Archive for February, 2009
Macro art studios come in all shapes and sizes. They range in complexity from the simple table top and hot lamp setup to the advanced fully functional studio with all the bells and whistles. My own is an example of the later. You will figure out your needs as you progress. For example, I started with a simple single-light setup on my tying bench but as time went on I developed an interest in creative lighting which required a much larger working space. I read a lot about studio setups and searched the internet for examples of professional photography studios. Out of this research came a few common themes like a sloped back wall for placing backgrounds, a broad working floor, a long front end, and plenty of places to hang props, lights, and modifiers. I played around with many different ideas until one day I got the idea for a PVC base. The rest is history. Seriously, making my own devoted studio was the foundation for advancing my fly art photography. You need a place to create.
Why PVC? Because it is sturdy, durable, portable and cheap. You can modify it to your spacial limitations and it is very easy to cut and shape. And my wife loves it because I can break it all down and store in the closet when not in use.
For most people, a basic light tent is about all you need to get fine shots of your macro subjects. The style like the one shown below is highly recommended. You can find these at any photography store or eBay. However, I require a much bigger and more functional setup because I generally don’t use hot lamps. Instead, I am exploring off camera flash and creative lighting.
A basic studio setup includes a simple square background holder which you can easily make on your own. Here is an example of mine. I now use this to hold secondary backgrounds/material and reflector boards for when I want to reflect light within the larger studio environment. Honestly, this setup is about perfect for most fly tying shots, it’s easy to make, very inexpensive, and requires little space. I recommend you consider this option if you only going to “dabble” in taking pictures of your flies.
Examples of basic accessories for the basic studio setup: balsa wood flags and screens.
However, you might quickly find the need for more working space. With that in mind, let’s look at a full size studio setup.
I will avoid posting my exact studio dimensions because that will change from person to person. It can be made small or large.
1/2 inch PVC SCH40 pipe from the hardware store. This stuff is cheap, about $3 for 12 feet.
1/2 inch PVC fittings (found in the pluming section). They cost about $0.25 to $0.55 each; get a bunch of 90 degree, straight, female-to-female, and T-sections.
Draw up the measurements based on your size requirements and available space. Cut to shape and put together like a puzzle. It’s very easy to assemble. Don’t glue the pieces together, just jam them tight. That will allow you break it down for storage when not in use.
A full shot of my bare-bones studio. Again, this one is large and holds lots of props and modifiers.
A few essential additional items you will want to have: the classic gorilla tripod, many clamps for securing your backgrounds and mounting lights and props, gaffer’s tape, and little wire racks or mini-shelves.
My base is shinny flooring board. I got a large piece at Home Depot and cut it into 4 smaller pieces.
It also doubles as a base for product shots (but I’m still pretty new to this style of photography and currently struggling a bit).
Since you will often be working in a darkly lit room (let’s face it, we often get around to shooting at night when everyone else is asleep) you should have a good quality flashlight.
In order to have a functional photography studio you need to have a solid background. If you look at any professional studio you will notice that the background is slanted, not perpendicular, to the floor. We will discuss this more in future posts, but for now realize that creating that “ski-jump” gradual slope is important (it allows the light to be diffused when lighting the background and thus minimizes “hot spots”. I learned this from professional photographers like the ones we hope to have on the board in the future. For my background base I bought two fluorescent light ceiling covers from Home Depot. I clamp them together and mold them to a slope. They stay fixed at this position and thus I can quickly add any color background in a hurry simply by clamping the paper or material to the mold.
I use many different backgrounds but my favorites are black material, and good quality photography paper in black, baby-blue, and white. You can order the paper rolls here.
See the difference between this background of loosely clamped material . . .
Versus this background of tightly applied paper to the sloped mold. Now we’re talking.
Once you have the sloped background you can always hang material or artistic props from the top bars.
Well, that about sums it up. I hope you found this post helpful. It took me a long time to get to this version of my studio but it is a keeper. Let me know if you have any questions.
Tutorial Finalist Photograph
This tutorial will teach you to master your point-and-shoot camera for fly tying pictures. It will serve as an introduction to what is possible with that little piece of equipment you thought was only good for taking grip-and-grin photos on the water. Oh the power of knowing your equipment. A lot of topics will be introduced here and in the future we will expand on each individual concept. For example, white balance, ISO, lighting, and backgrounds each deserve a full discussion. However, it is often fun to put it all together in story format to provide a more active experience.
Olympus Stylus 770SW waterproof point-and-shoot camera
The User’s manual for the 770SW
Black material background draped over a simple PVC studio square.
