Adventures in Macrophotography (or What to do When the Birding is Bad)

Prickly Pear Cactus flower, Balcones, Central Texas
Prickly Pear Cactus Flower, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Central Texas. Canon EOS 7D/100mm f/2.8L IS macro with high-speed synchronized flash.

My initial interest in macrophotography flowed from my interest in birds. Often, I would see birds eating the fruit or seeds, or even drinking the nectar, of unfamiliar plants. I would then take a few pictures of the fruit or flowers for identification purposes.

This process has been helpful in understanding the habitats and habits of birds, and forced me to learn some macrophotography. It also got me thinking about efficiency and getting the most out of life.

It takes effort to go into the field. Now when no birds are around, rather than think about the day as a waste, I immediately start looking around for other interesting photographic subjects. Although, for me, photographing a flower is not as therapeutic as photographing a warbler, it is still an interesting and valuable exercise in the study of nature.

Witches' Butter fungus (Tremella mesenterica) at Brazos Bend Sate Park, Texas
Witches’ Butter Fungus (Tremella mesenterica) at Brazos Bend Sate Park, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/100mm f/2.8L IS macro. Hand-held, high-speed synchronized flash.

Our first efforts in macrophotography utilized an inexpensive Canon 55mm macro (the so-called “compact macro”), and were generally unsuccessful. (Sidebar: Whenever I speak to professional photographers I typically ask for advice, and a common piece of advice is: never buy cheap equipment.) Shortly thereafter we bought the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro which is simply a superb lens, and one of the sharpest around.

After talking with a naturalist and photographer about the importance (nay necessity) of using flash in macrophotography given the intense light requirement of shooting at high f-stops, we bought a ring flash and were off and running. Now when the birds are not out, but there are interesting plants and small, non avian critters around, I fish out the macro and go to work. Once in a blue moon, one has the exciting opportunity to turn a macro lens on a bird–as you can see below.

Juvenile Brown Pelican at Corpus Christy, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/100mm f/2.8L IS Macro. Hand-held, natural light.
Juvenile Brown Pelican at Corpus Christi, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/100mm f/2.8L IS macro. Hand-held, natural light.

All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup.

–Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard
©2013 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or photos may be duplicated or distributed without permission.