Nature's Place

The Texture and Colour of Life …

… in …

… the sweet peace of the black.

Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge

A Field of Bees …

… at sundown.

Dark clouds and blue sky on rainy days. These Nomads are hanging on against the downpour that is our weather this year. Love to see them doing well. The first one was aware of my presence and slowed by the conditions of cold, wet and impending darkness. She moved around a bit and I was lucky to get the flower in the frame. Wonderful little creatures.

I often refer to these Bees as Mystic, Beauties, Magical or otherwise more than they appear. That’s because they are more than they appear, and I search for language to describe what I see. On the fact side of things they are known to be the pollinators of around 70% of the plant kingdom, what a big job for such small and usually unseen creature. Without them we would not be, chances are.

Such a place in the order or web of nature, responsible for the key to the very existence of so much – reproduction, is representative of a special place in the Mystic, the real world behind. These are bees all right, but they are angels too, working for the mighty power that enables the lot – including you, me and the sceptic.

It’s just so obvious to me. But you don’t have to believe it, just get the sense of it. Isn’t the Mystical good? That sense of a place, inside – where else do you sense, where there is nothing but impersonal spiritual power – peace of mind to me.

A sense is all you need to get there, eventually.

Events need to happen.

This one is new to me. It looks like a Leaf Cutter Bee and it was sitting on the dried out grass at sundown but not gripping it in its jaws as they do when settling for the night. So my approach was extra cautious lest she fly away before I got a shot, I got three, lucky me.

She’s a real Queen, of her kind, to me.

Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge

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The Mythical Bunyip Of Oz …

… of Aboriginal lore, or Koori as I believe they prefer to be called. Said to inhabit swamps, creeks, waterholes – anywhere there is water really. Apparently the native Australians held this entity or creature in awe and dread and could never tell the white man its form or character, though the white man tried to rationalise it no end – no way.

These are just one of its many forms and its character is represented in the colours of Aus, where life is there will be the Bunyip in some form and colour.

The spirit behind, the nature and teacher of man.

Well, now we know for sure one of its forms since I caught it on camera, two in fact, quick shots as it was a precarious position hanging over the railing. I would say it is the water spirit and reaches into the land of Aus the way blood permeates the body and its character is one commanding respect for the Earth but especially water in all its forms and functions as it is the basis for life emergent.

And woe-betide anyone who dares ignore its telling of lore – the fact and truth of life – through experience and negation.

Anyway, I found these two Bunyips beside a bridge in a local rainforest garden. They were just standing in the shadows of a darkening afternoon saying nothing in particular, hearing the colourful birds chattering their day’s events to each other before sleep, tasting the coming rain, feeling the wind on their faces. Clouds rolling in.

It was time to go.

Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge

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Why, oh why?

… do I do what I do, walk in nature, photograph insects, teach relaxation/meditation and macro. For peace of mind is the short answer, I enjoy it.

Relaxation/meditation is the basis for actualising my potential, otherwise I am not doing my best. And if I don’t give of my best, one way or another, I lose it. It’s that simple.

To be in nature, which requires a certain love of nature, where there is nothing man made and where I have something to do that I enjoy, looking – seeing – hearing – smelling – ‘sensing’, is freedom from the world of stress and strain – the mind. Though it’s not ‘for’ anything but being (in) nature, my nature.

Insects are our cousins and are closer in nature to us than the flowers and minerals and so reflect our own nature more closely, and without the complication of emotion. This living reflection is intriguing to observe, since it is my own nature uncomplicated. The flowers are reflective of a deeper nature, a more origional nature.

Many who do it regard macro photography as an expression of the predator civilised, a hunt, and it is, for the hunter. But rather than a hunt I would call it a prayer, not in any ‘religious’ sense but in the sense that to be in nature and capture the image of the more exotic and beautiful creatures requires an increasing knowledge of self, since what they do and how they do it is invariably understandable in terms of self, and a corresponding absence of the ‘human’ in human nature – that incessant naming and emotional consideration that is considered ‘normal’ in our mad world and sets us apart and often against the beings and ways of the earth. The perfect fruit of this way is being, (in) my beautiful nature – because nature is beautiful.

It is a simple way of communing with the god made, and an effective methodical, or instinctive, means of leaving the man made out of it. Methodical means it can be learned. Instinctive means you already know it but may have forgotten it, by covering it over with what complicates.


It, being – nature, is the only real religion, really. :D

Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge

Dreams of Coloured Yew …

… and Me.

