Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adventures in Macroland

(Originally posted on www.glennlewisphotography.com on March 31, 2015)

NOTE: If you hate reading, just scroll to the bottom and check out the slideshow.

In less than a month, I'll have left the South Korean island of Jeju, my home for the last two and a half years. I've been working hard to save money during my time here, and for the most part, I've succeeded in putting away something of a nest egg that I'll probably burn through much more quickly than I presently care to admit. But because I haven't really acquired much in the way of physical goods since arriving on Jeju, I felt like I could splurge on one particular item that I've had some interest in for a while. A macro lens. After doing some research, I decided to go with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM and the Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite. Although it was meant to be a Christmas present to myself, it didn't actually arrive on Jeju until March, but whatever. Now is the time of year that it's actually usable, now that the local flowers are finally blooming. Here's how that whole setup looks on my Canon 60D.

My macro setup: Canon EOS 60D (camera body) with Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM (lens) and Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Light (ring flash)

I'm admittedly quite clueless about macro photography – this is obviously something I'll need to remedy in the near future – but here's the jist of it. Macro photography is basically the taking of pictures of things from very close range. If you've ever seen a picture of a flower in which you can identify individual specks of pollen, it's probably a macro shot. Same thing if you've ever seen a picture of an insect in which you could clearly make out the compound eyes.

Since I got the lens, I've gone out on several occasions to play around with it. Here are some of the better shots I've gotten:

The Sons and Daughters of Mild Disorder and Confusion (SaDoMDaC) went on a ride on March 15th, a couple days after I got my macro lens.  We visited Geungnaksa Temple, a peaceful location about 15 minutes west of Jeju City, and found all sorts of weird plants.  I noticed that the cabbage growing there looked interesting when viewed up close.  So I came back the next day and snapped this shot.

There were also white cabbages growing there.

Can you guess what it is?  It's a cactus.  A golden barrel cactus, specifically.  I shot this at Hallim Park, a walking garden / park / greenhouse / zoo on Jeju Island's west coast.

Hallim Park also had a tulip garden that was just starting to bloom when I visited in the middle of March.  Here's one whose petals had opened up a fair bit.

I'm not sure what type of flower this is, which is unfortunate because there was a path through Hallim Park that had one side defined by some bushes that were blooming with these flowers.  I spent an hour or more walking back and forth by these bushes, experimenting with my new lens, and trying, specifically, to get shots of bees or flies on the flowers.  The Koreans there probably thought I was crazy.

The tough thing, I've come to discover, about taking pictures of bees, is that what you really want to be visible, and in perfect focus, is their eyes.  But this is tough because when they land on a flower, they tend to immediately bury their faces in pollen.  If  were a bee, I'd at least have the decency to pose for the dude with the fancy camera who has been chasing me around, from flower to flower, for an hour.

Finally, a good shot of an insect!  Check out the bits of pollen on the fly's back.

I think we can all admit that flies kind of suck.  No one wants them in their house, or office.  If there's a single one in your bedroom, it can keep you awake for hours as it buzzes around.  And if you happen to go somewhere that there are millions of them around, such as I did in 2010 in central Australia, you'll be fully aware that it is one of the most annoying things to have to deal with imaginable.  Now, with all this said, I have to admit that they're kind of beautiful.  The iridescent coloring is pretty spectacular. 

This is the macro shot I'm most proud to have taken, to date.  Look closely, and notice the detail visible in the compound eyes.

It's quite strange: flowers, and other tiny bits of nature tend to look like things from other planets when viewed up close.  This is the stamen of some kind of flowering tree.  But to me, it looks like it belongs on Planet Xybog-9.

My macro lens is my only prime (non-zoomable) lens.  And damn is it sharp.  A perfect lens for approachable animals, such as this apparently sleepy blue-and-yellow macaw, which appears to be exhausted from a long day of dealing with tourists walking up to him and shouting "annyeong haseyo!"  That's Korean for "Hello!"

A bizarre species of cactus I spotted at the Yeomiji Botanic Gardens, in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, South Korea.  The botanic gardens claim it's a cactus.  To me, it looks like a miniature Sarlacc - the alien that eats Boba Fett in "Return of the Jedi."

A couple lotuses.  These were a bit tough to shoot, as I was constantly worried that I'd tip over and end up in the pond from which they were growing.

Another lotus.

And yet another lotus.  Notice the tiny dragonfly in the upper left corner.  I think this picture could have been absolutely incredible if the dragonfly were larger.  In reality, he was probably only two centimeters (about one inch) long.

A bee approaching a cherry blossom flower.  I haven't yet figured out how to shoot with my macro lens at speeds faster than 1/250 of a second.  So the wings of the bee are very blurry, and even his body isn't as sharp as I'd hoped.  Other than that, I think this picture is great!

Not quite the shot I was hoping for, but this is the best shot of a bee on a flower I've gotten yet.  I like that his eyes are visible, and everrything is in perfect focus.  I guess I'm still looking for a better pose.

One hell of an elaborate flower.  Or, again, something from an alien world.

Shocking, Glenn!  Another flower!  #sarcasm

As I'm writing this, the cherry blossoms on Jeju are in full-bloom. So I'm going to try and give myself a couple opportunities to shoot them in the next week or so. They don't typically last more than a week, and with all the rain that's predicted in the near future, they might only last another couple days. Maybe I'll have some kind of follow-up to this in a future post.

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