Kansas City Zoo Photo Club Meeting Minutes

March 18, 2002


Dan Paulsen called the meeting to order around 7:10 p.m.  He said that our speaker tonight is Linda Williams.  Linda is a member and will give a presentation on close-up photography.  After Linda’s presentation, we will discuss new and old business.

Linda passed around a handout similar to one she used when she taught a class at Powell Gardens last September on butterfly photography.  She modified the handout a bit to cover close-up photography in general.

Linda used to do lots of other types of close-up photography, for example, shooting pictures of crystals with colored paper behind them.  You basically use the same techniques for all types of close-up photography, but her focus now is on nature, insects, and gardening.  She has gotten into gardening in a big way so that she can take pictures in her own backyard.

She said she mainly shoots prints, not slides, so she is going to display prints tonight and pass many of them around the room.

Linda clarified that she does not consider herself an expert on close-up photography.  She said John Shaw is the expert, and if you are interested, you might want to pick up his book, Closeups in Nature.  Mostly she has learned on her own, taking hundreds of photographs and learning the hard way.

Her first single-lens reflex was a Minolta, and she was surprised to learn that she couldn’t get close in taking pictures.  With a 28 to 80mm lens, the closest she could get was several feet away.

Any single-lens reflex camera can be used for close-up photography.  The magic is in the lens.  As for features to have in the camera, the most important is depth-of-field preview.  This allows you to see what depth of field you will have in the picture, and hence what will be in focus.  Her Pentax 67 medium-format has a depth-of-field preview button on the lens itself.  Most 35mm cameras have it on the camera body, while most medium-format cameras have it on the lens.

Linda explained that she likes to work in aperture priority mode.  That’s what she started with.  She recommends that feature as well.

Mirror lock-up also is good when working with tiny, close-up objects.

With a regular lens, when focused as close as you can go, the magnification ratio is usually 1:10.  This means the object in real life is ten times as big as it appears on the film itself.  With macro photography, you want the ratio to be closer to 1:1 – where the size of the image on the negative is close to the size of the object in real life, or what you see with your eye is the same size as what you see on the film.

A cheap way to get into macro photography is to use extension tubes.  Linda said she likes these because they are hollow inside so have no surfaces to keep clean.  You can get them in manual or autofocus – she is using a Canon autofocus now.  Linda recommended getting the best ones you can get that are matched to your camera.  Stick with the brand names.  With a 200mm lens and an extension tube, you can focus close but are still a good three to four feet away, which helps keep you from scaring away a butterfly.

The next step up is getting a macro lens.  The Minolta 50mm macro lens will focus to 1:2 and will also focus to infinity.  It comes with a “life-size converter” – a 1:1 extension tube.

This Christmas, Linda got a 100mm macro lens for her Canon.  She wanted more working distance than she could get with her 50mm.  For a 1:1 ratio on her 50mm, she had to be only a couple of inches away from her subject.  With the 100mm, the closest focus is at a foot away.  She considered a 180mm lens as well, but it was over twice as expensive as the 100mm and she didn’t want to get too far away, because then you have to move shrubbery, etc. to get the shot.

Linda said she also uses an extension tube on a long lens for bird photography.  With a medium-format camera, you can’t get that close to birds.

Using a bellows is another way to do macro photography.  With it, you can move smoothly through a whole range of extension.  But a bellows sometimes starts at 30-40mm, when you may only want 12mm.  It can be too much extension.

Diopters are another alternative.  These have some advantages.  For example, you lose light with extension tubes, but not with diopters or supplemental close-up lenses.  But you do lose quality.  The part of the image in the center of the lens is sharper than on the outside edge.  This is true with all lenses but more so with diopters.

Reversing lenses or rings allow lenses to be mounted in reverse to provide macro capability.  She hasn’t tried these.  Dan said you can get vignetting with them.

Teleconverters are typically used on telephoto lenses to turn, say, a 200mm lens into a 400mm one.  They can be used in macro photography to multiply the magnification.  Linda has one of these but doesn’t like the quality.

Accessories that are useful include a tripod.  She uses a tripod with her 50mm macro lens for insects that are not moving much.  It is too hard to use a tripod for butterfly photography – they move too fast.  Usually you are shooting butterflies on a bright, sunny day, so you chase the butterfly around and take lots of shots.  You can use a monopod to steady the camera as well.  Linda said she also bought a mini-tripod to use to get close to the ground.  With macro photography, you are often shooting near the ground.

She doesn’t use filters, though John Shaw talks about using warming and other filters.  She finds that, by shooting print film, she can adjust the colors later if desired.