This little fella got lost one day, climbed onto my foot and, weary of the trek across the great waste of concrete asked for hospitality from a fellow traveller and for me to point the way, since I am so tall and can see so far, he said.

How could I refuse? I gave him some colour to play in before feeding and watering and sending on his way, out into the wilds of the garden where he promptly dug down below the grass and into the soil – built for digging, he was right at home and soon disappeared from sense. Or in sense. Hmmm!

Could be she.

Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge

The Idea Behind …

… what I do, on this site and at the Macro Days, is as old as the hills. I came to it through a fundamental need, born of my experience, to know peace of mind. And to know peace of mind requires a willingness to change, first.

The only impediment is my own psychological self, the conditioning of the mind repeating itself, the grip of the past. It is necessary to know and understand how it repeats before the solution can be realised, and it is simple.


But you can’t do anything if you don’t see or have the need for it. Perception is reality in this case, because it’s very easy to think or believe “I can’t do this” with its attendant negative emotions, and so determine your reality, or your unreality.

This idea is mine in as much as I articulate it and live it, the best I can. If you get it, the idea, it is also yours, as much as you live it – this is important, nobody owns an idea, or everybody does.

The idea is not exclusive, any man or woman can do it any time anywhere. It’s just a matter of taking the action.

When the time is right. But don’t wait for another time if you need it now.

The question then is, do you need it now?

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What is the ‘Problem?

What, in your own experience – not what you’ve read or been told, is the common factor in any problem you have ever had. What is the common factor in worry, heartache, paranoia, jealousy, misery, depression, or any other form of unhappiness?

It is thinking and/or emotion. Usually a mix of the two since they are inextricably linked. You can’t get emotional without thinking and you can’t have thinking without emotion to generate it, as a problem. Emotion generates thought about what it is you are emotional about, and thinking (about a problem) stirs emotion about the thing thought. One is dependent on the other, as a problem. If it’s not a problem it doesn’t matter.

Now, in your own experience is there any other common factor in any form of unhappiness you know of, besides thought and emotion? There is, your attention or intelligence. The fact you give your attention to your unhappiness is what fuels it, fundamentally. Which is how you can be distracted from your unhappiness, by distracting your attention.

You might say otherwise but the next time you are unhappy you will notice it is the thinking and emotion that sustains it, by you giving your attention to it as if it is the greater reality.

It is, but only because you have believed it, and as long as you still believe it. And that is a mechanical process.

That’s my own experience. What is yours?

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Well, clearly, if thinking and emotion are the basis for unhappiness the solution to unhappiness has got to be in the cessation of that emotion and thinking. Or do you think your unhappiness comes from ‘outside’ and you can find the solution ‘there’, somebody or something does it to you, so somebody or some thing can fix it, really?

After all these years people, you and me, have sought the solution to unhappiness ‘out there’ and we haven’t found it yet, out there. Maybe because it isn’t out there at all and it’s time to look elsewhere, and the only where else to look is inside. Or do you know of somewhere else?

So, how to free myself of the mechanics of unhappiness? That’s the only real question I can see since the solution would be the basis for the only real change from the unhappy human condition that prevails. Or is there something more important than to be free of unhappiness?

If there is, I’d like to know what.

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And the Solution?

Thinking and emotion persist as unhappiness because we give it our attention at the outset. What if we don’t give it our attention, what then? What if I am fast enough to catch the thought or emotion before it takes me over? How do I speed up my intelligence enough to keep the unhappiness out?

Surely, if I don’t attend to the feeling or thinking that constitutes unhappiness, as if it is the truth, I can’t be unhappy. Surely? I know this looks too absurdly simple to be true but test it in your own experience. If you don’t give your attention to your unhappiness and deal only in the facts of your life as they arise your unhappiness disappears, more or less.

For instance, if you are unhappy (or stressed, or whatever word you use for it) about something in particular you need to do something about it. If you are worried about having no money you need to do something about getting some, or give up worrying, that’s practical, factual. If you are fearful of the boss because he has a terrible temper you need to draw the line and stand your ground, for your own peace of mind, or accept the situation, or leave. Action clears the problem.

Any other practical ‘problem’ also requires practical action to eliminate the emotion.  That leaves the habit of unhappiness, the fact it keeps on recurring uncontrollably, to be dealt with by not focusing on the emotion and so feed it with thinking.

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So, there is the unhappy emotion or thinking – as a problem, and there is the attention I give to it. For there to be a solution there has to be something else to give my attention to, and there is.

There is another element in this (mechanical) system of being human that is rarely observed and that is the sensation inside. This is the means of speeding up the intelligence, by slowing down the mind.

