Heroic (macro) failures?

Once upon a time there was a photographer, who enjoyed experimenting with close-ups. Let’s be pompous and call them macros. He thought he was making decent progress on his path to enlightenment. Then the wheels came off.

That photographer of course is me. I had not been out in the field for over a week and so today, despite the usual overcast conditions, the omnipresent threat of rain and the knowledge that the mozzies would be out in force, I sallied forth. Very little seemed to go right. The damselflies were just too much of a stretch for my 180mm lens, even with a 1.4x TC. The spider webs were moving just ever so slightly. The butterflies were too nervous if I moved the tripod just a fraction closer. The drizzle came at exactly the wrong time. Try as I might I could not get the flash to do what I wanted.

The last point is beginning to irritate me. I like very much Robert Thompson’s book, Close Up On Insects. It is 12 years old now but has not aged much and I reread more than once Chapter 8, Working with flash. Still I find it immensely hard to get nicely balanced lighting. Sometimes there is too much glare, sometimes the backgrounds are blacked out through light fall off, sometimes there are ugly reflections. I try diffusers and flash compensation but I have not yet mastered flash or even approached what I consider acceptable.

So the pickings this morning were thin. I’ll start with one that did work, roughly. This is natural light. I saw this ethereally pale flutter out of the corner of my eye and as I turned it settled. It is, I believe, a newly emerged or teneral damselfly.

Teneral damselfly

Now a shot that did have flash. This is a skipper. I think it is a Common straight swift but please correct me if I am wrong.

Parnara guttata

This looked really nice on my camera LCD screen but I find it just a little too small in the frame (this is a crop) and the colour too solid and bold.

This is the same butterfly, turning round to stare at the camera. Why wasn’t I closer? Because each time I edged forward it flew and I had to wait patiently for the skipper to resettle.

Skipper stare

The next one is ok-ish. I shot the full moth, using flash, then cropped it to make it ‘different’ from the standard portrait. The moth is common and was sheltering from the rain.

Abraxas illuminata

Now here is a flash image that I don’t like much but it served its purpose.

Damselflies in cop.

Note the dark background, the eyes have large catchlights and the damsels look plastic to me. Hmmmm. What can I do to improve this? I really need some guidance.

Another candidate for the biggest flashdisaster in the world.

Bug by flash

This little chap fascinated me but I could not find a way of getting a decent angle so I’m shooting across it from back to front. It’s probably less than 1cm long. The reflections are horrible, the colours…. well I’m not sure whether the blue is natural or not. And DoF is shallow. What should I have done here or is the answer simply to decline the shot? You can see the flash fell away sharply so the background is horribly unnatural.

Finally a heart-shaped fungus.

Heart Fungus

I tried to stack this but failed. Even this was moving in the viewfinder. I also should have metered the shots individually as I found some of the stack input shots had huge pools of glare in the white core area. And that was without flash. I deleted all of the stack shots except the first one. This was my only ‘keeper’. It is more of a ‘learner’ than a ‘keeper’.

Now as I sit in the study looking towards the other side of the bay, I see rain, lightning, the odd swift braving the elements and lots of low cloud. It does not bode well for tomorrow. But frustrated as I am with these shots, spare a thought please for my pal who has been taken ill. When you see a good (younger) friend incapacitated and still unsure what ails him, it puts the flash challenge in perspective.

My brief reacquaintance with the concept of work was a lot of fun, full on intense and reasonably successful. It did not however tempt me back into the ranks of the permanently employed. I saw a suggestion today that all the over 50s should retire / resign to give the younger generations a chance. Well I’ve done my bit. All I want in return is a better understanding of how my flash (EX 580) works.

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