flower, macro, purple

I’ve always been fascinated by macro photography, especially images of insects and amphibians. I sometimes spend hours looking at the work from some of the photographers I follow on flickr.

I had done some research and realized that while macro was interesting, it was challenging to do it well and I possibly need specialty lenses and other equipment. I wasn’t sure macro was something I would want to do often enough to justify the cost of a dedicated macro lens. I bought a focus rail and macro extension tubes. The first set of extension tubes did not support auto-focusing or allow control of aperture. This made things difficult for me. But in my trial and error struggle with the focus rail and manually adjusting shutter speed, aperture and adjusting focal point, I learned a lot. You can see some of my earlier efforts on my flickr.

macro, flower, stacked Focus stacked image.

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I learned about focus stacking and perspective shift. I learned that I should have bought the more expensive extension tube (and I did) and that I could improve my focus stacking method by using software with my Mac to automatically move the focal point of my lens.

But I also learned that technique alone was not enough. I wanted help with ideas for what to shoot and “seeing” in macro. I wanted to learn what I could while stuck indoor during the winter. Wouldn’t it be great if I could spend some time with a talent photographer and instructor to help me find fun things I could do with macro? Enter, Loren Fisher.

A few weeks ago, I attended a half day macro photography workshop. Loren hosted at his studio in Somerville. There are about twenty students in the class, many of them I had met before at other photography events in the area. There were a few new faces. Some people had traveled from New York and other neighboring states to attend the class.

oil, water, soap, macro, bubbles
Water, oil, and soap = macro fun.
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This was my first macro photography workshop and Loren planned a day of indoor macro fun. Loren started with a presentation explaining what macro is and is not, and giving us equipment tips and techniques. But more so he wanted his students to experiment; to pay attention to what we were seeing.

Loren setup several studio rooms with different props and paired us off. One window lit room let in the winter day sunlight onto a bouquet of flowers. One interior room had a glass into which we poured seltzer water and photographed the bubbles coming off an inserted lemon. In another interior room, we photographed light through oil and water in a Pyrex dish. In two more window lit exterior rooms we photographed an antique bellows camera and M&Ms with the image refracted through glycerin and plexiglass.

Kodak Planatograph 3 ¼” x 5 ½” f8/64 6 ¾” Lens by Bausch and Lomb
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I had a lot of fun with this workshop. Loren taught me that I don’t have to wait for macro photography opportunities to come to me. What we did in the studio that day is easy to duplicate at home. When it snows or when I am bored but just don’t want to get outside, I can still create interesting photographs. And I don’t have to go further than my kitchen window.

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I’ve had the Kenko Auto DG 12mm, 20mm, and 36mm macro extensions tubes for over a year but I have not used them much. When I bought them I was very excited but had little experience with macro. I still have little experience wit macro. This summer I experimented with shooting macros of sunflowers and insects but I do not like the results.

The Extension Tubes have no optics but extend the distance between the lens and the camera sensor. The result is that the focusing point on the sensor is moved closer to the front of the lens. This allows a lens to focus closer than the normal focusing distance of that lens. This magnifies the subject making it appear larger. This is useful for doing macro photography without a dedicated macro lens.

Recently I was reading some of the feeds in the WordPress Reader. One of the articles about macro photography inspired me to pull out my Nikon 85mm f/1.8 and my Kenko Auto DG 12mm, 20mm, and 36mm extension tubes. The Kenko DG extensions tube set has three tubes of different length - 12mm, 20mm, and 36mm - which are stacked individually or in combination to increase magnification. I wanted to test which set of tubes would work well with the lenses I have; my AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 or my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8.

I wasn't sure which lens to use with the extension tubes but I shot one image with the Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 and realised that the focusing distance was much too shoot. The front of the lens was mere millimetres from the subject. The point of the extension tube is to be able to shoot close up and magnify the image. Because the 35mm already has a short focus distance, using the Kenko moved the focus distance so close, it was basically inside the lens itself.

Switching to the 85mm provided magnification but enough subject to camera lens distance to allow me to shoot closer. I chose “Mal” as my subject. I received the figurine in one of the Loot Crate I received last year. “Mal” is the name of the main protagonist from the show “Firefly”. It was one of my favourite shows until it was cancelled after just one season. I’m not sure why I enjoyed this show so much but I’ve watched it several times on Netflix. Maybe I liked the characters because they were regular people just trying to survive in a dangerous universe. Maybe I like the show because the characters are very human, flawed. Mal means "bad" in French. The Firefly characters became like family to each other. And to me.

The feature image for this post is the subject shot with my AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 without extension tubes. I then attached the 12mm and took another photograph. With this extension, I was able to get in much closer to "Mal". The magnification ratio with the 12mm is approximately 1.25. The image should appear 1.25 larger in my viewfinder.

Because the extension tubes also impact the depth of field, for each tube I adjusted the aperture to increase the depth of field. This of course, also increased the exposure times. To keep things in focus, I shot these images with the camera mounted on a tripod.

AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 with Kenko DG 12mm extension tube
AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 with Kenko DG 12mm extension tube
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The next image below was taken with the 20mm extension attached. The magnification ratio of the 20mm tube is approximately 1.36. I was able to move in closer to Mal and fill my viewfinder.

AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 with Kenko DG 20mm extension tube
AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 with Kenko DG 20mm extension tube
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I swapped out the 20mm and attached the 36mm. I didn't test with the 20mm and 12mm together. The combined magnification is too close to what can be obtained with the 36mm alone. The magnification ratio of the 36mm tube is approximately 1.59. The differene in magnification is tiny.

AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 with Kenko DG 36mm extension tube
AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 with Kenko DG 36mm extension tube
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Lastly, I stacked all the tubes together and took my last shot. It's like Mal's is life size and staring at me from right in front of the lens. The combined magnification ratio is approximately 2.79. Not at all 1:1.

AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 with Kenko DG 12mm+20mm+36mm extension tube
AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 with Kenko DG 12mm+20mm+36mm extension tube
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Montgomery Township, New Jersey, United States of America