Thursday, 7 March 2013

Nature with a Small Camera & Close up

Last weekend I joined some friends at a resort called Millstream close to Dullstroom.

I only took one camera with me,  my small Leica X1. Whilst my friends try their hand at fly fishing I try my hand at photography...I got ten 'keepers' and they got two...which they had to release...

I didn't expect to make many photographs as I have been there before, and well, the landscape looks pretty but I find it difficult to photograph. I think its the combination of shalets dotted over the countryside, the numerous dams for fly fishing and the all the Australian eucalyptus trees, better known locally as 'bluegum' trees. The trees secrete a blueish gum that we used to eat as children.

As usual the weather in Dullstroom was cold , rainy and mostly overcast. It was another reason why I didn't expect to take many photographs.

Between large breakfast and sumptuous dinners I needed some fresh air and decided to explore a small clump of  bluegum's adjacent to our chalet. Some of the trees had been cut down and the area under the canopy was littered with decomposing tree stumps and the bark of the bluegum trees. I noticed lots of intricate patterns and texture made by the bark and sticks.

 Close up photography has always been a hassle because one needs lots of depth of field with resulting slower shutter speeds and this almost always necessitates a tripod. Which makes it even more difficult as small changes of point of view needs the tripod and the whole contraption to be shifted by tiny amounts sometimes millimeters at a time and at the same time trying to exclude the tripod legs in the picture. Multiply the whole process a few more time and this type of photography can become a real pain in the ass!

But this has all changed with the arrival of the rear lcd and live view. Almost all camera have live view these days but up and till recently it was the forte of the small compact cameras, like the Canon G10 and Nikon P5000. they made this type of closeup photography quite easy because it was easy to view and frame the scene via the lcd, no cumbersome tripod to shift sideways or up and down. Ones own arm and hand could do it quickly and easily in all directions. Unfortunately the problem with these small sensor cameras was the poor image quality and after having the two mentioned above I decided I will never own one of them again. With the arrival of the mirror less brigade from Olympus and Panasonic and now Sony etc etc I can have the compactness of the small camera but with the vastly increased image quality of the larger sensors.

This is the way I used my Leica X1 to capture these images: 

Firstly I make sure that my shutter speed stays above 1/60 th of a second. The camera has a 35mm lens but with close ups I like my shutter speeds to be as high as possible. I usually hold my camera with one hand and shield the viewfinder with my other so that I can see better. this is not the most steady way to hold the camera but its the only way to shoot straight from above without casting a shadow with my body if I had used brought the camera up to my eye.

Secondly I try and have the most depth of field because as one comes closer the depth of field diminishes. to maximise depth of field I use f8 to f11.

The its just a matter of moving the camera around until everything 'fits' using af and when the green light lights up I gently press the shutter. I try and make more than one exposure just in case the is some camera movement. As it was overcast my shutter speeds were not as high as I wanted but the advantage of overcast light was that my exposures were all even without dark shadows and blown out highlights.

So for about 40 minutes walked around this small clump of trees and photographed everything that looked like it had some possibility.

If it sound like the 'shotgun' approach where I photographed may hoping to get a few, then you are right, that's exactly what I did. Apart from the fact that its very therapeutic to observe nature close up like this, the images are very busy and filled with lots of detail. I often find that this makes composition more difficult and what looked good initially, later on editing the images on the big screen, they don't look that great anymore...

Processing was done via Lightroom and consisted mainly of getting the white balance neutral (next time I will carry my grey card with me). I always put my camera on 'daylight' colour but here under the trees and with an overcast sky they were too warm. I would reduce colour saturation a bit but then afterwards in Photoshop would bring back the colour of individual leaves and branches back to normal. If anything I increased the overall saturation a bit more than usual. I also increased the micro contrast and general contrast to suit each image.

I haven't done this type of photography for a while, my usual fare is people and structures shown in a more documentary style. But just trying to make some beautiful images sometimes gives one a fresh perspective and I had to work hard to make the composition work and show this micro cosmos in all of its colourful splendour...

Please visit my website at

I welcome all comments and will answer any questions!

Regards, Ivan

No comments: