipate this godly elevation. The white man may even be brutal with the savage and still retain his respect, for ruthless power is also in their minds an attribute of divinity. But the moment the white man yields to his baser passions and takes liberties with the savages’ women, he falls in their eyes to the level of mere man and puts himself at their mercy. I therefore took the first opportunity to have a most serious talk with my companions and urge them not to yield to this kind of temptation.
    ___________

  13. Vinay says:

    Madhuri, good post!

  14. Neena says:

    There’s always going to be resistance to change from traditional values – whether it is from the immediate fear of annihilation as with the uncontacted tribes or a subtler fear of losing their values as with tribes such as the Maasai. The question is what we should do about it – leave them alone or not. When atrocities are committed it is difficult to stay unmoved – animal scientists find it difficult to stay removed when they observe brutal behavior among animals – with humans involved it is bound to be even more difficult. We saw a 10 year old girl who had been circumcised in Africa – in a unhygenic hut with animals – with no anesthetic, of course.

  15. Vinay says:

    Neena, what I mean is, true we are convinced of our values. But they are not, and it will invariably take them a long time to get convinced. Meanwhile, how do you handle the issue of say, circumcision? Do we impose our laws on them? How do we do that? By force?

  16. Shreesh says:

    Madhuri,

    In talks with my grandparents the British had a very similar attitude towards the Indians while they were ruling as Amundsen did towards the Inuit.

    Neena and Vinay,
    When we impose our moral framework on another group, be it Iraq or the Great Andamese, there is an implicit position that ours is superior. I would be the first to admit that female circumcision is repugnant but how many items in our society are equally as repugnant? The death penalty, indiscriminant incarceration, environmental destruction in the name of greed, the list goes on.

    In the Star Trek series the “Prime Directive” was that of non-interference and in many episodes dramatic tension was provided by an Alien society practicing immoral customs. Usually this led to Kirk breaking the prime directive :)

    I don’t know whether the Onge or Great Andamese practiced excessively cruel behaviour, but what I do know is that contact with us wiped most of them out, just as contact with the Spaniards wiped out most of the Maya.

    I advocate the preservation of diversity. This means that people will do things that we do not approve of.

  17. madhuri says:

    Vinay, thanks :-)

    Neena, i understand what you say, but i dont know if it is worth the risk for the tribes, it is for the tribes to decide.
    What is the difference between civilizing an isolated tribe and invading a strange land? You could say Eurpoean pioneers were just trying to civilize native Indians in America, no? i am yet to see/hear a case of civilizing where there was no hidden agenda or greed involved. If you were a tribal chief and had to pick between the lesser of two evils, female child circumcision or your women being raped by outsiders, what would you choose?

  18. Vinay says:

    Shreesh, I have made some of those points myself. Like I said, I think there are good points on both sides. Maybe the solution is also in between. Somehow interact with them and exchange information but do not try to override their customs and values. Not sure how.

  19. Neena says:

    Hello,
    I do not think any action is without its pros or cons. I think whichever action you choose, it will have cons. The best course of action seems to be apparent only to history. I think you have to choose one way and hopefully you do not cause too much harm.
    Anyway, my initial argument with Shreesh wasn’t with completely uncontacted tribes but with people like the Maya, who have already, unfortunately, been decimated by the greed and the religious zealotry of the Spanish invadors. These people live in modern culture, but seem to lack education, thus keeping them backward. As they get educated, however, their children probably would want to seek their fortunes in big cities and would lose their traditions (which include the purification ceremonies). On the other hand, education would give them the tools to fight for their rights in a way that the world understands cause they have to deal with it.

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