Ott Light from my tying bench
Models: Chartruse bluegill fly and a double bunny fly
See, not much equipment!
Set up the fly art studio. For this shoot I used a simple background square I made from PVC (1/2 inch PVC from Home Depot, cut to shape and use the 1/2 inch elbows, found in the plumbing section, cost about $5).
Create a background. You could use white paper or material. Below is an example of a roll of white paper.
But for this tutorial I used a long piece of black material.
Normally you would place this about 4-6 feet from your fly subject, but I wanted to show that it could be done on a desk.
Mount the camera on a gorilla tripod (get the tripod at Office Max or the local camera store, about $10).
Get out your camera’s user manual (seriously). I download all my manuals in .pdf format from the company homepage.
Now let’s introduce ourselves to the camera. Look around, get to know the equipment.
Back LCD and controls
Front. You can tell this camera has taken a beating on the water. Still works very well.
Turn the camera on.
Now it’s time to understand the user’s manual and what your camera is capable of doing.
Mine has programmed settings like Portrait, candle, water, available light. ALL of these modes mean something! The camera manufacturers take pride in making these modes available for the “average” user. They are more than dummy settings – they are computer algorithms that adjust the settings automatically (i.e. things we will eventually do ourselves on the more advanced point-and-shoots or dSLRs). For this session I chose “available light” mode, I recommend you do the same to start (candlelight or cloudy day are also good alternatives).
Now we are ready to start the process of finding our picture. And that is exactly what you do . . . change the settings until you “find” the right recipe for the shot.
Place the hot lamp (Ott light in this example) over the fly subject.
I always start with exposure compensation.
Here exposure is set to zero. Way too bright. The fly has a hot spot on the head the highlights are blown.
Exposure compensation set to + 1.0. Whhhoooo, way to bright.
Exposure compensation set to – 1.0. Almost there.
Exposure compensation set to – 2.0. Perfect. Done with that variable.
Now choose your shooting mode. My camera only has P and auto. Always choose anything other than auto. Here it is P for program mode (this lets you have more control over adjusting your settings).
Aaaggghhhh, the dreaded white balance. This is a huge topic and deserves it’s own tutorial . . . more later. For now, realize that you must adjust the white balance based on your setting. Here I am indoors, in a darkly lighted room and using a halogen lamp as my sole lighting source. IF you choose auto white balance the camera will not give you the best color correction, trust me. Instead pull out your manual and LEARN how to adjust white balance. My camera only allows for dummy wb adjustments but it is still pretty powerful. Notice the color differences on the LCD screen as I adjust wb. The daylight settings gives a purple/magenta color and the light bulb (tungsten) is not very true, but the fluorescent number two seems just right. Notice the nice yellow fly in the background, that is what we are after (by the way, how did I manage to get that subject fly to look true color? HHMMM, more later – teaser).
light bulb wb (crap)
fluorescent wb. Pretty true. Keeper.
ISO. For now just think of ISO as the ability/sensitivity of the sensor to capture/expose light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor. Thus you can “brighten up” your exposure by choosing higher ISO settings. But you will open Pandora’s box because there is a lot about ISO I don’t mention here. For indoor shooting you usually want ISO 400-800 for point and shoots. ISO 200 is better for bright sunny days and ISO 1600 should be great for indoors but, as I will teach you later, higher ISOs create noise and grain in your image.
ISO 400. I used this setting.
Metering. Again, this a big topic and will covered later. Know that the camera will scout out the scene and adjust exposure based on how you tell it do so (i.e. metering). Advanced cameras have lots of knobs and settings for metering and it is very important to know. But this point-and-shoot only has auto and spot metering. For fly pictures you always want spot metering.
So what is macro mode? O.K. now we are getting honed in. Macro mode is the point-and-shoot version of managing shallow depth of field and focusing on near objects. It is a crucial setting for taking fly pictures because it allows you to focus right up close and bring the subject into the field for a tight composition. However, there are a few basics you need to know. First, macro shots require a tripod, period. That is why we use the gorilla tripod; without it you get shake rattle and role. Furthermore, you often (nearly always) need to use the “timer” function when shooting because that allows the camera to settle after focusing which negates shake and blur.
Here is a picture taken in macro mode without a tripod and without a timed delay. Yuck!
Instead, mount the camera to the tripod and focus appropriately, don’t rush.
Finally, you need to understand the “types” of macro mode your camera offers. Here we go again . . . get the manual. There is standard macro (you can use flash), super macro (allows for very very close minimum focusing distance, but flash is disabled), and S-Macro LED (allows for very very close minimum focusing distance, flash is disabled like with Super Macro, however, the camera’s LED turns on to “illuminate” your subject). I never ue S-Macro LED because the LED light adds another variable to your white balance equation and negates all the work you did above when setting up the shot.
