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Stellaria - "Where Light meets the Ordinary"

About this blog

So, this is the place on the web where I will give an account of my daily life. Will it be interesting? I don't know. But at least I know I will post the things which interest me.

A tiny Cuckoo wasp

macro photography Posted on May 19, 2012 16:41:04

Two weeks ago I found a very small insect on the forget-me-nots in our backyard. First I thought it was a small ant, we have them all over. With the naked eye however, I couldn’t tell what it was. Looking through the camera, I discovered a beautiful metallic blue, very tiny wasp. It’s harness was sculptured, like a ‘driven’ metal plate or so. I thought it had to be a member of the Cuckoo wasp family, Chrysididae, although it was quite small for that. With the book about wasps I have I couldn’t tell what species it was. Before I could take decent photos of it, it flew, and I couldn’t find it back. Last week I noticed a similar specimen on one of the upright columbines we have in our backyard. Although I took many photos of it, none of them was good enough to show… And no wasps whatsoever after that moment… Until today! I saw a tiny bug landing on that same columbine, and even on that same flower. I grabbed my camera and made some decent shots with this beautiful insect, with the leaves of a red Heuchera in the background. I still don’t know the right name for it, but beautiful it is…..Cuckoo Wasp

Lasius niger

macro photography Posted on May 11, 2012 15:29:14

The backyard is still a very nice place to shoot macro photos! If you’re not constantly seeking new species, it gives plenty of opportunities to shoot new and original photos. This morning, I made this photo of a very common ant species Lasius niger. It lives under the tiles in our garden, and visits the spores of the Columbines which are in full bloom right now. This one was made on a lilac one…

Lasius niger

Weevil in Blue

macro photography Posted on Apr 30, 2012 22:47:28

I was quite pleased with this one!
Weevil in Blue

Some with my new macro-rig

macro photography Posted on Apr 29, 2012 20:44:47

I made a flash diffuser for my external flash, mounted on a flash bracket. Hardly ever use this flash, but I saw some spectacular macro photos made with an off-camera flash, and I wanted to try it too. So, this is my set up: Pentax K-5 body, Panagor 90/2.8 macro lens with a Pentax-A 50/1.7 reversed on top, and the external flash with home made diffuser.

my macro set-up

my macro set-up
And here are some examples made with this combo. Just from our back garden… Quit some species to find here!

Snout Cleaning

It\\'s a big step up the ladder

The End



Some macro-shots from my backyard…

macro photography Posted on Apr 27, 2012 16:27:37



Cheilosia caerulescens?

Just to cheer you up !

macro photography Posted on Jul 31, 2010 14:26:58

I just love the colours in this one….

Macro Photography II: Technique

macro photography Posted on Jun 18, 2010 22:20:18

Okay. After some mesmerizing about gear here is the more important part of this diptych on macro photography: the technique I use. Having said this, I really don’t know where this epistle will end… What I mean is this: of course I use technique, but there is no real pattern in it. Probably there are some less obvious points though, that are lightly overseen. Therefore, I will concentrate on 3 points, and I hope I can tell you in these 3 points what is worth to be told. In case you wonder which points I want to discuss: a.) the best place to shoot, b.) the best time to shoot, and c.) the best way to shoot. And let me tell you in advance: there are no best places, times or ways. The only thing I will tell you is what works for me.

The best place. I guess there is no best place to shoot macros. However, I make 80% of my macros in my own backyard, even when I am a field biologist, and I bring my camera everywhere. Are there more crawling creatures in your backyard than in other places. Don’t think so. But you have two advances when you decide to shoot macro in your backyard: a.) it’s nearby, so you can do it whenever you want, even if you have only a spare 10 minutes, and b.) you can get to know your backyard real quickly, so you know soon where the insects are at what time of day. The two principles behind this are: shoot often and shoot much, and get to know your subjects intimately. It takes some time to get to know your gear, and having your hunting ground nearby gives you the opportunity to shoot as much as possible, so the learning time will be shortened, and the learning curve steepened. And once in your garden, you will experience that your subjects are not evenly distributed, but every species has it’s own place and preference. In my garden, the red currant bushes and my prune at the south wall are perfect places to shoot flies and bees in spring. The flowerbed in the border is a very good place in summer, and the Eupatorium plant in the border hosts many insects in late summer and autumn. And today I discovered the front yard, with one particular rich place for flies. This photo was shot here smiley.


