Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

About My Equipment

with 40 comments

It’s really “the vision thing” that counts the most, but photography doesn’t happen without equipment. From 1999 to 2005 I used several early models of Olympus digital SLRs, each with its lens permanently attached. In 2005 I went modular, switching over to a Canon EOS 10D body and two lenses. I skipped upgrading to the EOS 20D, but after that Canon had me well trained and I dutifully updated bodies with each new release, passing through the EOS 30D, 40D, and 50D before arriving at the EOS 7D that I’ve used since the fall of 2009. All these Canon bodies have a crop factor of 1.6, so that a 100 mm lens acts like a 160 mm lens would on a 35 mm film camera. Because I do so much macro work, the magnification generally helps me. In spite of that, in December 2012 I began using a full-frame camera, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

As for lenses, the one I use most often is the Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8L IS USM macro. The lens I use next most often is the Canon EF 17–40 mm f/4L USM, which gives me the wide-angle capability that’s often necessary for landscapes. Once in a while I pull out a Canon EF 70-200 mm f/4L IS USM telephoto, which I normally use in conjunction with a Canon 1.4x Extender EF 1.4X II. As of December 2012, I began using a Canon EF 24–105mm f/4L USM lens as well.

From time to time I use my camera’s built-in flash for fill light when I have a backlit subject. I also sometimes use it if I come across a macro subject that I want to photograph with a great depth of field: the flash compensates for the insufficient amount of light that a very small aperture would otherwise pass on to the sensor even in broad daylight. If I set out specifically to photograph a macro subject that requires a great depth of field, I bring along my Canon MR-14EX ringlight flash to avoid unflattering shadows that the built-in flash can create. (For an example of a picture taken with the ringlight, you can look at this one of fallen juniper needles.)

I have my camera set to photograph in RAW mode so that I’ll preserve the greatest amount of data possible with which to edit pictures. I do all my editing in Photoshop, keeping up with the latest version of the program.

As for paraphernalia other than camera equipment, one of the most useful things I carry with me on my many nature jaunts is a pad that I can put on the inhospitable Texas ground when I want to kneel or sit to get a better angle for a picture (sitting is better than kneeling because it provides more stability and is easier on the body’s muscles). Every damaged piece of the pad—and there are many over time—means one less damaged piece of me.

I also carry sunscreen with a high SPF rating and douse myself with liberal amounts to try, belatedly, to keep my skin from aging unduly. I reduce skin damage in another way by using insect repellent; it doesn’t keep me free of chigger bites, but it lowers the number of them.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 6, 2011 at 2:42 PM

40 Responses

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  1. I shoot with the same lenses! Except my telephoto lens is a Canon EF 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 DO IS USM. Do you use a tripod for your macro work? I would really like to upgrade the EF 100mm 1:2.8 to the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM as I find a lot of my macro shots are blurry and setting up a tripod can be a pain. I use a Canon EOS 30D and have been looking at the 7D and 5D. You take great photos!

    rangelander

    July 19, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    • Coincidences are fun, aren’t they? I used to have a 70–300mm lens but I upgraded to my current L-series one early last year. Similarly, I upgraded a couple of years ago to the 100mm macro that has image stabilization, but I was disappointed to learn after I’d bought it that the effect of the stabilization diminishes as you focus closer and closer. I still leave the stabilization on when I take my closest pictures with the lens, but I don’t know how much good it’s doing me. I don’t normally use a tripod, which I feel would hinder me in a lot of the be-in-the-moment pictures I take. Instead I try to make myself into a kind of tripod by resting parts of my body against other parts, or by leaning against a tree (if one is handy) or against the ground. I also sit on the ground a lot, or even lie down, either on my back or propped on my elbows. I usually use a shutter speed of 1/320 sec. or faster to help offset any blurring due to camera movement.

      I’m pleased that you like my photos. Thanks.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 19, 2011 at 8:13 PM

  2. I’ve been a Canon shooter since about 1977. Call me loyal! Nice work here by the way!

    aj baxter

    October 27, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    • I still have a couple of Canon A-1s from the 1970s, though I haven’t used them in years. I’m pleased that you enjoy the pictures I make with my Canon equipment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 27, 2011 at 7:46 AM

  3. I got my first Canon camera in 1953. I still have one 35mm Canon camera but have switched and am only using one or two Rebels. I like them both and the last one is the T3i as I recall. Most of what I do is for my own pleasure though I do sell or use some of my photos with the writing I do for newspapers and magazines.

