Work Around The Weather

Scaling New Heights With Butterfly Subjects • It’s Still Life • Take The Time To Time-Lapse • Photographing Shiny Things

Butterflies To Scale: At 4X, this image of a small section of a butterfly wing reveals the fascinating contours of its scales and vein structure. For Lepp, butterfly studies are complex studio subjects perfect for snowy days. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon MP-E 65mm ƒ/2.8 1-5x macro lens at 4X and MT-24EX macro flash,12 stacked images at ƒ/4 captured with a StackShot

Fierce winter weather may interrupt your outdoor photography adventures, but it doesn’t mean you have to stop shooting. Actually, it’s a great time to take a step back from the cacophony of subjects competing for attention. These are the months I enjoy working in my studio and taking the time to fully explore all aspects and approaches to a single subject, while developing and mastering new capture and postprocessing techniques. Here are a few ideas.

Scaling New Heights With Butterfly Subjects
Butterflies are great to watch flitting among the blossoms, and occasionally we even capture them in the act of landing or nectaring on a flower. But butterflies have a closer beauty found in the designs, colors and textures that make up their wings. Capturing these features requires some real macro techniques and high-quality specimens that were raised for viewing and photography. You need to get to a magnification of 3X or more to do them justice. If you have the Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens, you’re set to go. With an APS-C sensor, this lens will achieve an effective magnification of 1.6X to 8X. Everyone else will have to use some ingenuity to get beyond the common 1X that most macro lenses offer.

Take a 200mm lens (it can be a 70-200mm zoom or a 180mm macro) and a wide-angle lens, such as a 24mm; reverse the wide-angle and place it front element to front element with the 200mm, which is mounted to the camera. You can purchase an inexpensive reversing ring from B&H, Adorama and Amazon, among others, which has the filter size for each lens on the intermediate ring. If you’re in a hurry, or don’t want to spend the money, take wide black tape (from the hardware store) and use the tape to carefully mate the lenses front to front. You’ll achieve a magnification equivalent to the focal length of the telephoto divided by the focal length of the wide angle. For example, the combination of the 24mm and 200mm lenses will yield approximately 8X of surprising quality. Note that the front lens will work only manually, and settings need to be accomplished with the 200mm attached to the camera.

Extension tubes also can help in attaining higher magnification. Inserted between the body and the lens, extension tubes increase magnification at a 1:1 ratio; a 50mm lens needs 50mm of extension to achieve 1X; a 24mm lens needs 24mm of extension for that same 1X. Another great option is your 2X tele-extender. It doubles the magnification with a two-stop light loss, but still gives excellent image quality.

You’ll need flash! A lot of light is lost with higher magnification, so bring the flashes in close and either use your TTL flash setting or monitor a manual exposure on the camera’s LCD and histogram. It’s so much easier than film days, when you had to wait a couple of days to see if the exposure was correct.

Now you can practice your stacking skills. Stacking extends depth of field by combining a number of captures at different focus points into a single image. At higher magnifications, depth of field is minimal. Any image beyond 1X will need to be stacked to have a reasonable range of sharpness. To accomplish the captures, move through the image with very small adjustment of the focusing ring or, alternatively, slight movements of the camera using a focusing rail. A tripod or copy stand will hold the camera very still. You might look into the CamRanger; when used with an iPad or other tablet, it can be set to accomplish stacking and gives you a very large viewfinder ( Once you get going on this technique, it will keep you busy all winter.

Where do you get the wings? Order at Many beautiful specimens can be purchased for only a few dollars. They have beetles, as well, if you want to start a collection.

It’s Still Life
Flowers on the kitchen table! Seriously, it’s that easy. A simple bouquet of supermarket tulips can keep me busy for a couple of days. From a Rembrandt still life to a curving, curling, close-up abstract of design and color, every bouquet has many possible interpretations. A macro lens, a window and a neutral background are all you need. Our fore-photographers used a lot of north light to take still lifes and portraits. This natural light source with a white card for a reflector can get you in touch with some beautiful soft imagery. You’ll need a tripod to deal with longer exposures, but you have lots of time before you shovel the snow off the driveway again.

Close-ups lend themselves to multiple-flash macro techniques. Even simple flashes with slaves will work to bring in two sources to even out the light or work on lighting ratios for dramatic effects. A flash behind the subject can illuminate a transparent petal, rim its edges or appear to originate from within the subject itself. Use the LCD on the back of the camera to view your results, make adjustments and try new approaches. Using Live View and the LCD to compose your image will give you the feeling of working with a miniature 4×5 view camera. Or use the same Live View mode to tether your camera to your computer screen; better yet, attach your computer via a program like EOS Utility. You’ll have a big LCD to preview your work. For you Canon users, this program is free with every camera; all you need is a USB cable between the camera and the laptop or desktop.

Petrified Wood. Lepp used a cross-polarization technique to eliminate reflections and show the rich colors and details of this petrified wood sample. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 100mm ƒ/2.8 macro lens, cross-polarized MT-24EX macro flash, 1⁄180 sec. at ƒ/22

Take The Time To Time-Lapse
I was always fascinated with Walt Disney’s time-lapses of flowers opening. I’m sure that back in those days it took a lot of fancy equipment and a lot of rolls of 36-exposure film. Now all you need is a darkened room, some flowers about to open, a DSLR, extra batteries for the camera, an intervalometer and a few inexpensive LED lights. So I guess you still need a lot of fancy equipment, but you probably already own most of it.

A darkened room is important because you need to photograph 24/7 and ambient light changes from day to night are distracting. The flowers are easy. Find some that are ready to open and will do so in a reasonable amount of time—a couple of days is okay, but a week is not. Any DSLR will work that can have an intervalometer attached. Set the intervalometer for about 3 minutes between captures. Lighting for my flower time-lapses has come from three LED lights. Why LEDs? They’re cool (as in cold), they have a pretty good color spectrum that can be easily corrected in Lightroom, they last forever, and they’re inexpensive. You’ll want to change the position of the camera during the length of the filming or have a second camera (more fancy equipment) at a different position to provide some variation of angle and magnification in the finished video. Following the capture, you need to assemble the time-lapse and do a bit of editing; the simplest options are Apple’s QuickTime 7 Pro and Frosthaus’ Sequence ( You can get up to speed on the time-lapse assembly process while you’re waiting for the flowers to open.

Photographing Shiny Things
Have you ever tried to photograph minerals, gems or wet objects and were unable to get rid of the reflections? The answer is cross-polarization. Placing polarizing material over the light source(s) and on the lens, oriented in opposite directions, admits only the light rays coming from a single direction and eliminates light scatter. In the process, you’ll lose about 5 stops of light, so you’ll need flash. The result is a lack of specular highlights and heightened color saturation. Minerals such as crystals and petrified wood are spectacular, with extraordinary detail.

To accomplish this technique, you’ll need a polarizing filter for your lens of choice (preferably a macro lens) and polarizing material cut from a sheet that fits over each flash. This material is available from An 8.5×5-inch sheet of Visible Linear Polarizing Laminated Film (#45-669) will cost $24.20 and last a lifetime of cross-polarizing photography.

To orient the light source polarization and lens filter, look through the camera into a mirror and rotate the lens polarizer until the polarizers over the flashes go black. If using more than one flash, the polarizing material on each flash must be oriented the same way. Now mark the top of the lens polarizer so you don’t have to spend so much time looking into mirrors.

Polished minerals and gems can be obtained at shops specializing in these items. Other rewarding subjects include shiny bugs (beetles from the supplier of butterflies) and cut fruit.

See George Lepp‘s new website for new images and content at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.