You don’t have a garden? Find a park nearby, a parking lot with trees and bushes, a stream, as long as it is nearby. I think macros can be shot everywhere, but when you want to practice: shoot in your vicinity, and when you want to learn where the insects are: shoot in your vicinity.

Second one is the best time. Time of the year, or time of the day? Yes. Both. Of course the best time of the year to shoot macros depends significantly on the place on the globe where you live. In winter, there are not many bugs around here, but in other places summer can be burdensome for a macro photographer. But you know when you have your best macro season better than I do.

Regarding the time of the day, there are two things to remember. With the magnifications reached with macro photography, the Depth of View (DoF) is very low, so you need a small aperture to maximise it. With small apertures, light is always scarce, and when shooting hand held, without a tripod (as I always do, as you will discover as you manage to read this whole story), and without a flash, you are convicted to the time of day with a maximum of light, so around noon. This has one big disadvantage: it’s the time of top activity of most insects and other arthropods, and they are fast in the sun! These cold-blooded creatures start up slowly in the morning, receiving their body warmth from the air and direct solar radiation. THIS is the best time to shoot insects: when they are warming up in the sun, early in the morning. They are slow, easy approachable, and they give you lots of opportunities to shoot nice crisp macro photos. So these are the two things to remember: do you want to shoot with natural light: you are most likely convicted to the time around noon, with lots of light. But if you want to use flash, the best time is early in the morning, when the insects are slow….

The best way to shoot. This is the most personal note, of course, because what works for me doesn’t necessarily have to work for you… But these would be my tips.

1. Avoid tripods. Tripods are good for all kinds of photography, but I wouldn’t know how to shoot my macros with the help of a tripod. Insects are always under leaves, hiding in strange holes, asking to shoot in strange angles and half-heights etc. In the time I’d manage to bring my tripod in the right position and focus the camera, a next generation of insects is on the doorstep most likely. A tripod kills flexibility, a thing you need desperately when shooting insects! So you have to shoot handheld…..
2. Move slowly, and low. This has nothing to do with photography, but it will give you opportunity to approach most insects without scaring them. Fast movements, and movements from above make you look like a predator, and they won’t sit down and wait what happens. Slow movements, and movements at eye level (from the insects view of course) will pay eventually…..
3. The background is as important as the subject. If you want to make attractive macro photos, you have to pay attention to the background. A smooth background makes your subject stand out, a busy background makes your photo a puzzle. This is where the question of natural light versus flash light comes in. When using flash, the background is very easily changed into a black hole. When used with purpose, this can be very nice. However, on the internet you can find loads and loads of photos where the background is a mix of green leaves and black holes. With natural light, the background is usually way better than when using flash. If you use flash, find a position where the background of the insect is lit too. This can be a leave, a brick, whatever, but best is to find an even coloured background.
This brings me to an important technique I often use. Most of the time, I handle the camera with only one hand, my right hand. With my free left hand, I try to bring the leave or branch with the subject in a right position, in front of such an even coloured background. When this is impossible, I often take a green leave or such a thing and hold it with my left hand behind the subject, to get a nice background. I think this is impossible with shutter speeds below 1/100” or so, so this is why I use flash most of the time.
4. Avoid shots from above. They are boring in my opinion. Probably good for the ID of your subject, but I prefer frontal shots, or shots from the side at eye level.
5. Be creative. Do things no one does. There are lots of things to learn from others, but that doesn’t have to keep you on the same track, does it? In the end there are no rules, as long as you make attractive photos. Go out, shoot, find your own way to do it! Have fun, and enjoy creation!

