Low light macro photography

8 08 2009

I love those moments in the evenings when wind calms down and everything is basking in the last rays of light. The sun is slowly going down, everything is absolutelly still, not a single grass blade moves, and the light changes from harsh white to soft and soothing molten gold. These magical moments are quite short, usually about one hour or less before a sunset so it does not give a photographer too much time. More over it seems that wind rules all over the world this year and such a calm evenings are very rare, I think that I will not be far from truth if I say that I could count them on a fingers of both hands.

Yesterday was one of these evenings. I managed to get outside maybe half an hour before sunset so the sun was already pretty low. I was not sure what I wanted to shoot so I first went to our meadow and took a couple of shots of  a wild carrot there but it was not what I was looking for. I walked around our garden when I spotted some spent flower that attracted me. It had very interesting parts with seeds that looked like small cages with balls inside. I took few shots and went home because the sun already set.

When I downloaded photos from camera to a computer I saw this:


~ Charon’s Lantern ~
1/125 sec. @ 100mm, f/2.8, ISO 200

Technical note: this photo was taken with Canon EOS 450D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM lens. It is almost unprocessed, only levels were changed in Photoshop to enahnce a contrast a little bit.

In the very first moment I was disappointed because of the lack of light in the background but immediately after the disappointment I felt amazement! I immediately realized that I like it much more with the dark background than if there would be some hint of colourful meadow. The first word that popped up in my mind when I was looking at this image was ” Lantern”, then “a lantern on a boat”, then I thought about the darkness in the background as a river, dark river… a Styx perhaps, and the “Charon’s Lantern” title was born.

I know, some will probably say that the flower could be more sharp, that the blurred  frontal seeds are too distracting, that the blurred leaf is too distracting, that the simple negative background is overwhelming, that… I know all this and I could ward myslef by saying that there was so small amount of light that it was technically impossible for me to go for a higher f-number, that I couldn’t compose it in other way because of another stem in the right side of this one, I could even come up with fake reasons…but why? Do I need to convince you to be on my side? Or myself that I couldn’t do it better? I think not. Everything that we present must speak for itself.

So, I wonder if this image speaks to you and what it says. Do you like it or find it as a unsuccessful try? Let me know!

My today message to you is: don’t avoid very low light conditions and if you can, try to shoot what you normaly shoot in such a conditions. You may be surprised by the result!

… and guys, enjoy the summer 😉




12 responses

9 08 2009

I love the BG! It captures the evening colors. The light on the seedpod is lovely and warm; espcially nice against the cool BG. Nice composition. I’m one who enjoys large areas of negative space. Nice angle of the stem and flower.

In a situation like this it is difficult to know what to have in focus. You chose the cage part, as that is what attracted you. In seeing the final image, I think focusing on the more forward and more in the light parts might have worked a bit more to my pleasing. But, you already know that.

By the way, I appreciate your thoughtful comments on my photoblog. Have you considered participating in Bird Photographers Net Macro forum? http://www.birdphotographers.net/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=6

9 08 2009

I see Anita mentioned BPN. That is the forum I was referring to in our exchange on my blog.

Like Anita, I love the background. It is the kind if background I would like to have on many of my images. The evening light is great. And I think the subject selected is fine.

Yes I would like to see a bit more depth of field. And it is possible. Were you using a tripod? With one, you can handled those slow shutter speeds that come with low light and higher f-stops. Also given the direction of the basket, I keep feeling that I would like to see the subject on the left side so it is leaning into the frame rather than leaning out of it. And finally, did you consider shooting this as a vertical composition? You would still have the negative space just not as much of it. Just some things to think about, Tomas.

9 08 2009
Tomas Turecek

Thank you Anita and Ed. I had really mixed feelings about this image. I like it VERY much on one hand, on the other I was afraid that noone will like it 🙂 You prooved me that it’s not so bad with me 😀 Thank you very much for it!