Now take a breath, we are done. Let’s shoot!
Well there you have it. Done. Not bad for a point-and-shoot and a single light source. Notice how the metal vise seems to blend away with the background? Pretty cool huh? Bet you never thought it could be so easy to do that without Photoshop. Again, it’s all about light and here we didn’t use flash so WE controlled the light and made the subject appear in a softer, more rounded light without harsh shadows. The principle of white balance management helped us “paint” the fly the correct color and avoid the incandescent/tungsten yellow glow.
But I can’t stop there . . . so much more we can do with this basic studio setup. Let me give you a preview of some advanced lighting techniques we will discuss in future posts to show how easy it is to apply knowledge to any studio/subject.
I used the same studio setup as above.
New model: Double Bunny, size 6, natural zonker. I chose this fly because it is a good example of a hairy or furry fly. I am going to show you the basics of how to bounce/reflect light and a hairy fly is necessary for clarity. Also, the eyes will serve as a focal point as we change the light.
Here is a shot straight out of the camera on auto mode (portrait) with flash. Look familiar? Ah, how many shots like this riddle the internet. Too many. No more, no more.
So it goes . . . run the menus, change the settings just like we did above. But, why does this look so much worse than the green bluegill fly above? We used the same light, the same macro setting, etc. Well, take a look, a good look. First, we have a DIFFERENT model. This one has hair, a lot of hair. Those fibers act as a light reflectors and they also show hot-spots such as we see in the dorsal aspect of the fly. Second, the white balance settings need to be changed. Third, the eyes throw off reflected light. However, you must concede that this manually manipulated shot is much better than the auto generated shot above. That’s the freedom of manual.
How do we get rid of that hot spot on the dorsal hair? The answer is to diffuse the light. Again, this will be a full topic for later, but realize you can put a white material overlay (or tissue paper) over the light to change the character and diffuse the output.
Nice! MUCH better. Notice how the dorsal hot-spot is more diffuse and the remainder of the fly is light-balanced. Cool. Hint: this is one of the most important secrets to taking better fly shots – diffused light.
Great, we introduced light diffusion. Now let’s look at reflection and bounce. Look up at the previous picture, sure the light is more diffused but the fly is darker and lacks detail in the midtones. We need to bring those back. We will use two methods to bounce the light back to the fly while avoiding hot spots.
The first bounce technique is a white card. I have many variations. Here we see the bifold white card made with balsa wood shanks from the craft store (25 for $3) covered with shelving paper. Notice the way the card is angled . . . The right side is directed to the fly ON AN ANGLE (more later, it’s actually important). You can imagine that the light from the primary source is being bounced to the head of the fly, trust me it is.
Now the finishing move, my favorite! The homemade macro studio reflector kit! This is the silver reflector (it is a $0.99 cake pan cardboard from the party store).
Ooohhhh, aaaahhhh, looking like a professional photographer! Take your time, move the reflector around until you get a nice light on the fly. Then put the white material over the hot light to diffuse the output and you have a diabolic combination – diffusion with reflection. Now you are a light shaper!
Without further ado . . . the finished product. Have fun exploring your own point-and-shoot fly studio. Feel free to post questions or comments below.
Olympus Stylus 770SW, f/4.0, 1/6s, focal length 9.13mm, 0 EV exposure bias, ISO 100, spot metering, no flash.
P.S. . . . I woke up the next morning and grabbed this shot on my balcony at 7:45am. Rich, natural daylight with corrected white balance. Nothing beats natural lighting and we will explore this in upcoming posts. Also, we will discuss why the eye looks so much better in this last shot as compared to the hot lamp. At this point, ask yourself why did the pink hue in the eye suddenly reappear with natural light? Good question! Yes, there are limitations to the basic one-light studio setup (but they can be manipulated, if you know how). I almost forgot one final question, how did I get that nice “blurred” background on a point-and-shoot (kinda artsy, that’s the ticket)? Until next time . . .
The lightning bug has become my favorite nymph attractor pattern. This is certainly a well recognized pattern and often found in the go-to fly box. However, not everyone knows how to tie it properly. Sounds like a good reason to do a tutorial.
Hook: Scud hook or curved hook of choice, size 12
Tail: Pheasant tail fibers, about 6 total, three-fourths-hook-length
Body: French tinsel, medium (flat silver) by UTC
Rib: Ultra wire, red, small, by UTC
Thorax: Blended mixture of hairs mask fibers (tan) and finely cut fibers of crystal flash (chartreuse), tri-lobal-fiber (crystal tri-lobal hackle peacock), and SLF (rust-brown), blended together in a spice/coffee grinder.
