Ant-man has just begun showing in movie houses and it promises an interesting perspective - something from the point of view of the hardworking ant. Just thinking about it makes me recall a song from Sesame Street that went something like "That's about the size / It’s where you put your eyes / That's about the size of it..."
As a child, the only way I could see the tiny world ants lived in was through a microscope my mother purchased for me. Through her encouragement, I would collect just about anything, from plants to insects, so I could see the details. The only drawback was the things I viewed had to be inanimate or deceased by the time I mounted them on my glass slides.
Now that I'm an adult, I find the fascination still hasn’t left me. And while I still have my old microscope sitting in my cabinet, I have come to rely on my recent purchase of extension tubes to view the tiny world around me. The main reason I enjoy attaching them between my dSLR and macro lens is that I am able to view plants and insects while they are still alive!
Easier Said than Done
Of course, it all sounds like it is easier than done. As I mentioned in an articles coming from the series entitled "The Camera I Use," my hands aren't exactly steady anymore. The rather heavy weight of my camera, lens, extension tubes, and flash contributes to a lot of shake. So when taking macro pictures, I have had to rely on the one thing I hate lugging around - my tripod.
You're probably thinking that isn't too bad, right? All I need to do is to setup up the tripod then mount the camera on it and viola! However, when it comes to insects, anything bigger than a fellow insect tends to scare them away.
Think of it this way: My camera and tripod will most likely look like a Jaeger from the movie Pacific Rim. And when faced with something that huge, flying or hopping away becomes instinctive.
Hunting Down Subjects
It's been weeks since the last typhoon hit the country and I've been hunting down subjects to photograph ever since. The first thing I learned about typhoons and insects is that the latter don't exactly come out in droves the moment the sun comes out. Birds make an immediate appearance but insects take a few days longer. Perhaps they are still recovering, needing time to store up enough energy for movement.
In any case, it was only last Sunday that I finally found a few things worth taking pictures of. Actually, it was my wife who found a tiny cluster of flowers worth photographing. And thanks to her keen eyes, the weeds that I usually trample underfoot turned out to be ideal subjects to kick off an afternoon of photography.
While they look like regular sized plants in photographs, the tiny pink petals were about the size of a large pimple when bunched together. And since hers were the first pictures taken for the day, she captured them handheld. So while they may not seem to be razor sharp, they are more defined than what I could get with a tripod.
Apart from hand holding the rather heavy dSLR, macro lens, extension tubes, and flash while hunched down, a rather healthy breeze was present. The wind was strong enough to get some of our heavier wind chimes ringing, so you can probably imagine what it did to toothpick-thick stalks.
And since the tiniest millimeter of movement can be enough to take subjects out of the viewfinder, it was a combination of an extremely steady hand, quick auto-focus, and a slightly faster shutter speed that resulted in my wife's pictures. Her concentration was so intense that she was exhausted after a few minutes of photography,
A few hours after she was done, I tried to capture a few pictures of the same subject myself. But this time, I used a tripod. Thanks to the ever present breeze, the best I could get was a somewhat dark picture.
[Actually, the darkened picture was an accident as I was trying to get a sharper picture.]
Screen Door Creatures
After a few hours of becoming more frustrated instead of relaxed, I finally gave up on photographing the weed. As I entered the house, I noticed a tiny insect hanging on the aluminum screen door. And since it wasn't moving, I decided it would be a better subject than the garden weed.
When I set up the camera on the tripod, I didn’t get the insect in the frame because it was so tiny. However, while the inability to focus on a subject may have frustrated me earlier, it did the exact opposite
Thanks to the three extension tubes stacked together, the fine mesh of the aluminum screen looked like a huge net on my camera’s LCD, or liquid crystal display!
And after slowly rotating the camera that I finally found that tiny insect in the corner. From this point of view, I can now understand how effective aluminum screens are. The spaces in between wires are so small, it won’t allow the head of a pin through. And as you can see from the picture, that tiny insect was just too big to get in our house.
After about an hour or so, my back was beginning to ache from all that bending. Thankfully my camera had one of those swivel LCD screens so I didn’t have to squat because then both my legs and back would be hurting.
As I began to pack up my gear for the day, I noticed a tiny jumping spider a little further away from the yellow insect I photographed earlier. However, being skittish meant I was only able to take a couple of photographs.
Wait, There’s More
Seeing there was still a bit of light, I decided to walk around the garden one last time. And as I walked through some of the rather tall weeds, I came across two things rusting in the open. The first was a small collection of nails, while the second was the cover of a can.
And since the detail of these two objects were just too much to resist, I ended up spending the last few minutes of the afternoon trying to get pictures of them.
Still seeing a bit of light, I ended up going back to a cluster of Gumamela flowers which my Mom had planted in a clay pot. Thanks to the heavy rains brought about by the last typhoon, the flowers were blooming.
However, with too much rain and very little sun, the petals didn’t develop very well. Fortunately for me, the extension tubes allowed me to get in much closer to the delicate and complicated center. And if I remember my old Grade School science classes correctly, the part I photographed would by the pistil.
It has been decades since I heard the song entitled “That’s About the Size” from Sesame Street. Apart from the refrain being “That's about the size / It's where you put your eyes / That's about the size of it,” I still remember the accompanying cartoon just as clearly. It was a simple, but brilliant way, of explaining the point of view to a kid.
So while Ant-man is making a killing at the box office today by showing viewers how it is to be as small as an ant, I really have my Mom and Sesame Street to thank for today’s session.
[Well, them and a set of extension tubes.]
The rains are gone, the sun was out, and the day is now over. And while it took me a few days to arrange my thoughts for this essay, I am quite pleased with the effect those extension tubes had. And while it has been raining for the past few days, it hasn’t been continuous. And this means that I may have a few more bugs to take photographs of next weekend. Just this morning, I saw a few bumble bees pollinating flowers crawling over the wall from our neighbor’s. So while that may take a little bit more preparation, I’m hoping the results will be worth it.