Anita: you mentioned BirdPhotographers.net macro forum. I already participate in NatureScapes.net flora and macro forum and I see that community on BPN seems to be almost the same (meaning size) as on NSN. Excellent photographers are on both. I will yet think about participating on BPN but for now I’m not sure that I have enough time for it. I’m working on my blog, actively participate on NSN, try to spare some time for shooting, of course, try to spare some time for my family(!) and with whole day at work I’m really out of free time 😦 Let’s see what future bring. But thanks for invitation!

Ed: 1) I didn’t use a tripod for simple reason – I don’t own a one 🙂 I’m still trying to convince myself that I can work without one and that it would only slow me down. On the other hand I had borrowed a tripod from a friend of mine, a very nice sturdy Manfrotto 055 XPROB and I must admit that I was very pleased by results. Now, I’m still more and more considering buying a tripod.
2) I know that I could go to higher ISO which would allow me to use higher f-number but I didn’t want to. A tripod would help here as well. Nowadays I must focus on not moving while pushing the trigger and with a tripod I could more focus on “playing” with aperture and composition.
3) I captured it also in vertical composition but I like this one much more because of the negative space that evokes a feel of huge dark river in the background.
Ed, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment!

Btw, I’m not sure how well do you know Greek mythology to which the title is connected. There are 2 worlds according to old greeks – a world of living humans and a world of dead. There is a river Styx creating a border between those 2 worlds and there is a boatman who takes human souls from the world of living to the world of dead. This boatman is called Charon.

11 08 2009

Tomas: I would not want to overload you with more photo forums. I know exactly what you mean about not having time for more. I’m having trouble keeping up with visiting photoblogs and forums I participate in. And, I’m retired. 🙂

I answered your questions re the pink Dahlia on my photo blog. If you visit that image again, you will see my responses below your kind comments.

11 08 2009

I wanted to tell you of a photographer whose work inspires me: Ron van Dongen. His color florals are fabulous!

11 08 2009
Tomas Turecek

Thank you Anita. I visit your blog every time you post new piece of art and then usually the same day once again to see if you replied to my comment.
Thank you for mentioning Ron van Dongen, his photographies are trully masterpieces! I am surprised that I haven’t heard about him earlier. I think that your photos are very close to his in quality but you have your own style. Keep it up!

12 08 2009

Tomas: How can you see if I replied to a comment of yours on my photoblog?

12 08 2009
Tomas Turecek

I can see it only by looking at your blog again. If I leave you a comment I know that you often reply so I get back to your site lately so see if you replied or not.

13 08 2009
Bernie Kasper

Nice shot Tomas I agree with Ed on the dof a little more would be great, its not a deal breaker though, the bg is really nice in this as well.

How about another forum just to make it harder on you..Nature Photography Network I really enjoy it !!

13 08 2009
Tomas Turecek

I see your point about more DOF. I would go to it with a tripod if I would own one. Btw, thank you for mentioning the forum. You surely mean http://www.naturephotographers.net. It looks pretty good and there’s separated flora and macro which is great. It look worthy to try it. Thanks once more!

19 08 2009
Jules K

Thomas, you’re right about that last bit of light – it’s amazing how it changes in that last “golden hour.”

For me the issue of DOF is a valid one but you did get good detail on the front section and a good OOF background so, technically, it’s pretty close. What would have made a difference and strengthened your composition in my opinion would be to have more room between the stem and the “caged” part of the plant. I also would suggest moving more to the left here, putting the plant on the left side of the frame and letting the negative space go towards the right.

Naturescapes is a perfectly good forum but there’s a reason that Ed, Anita and I are all at BPN… 🙂

20 08 2009
Tomas Turecek

Thank you Jules for stopping by and leaving nice comment. I agree with your points – having more space between stem and a seebud, it’s my fault that I haven’t noticed it at place, and the second one – moving a bit to the left, changing composition to have the negative space on right side. This was impossible as there was another stem quite near to the seebud. Thank you for pointing it out.

By the way, may I know what is the reason for you to be at BPN instead of other forums? I had time to post only 1 photo at BPN so far and I was a bit surprised that as a non-member I can post not more than 1 photo a week.

You’re always welcome here.

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