Head: Silver tungsten bead, 1/8”
Thread: Rust, 8/0 or 6/0 (I use 8/0)
Adjectives: Brush-on super glue.
First make the blended fiber mixture for the thorax. This is like Grandma’s kitchen – add a little bit at a time.
First, take a clump of tan hare’s ear fibers. I always pre-blend my hare’s ear in tan/black/green and make a stock.
Then cut up some fibers of crystal flash, tri-lobal-fiber (the stuff used to make braided worms), and SLF.
Put the ingredients in the spice blender and mix.
Add little bits at a time until you have something like this.
Put the tungsten bead on the hook.
Tie in the pheasant tail a bit past the bend of the hook and then wrap back to the head. Leave the tag end of material in place (i.e. don’t cut it).
Carefully wrap the pheasant tail back toward the tail about three wraps and then come back to the head and tie off.
Now cut the remaining material flush. This technique helps to build and form a body foundation. Notice the nice taper.
Tie in the red wire to the tail. Then wrap back to the head.
Tie in tinsel to the tail. Then wrap back to the head.
At this point apply a small amount of superglue to secure the foundation.
Tightly wrap the tinsel to the head and secure with a few wraps of thread.
Apply a small amount of superglue over the tinsel. This not only secures the foundation but prevents the wire over-wrap from slipping. Wait a few seconds to start the wire. This allows the glue to firm up every so slightly.
That’s how you get nice symmetric wire ribbing. All nice-and-tight and secure.
Now build the thorax. This is the part of maximal frustration. You want to get a nice tight wrap without having the fine fibers scattered. The traditional method is to dub the fibers and then wrap but I am often frustrated using this technique on this particular fly because the dubbing blend is comprised of many different “types” of material and the shinny stuff just falls off the dub. Instead, I now use a dubbing loop and apply the fibers in fine even clumps. Then spin the loop tightly and palmer toward the head. Remember to securely close the loop before starting.
It should look like this when finished. Nice and tight.
Trim the scattered fibers. Finished.
Have fun. The lightning bug is a great pattern.
HOW TO SHOOT FLIES ON A BUDGET
For this tutorial I used my Olympus Stylus 770SW waterproof point-and-shoot.
The micro studio is the same as shown above.
No flash was used.
Gear: point-and-shoot camera, a Gorilla tripod (about $10 at Office Max), a halogen hot lamp, tissue paper wrapped around the hot lamp to create a light diffuser/soft-light, a second lamp focused on the white background, the background is white poster board ($2.99 at the craft store). That’s it.
Things you need to know: get out your camera manual and learn how to set macro mode and how many macro modes you have available (more later, they are not all the same), know if you can adjust ISO and white balance (most can), and know how to set the delay timer (very important – you need to use delay to negate camera shake). You won’t be using flash (most of time it is shut off in macro mode anyway). Go to the links above to learn more.
1. Screw the micro Gorilla tripod to the base of your camera.
2. Put fly tying vise as far from the background as practically possible, about 2 feet here.
3. Take a hot light (halogen used here, it costs about $8 at Office Max). I see them at many stores. Or use whatever is available. Wrap tissue paper over the light to soften.
4. Take a second hot light and focus it on the white background, the brighter the better.
5. Adjust the camera/tripod until the fly fills the screen and/or you have the composition desired. Remember to keep the plane of the camera perpendicular to the table (i.e. not skewed from the plane of the fly).
6. Get ready to adjust the camera settings. This is the learning curve part.
7. Turn on macro mode. I use macro-s for fine detail.
8. Adjust your white balance. This is tricky! You can use auto most of the time and then post modify in PS elements etc. I usually choose “cloudy day” based on experience. Notice the difference in screen color on the LCD with the two different WB settings. Find one that works for your setting.
9. Set the delay timer to on (very important). All your pictures should be shot on delay because it allows the camera to settle before shooting which negates blur. Remember in macro mode fine details will be enhanced.
Electric Chicken Boobie Fly
Not bad for a point-and-shoot. Again, it is not the camera but the principles that create good pictures.
They don’t necessarily come out looking good. Here are some examples of bad images and what I did to correct. It’s kind of like baking – add a pinch here and there.
To much neon glow and the background is grainy. I changed the ISO from 800 to 200 and moved the light.
The eyes are too dark, loss of midtones, poor detail in the middle of the fly.