    Abraham Lincoln

    October 30, 2011 at 4:25 PM

  4. Beautiful work–and yes, seed heads are in many ways better than the flowers they replaced. Also: peonies flame out spectacularly and are often my favorite flower subject. They die so eloquently.

    Tom Parker

    November 30, 2011 at 7:08 AM

  5. I started off in photography with the Canon A-1. Everyone I knew had a Nikon but I didn’t want to be like everyone! I wrote magazine articles and took photos to accompany my stories. Eventually I dedicated all my time to writing and let someone else take the photos. When DSL’s appeared I was swept off my feet and returned to photography with a passion. Everyone I knew was using Nikon and Canon and I didn’t went to be like everyone (sound familiar?), so I bought the first Sony that came out. I have had five bodies since and do most of my work with an Alpha 1 and an A55. I am a magazine editor, which allows me to write all I want and do the photography for the stories when I can. You can see the magazine at http://www.quepasa.pr and my photos on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/rcfgunkle/ if you’d like! That said, I enjoy your macro photos and am glad to see that Canon continues to make first rate cameras. Having the right tools really makes getting the job done more fun!

    Ronald

    January 23, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    • Like you, I was excited when the first digital through-the-lens cameras started coming out about 12 years ago. I had Olympus models until about 2004, and after a friend gave me some Canon film bodies and lenses I had good reasons to switch to a Canon interchangeable-lens digital body, the EOS 10D. All of the main manufacturers make good bodies and lenses now, though Canon is the only one whose equipment I’m familiar with now. I’m glad for the competition, because that way no one company can dominate and get complacent.

      It’s great that you’re an editor and can also add your photographs to the mix. One of these days maybe I’ll get to Puerto Rico, a place I’ve never visited. In the meantime, I’m glad you’re enjoying my close-ups from Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 23, 2012 at 7:49 PM

  6. Thanks for putting this page on…I was specifically looking for your equipment choices. I’m an Olympus girl myself, currently E-330 DSLR (since 2007). My favorite shots are on macro on the one end with small, cooperative beings (insects) and crisp action on the other, with the not-so-still small beings (my kids). I have only posted a sampling of them so far, in slideshow format. I’ve never used photo editing software ’cause I just don’t have the spare time. I need to get my shutter bug going again. You inspire me.

    Shannon

    February 12, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    • Happy inspiration to you, Shannon. My first few through-the-lens digital cameras were all Olympus models, but I switched over to Canon digital cameras close to a decade ago. I’m with you when it comes to macro and small, cooperative beings of the entomological kind, but as for human progeny, I’ll have to fall back on my inner child. I highly recommend photo editing software when you eventually get the chance; there are times when I live in Photoshop.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2012 at 10:57 PM

  7. Looking at today’s closeup of a White Prickly Poppy has me wondering how to attain similar results. I use an EOS T1 and the same 100 mm macro lens as you do. My biggest challenge is the depth of field limitation when doing closeups. Aside from shooting horizontally, is the macro ring light accessory the biggest factor in increasing depth of field for closeups, or is it the 7D camera body and its associated bells and whistles? Thanks for your daily blog and the instructive comments.

    returntothenatives

    April 23, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    • You’re right that the closer you get, the less depth of field there is. One way that I deal with that is to set the camera to manual mode, stop the macro lens down to a small aperture to increase the depth of field, and then use flash to provide enough extra light to compensate for the small aperture. Any type of flash will do, including the one that’s built into the camera, but a ring flash can have the advantage of eliminating a harsh shadow on one side of a subject. In checking the metadata for the picture of the white prickly poppy flower center, I see I used an aperture of f/16, which is not as small as I sometimes use—at times I’ve stopped the lens all the way down to its minimum aperture of f/32. The camera body doesn’t really play a role in what I’ve just described.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 23, 2012 at 9:59 AM

  8. Okay, I’m ready to sign up for the Nature Photography Workshop with Steve Schwartzman!

    roots to blooms

    April 24, 2012 at 12:37 PM

    • Thanks for the promo, Ann. The friend of mine who prompted me to start this blog last year also thought about my giving nature photography workshops, and maybe I will eventually. In the meantime, the About My Techniques page can serve as an online for that type of workshop.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2012 at 12:46 PM

  9. Interesting to see what others use. I also shoot with Canon but have finally gone full frame with the new 5D3. Without a big crop factor bonus I use the 180mm F3.5 macro also with a 1.4x extender when required. I use an external flash and a diffuser. But my most important accessories are a tripod and a cable release. I cannot overstate how much sharper my images are now I have seen the light and carry a gitzo tripod with my Really Right Stuff ballhead. If you want to shoot butterflies in flight then clearly these accessories are not so useful but for plants, insects generally……. I’d not be without a tripod now.