A focusing rail can be used to easily move the camera back and forth.  She will probably get one of these later.  With close-up photography, you are often working with just millimeters of depth-of-field range so you find yourself creeping back and forward a lot.  The focusing rail makes this easier.

Next, Linda talked about flash.  She explained that she’s a “flashaphobe”.  Now that everything uses TTL (through the lens) flash, it’s a lot easier.  She has found that in some of her pictures, she should have used flash but didn’t, even as fill on sunny days.  She recently bought a ring flash – although John Shaw says that it is an unnatural light source not found anywhere in nature – but she hasn’t tried it yet.  The new Canon flash is cool; you can control the amount of light on each side.  She doesn’t like to use flash on butterflies because it makes the background black, but you can use another flash as a slave to get rid of the black background.

Jim Rendina said the new ring lights are unbelievable.  The old ones were flat but these are not.

Linda said she buys most large items from B&H.  She creates her own enlargements so she can control color, cropping, etc. in the darkroom.

Regarding digital, Linda showed a print she took of a white-winged sphinx moth using a Nikon Coolpix camera.  She felt it turned out pretty good.  Pictures of moths taken in the evening, or those of butterflies in a butterfly house or deep shade, require flash.

Linda said she also has been using reflectors.  She has a reflector that is gold on one side and silver on the other.  She passed around images of a worm taken with various kinds of light, using reflectors, no reflector, etc. so we could compare.

As for film, Linda usually uses Kodak Gold 100 for 35mm film.  For her medium-format camera, she often uses Fuji NPS 160.  Popular Photography magazine rates films occasionally, and it always rates Gold 100 high, yet it’s cheap.

For processing, Linda has found that Wal-Mart’s send-out facility has been pretty good (their one-hour processing is not good), though she said they changed recently and now sometimes the prints are not in focus.  She sometimes corrects color in her own darkroom.  Her medium-format film goes to Photographix; they do pretty good with color.  She took some insect shots to One Hour Photo once and they came back dark and on the yellow side.

Some discussion took place regarding where to get film processed, and where to get prints made from slides.  It was noted that the Costco in Independence (at 40 highway and 291, straight across I-70 from Independence Center) is reasonable and their one-hour service is good, whether prints, slides, or digital.  It only costs 20 cents to get a print made from a slide!  The new Costco at 95th and I-35 probably is good as well.  The newer Costcos have good equipment.  They will give you a free membership for the first year.

Linda pointed out that it is harder to handhold a medium format camera, so she finds she uses her 35mm a bit more.

Regarding metering for exposure, Linda doesn’t worry too much about it.  She does compensate some based on the color of her subject.  If shooting a yellow or tan subject, she goes one stop over.  If shooting white, she goes 1 ½ to 2 stops over.  If shooting dark green, navy, or burgundy subjects, she will take it down one stop.  For black, she drops down two stops.  Colors such as kelly green, fire engine red, and purple tend to be more neutral and not require compensation.

Depth of field is most important in macro photography.  You want your subject in focus and the background blurred out.  In close-up photography, you really want to isolate your subject.  She has some photographs where the background looks almost like a backdrop, due to blurring, but it isn’t.  In macro photography, you have very little depth of field.  This can make it difficult to get the picture, if you can’t get a butterfly in focus from wing to wing, for example.  At higher magnifications, you can’t always get the whole bug in focus.  In that case, you need to focus on the face and eyes.

Linda tries to capture the personality of the insect.  She showed some pictures of a carpenter bee on a flower.  In one, the bee is isolated well and you can see its face clearly.  In the other, the face is buried in the flower.  The latter picture has less personality.

Linda shared some spider pictures next.  She showed one of a large spider, and explained that there was no way to get the whole thing in focus.  So she focused on the face and let the legs blur somewhat.  She thinks the picture still works.

She had pictures of a jumping spider from Florida.  When this spider crawled out of a friend’s car, she realized it was not native to the area and so she captured it.  She kept it in a jar and posed it around the yard for a few days while taking pictures of it.  She says she usually tries not to interfere with nature too much (for example, she doesn’t take pictures of baby birds with flash), but admitted that in this case, she did put the spider in the refrigerator for awhile to slow him down so she could pose him and get photos without him running or jumping away!  She especially liked his eyes and his bright purple spot.  He was about ¾ of an inch long in real life.

Linda pointed out that her handout includes ten tips for composition.  She said these can apply to any type of photography.  For example, the first tip talks about simplifying and leaving out distractions, and also moving around to get a better background.

