Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Macro Moose

Just say no to drugs -- and yes to macro photography. Macro will introduce you to an alternative reality that you may have never experienced. Be warned, however. It can be very addictive. I've lost large chunks of entire days, crawling around aimlessly in the woods with a macro lens setup.

Macro is easy if you have a point-and-shoot camera. I use my little Lumix for close-ups all the time. Just turn the dial to the flower symbol (typically), hold your breath, and squeeze the shutter. If you're using a film or digital SLR, macro photography can get expensive in a hurry. If you keep tripping over piles of extra money that you've left laying around, then you should consider a set of real macro lenses in 2 or 3 focal lengths. Otherwise, do what I did -- get a set of extension tubes.

Extension tube examples (c) John Ashley
Extension tubes are glassless rings that mount between your camera body and your lens. On the down side, less light reaches your film or digital sensor, and you can't focus to infinity when using a tube. On the plus side, extension tubes turn most of your regular lenses into close-focusing lenses, and even into macro lenses. Plus the tubes fit easily in your camera bag, and they're way cheaper than real macro lenses.

I mostly use a set of Kenko tubes that are 12mm, 20mm and 36mm long (pictured above). The set of three currently runs about $170 for Nikon and Canon autofocus bodies (almost double what they cost when I bought mine, so they must be getting popular!). You can use the tubes individually or stacked together in any combination.

I'll illustrate above with Tracy's "moose bottle opener." (What kinda' macro moose photos were you expecting?) On my little 50mm lens, minimum focus is 19" by itself, 6" with the 12mm tube, and 2" with all three tubes stacked together. As you can see, the different distances can translate the same subject into very different images. While I haven't tried macro on a live moose, yet, I have used an extension tube on a 70-200mm zoom lens while photographing hummingbirds. Close-up photography ain't just for flowers anymore.

Some days, using an extension tube to get just a little bit closer can literally change your view of reality. Just be careful. You might find yourself snapping alert in the woods, many hours later, wondering where the day went.

Behind the lens: Photo of extension tubes and expensive Nikon camera was taken with an inexpensive Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 "point and shoot" on macro mode (yes, I held my breath). I also have homemade cameras built out of cardboard and plumbing supplies -- go figure.