Macro Stabilization Tips
The American Toad - Bufo americanus is a quite common species in the Midwest. This charming looking fellow happened to be the cream of the crop, magnificent eyes and very willing to work with me. On this particular day, when this photo was taken, I came upon something I had never witnessed before. The flood waters of the Vermilion River had retracted leaving the lowlands covered with shallow pools. It was early morning and I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was actually not dreaming about the hundreds of toads mating in the calm river pools. Personally, I had never seen a toad in water - ever! And to see so many congregated in one area was surreal. So, out of hundreds of shots from that morning I liked this the best.
I enjoy macro photography above all. I consider myself a well-rounded photographer, but macro is where I devote most of my energy. I use an old manual Nikkor 105mm f2.8 micro lens with a Nikon D200. The D series allows me to use older Nikon lenses. My 105mm lens is over 25 years old. I don’t use the focus on my micro lens, I simply move in and out until the eye is in sharp focus and capture the image. Autofocus can get confused with say, a spider with eight eyes, or shooting through water. If I want to use autofocus I put a Nikon 6T close-up filter on my AF 35-70mm f2.8 macro lens in order to focus on flying insects such as bees or flies, which can be difficult (but not impossible) to capture without the use of autofocus..
Stability is key. Just as using a large telephoto lens, the tiniest amount of handshake will ruin an image. I use a variety of stabilizing items, many of which I created myself. The easiest is the beanbag, which I made from an arm sling and instead of using actual beans, which could attract bear or absorb moisture and mold. I used instead plastic gun pellets that come in a jar of 10,000. The beanbag allows easy positioning at ground level, and can also be used as a tripod center weight. But it can be a burden to add that weight to your backpack. A lighter item is a hunter’s rifle guide, which is like a monopod with a rubberized Y at the top to rest a gun on. I rest the center of my lens on it and it is very maneuverable and easy to work with when neck high in briars and weeds. A tripod can be very difficult to use in those situations.
Another device I use is a Slik mini-tripod with a small ball head. I aim the legs to my chest and bracing the camera to the trunk of my body. Excellent for working over bodies of water such as ponds or rivers where the mud on the bottom is too soft or the current itself can create vibrations.
For extremely low level shooting I have a basic pine board with at two-way tilt monopod head with quick release attachment. Very simple and effective. A right angle finder attachment can help when shooting this low. I counted 63 insect bites to my stomach and legs from laying on the ground once! It was terrible! So I invested in a right angle finder with a 2X magnification option to more precise focus check.
Using the mirror up option on your camera can also eliminate shake. Newer lenses now have vibration control built in, but they can be pricey, and different lenses can express various different characteristics. I found the one I am most satisfied with, so I stick to it.
Photo credits: Ryan Sartoski.
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