What this means is you have something other than thought or emotion to focus on, something that is more real and won’t go away. And by doing so the ‘problem’ is reduced or eliminated.

So the solution, to the ‘problem’, is to take control of what you give your attention to, obviously.

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To put it another way.

There is the problem (of emotion and thinking), there is the pure simple sensation – that is the only reliable anchor against the movement of mind, and there is the attention or intelligence that sustains either. Which am I going to give my attention to, the problem or the sensation?

The sensation ‘inside’ the body is the basis for the senses that appear to be of the ‘outside’ but are in fact cognised inside, sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste along with more subtle senses. And the senses are most easily realised in nature.

I start with focus on the pure inner sensation as it is the more substantive, and add the others as progress is made in slowing the mind, as the practise is established. Nature is the ‘outer’ reciprocal of the inner sensation.

This, the inner and outer of sensation and nature is the basis for the changeover from mind to sense, and it occurs gradually.

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The way it works is this. What I give my attention to grows. If I give my attention to the ‘problem’ it grows, check next time you are worried what happens if you think about it, you get more worried. And if you can give your attention to the pure sensation what happens? It grows, or the problem (of emotion) recedes.

The ‘good’ Wolf and the ‘bad’ Wolf, of that old Indian proverb. The one that wins is the one you feed the most, or give your attention to.

But to be able to do it in the ‘hard’ times, when the pressure is really on, you have to have practised it in the ‘easy’ times.

Does this make sense? Questions or comments are welcome.

(See Meditate for an introduction to the practise.)

Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge

Whether the Weather …

… is good for finding ‘bugs’ to photograph?

It has been cloudy with occasional rain and the odd ray of sunshine, so it’s a natural question.

My experience is as long as it’s not actually raining there is usually something to shoot, 99 times out of 100. I’m sure there would be something to shoot in the rain, or sheltering from it, but I don’t have a waterproof camera.

Shooting refers to a time in our culture when hunting to kill was the preferred way to get close to exotic nature. Probably because all the skills of the hunter are employed in the capture of a ‘good’ image, the need to kill has been civilized. Though a willingness to put yourself in some danger at times, sensibly so, will get the shot others won’t.

The first thing a hunter does in order to spot the prey/subject is be still, inside and out. If he’s not quiet of mind he’s not present to see or otherwise sense the minutia that often represents the presence of prey/subject. And if he’s not quiet and fluid in his body and environment most creatures will take offense and run or hide.

For a hunter/photographer to master the hunt of exotic creatures he must become one with the nature. In appearance, sound, movement, any other sense, and above all attitude.

The ultimate hunter is invisible to the prey/subject. From that the greatest capture rate will flow.

The attitude is ‘I am transparent’, I am nothing!

That’s the strategy, and then there are the tactics, the ‘how to’, which are best shown.

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Another take on it …

Nature is always changing. Nothing stays the same for long. Everything in it is active according to the local conditions.

Beneath the appearance of things there is one life, one psyche, which everything is a form of, and in. Being so every form has a connection to every other form, at some unconscious lever of being.

That means you and I have a connection to everything around us. We are the most impressive form in any natural landscape. Impressive of our condition of mind. We impose our will, be it conscious or not, on our nature. And our nature is impressed by this, for good or ill.

I am not suggesting bugs can be willed to appear, just that there is normally an effect of one being present in nature that can be minimised for the purpose of capturing an image of one of nature’s unusual and often beautiful creatures, and of doing so more creatively.

So, how we are inside makes a difference to the nature around us, because we are connected. That doesn’t mean we have to be absolutely still of mind for anything to appear, obviously. It just means we have to do our best and not impose our mind on the nature around us – the sense of it – by leaving our thoughtful and emotional worldly concerns behind.

Intent matters.

This can’t be proven except in your own experience. It’s the sort of thing, once you know it, unfolds as your experience if you are observant of facts and not given to doubt it. And if you go along with it will result in peace of mind, relatively speaking.

This is the essence of right meditation, no belief, no imagination, no thought or emotion. Just a plain and simple practical exercise of the will to engender a quieter, more relaxed way of being.

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The weather has been unusually cloudy with occasional showers and the odd ray of sunshine for a while now. This being so I was asked if there will be any creatures to photograph on a Macro Meditation Day.

This is my answer, which is also touched on in Macro Illustrated, what is true in my experience. :

There are no guarantees nature will show up in the forms that please the most, or are wanted, and everything has its time. It’s the not knowing that gives rise to the sense of wonder and discovery at the infinite variety of form and colour at our feet, as it presents. The chances of something showing up are increased by our respect for and acknowledgment of the simple wonder and beauty of the nature that does show up – in the little things.

