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Life through a macro lens

Prominent New Zealand wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold shares his ongoing photographic adventures here at D-Photo; this time discussing macro photography

21 March 2012


Prominent New Zealand wildlife photographer Trevor Penfold shares his ongoing photographic adventures here at D-Photo; this time discussing macro photography

Bronze Aussie Jumper

I’ve been involved with a lot of macro work recently, with D-Photo magazine (issue 46 – Ed) and a talk last week at the Te Aroha Camera Club on macro photography. So I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the images and ideas here on my blog to give others a bit of insight into my style of macro photography.

The Aussie Brown Jumper above was taken with a Canon MP-E65mm at f/11, a special macro lens that can go from one to five times life size. This is the magnification of the subject onto the camera’s sensor, enabling you to get great detail on some very small subjects. Using this macro lens means you have to get very close to your subject – anything from between 100mm down to 20mm – and because of this the light falling onto the subject diminishes enormously. To overcome the low light problem, the use of a flash becomes almost inevitable. In the case of the spider I used a Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX. I also put diffusers onto the flash heads, which helps soften the harsh light emitted from the flash.


The aphid, a pest to many gardeners, I find a great subject to shoot. Although quite difficult to photograph due to its size (only a few mm) but again armed with my Canon MP-E65mm at f/11, I was able to capture this striking image of one resting in a swan plant. As well as using diffusers on the flash I was also able to use the leaves to help defuse the flash, giving this wonderful warm green glow to the scene. This is also helped by the shallow depth of field which helps the aphid dominate the image.


A different lens this time. I used an EF 180mm macro lens with a 1.4x extender to give me a focal length of 252mm. This was necessary as I needed to photograph the slug from a greater distance, so as not to disturb the leaf it was on and in turn ruin the composition. I was watching this slug for quite a while deciding on the best composition, and noticed as it traveled through the Agapanthus that it would sometimes reach out in an attempt to move onto the next leaf. This was the shot I wanted. Using flash in this case was also quite tricky. As the slug was wet I knew that too much flash would cause horrible burnt out highlights as the light from the flash bounced off the wet surface. I was happy with this shot as the highlights were not too distracting and actually gave a bit more life to the shot.

This next image is not of the animal kingdom but when it comes to macro photography I often find myself being drawn towards water droplets. With this shot I decided to use a ring flash, as I like the effect the ring has  on water drops. As you can see the ring of the flash can give the effect that the drops of water are hollow, like ringed donuts, especially the top one. Once again my Canon MP-E65mm at f/11 was used.

Water Droplets on Blade of Grass

Whenever shooting vegetation or anything resting on it even the slightest of breezes can be a problem. The shot below was no exception. It took many attempts as there was a slight breeze that kept moving the leaf. Pinning the leaf in some manner to the rest of the plant to reduce the motion was not an option as there would have been a high risk of the droplets falling from the leaf. So sometimes it’s a lot of trial and error, but with persistence you will often get the results you want. I had to go to f/20 this time with the EF 180mm macro lens with a 1.4x extender to try and keep as may of the drops in focus as possible, at the same time keeping a nice defused background.


The shallow depth of field that comes with macro photography can be a great tool to help with composition as you have seen, but sometimes we want a greater depth, and on these occasions we can use a technique called photo or focus stacking. This is when you take more than one shot of the same scene, but you adjust the focus point each time until you have all the points focused in the scene that you want. These images are then loaded into special software that can pull out only the focused parts of each image and merge them together. Using this technique I was able to produce the following image.


As you can see you can get great detail using this method and still keep nice backgrounds. The Canon MP-E65mm was used but this time at f/6.3. This aperture though, with this lens, only gives a fraction of 1mm depth of field but has the advantage of better image clarity, than when using smaller apertures, which meant I had to take 30 shots to produce this one image.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I hope you found it both inspiring and interesting. Feel free to leave any comments here or on my facebook page here. Until next time, happy shooting.

Prominent New Zealand wildlife photographer Trevor Penfoldshares his ongoing photographic adventures here at D-Photo as well as on his blog. For more from Trevor be sure to visit his website