I moved the light toward the front, the eyes are better lit but the fly is blown and hot.
I moved the light again and the middle is better but the eyes are too dark again, aagghh.
I changed the ISO but it was too bright.
One last adjustment and I settled on this as the final image.
Backgrounds and depth of field in relation to macro photography. You can change the background three ways, 1) move it closer or further away, 2)bring it into or out of focus by changing depth of field (wider aperture = background blurred, smaller aperture = background more in focus), and 3)change the physical background with flash, either on- or off-camera (focus flash on the subject = background goes black, focus flash on the background and it becomes visible).
Examples vis-a-vis fly tying.
Shot of a calcasiu pig boat with the tying bench in the background. Nothing special, nice quick shot after tying.
Or you could simply add a red backdrop and get a bit more effect. Still nothing special because there is no creative use of flash and the background is only inches away from the subject.
Same quick-shot style but using a piece of wood in the background. Still no flash employed. These are all basic techniques you can use on the tying bench or at the river as long as you are using ambient light. Easy techniques to get you one step up on your up close shots.
However, you will soon get in to trouble when you pop up the flash. Now you are dealing with shadows, halos, bounce back, bleed-in, and all the problems associated with flash (that is assuming the use of on camera flash and only a basic understanding of light theory).
This is a typical beginner shot and can be very frustrating if you don’t why things went wrong. It is common to think that a black background should look black and a green background green. However, that is not necessarily true. In this shot I used a pure black background but (and this is key) it was placed only inches from the fly subject and I used flash. When the flash pops it sends a direct beam straight to the background on it’s way to lighting the subject. Thus the background acts as a reflector and shoots the light back at the camera sensor and the final exposure is a grey background with harsh shadows.
Even if you change the background to green or any brighter color you still have problems with bounce back. Here I used a green background but still placed it only inches from the subject. Notice what happened, the white rubber actually has a halo at the edges and the fly itself has a green hue because the background reflected back at short distance.
Look at the fly in this picture and notice the black background close behind.
Now we step to the next level. Take the flash off the camera (if you have that capability) and direct it parallel to the fly vise. The flash will shoot parallel to the background while illuminating the subject and thus avoid direct lighting the background. Better looking picture and the background appears to be black. However, there is still some bleeding of light on the right side and you get the feel of a black-grey gradient because you still had the background only inches from the subject.
And now to Morsie’s point about moving the background away from the subject. Here I sat the vise on the floor about 3 feet from my “brown” desk. I then took two flashes and aimed them parallel to the vise at the head and tail end of the fly. F/22 at 1/320. There it is – the background is gone and appears uniformly black. No brown in sight. Note: even if the desk was hot pink this picture would still appear to have a black background. Unfortunately, there are many things technically wrong with this picture but you get the point about the background.
Depth of field.
For flies or bugs you need small apertures (large f stops, or is f number I can never remember) like f18-f32 in order to get everything in focus. Remember, small hole means less light so flash is often necessary.
Shot of a fly at f4.5 using the P (auto) mode.
Terrible. Only a small sliver is in focus and worse yet the entire fly is blurry because it is not in the field. With small working distances required with macro your depth of field is literally only inches as shown here. You need to “stop down” the aperture in order to open up your depth of field.
Here’s the point – you can’t simply use the P or auto modes on your camera to take pictures of flies or bugs. It won’t work!!! The camera will meter and choose f stops like f4-8 and your shots will not be in full focus because of the shallow depth of field. Furthermore, you can’t always rely on A (aperture) mode either because if you choose f22 then your camera will stab you in back and choose a long shutter speed (sometimes long enough to go make a cup of tea before it finishes the exposure). You can get around this by using a tripod but the shutter speed will still be very long.
Here are a few notes I’ve picked up on macro photography.
Preface: These are copied thoughts from my notebook. Below are “topics” that I believe are important to the process and I wanted to share with you how to approach the subject. It is important to understand each topic and spend time at least reading the basics. Early on I did not have a structured road-map to help focus my reading and therefore my reading was disjointed. Think about each topic and ask yourself, “how does this relate to my goals, my camera, my budget, etc.”
First, have a goal in mind of what you are trying to shoot (e.g. bugs on the water is a good start). Then you can hone in the necessary equipment and techniques needed for that subject. Once you master one you can apply the knowledge to another subject and so on. For nature macro photography you won’t need to break the bank to get started but for other techniques like medical macro or educational photography you will certainly need more advanced equipment. Like my example above, I “had” to start with a very specific subject matter but now I have grown to love macro photography and find myself developing my own style and aesthetic feel.