And a little gratitude, to nothing in particular – spoken or not, for the nature that does show up is the best way I know of ensuring it shows up next time – in some form.

The pictures on this page are from the last five or so cloudy days, these are the fruits of my exercise.

© Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge

Macro Nature Illustrated

Please note : This post is not kept up to date as this page : https://beingmark.com/macro-illustrated/

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All the pictures here were taken using the equipment and techniques described here.

It has taken me a couple of dedicated years to sift the gold from the muck with regard to getting macro images that I can say are as good as I can get – for now, there is a lot of misinformation about. And it’s a never ending evolution, old ways and perceptions fade as new emerge and the work to assimilate and realise them is done. This is the fruits of that effort.

There are basic principles and practices to getting this quality imagery and I endeavour to outline them here. These principles and practices can be applied whatever the equipment and I believe anyone who applies them can get equivalent images. But it won’t happen without practice, as with anything worthwhile, that’s the beauty of it. I give nothing away that you don’t have to work for.

I trust you enjoy this rendering of the art of Nature Macro as I have enjoyed learning it, and enjoy practicing it.

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Hi.


First of all I’ll tell you why I do it, insect and flower macro. For contact with the simple wonder of the usually unseen or overlooked beauty of form and colour at our feet. It reminds me I am a part of something great and vast that has at its foundation the mystery of creation. And because, fundamentally, it is a pleasure.

The practical value for me in macro nature photography is in the time I spend in the nature looking closely at the fact or being in the sense of things with minimal mind work – thinking. The more time I spend in the sense of nature the more at ease I am. It’s that simple.

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In my experience; if you want peace of mind fill it with the Sense of Nature.

Ok. The whole process. Since I am often asked about one part or other of how I get the shots I do, here and there – at different fora, it makes sense to put it all together in one place. Just remember, I am self taught and I don’t get into the numbers much, just the picture. And what I say is not dogma, it’s just what works for me.

I’ll keep it as simple as I can and I’ll answer any questions through the comment facility on this page, below.

Can you hear me back there?

A question already sir?

Fundamentals :

First of all, for the benefit of anyone starting in insect macro, there is no shot if the creature doesn’t show up. Nature is in charge, even with the creatures that show up at the house. And nothing shows if I am not present to see it. Which means getting out in nature, a lot. 100% of my shots are of live creatures, 95% are from the ‘wild’, 5% show up at (or in) the house and may be brought in for a few shots on a leaf or flower and fed some water and honey before being released where found – or better. I may move the creature around but that’s it, I never kill or injure anything for a shot.

When I’m in nature (or not) my approach is simple, I let the creature show itself. This means I have to be still, inside and out, or I won’t notice the often tiny movement or flash of colour, or the contrast that indicates something live and unusual. Still inside comes from an absence of thinking – after the necessary technicalities have been understood – which is where I bring my meditation practise into it – very practical – for me.

I have seen amazing stuff with this approach, and captured some of it with the camera.

Seeing :

The art is to see or visualise a point of view other than the actual. Apparently this is not a common ability but I think everyone has it to some degree and it can be nurtured when brought to awareness. Being able to see inside what shot you want is half the work, it’s the basis for the shot you get and you always end up working with what is presented anyway.

This basically means when I see a creature in a position I can get a shot of I look to see if I can get the shot I want, knowing from experience what angle works best with the creature’s particular architecture with consideration for background, contrast, lighting and reflection, the basic composition of the picture.

Insect architecture is a necessary consideration since the depth of focus is so shallow at high magnification, even with small aperture, that it is necessary to maximise it by placing the plane of focus according to the plane of the creature’s body surface/s – when the illusion of deep focus is desired or necessary.

The Approach :

First of all you have to find the little fellas. In my experience insects are everywhere but more in some places than others. It’s these ‘some’ places that I seek out since the more bugs there are the better my chances of getting a good shot. In these places there are hot spots where for some reason there is a concentration of life forms. And it all changes by the season, some places are good at different times for different creatures.

So what are the basics for burgeoning insect life? Well, it’s the same for them as it is for us, food, water and shelter. The best wild places in my experience are usually, but not always, where the clearing or field meets the bush or forest and where there’s nearby water. And it can happen on the bathroom window.

Out of a forest or bush and water everything grows, plants and animals of all sorts. Everything eats something, some things eat anything, and eating goes on all the time. I find most of this eating takes place on the edge where the clutter of the forest gives way to the open space of a clearing or field. Or, in a sense, just ‘on the edge’ – of whatever.

