Nikon 105 for butterfly collection

Started Apr 2, 2014 | Questions thread
Antal I Kozma Senior Member • Posts: 2,471
Re: Nikon 105 for butterfly collection

ormdig wrote:

Hi Antal, you said "If you light evenly you'll lose detail in the texture of your subject. Which in case of photographing butterflies is not a good thing. The fine structure of wing pattern and hair on the torso does not come through well. So balance two lights , let's say left and right, in a ratio so that one will be the dominant side light for texture while the other will assure that no distracting shadow will form on the less lit side."

Can you expound a little bit on the balancing "in a ratio" of the two lights? Do you do this in intensity, angle (height) or what?

I understand the importance of sidelight for texture and would like to experiment with your suggestions offered here but don't understand the idea behind the "ratio" part and would like to have some idea of what I am doing and why. Thank you,

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Hi Pete,

Dave answered your question precisely as of technical terms. Beyond that it is experimental and depending on taste and the structure of the particular subject we photograph. No what the hell is this, right?

In my personal experience fine textures like various types or fabric, or butterfly wing scales in this case, show up best in side lighting. Especially in close ups / macro where fine detail, or the lack of it, can be observed to a high degree.  As you mentioned you are familiar with the texture enhancing properties of side lighting. And that is exactly the key here.

Would we photograph a flat object for a catalogue, like the pattern of a towel for a bath magazine, we could get away with a single light source illuminating the object from one side at let's say 4o-45 degrees elevation angle. No harsh shadow would be produced on the opposite side since we are shooting a flat object or even just a portion of it that does not cast a disturbing shadow.

Now, if we photograph a butterfly that is elevated let's say 1 1/4" from the base of its display case by a pin then we would cast a distinct shadow on the opposite side of the light source. Therefore, we need to alter our lighting by some means to avoid creating a harsh shadow while still retaining the texture enhancing capacity of our main light source.

If I shoot in a 45 degree elevation with one side light then the shadow I project onto the opposite side is going to be formed around the straight extension of the centre of my light beam. Then that shadow will "float out" on the base surface. If you draw a circle and divide it into eight equal segments you'll see what I mean.

So, what tools do we have to avoid this? Several, we can mix those as our creativity and desired effect will call for it. For example, I could start out softening my main light a little so that it is still intense enough to sidelight the scales of the wind and hair on the torso but it is not going to be as "piercing" in its quality. Then, I probably would lower my main light a bit. Let's say to 40 degrees instead of 45. This would skim the surface a bit more while the shadow on the opposite side would mow away to the left a bit. By experimenting with softening the skimming light and lowering it a bit may cast our shadow well to the left so that in a close up it might largely falls out of view.

Then we also can play with another light illuminating from the opposite side. Let's say we dial down the intensity of this fill light to 1/3rd of the main light. So that it will not nullify the side lighting properties of our main light but will dissolve our shadow to a non disturbing level. Furthermore we can lower the angle of the fill light so that it "skims the shadow" from a lower angle. Thus it does not bounce back to the right to cancel out the side lighting property of the main light source. Kind of shooting a bit under the belly of the butterfly perched on the pin.

In lieu of the second light we can introduce a reflector card to soften the shadow. Its reflective property, angle of placement, distance to the subject changes its effect. Wee need to experiment with it to get the desired effect we shall need.

I do not know if I have been clear enough with my explanation of the subject. Basically it is simple to work out these things with two flashes that you can adjust in intensity or even with a single flash and some light bouncers made from white cardboard or crumpled alu-foil.

With digital we have the blessing of instantaneous result on the screen. Unlike in film days when you either shot a bunch of Polaroids, still smallish, or awaited on your trial roll to be rush processed and evaluated. Today we can look at the results on a tethered laptop and change immediately to get the result we want. That is a major advantage for the photographer these days. Back in film days it required years of experience to set up and shoot for an assignment with piece of mind without feeling your tummy playing jello.

The key is, experimenting with angles, light intensity , light ratios, fill cards, etc.

All the best, AIK

P.S.: Ring lights have their place so do the two flash unit macro lights. However, they are more for chasing bugs in nature as opposed to cataloguing with some artistic quality in mind. Also, for straight documentation for insurance purposes they are just fine. We do not need to be artistically concerned for that kind of photography.

 Antal I Kozma's gear list:Antal I Kozma's gear list
Nikon AF-S Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR Phase One Capture One Pro Nikon D810 Nikon D500 Olympus E-M1 II +21 more
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