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Monday, 2 September 2013

First Steps Towards Macro? - end of August, 2013

When I was in Yorkshire recently, I was extremely impressed with the results that a couple of the guys up there were getting with the latest Sigma macro lenses. I've also been inspired by the macro work of John and Sue Rowe in Cornwall, and Noushka (who prefers to keep her surname unpublished) in south-west France. I was, therefore, working towards getting myself a Sigma macro lens next year.

Last week I was out gardening when I found Vapourer moth caterpillars on our Tamarix bush (we get them on it every year). I went inside to get the camera (Nikon D300s) with the Sigma 150-500 on, and started taking some shots. The result was a couple of images that weren't too bad, but I had to take a lot to get these two.

Vapourer moth caterpillar - my garden - Sigma 150-500 OS
The problem is (other than issues with the capability of the photographer!) that the Sigma lens doesn't focus to less than just under three metres (although the spec says 2.2 metres), so you need to use the lens at the full 500 mm and, therefore, you tend to be struggling for speed, aperture and depth of field.

Suddenly a thought flashed through my mind (it happens occasionally!) - I remembered that somewhere I had an old Tamron 28-300 lens that I'd discarded about eight years ago which professed to have a macro capability. It was found and fitted to the spare D300s within minutes and I was back with the Vapourers in no time flat.

Now, this lens was a cheap one and I didn't expect much in the way of results, but it did focus down to just under half a metre, and a 300 at half a metre gives somewhat closer results than a 500 at three metres! Furthermore, although it didn't have OS, it's easier to hand hold a 300 than it is a 500.

All in all, I was quite pleased with the results on the Vapourers. The first image shows the widely differing sizes of these caterpillars, which emerge over quite a long period.

Vapourer moth caterpillar - my garden - Tamron 28-300
After this session I tried it out on some butterflies in the back garden. Incidentally, the Red Admiral was seen in the garden for the first time this year, only a few days previous to this.

Peacock - our garden
Small Tortoiseshell - our garden

Red Admiral - our garden
Whilst there is still much room for improvement, I was getting consistently better results than with the Sigma 150-500.

On Thursday 29th I was on duty at Rutland Water, and took the Tamron lens with me. I didn't fare quite so well as the light levels were much lower and this, as I learned, does not make for good macro - nor does a stiff breeze, causing the subject to move about! These are the only vaguely usable images that I came up with.

Garden Cross spider - Rutland Lyndon Reserve
snail (unidentified) - Rutland Lyndon Reserve
The following day my wife I met up with our good friends, Roger and Lynne Doble, who were up from north Devon for the week. Roger and I spent time at Rutland Water (Roger's a long-term bird watcher) whilst the ladies went swimming and then shopping.

We only had a short time to play with in the morning (we were meeting the ladies for lunch), and it was a bit cloudy too, so I didn't have much opportunity to practise with the Tamron. It's a pity that the Copper was so tatty as I don't see too many of these.

Small Copper - Rutland Lyndon Reserve

Bee (unidentified) - Rutland Lyndon Reserve
Speckled Wood - Rutland Lyndon Reserve
Lunch was a little frustrating as two Red Kites came into the garden of Wing Hall, where we were having lunch, with my cameras locked safely away in the car! I've never been so close to a Red Kite - even at Gigrin farm!!

In the afternoon we had a couple of hours on the Egleton side of Rutland Water. This turned out to be quite productive from the point of view of subjects for practising macro on. First to be photographed was a pristine Painted Lady. This was the first for the year for both Roger and I, and earlier in the day we'd been talking about the lack of them!

Painted Lady - Rutland Egleton Reserve
The real stars of the afternoon were, however, the dragonflies. We now had full sunshine and, although there was a bit of a breeze, there were some nice opportunities. Nothing astounding was seen, but it gave me more practice and I'm quite pleased with the results.