But, as I said, you can find insects everywhere. In the garden, on the wall, under a log or stone, even in the letterbox – I’ve got a Gecko living in mine – or on a power pole – as below. There is no end to the possibilities of finding insects and often all it takes is to sit down and wait for them to show themselves.

So, there are insects and other small creatures everywhere and I want to take their picture, how to do it? With respect, is the short answer. Creatures, again, have the same basic instincts as us. Though they don’t reason or analyze as we do they are still sensible, because sense doesn’t depend on thinking.

The fundamental instinct of all living creatures is survival, and anything that threatens or appears to threaten that will trigger the fight or flight response. This is why when shooting stinging or biting creatures I always leave them a way to run, or fly away. Never trap a biter or stinger unless you are willing to endure the possible consequences.

Insects sense what they do, probably not very different to us again even if not exactly the same. Some taste with pads on the feet, others smell with the antennae, feel through air pressure hitting sensitive structures and I don’t know it all – that’s for sure. They can hear, see, smell, taste and feel the vibrations of wind and movement. So it pays not to offend or shock any of their senses.

Does that make sense?

To get up close with any insect I generally approach it slowly, lowering myself to its level to minimise my appearance and not overshadow it, avoiding sudden movement or striking its perch. But most of all I don’t get anxious so as to keep the experience a pleasure. It is a kind of hunting, or stalking at least, which essentially is a form of self discipline. Control of mind with regard to being present to notice the slightest sign of ‘prey’, and control of the body to minimise the footprint in the creature’s sensible domain. It also takes considerable discipline to evolve through the learning of what is and is not viable and its application in the process of capturing the image. Self discipline, for sure.

There is no substitute for experience.

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Equipment :

Physical size, weight, expense, image noise, processing speed and the size of the frame are the primary differences between what I use and the ‘average’ dSLR. My present camera is the Panasonic FZ50 which is small, light, relatively cheap, a bit noisy – digitally – most of the time and has a small sensor so the frame is small. I don’t think it matters what you use as long as it does the job for you, as long as you are comfortable with it. My camera is called a ‘bridge’ to note its similarity with a dSLR and it has the equivalent of a 400mm lens on which I mount a variety of achromats of varying dioptre strengths.

I am now looking at Olympus dSLR and m4/3 cameras as I want better resolution and IQ – sharpness, clarity, etc. And the ability to print bigger without the distraction of noise in the image, or the loss of detail from the use of noise reduction software. Plus they have articulating LCD’s, indispensable for the angles you can’t get with a viewfinder. What’s keeping me from buying, apart from the money, is the fact these expensive cameras are still restricted in the shutter speed available using flash – from 1/160 to 1/250 – slow and old tech as far as I’m concerned – this will change – some time.

An achromat is a two or more element magnifying lens that screws on to the lens just like any filter and they come in varying dioptres or strengths, just like reading glasses. They work best on long focal length lenses since they magnify what is already there and they effectively shorten the working distance – from lens to object.

I generally use three achromats. Each is made of quality glass and has a different dioptre strength. One is a +2 dioptre that gives me a working distance of around 18 inches and is good for Butterflies – don’t see many of them – and Dragonflies, so I can get the whole creature in the frame. Another is a +4.5 dioptre with a working distance of around 8 or 9 inches that I rarely use on its own these days. The third is a +8 dioptre with a working distance of around 4.5 inches.

Very often now I stack the +4.5 on the +8 which gives me a working distance of 2.5 inches. This is considered to be too/very short by some but I find it very comfortable as it gives me more control over the scene and especially the lighting, but it doesn’t work for everything since, obviously, I have to get closer to the creature.

I have a fourth achromat, it’s a +20 dioptre and I only use it where I can take my time and have absolute control, as much as it’s possible anyway, since the DOF is less than wafer thin and so difficult to work with. Each achromat or combination has its time and place, depending on the situation – size of the creature or object, its tolerance or awareness of my presence and the physical limitations of the environment.

Macro magnification is something you get used to working with over time. I graduated through increasing magnifications, each increase giving a corresponding decrease in the depth of focus (DOF). And like any exercise it gets easier with practise.

The more you practise the easier the muscles involved in maintaining position or balance do the job. Remember, you’re working with very shallow focus that is not easy to place where you want it, it takes time.

Do you understand?

DOF :

Or, how deep is your focus? The very big advantage of small sensors for macro is you get the same image in a smaller frame, relative to the bigger sensors of dSLR’s. Small sensor equals small frame, relative to the object at relative magnification.

