Macro Photography – A Whole Different World

Posted Apr. 4th, 2011 by Daniel J. Cox

Neil with Nikon's R1 Closeup Lighting System in Costa Rica.

Neil with Nikon’s R1 Closeup Lighting System in Costa Rica.

We just finished hosting our second Costa Rica Photography Tour group. I’m now writing this on a short day off before our third group arrives and we’re back in to the Costa Rica rainforest.  I thought I would share some of the fun we’ve been having while visiting this magnificent land of birds, monkeys, frogs, and more.

The is my first time in Costa Rica, but having seen so many great photos from here I knew there would be ample opportunities for exploring the miniature world of macro.  Before we left Montana I started digging into the different options for macro lighting. I’ve owned Nikon’s macro lighting kit called the R1 Wireless Closeup System for a couple of years but never really put it through a good test. I ordered it originally for a special project that got cancelled and there it sat in my equipment closet until this past month. It’s quite a large box with lots of extras including two wireless flash heads, several rings that attach the heads to different lenses, colored filters, small strobe softeners, and numerous other incidentals that make closeup work relatively easy.

View a Gallery of Macro Photography from Costa Rica

Carlotta moves in close for a shot of a hermit crab on the beach in Costa Rica.

Carlotta moves in close for a shot of a hermit crab on the beach in Costa Rica.

However, the biggest improvement that makes all of this worthwhile is the relatively new 105mm macro Nikkor lens. This lens is so much sharper than any of the other macros before it; it’s hard to believe. I’ve had them all including the older 105mm macro, the 200mm macro, and the 60mm macro. What sets the new 105mm lightyears ahead of all its previous counterparts is the use of Nikons new Nano Crystal Coating. When I first saw the press release on this updated coating it talked about improved color fidelity, reduced flair, and increased sharpness. Quite frankly my initial reaction was it was just another white paper inspired by the marketing department. But I was wrong! Every lens I have with this new coating is much sharper and produces less flair than any of the other lenses of equal range. Without getting sidetracked here, suffice it to say that Nano Chrystal Coating is well worth the money.

Dan gets down to eye level with a hermit crab in Costa Rica

Dan gets down to eye level with a hermit crab in Costa Rica.

Along with the Nikon closeup system I also purchased two Metz Wireless Digital Macro Ring Lights. They aren’t quite as powerful as the Nikon kit but they are extremely portable, easy to set up, and work wirelessly with Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Samsung, and Sony if you can believe it. The fact that they can be used with so many different systems is a huge bonus since not all of our students are Nikon people. With the ability to use all of these different systems with a single ring light I was able to hand the Metz off to our guests who didn’t come with a macro kit. Each who tried it went home vowing to buy one. For those of you who are interested I got mine from F/11 Photo in Bozeman, Montana. Marsha’s prices are fair and competitive, she’s trustworthy, and has a great shipping department. An added bonus is no sales tax in Montana. Drop her a line if you have an interest.

The best way to use these lights is not necessarily attached to the lens as the manufacturers suggest. With both the Nikon and the Metz I much prefer to hold one of the flash units off to one side and slightly behind the subject. The other light is attached to the lens if it’s Nikon or set down on the ground if it’s Metz. Admittedly, attaching both of these systems to the lens adapter is much easier to use but with a 105mm lens, you are far enough back from the subject that you really don’t get the wrapping of the light that produces the best results. Taking one off camera creates that beautiful side/back light that gives an image the look of  three dimensions.

Allan, Neil, Ed and Carlotta having fun with macro on the beach in Costa Rica.

Allan, Neil, Ed, and Carlotta having fun with macro on the beach in Costa Rica.

The Nikon produced stellar results giving me more power than the Metz, or at least it seemed that way. Something I plan to try in the next week is using the Nikon strobes and one Metz in tandem. My idea would be to use the Nikon on each side and one Metz behind the subject for a backlight effect. Should work great. Not only did these strobes make it easy to photograph little creatures, but they were also fabulous tools for the many different orchids. I’ve created a page of some of the macro images I’ve shot over the past two weeks. Hope you enjoy what you see and if you have any questions just drop me a line via the comment form on our blog.

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There are 4 comments on this post…
  1. Christine CrosbyOn Apr. 13th, 2011

    I had SUCH a fantastic time with Dan and Tanya in Costa Rica and the macro opportunities were especially a highlight!! I learned SO much and am super excited to apply what I learned practicing when I get home! You guys are the BEST and I so enjoyed the opportunity to travel and learn with you!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Apr. 13th, 2011

      Thanks Christine, you are always welcome on any trip we do. You were a great travel companion and enthusiastic learner. Hope to see you in Kenya.

  2. Portrait of Michelle Marie Duggan

    Michelle DugganOn Apr. 4th, 2011

    If you ever want to travel to another country and you want to go first class, travel with Natural Exposures. They are number one in showing their guests the best time ever in the classiest way. I would recommend Natural Exposures Tours to everyone. If you want to go in style, go with NE!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Apr. 6th, 2011


      We’re so pleased you had a great time. We enjoyed your company immensely and I especially had fun putting together the mini-movie of you and your Zip Line experience. Looking forward to seeing you in Africa with your new Mac and Nikon equipment.

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