Macro Photography

macro photography Posted on Jun 03, 2010 12:55:52

After receiving several questions about my macro set-up and technique, I decided to write a short hand-out for those who want to learn more. It won’t be a laborious and exhaustive ‘how to’, but more a handful of tips and tricks and some insight in how I do my macro work. I feel there is still much to improve in my macro work, and I do my macros more or less as a ”one trick pony”. Don’t ask too much about optics and that kind of stuff, because I won’t be able to answer your in depth questions… Just see this article as an exhibitionist attempt to show you – as nameless voyeurs – the way I shoot small worlds. This first post will be on gear, the second one will be on technique. That makes this first one less interesting, but still I hope you enjoy!

My gear – body and lenses.
Probably I have to say something about the gear I use. Not because I think you can’t shoot good macro photos with other gear. Not at all! But I can show you some other things when I tell you what I use for macro photography. I am using a Pentax K20D body, and I think this is a good choice for macro photography, but there are many more good choices. There are good reasons however why to choose a Pentax. A first one is the wheather resistance of the later Pentax bodies (K10, K20, and K7). However, no-one likes to shoot macro in the rain, so this is not the best reason to buy a Pentax body for this kind of photography. There is another reason though, and that is the unique shake reduction of Pentax, not in the lenses, but in the body. This has two big advantages: first, you only have to buy it once smiley, and second, you can use old lenses with shake reduction. Surf the big anonymus web, and you will find that this will deliver you 2 or probably 3 extra stops, and these can hardly be missed in macro photography, because the shallow depth of view and the high F-stops that are needed most of the time.

More important than the body is the glass you use! When I started with macro photography, I bought me a Super-Multi-Coated Macro Takumar 50mm F4, an old M42 lens with a magnification of 1:2 (yes, the older ones are 1:1, but not mine). About 60mm of extension tubes brought the magnification to 1:1, or even slightly better, but the drop of light availability with this combination (~f/8!) is not very convenient, and this resulted in many OOF photos. For insect photography I bought a SMC Pentax-A 100mm F4, because of the larger working distance. This is convenient for insect macro photography, because the distance between the lens barrel and the subject is often too small when using a 50mm macro lens (but not always!) In the end I like this lens, but still there the results were mediocre, and I think this is due to the magnification ratio of this lens – still only 1:2 – and the maximum aperture, which is still f/4. When a friend of mine bought a 55mm F2.8 macro lens, I was sold instantly, and as a result I bought a Vivitar 55mm F2.8 1:1 auto macro, and this is where my macro photography grew exponentially! Not much later I added a Panagor 90mm F2.8 to my collection, with the same results.The lesson from this: if you want to make stunning macro photos, you should buy a lens that goes 1:1, and that allows you to focus accurately. This last thing means you should have enough available light when focussing, so buy a f/2.8 lens!

My lenses are all old manual lenses. I never use the focus ring on my lenses, and I think auto-focus is redundant in macro-photography. I always focus by moving the camera forward and backward, and this is how almost all (all?) macro photogs do it. Don’t invest in AF – infest in optical quality, in magnification ratio, and in light-availability. If you find a good AF macro lens in terms of optics, magnification and f-stop, buy it! But don’t buy it because of AF. It’s useless for macro photography. (Okay, of course you can use the lens for other things than macro, and probably, who knows, AF has it’s purpose for those things….)

More magnification can be obtained by using extension tubes, and these have a greater effect when used on shorter lenses. Without maths 50mm of extension tubes will bring a 50mm 1:1 macro lens to about 2:1, and a 100mm 1:1 macro lens to 1.5:1. About! I have several sets of tubes: for my M42 lenses, for my K-mount lenses and even one of 25mm for my few AF lenses. They are cheap, and they can turn a usual ‘not macro’ lens into a great lens for macro work. For all kinds of very small insects, I use them in combination with my macro lenses, just to get magnificent magnifications. Disclaimer: working distance is getting less and less when using tubes, so scary insects and all kinds of poisonousness or otherwise dangerous creatures are not to be approached with these mounted!