Book to read: IMHO the best book on nature macro photography is John Shaw’s Closeups in Nature (Practical Photography Books) (Paperback) http://www.amazon.com/Shaws-Closeups-Nature-Practical-Photography/dp/0817440526/…. This is an older book, copyright 1987, and the author employs film photography. However, it is a superb read and very detailed. I have read it at least 3 times and the pages are full of notes and earmarks. It is a perfect start for nature macro photography.
Macro state of mind:
*Decide what to place within the frame and what to leave out.
*Macro is saying, “look at this and only this.” You are telling others this one little scene is special for a reason.
*Think like a chef – macro is like making a perfect crème brûlée – very simple ingredients but requiring mastery of all aspects of the baking process. Your not grilling a steak on the grill in a hurry, you are attempting to create perfection through skill while at the same time making it look simple and easy. Don’t let em see you sweat.
*You need to be a clinician – set up the camera, choose exposure, understand lighting, harness available light, and manipulate the micro environment, while at the same time remembering to compose the shot in order to convey the simple poetic beauty of the original scene.
Enough rambling. Here are the topics you want to write down and study. Each topic is important and filled with it’s own technical learning curve. However, you can find good reviews on each topic via the internet or in books.
Magnification Rates: you need at least a basic understanding of what is meant by 1:1 vs 1:4 vs 1:8 etc.
Exposure: learn to shoot in manual mode and know how aperture effects depth of field. Remember, you will be using small aperture settings (large f stop number) most of the time. Know when to change your aperture and how it effects your exposure and lighting.
Autofocus: at least know what this means and when to turn it off.
Light Metering (know your camera’s metering system and how to manipulate the settings): youtube has some good videos on this topic, it is very helpful to know how to meter and how this effects your image.
Camera system and the available lenses: Canon vs Nikon, etc. Know what they have to offer in the line up.
Lenses (what is a macro lens and what focal length do you need): Learn what your kit zoom lens can and can’t do and when to upgrade to a macro. Then you will need to decide what focal length lens you really need (basically there are 3 macro focal lengths – 50-60mm vs 100-105mm vs 200mm) They are all completely different beasts but share a common ability to focus down to about 1:1.
Focal length and how it effects the background and main subject: Different macro lenses create different effects on the background.
Tripod and heads: You need a tripod and a good head for macro, just do a google search or ask around, kind of a broad topic. I use a Geared-Head system instead of a ball system head which give me precision control over the focus planes for macro.
Filters: Just read about them and know they exist, probably not an essential to start out.
Light theory (Low light and aperture-shutter-speed reciprocity): Macro is all about lighting, the more you understand the better off you are.
Harnessing available light and manipulating natural light: Very important topic and crucial to macro. You are going to be down in the trenches in low light situations.
Flash (flash and more flash) especially TTL flash and off camera flash if you are going to use it. IMHO this is one of the most important topics for macro photography. Remember, you are going to be inches from the subject and using very small apertures (large f stop number), you will need flash to light up the subject. However, you also need to understand how to use your flash compensation to adjust the intensity or else you will blow most of your shots with hot spots.
White balance: Huge topic! Very simple but also very confusing at first. Read about Kelvin and how to adjust white balance on your camera. If you fail to adjust white balance you will often shots that are either too orange or too blue.
The advanced stuff includes Focusing rails (I don’t use one but you will hear this discussed a lot on the internet) and extension tubes/bellows.
A while back I made a checklist list for photography because I found myself needing a quick assessment for my pictures. When starting out you don’t always know what questions to ask yourself in order to make adjustments. Furthermore, we often see wonderful pictures posted on the internet and want to create similar images ourselves but don’t know how to go about breaking down a shot into parts for examination. Like fly fishing, there is a lot going on – By knowing the basics you can better look at a scene and have at least a starting point on what fly to choose and what leader to use, the rest of time we are adjusting on the water as the day progresses.
At first, it is common to shoot a bunch of pictures, load them on the computer and then stare aimlessly wondering if you like the result. However, if you have a checklist memorized, you can quickly hone in on what is wrong with a picture and either make adjustments or ask higher level questions of others to help you out. Instead of asking, “do you like this picture, what would you do differently?”, you can now say, “I am having trouble with the white balance in this picture and the composition seems wrong, I think I should have used f/10 instead of f/4, maybe a shorter focal length lens, what do you think?” By thinking in this way, you can produce better quality images in less time and become more efficient at post production (i.e. waste less of your valuable time).
Here is my checklist. Neal’s 10 C’s. I initially printed this out and carried a copy in my wallet. Now I just know it by heart and I “run the list” on every shot. This is my blueprint for making on camera adjustments during a shoot.
