Awhile back, I wrote a blog post about shooting macro subjects on a budget. While there is no replacement, in my opinion, for a quality macro lens, let’s face it: I would have to sell off body parts to be able to afford one right now. So here is a follow-up to that post.
As I mentioned before, I am back in my hometown in Central Florida. The great thing about that is that I am looking at this place with fresh eyes. Not new eyes, as we were only gone two years, but I am noticing things that I had ignored before. With limited shooting time available, I am looking for things that keep me closer to home; that lets out leisurely day trips. If you Floridians–both native and transplanted–hadn’t noticed, it is November, a month of cold weather and possibly snow in northern areas. Here, however, we still have butterflies, honeybees, and new blooms of flowers (all I can say to you Northerners is, “Hahahahaha”). I had cruised up a road I don’t usually find myself on anymore, on my way out to SR 46, which leads west toward the St. John’s River. From years of driving SR 46, I know it gets acres and acres of flowers alongside the road, leading out into the floodplain. I just never paid attention to the times it does that (I was always on my way to work, and EARLY). Anyway, the city road I had taken had some nice flowers alongside it too, so on my way back, I stopped to pick some. I came home with three different kinds, stuck them in a vase of water, and took them outside to check for stowaways.
Right away, I found a beetle-like bug called a shield -backed bug, a spider who quickly skedaddled away into my yard, and an ambush bug. If you’ve never seen an ambush bug (Phymata pennsylvanica) (I hadn’t, nor heard of them), it is related to assassin bugs, but looks like a tiny armored alien with praying mantis legs. And they fly. So I grabbed the only close-up setup I have: my DSLR, Promaster 28-80mm, and extension tube.
I have tried to use a tripod with this setup, and in the case of a slow-moving or stationary subject, like a caterpillar, it works just fine. But in the case of a constantly moving bug or flying insect, I have to switch to handheld and either increase my shutter speed, or boost my ISO in order to do so. With the windy and overcast weather we have had lately, I have had to boost up to crazy ISOs, as in ISO 800-1600! I use my tracking focus, which usually works on this setup (though it can be maddeningly inconsistent), and I have gotten some pretty decent results. Again, nothing compares in this case to a quality macro lens, but we work with what we have!I went back out to the same field a few days later, and ended up battling breezy conditions, but nothing too bad. There were many “keeper” images that I was happy with, the opening image of the brown-legged grass-carrying wasp (that really is what it’s called: scientific name Isodontia auripes) being one of them. Large paper wasps (Polistes major) buzzed among red bugs (Dysdercus suturellus)–also called “cotton strainers”– and leaf-footed bugs (Leptoglossus phyllopus), of which I found a nursery on a stalk of goldenrod.
As you can see, it’s not quite the same. But, it made me slow down, and take a closer look at what was around me. I had to be careful when I was collecting wildflowers, so I didn’t take anyone else home with me! I went back two days after this, and shooting conditions were nonexistent. So I went exploring on a macro level, and peered closer at stalks, leaves, and flowers. Do you know what I found? ALL KINDS of different insects that I had no idea existed: five banded tiphiid wasps, dogwood borer moths, root weevils, and Delta flower scarab beetles, to name a few. I found caterpillars of the buckeye butterfly, and a bee fly, Eristalis transversa, which I had never seen before. (Thanks are owed to the great people at www.bugguide.net for running such a great site, and for all their help with IDs when I couldn’t figure it out myself. You guys rock!)
In this age of instant gratification in the form of high-speed data transfers and not being forced to wait for ANYTHING anymore, slowing down and noticing details is not as easy as it sounds. The limits of my DIY macro setup make me slow down even more, and take a closer look for hidden subjects. Maybe because it’s harder to use, with a lack of shutter speed or depth of field, even when using small apertures. When we push ourselves, we tend to get better, more satisfying results. Who says you need a true macro lens?
Now, anyone have one to donate? 🙂