Lessons learned: How to use a superzoom camera to shoot insect photos

Part 1: Camera settings, using my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom camera (superseded by Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 superzoom camera) and Canon 580EX Speedlite external flash unit

  • In-camera settings: RAW+JPEG; ISO/Limit Set (100/400); White Balance (Auto); AF Mode (1-area-focusing); Metering Mode (Spot); “Forced flash ON”
  • Shutter Priority AE Mode: Use a fast shutter speed, equal to or greater than the reciprocal of lens focal length (actual focal length for full-frame sensor cameras or 35mm equivalent for crop sensor cameras), in my case, usually no less than 1/800 s for a 600mm equivalent telephoto lens.
  • Use either built-in flash or external flash unit for fill flash: “… the real secret of wildlife photography is fill flash. Fill flash is one of the key techniques for easily improving wildlife images. Electronic flash improves the color balance of the image, improves color saturation, fills in dark shadows with detail, adds a catch light to an animal’s eye, and may help increase sharpness.” Source Credit: Wildlife Fill Flash. Note: Burst Mode cannot be used with flash.
  • Exposure compensation: -1 or more stops, as necessary. In Shutter Priority mode with a fixed ISO, EV adjusts aperture; minus-EV decreases aperture by one- or more stops (f-stop number gets larger), resulting in greater depth of field.

Part 2: Image post-processing using Apple Aperture – “recipe” for typical workflow (Make adjustments in order listed; use values shown in the following screen captures as a starting point.)

  • [Basic adjustments] Crop and Straighten, as necessary; White Balance (Auto); Exposure (Auto); Curves (Auto RGB); Highlights & Shadows (adjust as necessary); Exposure/Recovery (see screen captures, shown below)
  • [Add “secret sauce”] Enhance: Contrast; Definition (enhances mid-tones)
  • [Add finishing touches] Noise Reduction; Sharpen (Radius 1.5); Vignette

The following gallery shows screen captures of Apple Aperture: typical “Adjustments” are shown in the left sidebar; after/before images are shown in the “Viewer” (larger window pane).

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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4 Responses to “Lessons learned: How to use a superzoom camera to shoot insect photos”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    I enjoy learning how others are achieving their results, with both camera settings and software usage. The usual caveats apply that “your mileage may vary,” and I am sure that you make minor adjustments on the fly, but it’s interesting to see the details of your baseline approach. Do you think you could do a posting on how you approach photographing insects in flight? Do you use different settings?

  2. Flashback – reflecting upon nearly two years of flash photography | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] Lessons Learned: How to use a superzoom camera to shoot insect photos […]

  3. Aperture versus Lightroom | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] Fast forward to Summer 2014, when Apple announced plans to cease development of Aperture. At that point it was obvious that I would have to migrate from Aperture to Lightroom, sooner or later. As long as Aperture still works — its days are numbered by the next iteration of the Apple operating system — it is/was easier to continue using Aperture, an application with which I am familiar and comfortable. But the doomsday countdown clock is ticking, so I recently started working on a project to create a new “recipe” for a typical workflow using Lightroom CC that is similar to my tried-and-true recipe for Aperture. […]

  4. Black snake | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] Tips: Photos like these illustrate why I prefer to shoot using single-point focusing and spot metering. In this case, I looked for a “window” […]

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