One of the main problems in macro photography is the light: where to get it? This has to do with the shallow depth of view, as said before, and the relatively high f-stops needed. It means that, unless you shoot at bright sunny days, you have to make your own! I think macro photos shot in natural light are often better than those made with artificial light sources. This is especially so for the background lighting, which is much easier when using natural light. My tip would be: shoot with natural light when possible, but don’t hesitate to use flash light when necessary. Probably you should start with shooting macros with flash though…

Flashes…they are quite expensive, and this is more so when looking for dedicated macro flashes. Most macro photographers use ring flashes, because of the even lighting. However, I don’t like it (and please, feel free to disagree!). It’s too flat for my liking, and with reflecting surfaces – like those cute jumping spider eyes! – you get ugly ring reflections. So I use my often maligned pup-up flash, with a DIY home made diffuser! I’ve written an entry on my blog on how to built it before, you can find it here. This is the second step in which my macro photos got better. Please, built yourself such a diffuser, and you will surprise yourself! BTW: the idea for this diffuser was stolen from a talented Polish guy, which is known on the internet as grzehoofr. Try to google him, and you will be astound by his great macro photos!

550Vivitar 55/2.8 + home made diffuser

I never ever use a tripod for my insect macro work thus far. Flexibility has gone when using a tripod, and fiddling around with such a large thing disturbs most shy insects, at least when I do it (probably you are the quiet guy or gall who can handle it, but definitely I can’t!) For mosses and other stills I always use a tripod though!

Have fun shooting!

The Making of a Flash Diffuser

macro photography Posted on Apr 22, 2010 10:56:26

In several photography forums, I was asked how I do the lighting of my nature macros. There are quite a lot flash solutions for this which can be bought for about US$ 30-US$ 1000 and beyond. However, I prefer a home made solution, which costs me less than US$ 2. I did not invent it myself, but borrowed the idea from a talented Polish Pentax user, which on the net is known as ‘Grzehoofr’, google him! He uses the on-board flash of his camera, in combination with a diffuser that leads the light of the flash directly to the model.

In this tutorial I will show you how to make such a diffuser. I had to make a new one for my Vivitar 55mm/F2.8 1:1 macro + 25mm Kenko tube. This is the first important point: you need a diffuser for every different length of macro lenses you use. My Viv+Kenko measure 15cm.

What you need is:

– a piece of cardboard
– packing foam or another diffusing material
– aluminium foil
– some all purpose glue
– duck tape
– a pencil, a pair of scissors, a sharp knife, and a ruler


The length of the diffuser is the length of the macro lens + tubes + 10cm. So my diffuser will be 25 cm eventually. We have to make a tube with 4 sides, so cut a rectangular of 25×24.3cm from the cardboard. This 24.3cm is 4 times 6cm (the width of the tube) + 1 time the thickness of the cardboard (in my case 3mm). Make folding lines in the length at every 6 cm. Because we need a backside on the tube, we need a square piece too, which measures 6.6×6.6cm (6×6 + the thickness of the cardboard on all sides). NOTE: with smaller lenses, such as the Pentax-A 100/4 or the Takumar 50/4 macro, I use smaller tubes with sides of 4 cm each!


Glue the aluminium foil to the two pieces of cardboard with the shiny side up. I used a large piece of foil, which was cut with the scissors after I glued it.



Assemble the tube with some ducktape, use the square part for the backside.


In the hurry, I forgot to cut out the ‘window’ for the diffuser foil, so I had to do it after I assembled the tube. Of course this can be done earlier, but I thought this was quite convenient too. At the open end of the tube, cut out a piece from one of the sides at 5cm from the edge. From both adjacent sides, cut out triangles, as shown in the photo.


Stick the diffuser foil with some ducktape at the open end of the tube. I used a double layer, but this is dependent of the thickness of the foil. Finish the tube with ducktape.



The last thing we have to do is making the opening for the on-board flash. From the bottom of the tube cut out an opening at about 2cm from the end. It must be large enough for the flash, so the exact measurements will be dependent of the type of camera you have.


Attach the tube at the camera with a rubber band and get out shooting. The photo of the ant is one of the first made with this new tube. It’s uncropped and the lightning is not adjusted.