Summer = Macro! / by Jeremy Mudd

After the Spring bird migration, and the warm Summer breezes begin, a man’s fancy turns towards bugs.

Well, at least my fancy does. Why you ask? Like photographing birds and wildlife, photographing bugs is a difficult venture, yet when you nail it you feel very rewarded. Plus, bugs are beautiful when you see them close-up. It reminds you that there is a whole other world out there if you just open your eyes to it.

Interestingly enough, macro can be done generally at any time of the day. It’s not as time -dependent as say, landscape photography. Although I’ve found that during the warm summer months getting out in the morning is good because the wind hasn’t usually kicked up yet, and bugs tend to be slower moving when its cooler.

It can also be done anywhere. Because bugs are everywhere. There are several area parks I frequent during my lunch hour at work, and often on evenings or weekends I can be found in my yard. I can just hear the neighbors now – why is that crazy man crawling around on his hands and knees in his back yard?

Shooting macro can be done fairly cheaply with the right gear – that’s where it really differs from bird photography where you need a ($$$) long zoom lens and fast shutter/buffer. There are several articles out there on how to shoot with a reversed lens, magnifiers on the end of a lens, and/or extension tubes. Even some zoom lenses have a “macro” feature or switch that allows you to get closer to your subject.

I’ve tried several different ways and here’s what I’ve found works for me. I like to get in fairly close and this set-up allows me to do that. I shoot with a Nikon D500, which coincidentally is the same body I use for bird photography. I like it because the crop sensor puts more of the bug in the frame right away, and the image quality of the sensor is fantastic. I use the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, along with several different combinations of extension tube lengths. This lets me vary the magnification depending on size of the subject. Lastly, I use a Meike ring flash to illuminate the subject and allow me to shoot at a higher f-stop to try to get more of the subject in focus.

Typically my go-to settings to start are f/16, ISO 100, and 1/200th second in manual mode – the flash makes certain the exposure is proper and helps freeze the action.  I will vary from this sometimes depending on subject, lighting, and what I’m trying to show in the background. The faster the shutter generally the less background you see as the light falls off quickly to black. This is sometimes great for isolating your subject or not showing messy backgrounds, but sometimes I like including the environment if it is pleasing.

If you are thinking about getting a macro lens, know that some of the older, cheaper macro lenses out there that don’t have auto-focus are a good buy right now - and the autofocus really isn’t that important. Even though my Tokina lens has it, I rarely use it. Usually I “focus” by moving the camera and lens back and forth and try to get the focal plan on the subjects eyes. It takes very small movements and sometimes several tries before I nail it. In these situations, especially at f/16, autofocus suffers if it even works at all. Also, longer lens lengths tend to help with not needing to be right on top of the subject. I have a 55mm older Nikon macro lens and I’ve found that I tend to like the working area the 100mm and longer lenses give.

One of the things I greatly enjoy about bug macro is learning about the subject. I am frequently shooting new-to-me species and finding out their name and something about them expands my understanding of the natural world, and, in a way brings me closer to nature. My go-to source of info is the Kaufman Field Guide – it covers most of the species found here in the US and does a great job with images and points of distinction.

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this quick little read, have enjoyed the images, and maybe are interested in giving macro a try. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Jeremy