Road to Macro Photography

I love to travel and it is my wish to capture beautiful memories via photography. I finally bought my 1st basic Digital Single-lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, a Canon 400D, one day before my trip to Yunnan, China from 2 – 13 Jun 07. I know nothing about photography at all. What is aperture? What is shuttle speed? What is ISO? What is depth of field? They sounded so alien to me. But I have this naive view that with a DSLR, I should be able to take very nice photos. So I took a lot of photos during the trip. I was disappointed that all the photos were just slightly better that those I took using a point & shoot camera. However, there was one particularly photo that I like a lot, a close-up shot of a colourful wild flower.

(Close-up of a wild flower taken in Yunnan – 7 Jun 07)

I began to like macro photograpy. While searching the internet for photography ideas, I came to know Nature Photographic Society, Singapore (NPSS). I was very impressed with the photos posted there and hope that one day, I could be as good as them. I submitted the above wild flower photo for critique and comment. Most members gave me a warm welcome and commented that “it was a very good first post considering that I was using a kit lens”. With this encouragement, I went all out to shoot macro and continued to post in NPSS. The comments given were still encouraging but most suggested that I should get a dedicated macro lens.

In Aug 07, I bought my 1st lens, a canon 100mm macro lens. I went to Chinese Garden to try out the lens immediately. But guess what? All my images came out blur! Of course I can’t get sharp images if I do not have good handheld technique! Subsequently, I was advised to get a tripod & an external flash which I did. With all the equipment in place, I was confident that I was going to improve by leaps and bounds. I remembered I went to Bukit Batok Nature Reserve and got some very nice shots. I chose two of my top best shots (see below) and posted in NPSS sometime in Sep 07 expecting to receive nice comments.

Darren, an experienced macro shooter, was usually kind to me when commenting on my earlier posts but this time he never held back. He commented something like for the grasshopper image, the framing was too tight, focus was off, lighting too harsh.

For the robberfly image, the angle was not ideal, background was messy, image was noisy, etc. Other members gave me similar feedback. This was really a good wake up call for me. I started to realize that despite two solid months of macro shooting on my own, there was very little improvement. I decided to join NPSS as a paid members and sign up for the Nature Photography Course in Oct 07. This has to be the best decision that I have made in photography.

During the course, Graeme thought me about good composition, Darren thought me about all the basic skills in macro photography, Con thought me about post processing skills. But I missed out one very important lesson, intermediate Macro Photography, where Han focused a lot on the correct use of Fill & Full Flash. Until now, this is still my weakest area. Anyway, it was the first time that I met the seniors and those who had commented on my posts. The practical lessons after each lesson were really helpful.

After the course, I started to join NPSS informal macro outings. I started to make progress but one major problem that I have at that time was that I could not get sharp images using a smaller aperture of f16 and above. Most of my better shots were using f5.6 & f8. So, I often received comments like “insufficient DOF, why don’t you use a smaller aperture of f16 or f22”. I was subsequently advised to get a cable release and to use Mirror Lockup to prevent motion blur caused by the camera. But how do I solve the problem of motion blur caused by the wind? I usually did my shooting after 9 am or after 5 pm where it is usually quite windy. My big break came only after I started to shoot very early in the morning sometimes as early as 6.45 am and stop at 9 am. During this period there is very little wind and you get the best ambient light for macro shooting.

I continued to shoot regularly, , I posted frequently at Early To Learn section and I received a lot of feedback and suggestions for improvement from the seniors. With their guidance, I finally “graduated” in Apr 08. But that did not slow down my shooting. In fact, I shoot even more and post even more. When you shoot more, the chances of getting nice images are higher. So, eventually, I won the NPSS’s Photo of the month award in Oct 08.

Four of my photos were also nominated for Photo of the Month Award in the following months:

January 2010
October 2009
September 2009
June 2009

I also won the Canon Photographer of the Year 2009, a major achievement for me.

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