    Andrew

    May 25, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    • Thanks for your account of what you find valuable. I ordered the 5D Mark III but changed my mind at the last moment. I may still succumb, but this model is considerably more expensive than its predecessor. As you mentioned, I’d probably also have to buy the 180mm macro to get as close as I get now with the 100mm; I’d probably also have to replace my 1.4x extender with a 2x for use with my 70–200mm telephoto. I’ll have to do some experiments and see if I notice greater sharpness with a tripod. So much of what I photograph is in places that are difficult for a tripod, or of subjects that aren’t going to stay put for very long.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2012 at 10:15 PM

  10. As a beginner, I am discovering that I love Macro photography – and also trying to decide how to go about getting the right camera/equipment to begin, so this was great – I could only DREAM of taking photos this beautiful! Maybe someday!

    LyndaMichele

    June 7, 2012 at 6:13 AM

    • Obviously I share your enthusiasm about the world of macro photography. You’re coming to it at a good time because so much excellent equipment is available now, and excellent software to deal with the results. Welcome to this world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 7, 2012 at 6:38 AM

  11. Steve, thanks for sharing your information about gear and lenses. I’m preparing my kit for lots of shooting out in the field this coming year. I borrowed a friend’s 105 macro for a few shots when I was photographing at the Phipps last week and it was infinitely easier on my back than the 60mm macro that I have. Nice to have confirmation that it is a better length for flower and small fauna images. I’ve considered getting a garden kneeler pad to include, and you’ve confirmed that as well. Many thanks for sharing!

    composerinthegarden

    January 18, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    • You’re most welcome. I started out with a 50mm macro lens but the 100mm has proved better for my purposes, as you say the 105mm has for yours. As for a pad, the garden kneeler type that I found out at Lowes a while back was smaller than what I wanted, given that I’m inclined to lie down as much as to kneel. Larger foam pads are available at outdoor sports stores in my area (Academy and R.E.I.), so I assume that would be true near you, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2013 at 8:58 AM

      • Thanks, yes we have an R.E.I. in town, so I will investigate. I’m writing a post for next week in which I would like to quote you about “the vision thing” with a link to your blog. Hope that’s OK with you.

        composerinthegarden

        January 18, 2013 at 9:00 AM

        • The foam pad I bought at R.E.I. is an 18-inch square half an inch thick. That’s fine for sitting and kneeling, but I prefer longer in one dimension for lying down. R.E.I. does have (or at least did when I checked a year or so ago) a much longer cut of the same foam intended for use under a sleeping bag. That’s likely too long, but it could be cut into two shorter pieces.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 18, 2013 at 9:25 AM

  12. Could you add a few more details in there Steve? OK you’re a math teacher. That explains it!!! hahaha You ARE my dad, and you’re my age – YIKES!!! Dad was a photographer/heating & cooling engineer. He tried to teach me how to use a slide rule when I was 11, F stops when I was 10, and composition when I was 8. I’m not bad a composition, but never mastered the other skills. He wrote several booklets on photography, taught classes at a community college in San Diego, and passed his collection of slides on to me, which I have yet to digitize. He made copious notes in a journal about health related issues (such as using sun screen and pads to sit on.) Finally, in my retirement I get back to his (and now my) hobby, but without the pad. I do use copious amounts of sunscreen, though! hahaha Do you also draw? :)

    tchistorygal

    January 28, 2013 at 9:02 AM

    • I could say that the only time I draw is when I draw on my experience: I have no known talent for drawing in the sense you meant. The camera is my substitute for a pencil, and an expensive pencil it is.

      You mentioned San Diego: that’s where we had our 13-week training for the Peace Corps in 1967. As for slide rules, I came home briefly near the end of my two years in the Peace Corps, and when I returned to Honduras I took back with me a bunch of slide rules for my students. I’d gotten the manufacturer to sell them to me at a low price because they were going to students in a poor country.

      Good luck on getting your father’s slides digitized. I’ve got boxes of old negatives and slides, too, only a few of which I’ve taken the time to digitize.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM

      • I bought a copier/scanner with a thing for holding slides in place, but I can only do 4 at a time, so you are right, it’s tedious. The reason I asked about drawing is that since my dad had been a designer/engineer, he was fairly artistic as well. My mom was not – and I inherited her abilities. You have so many of the same interests and abilities as my dad, I was just curious.