Southern Hawker (female) - Rutland Egleton Reserve

Common Darter (male) - Rutland Egleton Reserve

Common Emerald damselfly (male) - Rutland Egleton Reserve
I've not done much since Friday, but I did find a shield bug whilst I was gardening (it was inside my shirt when I took it off as I was getting too warm!). This is the smallest thing that I've tried to photograph (about half an inch/ 1 cm long), and the results are not too good. No, that's not the inside of my shirt - I took the bug off and put it on a low wall!!

shield bug - our garden
My ambition is to be able to take images that are detailed enough to, for example, show the individual elements in a dragonfly's eyes. I don't think that I'm ever going to do that with the Tamron. However, the Tamron does have advantages in the flexibility of its use.

Any criticisms and advice would be gratefully received.

My particular thanks to John and Sue Rowe and to Noushka for your inspirational works.

In the meantime, I must get back to the owls!!


  1. Some lovely macros, love the pictures of the caterpillar. Macros are fun, if you can get really close up to your subjects. Some of the caterpillars are incredible, vapourer moths is one of them. Spiders on not always easy to get a good picture, you need a day where there is no wind and the spider on the right side of the web. I have not seen many Painted Ladies this year, I think it has been a year for the Clouded Yellow and the Small Tortoiseshell.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and advice, Linda. Not seen a Clouded Yellow yet this year. I think they're a bit scarce in these parts. Masses of Small Tortoiseshell though!

  2. Hi Richard, Just love those Caterpillars and the Dragonflies are great. I very often use my
    70-300mm lens instead of the macro lens, especially when taking slightly bigger subjects like Butterflies or Dragons, and it means you can get a shot without flushing them.
    We have seen loads of Clouded Yellows down this way but very few Painted Ladies and not seen any Brimstone all year. Regards Sue

    1. Thank you Sue. Good to know that I'm not going against the accepted wisdom in using that 28-300 lens. Would like one with IS/OS/VR on though!

      We had a couple of sightings of Brimstone in the garden earlier on in the year, but I didn't get any shots as they just passed through.

  3. I think you and I are getting the macro bug at the moment, I read in your first post about Yorkshire with some interest about the results from the Sigma lens as this is one I've been dropping heavy hints to relatives etc (birthday coming soon lol).
    I liked all the images and the biggest problem is the identifiaction for me.

    1. Hi Doug. Sorry to have only just put up your comment and replied to it - I've been a bit preoccupied lately!

      Identification is a bit of a problem for me too, with frequent reference to books - the Vapourer caterpillar was found in my 1979 Observer's Book of Caterpillars (I even still have my Observer's Butterflies from the early 50s!). I hasten to add that I do also have more learned and up-to-date references!

      I'm starting to re-think the Sigma macro situation. I was, originally, thinking of the shorter (105 mm) one, but now I'm beginning to think that the 180 might be better, or even a different route altogether. The reason behind this is that shorter lenses might be 'faster' and give great results when you're able to get really close to your subject, but a longer lens helps when it's difficult to get close - either because the subject won't allow you to get close or because you'd have to wade up to your knees in stinking mud to get close enough (as I've found a few times when trying to photograph dragonflies)! Might just stick with the lens I've got now, although OS would be useful.

    2. The two things I was worried about was focal length as you mentioned it's either mud or stinging nettles but my other concern because of shutter speed and aperture being used was IS/OS and was looking at the Canon range too, it's a minefield of choices, but a good one.

    3. I think that I'll just sit on it for a while, seeing how I get on wth the Tamron. Luckily I bought a second body on e-bay a couple of months back, so I don't have to keep changing lenses, but I do feel I look a bit like a Japanese tourist with two cameras and a pair of bins!

  4. Hello Richard!
    WOW, I ma very impressed with your photos, especially the dragonflies!
    I think your are well on track for macro photography!
    As you know, I use the Sigma 150mm and I am quite happy with it!
    If you get seriously into dragons, have that pic quality to show and can produce a few post per season, I would gladly invite you to publish posts on Dragonfly World!!
    Keep it up, I love it! ;-)
    Cheerio, enjoy your day!

    1. Thank you, Noushka, for your encouragement. It's a very kind offer re Dragonfly World and I will bear it in mind. However,the weather here seems to be turning now and I suspect that I might, already, have photographed my last dragon for the year.

      Have a great weekend!


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