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How does everyone take such good pictures of their flies, like when the fly is the only thing shown and the background is just black. Any pictures of your setup or explanations will be greatly appreciated

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In addition, you need some good image processing software. Picassa, from Google, is "free", sort of, and is an excellent tool for this. It allows you to edit the picture, trim out extraneous details, enlarge the area of interest, and enhance the color. It won't make up for a poor photo, but it can greatly enhance an average photo.

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I think the main things you need are a camera that gives you extreme close up capability and a photo editing program.

This one was taken in front of a piece of black craft foam.



This one was being held over water, just before I used it for fishing.



And this one is lying on my tying bench.



The pictures might not be frame ready ... but the fly is distinct and in focus.

The camera takes the photo. The editing program can correct lighting and color discrepancies.


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There are three elements I think are important: Lots of light, a "macro" focus feature, and photo editing software.


My pictures are taken with my $20.00 daylight lamp (similar to an Ott light.) I concentrate the light from the lamp by using a Bleach jug. The jug is cut out to allow a window for the camera, and then hung around the light. See the first three images below of the lamp, jug, and the combination. Then I add background in different colors using a piece of craft foam. When making a photo, I try to get a shutter speed of at least 400. With faster speeds, you can get the image in focus, but you will loose depth of field.






None of these pictures have been altered except for image size. I used Photoscape editing software to color balance and crop the images below. In each image the first picture is simply size adjusted. The second picture has been cropped, and adjusted using the Auto Balance features built into Photoscape.






As you can see getting all the flies in focus in a single image is not easy, since there is a limited field of focus. The front fly is out of focus. I took this last set of pictures at a slight angle to the background, if you shoot straight on it will work better.


My camera is an old Canon 520 point and shoot, and I don't even have a tripod. My pictures are NOT professional quality, but they are close enough and in focus enough to see the details. Even with an inexpensive camera, and setup, it is possible to get decent close up images.






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You can get as fancy or as plain as you like, but there are quite a few variables at play in any photo, and some specific ones that are nigh-irrelevant for most photos become quite significant when you're talking about a good clean background shot of a fly.


First, here's a shot of a fly that I did a few years back.




A few things to consider before all the technical stuff:


1. Simplicity: You want there to be as few distractions as possible in your frame. That means there should only be the fly, the necessary evil of whatever support device you're using (usually your vise jaws), and a monotone background in a color that is either white, black, or different from every color in the fly.


2. Separation: you want to get your subject as close to the camera as it will focus (your camera's close focus distance will be the limiting factor here). This will make it so that the fly fills the frame as much as possible. This is just intuitive, but what may be less intuitive is that you also want your background as far from your subject as is feasible. The limiting factor(s) here will be the size of your background material (if you get a paint chip or sheet of paper too far from the camera, you'll be able to see around the edges of it in the frame) as well as the limits of practicality in your environment (walls, shelving, etc. preventing you from moving the fly and camera away from the background). This will allow you to use the laws of optics to your advantage. With your focus point on the fly, the farther another object is behind it, the more out of focus it will be. Since your goal for the background is a uniform tone, you want to blur it as much as possible. Getting it far from your subject will help. Additionally, if it's too close (for example, if you sat the fly on a surface and too the picture from the top down) your camera may have a harder time deciding what to focus on since they're so close, resulting in blurry shots.


3. Stability: Camera shake will make a blurry mess of anything. Modern cameras have all sorts of advanced vibration reduction systems, but basic, layman fly photography (low-light, hand held, close-up, zoomed in) will push these systems to their limits. A tripod is ideal. A surface of some sort to rest the camera on or against is a good substitute. Figuring out a way to take the shot without shaking the camera to push the release is also a good idea (more on that below).


So you've got simplicity, separation, and stability? On to the technical stuff.


4. Zoom & Focus: you don't *need* a macro lens (or even a macro mode) but they do make life easier. If you don't have them, just zoom your camera as far as it will go, then move the camera into a position as close to the fly as possible, provided that it satisfies these two requirements: the camera can focus on the fly at that distance, and the whole fly is visible in the frame (not likely to be a problem unless you have a macro lens or a really effective macro mode). When you get your camera to this position, set up your support in that spot.