        Good luck to you, my friend, as you continue your journey with your expensive pencil(s). I only have one, and I don’t use it to its fullest capacity!!! :)

        tchistorygal

        January 28, 2013 at 10:38 AM

  13. Interesting to see the camera transition. I ‘ve been shooting with a T2i the past couple of years after starting out with a Canon point and shoot. After years of building up to it, I think I am finally going to get the 100mm lens. I really realized last year that a lot of the flowers I shoot around here are quite small and my walk-around zooms just can’t seem to capture the detail. Of course then I’ll have to worry about changing lenses in the field, but we’ll see how that works. The other challenge I am going to have to tackle is how to start getting color right. I know it’s a broad topic, but any tips on how to get started on that end?

    Ryan McDaniel

    February 26, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    • Changing lenses on a DSLR is an unfortunate fact of life, as are the resulting dust spots. I’ve learned to live with the spots, which can—and often must—be removed with software. Of course there were dust spots on film, too, and I remember all the time I used to spend spotting prints. In any case, I couldn’t do much of what I do if I didn’t have a macro lens. I definitely recommend one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2013 at 1:39 PM

  14. I read your comments on Macro lens with interest. A Macro lens is on my wish list. I have seen similar comments to the one you have made over the effectiveness of the Canon IS system for Macro work. I have a Canon 60D, how much benefit do you think it would be to me if I was taking pictures outdoors of bees about 1-1.5 cm. between the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro and the same with IS which is much more expensive?

    afrenchgarden

    March 10, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    • I used the non-IS 100mm macro lens for several years before switching to the IS version, which as you note is a lot more expensive. I thought the IS would help with macro, but I learned from reading the manual that the effectiveness of the IS decreases the closer you are to your subject. I got good pictures with the older lens, so if cost is a primary factor, you can go with it and still get good pictures. So much depends on how steadily you can hand-hold your camera, if that’s the way you normally work (as I do). With a tripod, of course, you don’t need IS. If there’s a camera store near you, you can go and try out both lenses in the store and compare results.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 10, 2013 at 5:45 PM

      • Thank you, that’s exactly what I needed to know. I like the idea of trying out both lens.

        afrenchgarden

        March 11, 2013 at 1:25 AM

  15. I use similar lenses as well, I have the Canon 5D mark II, the Canon 100mm f2.8, Canon 28-135mm f3.5-5.6, Canon 70-200mm f2.8, Canon 2x teleconverter (saving up for 1.4x), Canon 50mm f1.8, and I am soon to acquisition a Tamron 180mm macro f3.5. I’ve only just started my photography blog, and I am posting pictures taken with a Canon 20D and either a Canon 60mm macro f2.8, 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 or Sigma 70-300mm f4-5.6. Beautiful photos that are truly inspiring! I look forward to your future posts :)

    drlphotography

    July 18, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    • Yes, we do have a lot of the same or similar equipment. I never had the 20D, but I did have the 30D, 40D, and 50D. I’m glad you like the pictures posted here, almost all of which were taken with the 7D or more recently the 5D Mark III. Good luck with your photography blog.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2013 at 8:43 PM

  16. You can never have enough photographic equipment. I shoot native plants and grasses over here in Florida. Using a Canon 5DII with a 24-105 and a 60D (love the articulating screen) with a 100 macro – all off a tripod. It’s tough carrying all that equip especially in the summer but it is critical as you never know what you will run into. You have some superb captures.

    John Bradford

    July 29, 2013 at 7:39 PM

    • As you see, I have a fair amount of equipment, but because of the weight I can carry only so much with me. I always have my 100mm macro for closeups, one of my two wide-angle zooms for landscapes, and a telephoto for the occasional animal picture. I also carry a flash because the 5D Mark III doesn’t (alas) have one built in. Sometimes I put a backpack with some extra equipment in my car trunk in the hope that if I need it I won’t be too far away from the car.

      Equipment aside, I’m glad you like the photos you see here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2013 at 8:06 PM

  17. Thanks for your visit to Laura’s Lens and the identification of my subject matter! thank you for posting details of your experience with various cameras, lenses, etc. I think I can learn a lot from your blog!

    lljostes

    July 31, 2013 at 10:38 AM

  18. Très belles photos. J’ai un équipement équivalent mais en plus du 100mm je suis tombé amoureux du Sigma 150 f2.8 macro couplé à un converter 2X. Que la passion est belle! Je vais suivre vos travaux avec beaucoup d’intérêt.
    Amicalement
    Alain

    Alain ROLLAND

    September 16, 2013 at 5:10 AM

    • Merci, Alain, et soyez le bienvenu. Je ne connaissais pas le Sigma 150 f2.8 macro mais je ferai des recherches là-dessus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 7:56 AM


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