The way it works, as far as I am concerned, is this : Macro magnification is generally regarded as 1 : 1 or 1x, this means 1cm of object width (for instance) takes up 1cm of sensor (or frame) width. So, if your sensor is 7mm wide and the object is 7mm wide the frame is filled with the object. If your sensor is 21mm wide and the object is 7mm wide then the object covers 1/3 the width of the frame. Both are macro, or 1 : 1, or 1X because the object is ‘life’ size on either frame.

There are complicated arguments about this matter and I take my pictures without knowing or understanding all the convolutions, so I don’t fret it.

Lighting :

99% of the time I use flash, only one picture here is without flash. And again, I am a minimalist, I don’t like big and bulky. It gets in the way or just gets complicated. So I use a DIY snoot/tube/cone to deliver the light to where I want it and diffuse it according to my taste – which changes with experience. I use flash nearly all the time since at macro magnifications motion blur can be a real and pervasive problem.

Effectively I let the flash be my shutter speed by keeping it to the minimum pulse duration required for adequate exposure – can be as fast as 1/50,000 sec – and eliminating or minimizing ambient light – which is one reason I get sharp pictures.

This was ‘designed’ for working distance of around 5 – 8 inches but works for more or less, more or less.

It works for me, so far :


The tripod is used for hanging clothes on.

The snoot is attached with a tab of Velcro to the popup flash and is made of a sheet of stiff plastic and lined with plastic foil to minimise light loss, and the diffusion is stiffening from the haberdashers. It is designed to deliver light at an angle to the creature according to its distance from the lens – or working distance – and it can be flipped from left to right for light direction, there’s nothing more uninteresting to the eye than flash from head on. Other materials work as well though synthetic whites are best as the chance of a colour cast is less.

These days, for high mag close (working distance of around 2.5 inch) focus shots, I often use additional diffusion in the form of a small sheet of foam plastic attached to the front of the lens by a rubber band that covers 180’ and looks and acts like a light tent. It helps spread the light more evenly and reduces specular highlights and reflection which allows the colour to show better. And I still have the ability to direct the light so it’s not too even across the frame.

Shadowing from directed light gives depth and interest to an image.

Stability :

For composed and sharp pictures at macro magnifications with DOF often less than 1mm deep, stabilisation is a must. I don’t use a tripod or monopod since all my subjects are alive and usually on the move or about to be. They don’t wait for ‘pods to be set up. Usually there is a very short window when the shot can be had and it helps to have some quick method of very mobile stabilisation. My solution is a stick.

A smooth polished wooden stick about five foot long and no thicker than my thumb. I use it gripped between left fingers and cam (or somehow or other) so if I release the pressure it slides easily up or down at will for vertical stability at any practical height. It can also be planted in the ground at different angles to maximise horizontal stability at any height.

Don’t think about how you can make a stick work for you, try it out and its working for you will fall into place. Your keeper rate will probably double immediately.

The stick is the third leg of the tripod, you are the other two, or three or however many points you use to brace for a steady shot. It also doubles for walking, snipping spider webs cast across the track, a warning to snakes in the long grass – whatever it is to you.

You don’t need a picture of a stick, do you?

Another way to stabilise with very short working distance is to hold the leaf (or whatever) the creature is on in left hand and rest the lens on the same hand. Both on the same platform means if one moves so does the other = stability, relatively speaking. It’s all relative, isn’t it.

Working distance is relative to magnification and the actual size of the object you want to capture an image of.

And yet another way to stabilise the lens is to use the left hand as if you are placing a snooker cue on it, helps get the higher angle when necessary or desirable.

You have to get creative, which is where relaxation and meditation helps greatly, in my experience.

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Settings :

As already indicated, I use flash and largely exclude ambient light. I use manual mode and my shutter speed is as fast as I can have it and my aperture is usually as small as I can have it. In all but the strongest sun this is enough to eliminate ambient light so the flash is the effective shutter speed – very fast = sharp. The maximum synch flash speed on most DSLR’s is around 1/250 which is enough most of the time, it’s also a serious limitation when you need faster and don’t want the multi exp of high speed synch.

If I want ambient light in the scene, for effect, or because the creature is dark and there is no immediate background to bounce light off I will use aperture priority or just lower the shutter speed. On my camera I never leave base ISO for anything, another restriction of small sensors – presently.

I usually set the camera to underexpose using flash compensation, to keep the highlights from blowing – being able to vary the angle of the light helps too – with reflection. This underexposure also has the effect of saturating the colours.