5. Settings: Be sure your camera is giving you as big of a file as it possibly can, whether that consists of setting your JPEG quality to "Super High" your file size to max, RAW capture, or whatever. If you're using a compact camera with a macro setting available (flower symbol), use it. If there's a 'super macro', use that.


Flash is up to you, and will depend heavily on just how close you are to the fly, whether your flash is on or off camera, and how much control you have over its output. For a compact camera, the flash will be on-camera, and you'll likely have very limited control of its intensity, so it'll depend on your camera-to-fly distance. If it's like most compacts, you'll be pretty close to the fly, so I would recommend not using the flash, since it will likely blow out detail on your fly at that close range, giving it a light, washed out look. If you have a more advanced compact, use your flash EV comp. use it and dial it down as far as it'll go (-2 is typical). This will help tame the flash. If you're still blown out, dial down your regular EV comp to darken the whole image. Sometimes you can dial it down to get an ideally exposed fly and a dark or black background just like that! (Don't forget to reset all of this when you're done, otherwise, you'll be really disappointed in your shots in more normal situations). For flash, it's important to remember that the power of the flash fades over distance, so in a given shot, objects closer to the flash will be illuminated more brightly, and get darker the farther they are from the flash. This is another big reason why getting your background far from the subject is important. The farther it is, the easier it will be to use the flash to light the fly while leaving the background totally in the dark.


If you've got a more advanced camera, you probably have a better idea of what you're doing and don't need help here, but if you're still learning to use your new SLR or something, I generally prefer manual mode for still life (where I'm not going to miss the shot due to bad settings because I can just try again), spot meter on the fly itself, pick a "sweet-spot" aperture for whatever lens I'm using (typically somewhere between two stops down from max and f/8), base ISO, and shutter set at my max flash sync since I use flash for my fly photos. With my flash in manual mode as well, I use the flash's power setting to get proper exposure of the fly, and since I'm in a low-light, indoor setting, with the flash close to the fly, I can get away with a lower power (which allows the light from it to fall off before it illuminates the background), and the low ISO, fast shutter, and stopped down aperture mean that the whole background is either black or really close to it. I use my on-camera flash as a commander for my speedlight, which I usually position at about 45 degrees and slightly below the fly, about 12-24" away.


6. Stability (again): If you're on a tripod or other sturdy surface, the only movement will come from you actually pushing down on the shutter release button and the shutter itself. While these movements are minimal, in close-up macro photography, the effects of the tiniest movements are magnified. It may not be noticeable in your particular case (in which case, don't sweat it), but if you want to keep your camera shake to an absolute minimum, there are two options: first, you can get a remote shutter release that will plug into your camera, or work wirelessly on a transmitter/receiver system...or you can again delve into the camera settings and use the self-timer (normally used so that the photographer can delay the shot a few seconds to get him or herself into a group shot), and set it for a 2 second delay. Press the button then let go of the camera. 2 seconds later, without any pressing or touching from you, the shutter trips.


Again, if you're learning to use a more advanced camera, another option to reduce camera shake even more is to use the Mirror Lock-Up (MLU) feature of your camera. This mode breaks the picture taking process into two steps, to eliminate another source of vibration when using an SLR: the motion caused by the mirror flipping out of the way. In this mode, the first press will flip the mirror up (you won't be able to see anything out of the viewfinder once this happens), and the second press will trip the shutter. This allows all of the movement from the mirror to stop before the shutter opens. To ensure as little shake as possible, you can use both MLU mode and a shutter release together.


So that covers all of the actual picture taking, on to post-processing. Depending on what program you're using, your capabilities will differ, names of things may differ, and your overall level of control may differ as well:


7. Color & Exposure: This is your first step, and determines the shade of colors as well as the overall tone (lightness or darkness) of the colors. If you're using a photo editing program, use your white balance or tone controls (usually one or more sliders) to achieve a neutral looking color cast. Second, adjust your exposure as best you can for the subject. While it'd be nice to get a perfectly black (or whatever color) background, it's not worth it if it means making your fly too dark. The fly is what we care about, so make sure it's good. If you've got a more advanced program, use your levels/curves, and even consider splitting the image into various layers to dial in exposure on your fly, but black out the background. (The methods for doing this are largely similar across programs, but it's beyond the scope of a post like this.)


8. Crop: As the last step, and only if the fly isn't taking up a good portion of the frame, go ahead and give the image a crop, being careful to preserve a bit of empty space around it.

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