I had a real problem trying to decide which photo to put at the top of the page for this post. I generally put the best image on top because that is the first thing a reader sees. Usually it is a pretty easy choice. But for this post each of the pictures had a different look and I really had trouble deciding; and I don’t know if I made the right decision. Here’s the story…
Last Saturday afternoon I decided that I wanted to play with one of my heritage lenses. The lens in question is a Tamron SP 180mm F2.5 LD-IF. The LD indicates that it utilizes low-dispersion glass for optimal apochromatic performance; and IF stands for internal focus. The lens was produced in the late 1980s and was one of Tamron’s top lenses.
The lens is manual of course, but it focuses extremely fast because of the internal focus. When adapted to an Olympus 4/3 digital body like my e-620 it performs as the equivalent of a 360mmF2.5 lens that focuses as close as 4 feet. Those are pretty impressive stats. I wanted to try the lens combined with a 12 mm extension tube to see how useful it could be for close-up photography.
I went outside to find a suitable subject—preferably one that wouldn’t fly, crawl or leap away. I found that one of my potted Venus flytraps had trapped a harvestman, which made for a great subject. I set-up my camera on a tripod, put the plant on the railing of my deck, and shot a series of photos at different lens apertures using available light. I was able to shoot an individual trap on the plant from three feet away; so this set-up has great potential for taking close-up photos of critters that you can’t (or don’t want to) get too close to like butterflies, dragonflies or wasps at their nests.
Below is an example of one of the photos I took with the Tamron lens, shot at F8. It has a “look” to it that I can’t quite define. It definitely has a quality that is different from images taken with my modern Zuiko lenses. I like it—I think—but I’m going to have to experiment with the lens more.
After shooting with the Tamron lens, I decided that the trap with the plant was too good of a subject to use just as a test. So I broke out my trusty Zuiko 35mm macro and took more pictures, still using available light. By this time the sun had moved around such that it was now partially backlighting the flytrap. Below is one of the photos from that series; and below that is a tighter crop of the same image. I prefer these photos to those shot with the Tamron, but how much of that was due to the differences between the lenses and how much was the result of the change in light I don’t know. I also really like the tighter crop, except of course for the out of focus leg that hangs down in front.
So I then went back outside to shoot the flytrap again, but with the offending leg moved up and out of the way. Unfortunately the sun had moved and was getting low in the sky, and try as I might I couldn’t duplicate the look of the above photo. It was ridiculous and frustrating because photographing a potted plant should be easy!
After the sun went down I decided to try again to reproduce the photo above using artificial light. What I did was to take a piece of white foam core (foam board) and cut a hole in the middle the diameter of my 35mm macro lens. I then stuck the lens through the hole and attached the camera to a tripod. I connected my ring flash to the camera but didn’t attach it to the lens. Instead I held it behind the flytrap directed towards the lens. The idea was that this would backlight the plant but provide a dark background because the lens was shooting through the ring flash. The foam core was there to reflect some light and provide some front lighting of the plant. Below is a quick photo of my set-up. And below that is one of the resulting images.
You can see from the photo above that the set-up worked really well, but the resulting images have a different quality from those shot outside with available light.
I really liked the fact that when backlit, you can see the shadow of the harvestman inside. So I started playing around with the last image using Photoshop Elements 8.0—tinkering with the contrast, brightness, etc. to see if I could bring out a stronger image of the critter inside the trap. Then I tried converting the picture to black and white (colour adjusted to: red +60; green +28; blue +12; contrast 0) and the result was the photo at the top of the page. I think this is a really cool photo because it almost looks like an x-ray of the flytrap showing the harvestman inside.
And that brings me back to my conundrum of which of the photos taken with the 35mm macro was the “best” and should be at the top of the page. I went round and round…I really like the photo taken outside (photo Y) because of the quality of the light—but I don’t like the leg hanging down in front. The photo taken with the ring flash (photo Z) is technically better…but a bit more clinical. The black and white picture (photo X) is really cool…but of course the beautiful colours really are appealing in the other images. I finally chose the black and white picture because it is different. But I really am not sure I made the right choice.
So what do you think? Which of the three pictures (X, Y or Z) would you have chosen to put at the top of this page?
The technical stuff:
Camera: Olympus E-620 digital SLR
Lenses: Tamron SP 180mm and Zuiko 35mm macro
Settings: manual exposure (F8 @ different shutter speeds)
Lighting: Available light and Olympus RF-11 ring flash (1/2 power)