I have to say it again, there is no substitute for actual experience. Any guide or book should only be to help define that.

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Focus :

The first focus you need is inner, focus of your attention. If you don’t have that you won’t get it in a lens. And the kind of focus you need to actualize your potential can be developed – gradually.

Probably the single most important aspect of any picture, focus, for without focus where you want it you don’t have a picture worth looking at. It’s normal to focus manually in macro but I believe that is only because the equipment most people use doesn’t auto-focus very well, and/or they don’t know how to use AF for macro.

I use AF with the (1.5 inch) LCD on 5 year old technology – it’s now end of 2010 – known for its poor low light performance so it can’t be bad, can it? I do it this way basically because I find it easier than using the viewfinder – back injury and poor eyesight.

I’ll tell you how I do it. First I have a look over the top of the camera to see which part of the creature I want in focus first, and then I aim at that point through the LCD, having single centre point focus set on the camera. As soon as focus is locked I press the button the rest of the way – without delay – and voila, I have the shot – usually.

Any delay at all and the creature has probably moved through the field of focus and you won’t get what you aimed at, or you have moved and the result is the same.

Of course there are misses, as with any technique. And there is back and forward focusing issues with some lenses but not mine, up to 2 : 1 magnification. Everything can be compensated for, gotten used to.

Another consideration that has to be made when using AF for macro is the fact the focus point has before it an area of acceptable focus that can be better placed more on the object.

This requires the smallest of movement towards the object to achieve it, resulting in the optimum use of the field of acceptable focus, with a bit of luck – because I can’t actually see it. It’s what makes the difference between something that’s just in focus and something that looks like a focus stack or deep focus.

Or, taking the objects architecture into account, I aim for a point just behind where I want focus to ‘begin’, is another way of doing it. And different methods work best at different times with different shapes and structures. With this way I need to be able to judge minute distances, a kind of intuition – since it only comes with experience and understanding.

Either way, at times it’s not unlike shooting an arrow from horseback at a moving target, it’s an art. I find if I have inner focus the outer happens more easily.

Auto Focus works, as you can see from my pictures, so don’t knock it.

Processing or PP :

I aim to get the picture as near as I want it from the camera so when it comes to processing I am minimalist again. And I always shoot in JPG with camera on minimum picture settings, contrast, saturation, etc. So I have more control over the picture. I have seen some mastery of the processing of some RAW files but not enough to tempt me, yet.

I use Picasa, except for sharpening, and usually spend no more than 20 – 30 seconds per image. I might one day learn something more sophisticated than Picasa but I rarely see enough advantage to justify the time I’d have to spend learning. But I never say never, life has a way of contradicting me.

And you know what happens when life contradicts.

With macro, unless the object is absolutely still and not likely to move, and the camera is well braced, I frame with the option to crop for composition. Many of the shots I take are of moving targets so this a necessary compromise. It’s a compromise because I don’t like losing the pixels or resolution.

Then I’ll saturate with an eye on the reds or yellows in particular since they seem to blow first and I lose detail.

I usually underexpose a tad so I will then bring up the brightness with an eye on the histogram to keep the highs from blowing. And may darken shadow for contrast.

I also de-noise and sharpen in a dedicated program. And that’s usually it. Maybe a little cloning now and again.

The Shot :

Getting it … Here, after all else is taken into consideration, it’s a case of the more you shoot the more keepers you will have. Don’t mind the people who say if you don’t get the shot in a few frames you’re no good, they haven’t tried macro of living creatures in their own habitat. Macro may be the most physically demanding photo discipline.

My keeper rate varies from 90% in situations where nothing moves and the positions are comfortable, that’s about 10% of the time, to 5% or so where the light, physical position or whatever are just not conducive. The more usual keeper rate is between 30% to 50% since I just love capturing the small creatures in pose or action, or both. So I bin a lot.

And they are never better than from the wild where you never really know what you’ve got ‘till you get home.

A few words :

There is no quick route to expertise in macro, it takes practise which takes time. Not least because of the absolute need for stabilisation, the quirks of macro lighting and the limitation of DOF. And of course the physical demand of posture takes time to develop the necessary control of the muscles involved.

And don’t forget patience, or the absence of impatience more like, which can be helped with a simple and practical meditation. You’ve just got to slow down, inside and out, to enter the wonderful and often beautiful world of bugs at our feet, to see what’s going on and capture an image of it.

As you can see, a lot of how I do it is contrary to the accepted wisdom. Especially I use Auto Focus effectively from the articulating LCD, two taboos broken in one go. As I said, whatever works for you.

