Behind the Lens: Dewdrops on Spider Webs
by Mark Bowie
About 1 second, f/8, ISO 100
Canon Powershot G3 4-Megapixel Camera
As Adirondack spring forests begin to leaf out in muted colors, I turn my attention to the forest floor and its sprouting new growth. Opportunities for macro, or close-up, photography abound. The transition to the new season brings fluctuating temperatures. As a result, mists rise from the lakes and ponds, fog wafts through the woods and morning dew coats the ground. While wandering the woods in the Elk Lake region one chilly morning I came across an enchanting scene of spiderwebs woven amongst bluets, fresh greenery and last autumn’s downed leaves—all sprinkled with dew drops.
I was testing the point-and-shoot 4-megapixel Canon Powershot G3 (that model has since evolved incrementally to the G15). As I got down on my knees and zoomed in on the scene, I discovered that the webs were strung on different levels. They were so fine it was difficult to see them, which gave the impression that the dew drops were suspended in air. I roughly composed a shot, then brought my tripod into place and locked the camera down on it. A tripod is a necessity for good close-up work; the small apertures needed for good depth of field require long exposures that are susceptible to camera shake if handholding. Finding the appropriate camera position before setting up the tripod is important; photographers too often shoot from one position, namely chest height. To counter this temptation, I imagine my subjects as being within the center of an orbit, around which I can place the camera in any position, at any distance. It reminds me that the subject should dictate camera placement and keeps my shooting vantage points from becoming static.
Having finalized my position, I fine-tuned my composition in the camera’s LCD screen, and ran my eye around the edges of the frame to eliminate distracting elements. I focused on the nearest drops to be sure they were sharp and shot at the camera’s smallest aperture for maximum depth of field. To prevent camera shake, I triggered the shutter using the camera’s self-timer. The resolution of even this small point-and-shoot camera is remarkable, sufficient to include the image at nearly full page size in my Adirondack Waters: Spirit of the Mountains book. For their compact size, affordable prices and wonderful resolution, point-and-shoot cameras are worthy of carrying on any outing.
For high-end close-up work, most photographers use a digital SLR with dedicated macro lenses. Popular focal lengths include 55mm, 105mm, 150mm, 180mm and 200mm models. The longer the focal length, the greater the working distance possible between photographer and subject, with less potential for disturbing the subject. Longer focal lengths with wide maximum apertures, like f/2.8, also allow more blurring of the background, so that the main subject stands apart from it. Life-size (1:1) and greater subject magnification can be achieved with macro lenses and accessories, such as extension tubes, hollow tubes placed between the camera and lens to allow focus closer to the subject, resulting in greater magnification. Longer lenses are more expensive, but if you plan to do lots of macro work, they will pay off with high quality images.
Mark Bowie teaches photography for the Adirondack Photography Institute. He will lead their annual Photography Canoe Tour in the Tupper Lake area July 18 – 21. For more on Mark’s work, see www.markbowie.com.