Linda started taking her insect pictures by going to Powell Gardens.  She went to the butterfly festival one year, but found that she had just as many butterflies in her own yard.

She shared some of her butterfly pictures, including one of her father with a butterfly on his hat.  She said taking pictures of butterflies on people can be fun.  She also showed a photo of a black swallowtail that had just emerged from the chrysalis.

When she takes pictures of bees, she finds they are usually so busy that they don’t care what she is doing.  She doesn’t get too close, though.

She has lots of Mexican sunflower in her yard, because its fuzzy stems look neat in sidelight and backlight, and butterflies and hummingbirds like them.

Her only picture of a robber fly was when it landed on the tripod leg!  She got the shot anyway, even though the setting is not one she would display.

She also had pictures taken in the Butterfly House at St. Louis.

When cropping your pictures, make sure the bug is moving into the picture and not out of it.  This is more pleasing.

Linda said it is important to know your subject.  This can help you know the different stages of an insect’s life cycle, for example.  She likes shooting life cycles of butterflies.

Linda talked about editing and displaying your work next.  If you put two images in one frame, she recommended that they have similar backgrounds.

In summary, Linda reviewed the five most important things to do:

1.        Get equipment that is as good as you can afford.

2.       Know your subject.

3.       Keep the background and the subject simple.

4.       Focus on the eyes.

5.       Edit your work, and show only your best work to everyone!

Linda’s excellent presentation ended around 8:15 p.m.  We took a short break and enjoyed treats provided by Linda Hanley.

At 8:30 p.m., Dan called for a discussion of old business.

At next month’s meeting, we are to bring our backyard photos and slides to share.

Tracy Goodrich mentioned that she had not received a sign-up form for the Great Plains Nature Photographers meeting yet.  This will be April 20 in McPherson, Kansas.  It was pointed out that they are typically late with the registration forms.  The next camera club meeting is the 15th, so we can discuss this again before the actual date.

Four people so far from the club have signed up for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography seminar.  Others indicated that they would be signing up as well.  Bill Pasek asked for any information on the seminar, since he is interested but hasn’t seen a brochure.  Tracy said she would call him with the information.

One of our newer members, Tammy, has gotten a photo of hers on the cover of a paperback book!  Way to go, Tammy!

Wayne Hickox has a photo exhibit on display at the All Souls Unitarian Church, 4501 Walnut.  Carol Mitchell said it is an excellent show.

Jim said he has gotten a good response on the call for more zoo animal photos for our Web site.  He has received about 40 new pictures as of a couple of weeks ago.  He and Malinda Welte are trying to remove the old pictures and add the new ones, but they’ve encountered a technical problem – they see two different screens between them.  She’s not getting the files that Jim has added.  They are working on this and anticipate having it fixed soon.

Wayne asked if anyone had heard from our Web hosting company lately.  He e-mailed the company a couple of months ago but has received no response.  He needs to send them a check; it would have been due in February.  Jim said the server is in Florida and the company assured us they would keep supporting us.  But perhaps this is why we are having trouble with the Web site.  Someone needs to investigate.

To conclude the meeting, we viewed member slides.  Wayne had some of brown pelicans from his trip to Texas.  He used a polarizer in some shots and the water is too blue, he said, like a lagoon.  He was trying to get some behavior shots of the pelicans and got one of a juvenile reversing its pouch as if something were caught in it.  He had a shot of an adult in mating plumage flying away.  He tried to get some of pelicans landing but was unsuccessful.  Most were shot at midday but there was nice light.  He also went to a heron rookery and got herons on a nest that was 50-60 feet up in a pine tree.  He found the rookery just two days before he had to come back home.  These were taken with a 400mm lens and a 2x converter – most were not sharp enough for him but some were not too bad.  Another time, he was ready to shoot a sunset when a heron moved into the scene.  Wayne was using a 28-200 lens and the heron was so close that he used on-camera flash.

Linda Hanley showed slides of her trip to Fox Glacier in New Zealand.  They went walking on the glacier.  Rows of steps had been built into the ice.  Thirteen people were in her group, and they wore crampons to walk.  There were some beautiful glacier formations there.  This was a half-hour from the ocean.  It was summer in New Zealand.  They looked into some ice caves, and the blue of the glacier ice was gorgeous.  The glaciers are declining a lot.

Since there was no further business, Linda Hanley moved and Barbara Chase seconded that we adjourn at 8:50 p.m.  The next meeting is on April 15 at 7 p.m.  Bring your backyard pictures to share!

                            -- Tracy Goodrich