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Benoit's photo techniques

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Post by James C. Trager Fri Jan 30, 2009 2:21 pm

Hi Benoit.

It has been a bit quiet around here, so I though I'd liven it up.

I would like to be able to take pictures of small ants at least as good as those on your ants of North Carolina website. I've read Alex Wild's pointers on the subject, of course, but I'd be interested in your experience learning to photograph ants, what equipment you use, etc.

James C. Trager

Number of posts : 28
Location : Missouri, USA
Registration date : 2008-02-25

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Post by Benoit Guenard Fri Jan 30, 2009 9:24 pm

Hello James and best wishes for 2009,

Yes, very quiet but not dead. I know that the participation is not great but I have noticed that at least the forum is read and some subjects were useful for some people, so this is not too bad! Wink

To answer your question, I have, or I should say my lab has, a Canon Rebel Xti (nothing too fancy), the Canon Mp-E 65mm Macro lens (that is already much more fancier) and the Canon ring flash MR 14 EX.

So my lens is the same than Alex, but for the rest we have a different material.
Concerning the Rebel Xti I would prefer to have something with a better resolution. For the moment, I try to save money to buy my own equipment and I think I might choose the Canon 50D.
However, one advantage of the Rebel Xti is its weight which is relatively decent (this is something to consider when we add the lens and the flash after a day of fieldwork).
I won't come back on the lens because Alex did it very well here.
Concerning the flash, I have the ring flash which present some advantages but also some inconvenient that annoy me more and more.
The advantage is its size in comparison of the twin flashes. Using those kind of macro system is very pleasant once you can see the result but sometimes on the field it can be also very frustrating. It feels like taking a picture with a massive brick. When the subject of the picture is very sensitive to any king of movement of its substrate and stop all activities or even fall or flee as soon as it is disturbed, it can become very inconvenient to have to manipulate a brick through branches or herbs,... We quickly realize that vegetation is often connected to something else and that it can be touched easily. The difference at this point between the twin flash and the ring flash is that this later takes less volume.
However it is a small advantage of what I consider more and more as a problem. If you take a look of my pictures, you can often notice the reflexion of the ring flash into the cuticle of the ant, or the eyes of the frogs,... Here is a good example on this Nesomyrmex. Any shinny surface will reflect the light, too much light and contrary to the twin flash, no diffuser are sold for it. I have tried to make some but without success. The shape of the flash does not really allow it.

So my perfect combination for the moment would be the Canon EOS 50D, the tin flash and of course the fantastic lens MP-E 65mm.

Now concerning the technique. Well I must say that it is still a daily learning (and I must be a slow learner). The technique is not easy to catch and as for ants, it is a lot of errors for a few success. So, the key word is patience.

To take pictures of the small or tiny ants, the trade-off is between the sharpness of the picture and the deep of field. And of course, if you increase one, you decrease the other one (otherwise it would be fantastic). So we can have a very clear and neat picture but only on a small part.
So the point is to find the good aperture size depending of the magnification. For a given aperture (let's say the maximal one in macro, which is a value of 16), the more we magnify, the less details we have (the picture become blurry). In that case, we need to decrease the value of the aperture (in reality we increase the real aperture), but the inconvenient is that by doing that we decrease the deep of field and so we lose also a part of the detail. The good thing is that as ants are symmetrical, if we have one side, we know how the other one looks like! It takes a little bit of practice to find the good compromise between sharpness and deep of field. What I recommend is to try on still subject with different settings and choose the ones that we are the more comfortable with.

Now here is some tricks that I use. Some angles are more favorable than others. For example the plain profile of the ants is good because it provides a lot of information on the subject.This is the case here or here on this Pyramica.

But personally, I like when I can have the subject with the head first but with a little bit more of an angle which gives also a lot of information on the rest of the body, here is an example.

And then, I will say that for a good picture we also need a little bit of chance too (especially when the subject has specific behavior).

Finally, one more thing, that Gary Alpert told me, and seems very obvious now that I think about. Someone who look at pictures of animals will always feel unease if the eyes are not on focus on the pictures. I have to say that I had pictures were the body was very clear, but the eyes blurry and that ruined the whole picture.
However, sometimes I keep some of them for people interested of criteria that could help for determination.

I hope I have answered your questions. Don't hesitate if you have some more.
Benoit Guenard
Benoit Guenard

Number of posts : 67
Location : Raleigh, NC
Registration date : 2008-01-19

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Post by Laurent C. Wed May 20, 2009 3:42 am

Hi Ben,

It has been a long since my last visit on your forum and I discover this post which is interesting. For instance I was about to buy one ring flash but your conclusion about it prevented me from doing so. I think I will follow the twin-flash option which has been already advised to me by other colleagues working on other species (bees).

Of course, the best choice for ants considering their small size is the MP-E...mmmh...I will first still train with the Canon 60mm before entering the "more than *1 magnification" world !

Laurent C.

Number of posts : 9
Location : Brussels
Job/hobbies : PhD Student, myrmecology
Registration date : 2008-01-26

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