The 10 C’s
Commitment – Purpose of the shot – why am I taking this picture (assignment, personal, enjoyment, educational, or just posting on a certain internet blog site). This translates to my picture quality setting – am I going to use RAW vs jpeg, small, medium, or large size? Do I need to make it count or can I just snap the shot.
, does the editor need space for typing? Then take a few shots and look at your display, do you like the composition, what could you adjust? Take another shot and so forth.
Color – Lighting (high noon, sidelight, backlight, all light). Are your shadows deep and harsh? Do you need fill flash? Look at the histogram, are there blown pixels? Is the white balance correct? Too purple, too orange? Also, beware of shadows!!! This is the point were I slow down and look at my shadows. Did I get the main subject but neglect to see that big monster shadow on the wall? How can I overcome that with flash or diffusers or snoots or other techniques to employ or learn for the next shot.
*in just the first three C’s you can adjust the settings to achieve about 60-70% of your intended goal.
Conversation – (story). What are you trying to convey by taking the picture? Did you achieve this goal? What can you change while still standing there? Example, did you intend to take a shot of someone landing a fish full of excitement but instead you used a wide angle zoom and the subject is only a small part of the picture and their face not in view? Or did you really want to get a macro shot of that Caddis pupae but instead captured the rocks, leaves and twigs as distraction from the story?
Coverage – Depth of field (background foreground) – How does the picture look, what is in focus what is out of focus. Did you want to have a dry fly in focus but the background artistically blurry but instead got a flat picture with everything in focus? How could you change your f stop to achieve this goal? Would another lens work better? Also, here is where I ask myself about the background, is it too dark and boring or do I need to add some flash to bring out colors for effect? (side note: ever notice those really great fly tying shots in magazines where the background appears to be all black or even slightly gradient? Ask yourself how they did that and how you can do it). Pause here and ask yourself about the background, does it work or does it need adjustment.
Contemplation (consideration) – Attention – where is the action. Take time to review and think about your shot. Did you replicate your mind’s eye?
Convergence – Focus. Is your picture sharp or soft? Zoom in on the picture with your camera’s display, look at the edges, are they in focus? Do you need a tripod? Do you need to secure the camera on a branch or wall or rock? Did yo get the shakes?
Categorization – What kind of picture did you take? Did you want a horizontal instead of landscape? Was it shot in the day but better suited for a night shot? Also, do you tend to overshoot certain categories (i.e. do you have like a hundred landscape shots of a river but only one close-up of the leaves?). Do you want to broaden your categories, maybe shoot some hands, feet, running water, more detail and less overview? This is an important category for me because I find that months later it is the unusual category shots of a trip that really catch my attention and if I forget to think about that while shooting I will undoubtedly pile up on the “usual” shots.
Construction – Framing and building. What is the foundation of the picture? Did you build a solid base or was it put together in a hurry and on the verge of collapse. In other words, does it have that “perfect” feel like you knew what you were doing or does it look like you pulled out the camera and prayed that you might get something good.
Clean – Simplify. Final step for me. I always finish by asking did I manage to make this shot a simple as possible. Did I remove unneeded background distraction? Did a dog walk in the background? Do I really need that tree limb in the shot? How could I make it even more simple?
Hook, Freshwater (shown below): bass bug hook (e.g. Orvis 8810 size 1/0)
Hook, Saltwater: Owner Spinnerbait, or TMC 911S, size 1/0 or 3/0
Thread: 3/0 heavy thread
Tail: Wig hair (Kanekalon) shown below, or flash fiber or Super Hair or Kinky Fiber, etc.
Flash: Flashabou (bluegill flash used below)
Body: Closed cell craft foam (non-adhesive back shown below but the traditional crease fly uses adhesive back foam with mylar sheets; I glued on thin wing material instead)
Eyes: Mylar stick on eyes or rounded eyes
Adhesive: Super glue
Tube for the bubble head: Thin drinking straw. Here I used IV tubing; you can get it at any specialty pharmacy store
Start a thread base the length of the shank
Make a pattern similar to the one shown below. Start with a general size appropriate to the hook and trim. It is best to start the pattern on paper and once you get it perfect trace on to closed cell foam, make this one the master and then trace others from that pattern.
Choose the color of foam appropriate to your bait fish. I chose light brown with the goal of making a brown/yellow/copper bait fish.
Make the tail with a gradient of light colors on the bottom/ventral, flash in the middle and darker colors on top/dorsal.
Apply the foam cut out pattern and glue in to place with super glue.
