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HOW TO FOCUS IN DARK

uwe yang , Apr 18, 2000; 05:15 a.m.

Have you all ever noiced that pros like John Shaw have part of their macro photography done at night? My question is how do they see and locate the subjects in the dark?

My initial thought was that they carry along a flashlight BUT how do they focus when they are handholding the camera and holding the flashlight? Any help is appreciated. Thanks a million.

Uwe

Responses

Matthew Smith , Apr 18, 2000; 06:43 a.m.

I think you may be referring to the black backgrounds in some pictures...? I apologize if you are not, please tell us where you heard that they take pictures at night.

Anyway, the black background is accomplished via ordinary flash, and many of those pictures with black backgrounds may in fact have been taken during mid day.

This is because a flash can light the scene more brightly than the regular daylight can, and the exposure John Shaw or the other pros used may not let in enough natural light to light the background, thus causing a black background.

Although many don't like these backgrounds, because, as you have noticed, they can consume some into thinking that they were taken at night, they are great for lighting dark subjects and stopping winds or fast moving insects.

Matthew Smith

Peter May , Apr 18, 2000; 07:55 a.m.

Uwe, Night macrophotography is tough, but can be productive as you can sometimes find and closely approach arthropods and some vertebrates much more closely in the dark than you ever could in daytime. In my neck of the woods, for example, leopard frogs are incredibly wary in daytime, but after dark, you can touch the tip of their nose with your finger - sometimes they'll even bite it!! To do night photography, I use a small headlamp (several companies make a similar model - Browning has one they call the Lightning bug, I think - ~$19.95 at Cabela's or similar outdoor supply stores) that comes with an elastic headband as well as several other means of attachment, including velcro patches. I put a couple of pieces of velcro on top of my electronic flash, then attach the headlamp. Its so tiny that the added weight is insignificant, but its pretty bright. You can position the lamp and swivel the head so that its beam falls directly into the center of your field of view at whatever distance you're shooting. A lot easier than trying to manage the camera with one hand and hold the flashlight with the other...

Narendra Bhagwat , Apr 19, 2000; 11:38 p.m.

Depth of field is very limited in macro photography. For example if you are shooting a very small subject of say 2 inches and you have focused on subjects eye with an aperture of f5.6, only his eyes might come very sharp but everything else will be out of focus, may be even non recognizable!
So to make sure that you are getting some more depth of field you might have to shoot at f11.0 (at the same shutter speed), but this may not be possible in the avaliable daylight present there. So, the solution is provide more light by using a flash. However, flash will light only the subject and not the background, and since background was requiring an aperture of f5.6 (in the natural light) and the actual aperture used was f11.0 (courtesy flash!), subject gets properly exposed but background remains too much underexposed, hence it looks total black, as if shot is taken at night. This black background is sometimes avoided by illuminating the background with another flash, or by trying to find an angle in such a way that some natural light is falling on the background also.

uwe yang , Apr 23, 2000; 10:39 a.m.

Hi Matthew,

Should have thought that was it. They were shooting in the day at the highest sync speed so ambient light was almost nil. Why didn't I think of that! Was so engrossed in how they got every subject sharp that I thought it was really night. Thanks a lot for solving this problem.

Hi Peter,

Thanks for the tip. What I'm doing now is link up electrical cords and bring along a lamp to my garden to look for subjects. A big bother and also a hazard but it works, for a limited distance. Will take your advice and look for a headlamp and try it out.

Hi Narendra,

Thanks a million for the help!

Bas Groen , Apr 27, 2000; 04:56 p.m.

Uwe,

I sometimes used a trick to focus in (almost) darkness by holding a little flashlight against the oculair of a SLR. What you do is projecting the focussing aids on the frosted glass onto your subject, which has to be stationary of course. If you bring these features into focus you know that you are at the right distance.

I used this little trick to focus a camera on a featureless phosphor screen which received very few electrons.

Hope this helps,

Bas

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