Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Composition using Manual Focus

Welcome to my Macro Photography for Beginners website!

Composition continued…
In my lost post I wrote about composition and how it can be used to improve your macro photography. In fact a good composition can be used to improve any type of photography. I know several photographers who get rather annoyed if I call their photographs “snaps”. Snaps is obviously a derivative of snapshot which implies that they are taken with no thought, effort or planning. In the same way I often refer to photographs as shots, which is the other half of snapshots. In reality I would not usually call a photograph a shot, snap or snapshot. I am a bit old fashioned and still generally call them photographs although technically they are now digital images. Now, this could turn into an argument because although they are digital images they are still written with light. The photographic medium is no longer film but a digital sensor. I suppose at the end of the day we must call them what we like and allow others to do the same. If we are to stop calling them photographs would that herald the end of photography? If the end product is a digital image then the practice of capturing them would be digital-imagery! Not forgetting that many people are still using film cameras and equipment. *Enter joke about dinosaurs of your own choice here*

My Apple Experiment
This post is in fact a supplementary addition to my previous post on composition. I made this image of two apples and asked several people which one of the two apples they preferred. Everyone that I have asked so far has gone for the fruit on the right with the red background. I then asked them them why they had chosen the apple with the red background? Everyone responded with similar answers which lead to a general consensus that the apple on the right looks more interesting than the one on the left. It is of course the exact same apple sprayed with a fine mist of water and lit with a small bright lamp from the left. The images originally had the same background as well but this has been changed in Adobe Photoshop CS2. This experiment is quite interesting and you will find your eyes drawn more and more to the image on the right because of the fine mist of water. Water droplets give a composition a much more natural look and makes fruit, flowers and plants (particularly foliage) look more inviting.

Figure 1. Apple Experiment - Which apple would you select as the most interesting?

Water/Mist Sprayers
Another point I wanted to bring to your attention is that you can find fine water sprayers for almost no cost. A quick blast of water onto your subject will add a lot more interest. I have always avoided old perfume bottles and similar used vessels for this because they always retain the perfumes fragrance. I like taking pictures of fruit and vegetables but spraying fruit with perfume might impair the taste. I know what you’re thinking…and yes I will take a photograph of just about anything! Just use a small amount of fill flash to avoid distracting catchlights in the water droplets. (Unless you are aiming for reflections in the water droplets then increase the amount of flash until you get the desired effect) I am hoping to write a more detailed post about using ring flash next time. Spraying subjects with water is how the professionals add interest to fairly mundane itemss such as foliage, glass bottles, flowers and fruit. It is obviously not a technique to use on bugs or small animals! (although I have tried it on a few people and dogs with mixed results!). It works best with fruit, plants and particularly flowers. Make sure you use a fine spray of water and not a garden hosepipe! Some photographers have been known to add a few drops of glycerol to the water to alter the properties of the drops. This is more relevant when working with water droplets, but that is another story.

Manual Focus versus Auto Focus
Macro Lenses specifically built for digital macro photography are usually very expensive. A large proportion of the cost of the lens is the electric motors that control the auto-focus feature. The motors are very small and technically advanced to provide the photographer with smooth, accurate and fast auto-focussing. Although the motors are quite small they do add some weight to the lens. The lens that I use is quite heavy but I have a genuine affection for this piece of equipment. The weight can actually be beneficial when hand holding as it is easier to hold a heavy lens steadyl. Camera lenses are quite often reviewed on internet websites and in magazines. Auto-focus is always one of the main factors taken into consideration in reviews. The strange thing is that macro photography is easier, more effective and quicker when you use manual focus. This may seem a little bit baffling for a novice after paying for an expensive top of the range macro lens. The lens is highly recommended on several internet review sites and comes top in your favourite photography magazine review section. A strange man on the internet is now suggesting that you turn off the auto focus and do the job by hand.

The Benefits of Manual Focus
The reason for turning off auto focus becomes self evident once you begin using your macro lens. At high levels of magnification auto-focussing system becomes unreliable. This is because the auto-focus system is trying to find (straight) edges to calculate the distance. If there is not any easily definable straight edges in the frame the camera will begin to “hunt”. This means that the lens will continue to move through the focal range without focussing on the subject. Another problem can arise when the auto-focus picks out an object in the foreground or background and focuses on this instead of the subject. It can all get very frustrating and often results in lost opportunities when working with insects. To avoid the lens hunting you need to switch to manual focus. This means that you have to turn the focus ring yourself to focus on your subject. It is surprisingly easy to do and has several advantages over auto-focusing.

  1. Manual focus uses less battery power
  2. Manual focus is quicker than using auto-focus
  3. Manual focus is quieter than auto-focus reducing the chance of disturbing your subjects during wildlife photography.
  4. You are in full control of the camera when focussing manually.
  5. Reduces wear and tear of your lens motors.

I would recommend that you practice using manual focus for all your macro photography. It is easy to enough to do but I will tell you how to do it anyway just in case you’re not sure. There should be a switch on the lens itself that can be moved between auto-focus (AF) and manual focus (M). Slide the switch to the M. Look through the view finder and find your subject. Turn the focussing ring until the subject looks sharp in the frame. Press the shutter button. That’s all there is to using manual focus, it is simple, fast and will speed up the process of taking photographs. This is important when trying to capture subjects that do not hang around and pose for the camera.

Thank you for visiting my Macro Photography for Beginners website. I hope you found the information informative and useful. If you have any comments or suggestion please use the comments box.

Marvin Africa


Anonymous said...

HI, thanks for your blog.

I am taking macro photos of a lily.
If the petal closest to the camera is in focus, the innards are out of focus! Is there any cure???

Shawn Bkaer

Marvin Africa said...

Hello Shawn

Sorry for the delay every comment gets eaten by the spam filter these days!

The problem that you have is called narrow depth of field. There is a cure...simply read my article on depth of field, change your aperture value setting accordingly and you should be able to get the entire image of the flower to (appear to be) in sharp focus.

Hope this helps!

Marvin Africa