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Practising “outdoor – natural light” macro

by Güray Dere

The excitement felt in everything that has been done for the first time is with us today. For the first time, we will try out the “focus stacking” outdoors without flash, which we have been preparing for a long time as equipment and technical information. We’ve been following photographers who only use natural light for a long time, and we feel like it’s time for us now.

I mentioned the beauty of natural light and its difficulties in application in the previous article. We’re going to try it today, me and my cousin Özgür Kerem Bulur.

Kerem is better prepared than me for natural light photography. His Pentax K5 is more successful than my Pentax K-x, and the Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head makes it easier to adjust framing when the camera is on a tripod. That’s why Kerem will shoot the natural light photos. I’ll try to help a little, hold a reflector, and show you what we’re doing In the meantime, I’m going to shoot a lot of flash photos for myself.

Day 1 – Natural light in rainy weather

Despite the spring, it is a cold and rainy day in Istanbul.We’re stubborn and decide to shoot outdoors today. Our hope is that the insects remain calm and still due to the cold. We have to make a lot of long exposure shots with the same framing to focus stack them. During this process, the insect should never move. We don’t have a chance on a hot day.

We’re not going too far, we’re shooting in the garden. So that we can work without wetting the equipment and enjoy a hot coffee.

The weather is completely cloudy, the lack of strong sunlight is an advantage. There is no need to use a diffuser. The clouds are doing this very well. But there is also a lack of light. We will solve this with reflective white surfaces.

After such a short planning, we throw ourselves into the garden.


After setting up the focus rail, tripod etc. it comes to find a sample. There’s nothing visible because of the rain and the wind. Fortunately, after a while, we see an asleep Chalcididae. It’s wet from the rain, holding on to a leaf. These are small parasitic creatures that lay their eggs on other species. We cut the leaves with scissors and get the branch together with the Chalcididae. We carefully carry it across the camera and fix the leaf with “helping hand” clamps.

Detail crop
Detail crop

There are a few problems with the first round. We notice that the light does not come at the good angle, and that there is a slight vibration due to the wind. So we fix also the other end of the leaf with a second helping hand. However, as the wind continues to cause difficulties, we cut out the swinging leaves that work like sails as a last resort. At the end, a stable environment is formed. We support the missing light using white papers, and complete the footage. In spite of all these pulling and shaking activities, we are thankful to our insect, which continued it’s sleep except for the tiny antenna movements.


I’ve never had a macro shot on a cold and rainy day, covered with dark clouds. Although it is difficult to find bugs, the cool weather creates a situation with its own advantages, because they are all asleep.

Detail crop
Detail crop

Day 2 – Late afternoon natural light

A few days after the first test, we are in a sunny and warm day instead of rainy weather. We are on the edge of a field out of town. A nearby stream provides a rich variety of species.


Hoping to find some more calmed insects that day, we prefer an hour, close to the evening, instead of warm noon hours. Despite this, we see a lot of movement everywhere. They don’t look calm at all.

I enjoy this environment. My Tamron 90mm and Raynox DCR-250 are very suitable for handheld shooting. Kerem uses his tripod gear which he spends minutes setting it up again and again and gets annoyed. Insects don’t stand still, they don’t allow long exposures.

Kerem is struggling with tripod

At the end of the day, I return home with full memory cards and empty batteries but Kerem is very tired, tense and his hand is empty.

We find that long exposure with natural light is not possible for now during daytime, and we plan to shoot early in the morning for the next day.

Day 3 – Early morning focus stacking in the field

We set it up at 6:00 in the morning. But when we go out, it’s 7:00. Fortunately, Daylight Saving Time (summer time) was just started that night and we are still at 6:00 compared to the day before. It is sunrise, the horizon is enlightened, but everyone else is asleep, including the insects.

We’re in a hurry to get to the target before the weather gets warm.


After losing some time in search of destinations, we prefer a lake side garden which is only a few kilometers away from the city.

Kerem is using natural light. We’re not using the flash.

We arrive at the destination in 10min. As we pass through a couple of dogs with threatening eyes and move on to the points where the vegetation becomes more frequent, it turns out that we are in the right spot. The environment is very rich and all species are in sleep. When I quickly prepared my Tamron + Raynox and move to the first shots, Kerem is still working with the tripod, focus rail and bellows connections. And bad surprise!

No camera body! He left it at home leaving in a hurry!

We have memories of macro tours with no batteries, no memory cards and no flash. Now this is the next level. We go home to get the camera body. 🙂

Live view spider

We’re not laughing right now. In the lost time the sun will rise a little more, the air will warm up and the insects will wake up. When we get back to the same spot, we’ve spent half an hour doing that.

It’s not as bad as we worry. Wooded areas still cool, insects are asleep. Raw grains all over the place. It’s like we are looking at the photos we are following.

Kerem is photographing me through the dew drop. Me too…

Instead of moving all the gear on the tripod to every place and creating the framing from the beginning, we leave the camera where it is and take the insects for shooting, cutting the leaf or branch. Maybe because we couldn’t come early enough, most of them wake up and run away, we’re complaining. Sometimes it is necessary to move the tripod and fix it again. Personally, I didn’t think that this would require so much patience. But Kerem is quite stubborn, he doesn’t get tired.

I’m inside the dew drop
Little spider is focus stacked without flash.

Some insects are cooperating. We have to make focus shift, delay a second, and shoot a long exposure 30-40 times to create a single photograph. It’s rare to complete the whole sequence smoothly. As we succeed, our enjoyment increases. This time we’re not coming back empty.

Our little spider
Detail crop

While Kerem struggles with natural light, I shoot lots of emphid flies. The male fly catches a prey and presents it to the female at the impressive mating ceremony. I see a couple on almost every branch. They get whatever they find smaller than their own size and present it to the female.

I try something new here and do a video recording of the emphides. But I’m regretful, I have too much confidence in the stabilizing software. My handheld videos are so shaky that they cannot be watched and corrected. This situation could have been prevented with the help of a simple monopod or even a long stick. Video capture may be the subject of another article.

I end the article by giving another example of Kerem’s shots, which reveals all the beauty of natural light.

Wing details

Setup: Nikon El-Nikkor f2.8N lens, reverse mounted on bellows

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