Q&A WITH MACRO PHOTOGRAPHER SAPPHIRE KER
Can you tell me a little about how you started out in photography?
It was born from my love of being able to freeze a moment in time, and the ability to frame it beautifully. My first camera was an Olympus SP-550 UZ. That was the first time I’d ever owned a camera and it was what started my journey. I was pleasantly surprised by the SP-550’s image stabiliser system. I was able to take a clear picture, even when using it handheld with a maximum 18x zoom. The colour also looked very natural, particularly in the blues. All these elements convinced me to carry on using the Olympus brand. I soon started upgrading my cameras, and over the years used the E-620, E-3, E-PL2, E-P3 and E-M5, and right now I’m using the flagship OMD E-M1. The colours this system is able to produce never let me down, and the performance and image quality just get better and better.
Why do insects make such interesting subjects?
While I love to shoot landscape images, I particularly enjoy photographing insects. It has a lot to do with the fact that I live in the city, so don’t get much opportunity to find beautiful landscapes spots. As a result, I had to concentrate more on the world close-up – macro photography. There are so many areas around me that let me enjoy the medium and, consequently, insects become my beautiful models.
Where do you find your subjects?
All around me. Before I started macro photography, I really wasn’t paying attention to the tiny creatures you see in my images. They’re simply too small for us to notice in our everyday experience. After I started exploring macro photography, I was surprised by this hidden world. There are so many special insects and spiders, which we’re almost blind to. You need to lower your height, and dig into the grass and trees to find them. Different insects live in a variety of locations, so you need to search patiently. It’s very exciting and you always feel a thrill when discovering a new species.
What camera and lens combination are you currently using?
I’m using an Olympus OMD E-M1 with a 50mm f/2 macros lens and an EC-14 1.4x Teleconverter. I can get a 70mm focal length (140mm equivalent with full frame) by using the lens and Teleconverter combination, but without getting too close to the insect and disturbing it. If the insect is too tiny, I’ll also attach a Raynox DCR-250 macro conversion lens on the 50mm. For example, ‘too small’ would be an insect between 2-5mm.
Why does this set-up work so well for what you want to do?
It’s lightweight and flexible. It also allows me to hold the camera with one hand and change the angle of the shot in any way I wish. Unfortunately, it also means my wrist experiences a little rheumatic pain after a day’s shooting.
How are you able to achieve such an incredible depth of field?
The crop factor of the Olympus system is 2x compared to a 35mm full frame camera. The depth of field is also 2x a full frame. If I set f/10 on my Olympus system, I can get an f/20 equivalent depth of field on a full frame. That allows me to achieve the depth of field I want.
Are all these photos taken in one shot or do you employ focus stacking?
I seldom do focus stacking. Focus stacking would require the insect to stand still and insects can rarely be relied upon to stay in one spot. To achieve focus stacking in these images would require me to freeze or kill the subject and I would never do this. This type of photography requires a love and passion for nature.
Do you use flash or do you rely solely on available light?
Most of the time I use flash plus a diffuser. This is so that I can avoid dealing with unstable natural light. Sometimes the weak natural light will mean the image is not sharp enough and I’ll need to increase my ISO. As I’m sure you know, the higher the ISO, the less clear the image. If I’m working on a cloudy day I can still take clear and sharp images using artificial illumination. The diffuser softens the flash’s light and gives the image a nicer spread of light. It’s the same as using a softbox for a portrait shoot.
What bits of advice would you offer to someone looking to try their hand at macro images of insects?
1. You need to ensure you’re fully kitted out: lens, extension or macro convertor lens.
2. Get yourself a flash and diffuser.
3. Try not to move too fast when you’ve found your insect. Move slowly around it so you don’t disturb or spook it. Basically, be patient when you’re taking macro images.
4. The most important thing is to love nature and to protect it however you can. These little creatures are small and need your respect.