Cut out a few small pieces of open cell foam and pack it in the tail section little bits at a time. Be careful not to pack towards the front because that is where your tube will be placed.
Punch a hole at the top/dorsal section of the fly. I used a dermatology punch biopsy tool here (size 3mm) but you could easily make this hole with sharp scissors.
Cut a small piece of a small diameter drinking straw. Here I substituted I.V. tubing (medical intravenous tubing) about 1-2 long. Insert it in the front and pull it up to to the top/dorsal section of the fly. Then cut the tubing flush at the top/dorsal and on an angle in the front. Be careful not have the front section of tubing sticking out. Cut it back about 1-2mm from flush with the front (the part that will be colored red).
Here I glued on some thin wing material to give the fly a yell/spotted sheen but it is easier to use sticky back foam and transfer mylar sheet (technique is shown elsewhere on the internet, Google search crease fly).
Be careful to cut out the section over the top/dorsal tube hole!
Color the front part of the fly red
Add some gradient coloration to the fly with markers. Be careful not to over do it!
Apply the eyes and make a red gill slash behind them
Apply epoxy evenly. I use Tuffleye which makes this process much easier. Make sure to get epoxy in the front of the fly but BE CAREFUL not to plug up the opening of the front tube!
If you have done everything correctly you will have an open tube from the top/dorsal to the front. Here you can clearly see the hook eye from the top of the fly. Pretty cool!
A few additional bubble head popper pictures
Tying braided worms is easy, inexpensive and a lot of fun. These flies are effective on lakes or streams. You can fish them lots of ways but it is most effectively fished on a sinking line and retrieved with short pulse-style quick strips. On rivers, I consider these to be the “poor-man’s” sex dungeon because they have a similar life-like action. The advantage is that you tie up many of these to fill a box in all sizes and colors. If you add a foam triangle at the tail you have a Gulley Worm (do a Google search on John Gulley from Arkansas who invented this pattern).
Basics: braided worms only require one material – chenille. However, the kind you choose is very important. There are many kinds including standard or sparkle but what you want is the pre-braided ice chenille or pearl chenille or Estaz. My personal favorite is the “Tri Lobal Fiber” chenille with either crystal or holographic blended at 1 1/4″ – this is also known as Crystal Tri-lobal Hackle or pseudo hackle. You can get this stuff at any fly shop or online – it’s not rocket science. If you use these sparkle/Estaz chenille’s the advantage is you fly will turn out weightless and they shed water immediately upon picking up the fly for the back cast. Thus, you can create a big profile while being able to manageably cast the fly with a 5-6 wt rod. However, nothing beats an 8-wt rod for the bigger worms on sinking lines.
Here are some examples of chenille variants (I typically use the kinds shown on the right).
I never add weight to these flies because that negates the natural movement they give in the water. Stick with sinking lines to pull the fly down. These aren’t jigs.
Hook: Wide gap bass hook (e.g. stinger hook).
Thread: 140 denier flat waxed, color to suite the fly.
Tail: braided chenille.
Body: wrapped chenille, same as that used for the tail.
Wrap a thread base
Cut three separate strands. Measure twice the length as you want the tail length to be at the end. For longer tails, cut longer strands. Be generous here, you can always cut off the excess later.
I add some hard mason mono 20lb test for a weed guard but this is optional. If you are a beginner tier you can skip this step.
Tie in the three strands at the bend of the hook in the center of the length. Then twist the front three strands together. Note: You can “fuzzle” these flies at this point which I have found to be a very cool effect (the fuzzle technique was discussed earlier on this board here http://www.itinerantangler.com/cgi-bin/board/YaBB.pl?num=1200783692/4#4 )
Apply lacquer (Sally Hansen HAN) to the hook (very important for later stability) and then palmar wrap the chenille cord to the front behind the eye making sure to leave a good eye length gap so you can finish the fly without crowding the eye. In this series I purposely ran out of chenille to emphasize the importance of cutting enough length at the start. If you run out of chenille just tie off and more strands to complete the fly but make sure to add three strands and twist again or the fly won’t look uniform.
Now you just braid the three tail tag ends together. If you don’t know how to braid . . . go ask the neighbor girls.
It’s kinda hard to photograph the braiding process but you end up with something like this. When you get the end of your tags you secure them by tying off with 5x mono or any tippet material you have around. Tie 3 or 4 overhand knots just to secure the tags and then trim off BELOW the tie in point being careful not to cut your knot. Then place a dab of super glue on the knot and the shaggy remaining tags and it will be set for life or until a big fish chews it up.
If you choose to add a hard mason weed guard this is what it will look like.