And last, as it was first, be easy and enjoy the action and the pure and peaceful sense that nature is. By putting it first in your practise and giving up any anxiety about getting the shot.

Relax! It’s enlightening – of the weight of mind.

Insects, our neighbours as ourselves :

This wouldn’t be complete without a word about the attitude of society towards nature in general and insects in particular. We really think it’s ok to exploit nature for short term personal and financial gain, and we are reaping the consequences – though we aren’t really feeling it yet in Australia.

I still run across people who think insects are pests, ugly or dangerous. Something to be destroyed, judged and feared – when all they need is respect. This is not a sane attitude on a planet where those same insects – and others – are intrinsic to our survival. And, in truth, are born of the same mystery and the same earth.

The fact is we can’t do without insects. If they were to die out the soil would become infertile, rotting matter would cover the earth and we would starve, if we lived long enough.The earth’s ecology would break down, it would cease to be a functioning organism. Earth, as we know it, would die.

Look at it as if you are the earth and your digestive and immune systems stopped working, how long do you think you’d last?

If we are not to ruin the Earth it is imperative we stop killing what doesn’t need killing.

If we die out we won’t be missed by any other creature on earth. They don’t need us, for anything. Except perhaps, being the highest expression of life or intelligence on earth, that we become more intelligent and start to see the beauty and wonder of the whole creation, including the insects.

Do you think it can happen?

Hmmmm!

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It’s a Setup :

My primary consideration when moving a creature, that is easy to move, is to not harm or kill it, then to shoot it no more than necessary – I wonder about the effect of a lot of flash, and usually give it some water/honey before letting it go where I found it – or similar location. Often I find a couple of hitchers when I get home from the local rainforest remnant. Today it’s a Louse fly, a spider and a small bug. The spider is too small, the bug flew away but the Louse fly is like a yoyo – always returns when I flick it away, when I can find it – so it’s an opportunity and might be good for a few shots later when it cools down. I haven’t had a Jumper in except the one that lives on the outside bathroom window, that I encourage.

During the now passing winter here often the only creatures I saw were the ones that showed up at the light at night where I kept flowers and leaves for platforms and backgrounds, and late at night the relative cold kept them still for easy manipulation – coaxing onto a leaf or such. But setups don’t demand full engagement of my attention beyond a few minutes and are largely without the essential element of the creative unknown – essential to me.


That’s what I love about shooting bugs in the wild nature, you never know what you’re going to get and something always shows up – here anyway – even if it’s just a magnificent fly. Some of it couldn’t be devised in the lab, the angles, backgrounds, comps, colours and light. I prefer to let nature set it up and be ready to shoot when it presents.

Ethics? Truth is what you live, or can live with, and if you set shots up why not? And why not tell what you do, if you are asked straight.

I find it’s best not to think about the ones that get away, except for how I might be ready for it next time, if there is one.

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Ownership :

The ideas here are not claimed by me to be original. Some were born or realised of necessity, rightly said to be the mother of invention, or intuition. And others were necessarily harvested. Ideas are universal, they don’t belong to anyone but who develops and uses them.

If I bring anything unique to the field of endeavour and exploration that macro is, it is the idea that nature is its own value and has its place first in the order of things. Before the ‘photographer’, the gear, the techniques and settings, or anything else that is a part of the process. Nature comes first because without it the rest is for nothing.

And it is putting the sense before the intellectual where the real art lies. The art of being what you are doing without the distractions of personal thoughtful or emotional considerations, being in the senses. And then the art of being before the sense.

Some might call this zen – no mind, but I call it being practical because it is something that can be done to one degree or another and aids peace of mind in any situation. No need to make it special and put it out of reach.

And there’s nothing new about this idea, it’s as old as nature itself.

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One last thing : This page is changing as time passes. Thanks for the feedback.

© Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge

Winter Bounty

Happy for a little honey in the dead of a Brisbane winter, is this Green Head Ant. Placed on a Chrysanthemum and left overnight near the nest for them to find. They are more usually meat eaters so it’s not unusual for them to ignore honey.

But it is winter here and the ant’s hunting grounds are a relatively bare cupboard, apart from the cat-got pigeon last week. Even so, there was only the one taking a measure of honey for the hive.

They can be seen patrolling the ramparts of the gardens wooden border throughout the day, or travelling along a grass or plant stem nearby, always in ones or two’s.

This one was available for few shots, graciously.

Ant came, found food, took it home.

A simple life.

© Mark Berkery ……. Click any picture and click again to enlarge