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Photography for fly tying

Rolan Duffield

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Our goal in this forum is to help you improve your digital pictures whether they're for fly tying presentations or simply taking general snapshots.

Digital photography is a whole new fascinating world. The digital camera system is far easier for the average photographer to use and take general photos, however, the digital system also presents many new challenges and types of problemswhen using the auto-focus and auto-exposure systems of the average camera for special applications. In some instances we now have to find and learn ways to fool the camera to over ride the auto systems and achieve the desired results in our pictures. On the other hand, good camera techniques still apply.

I don't expect to be able to answer questions about operating your personal camera, as there are hundreds of different cameras out there. We will discuss general ways to use a camera, improve your pictures and answer questions. Hopefully you can adapt the recommendations to fit the capabilities of your camera. If you plan to photograph small objects such as flies, your camera needs to have capability to move in close for photographing very small items. Lets get started.

Taking pictures for fly tying presentations:

Learning how to photograph very small subjects can be a very challenging task and will require patience and testing to develop those skills. I normally plan to take close-up pictures inside using artificial lighting. This gives me the capability to control the lights and the conditions of the setup to achieve a desired result. I will use a tripod to hold the camera and will perform some testing with the camera and lights to establish a good color balance and exposure standard before starting the project. It's also a good idea to keep good notes of your data for future reference. Here are the basic steps.

The setup: Plan the picture or story and keep it as simple as possible. Concentrate on the subjrct and don't include unnecessary images around it. You should normally only need one picture for each primary step in fly tying presentations. Most fly tying demonstrations should only require three to six pictures. It's also desirable to provide short and clear instructions with each step.

Background of picture: The chosen background must not detract from the fly setup. After all you want to direct attention to the main subject. It should be a simple white background to a shade of gray if photographing very light colored flies. I try to stay away from black backgrounds, as fine details in your fly may be lost if they blend into the black area. Do not use colored backgrounds or those with foreign objects around or behind the subject. Colored backgrounds will distract from the fly and may change the colors of the fly.

Lighting: You will normally need two lights for the general setup and possibly another light on the background. A couple of small reflector flood lamps can be used as a cheap source for your lights. The camera should be set for a tungsten light balance if you're using this type of lights. The main light is normally placed at 45 degrees to the camera and slightly higher than the camera to achieve a slight roundness and form to the subject. As a starting point, try setting the main light about 18" to 24" from the fly. As you gain experience, you will likely find reason to vary the placement of the main light to enhance details in the subject. The fill light should always be located near to the camera lens and should be slightly further away from the subject than the main light. The purpose of the fill light is to control and maintain detail in the shadow areas.

Color: Make certain your camera is set for the type of lighting you will be using. In this case it will be set to using tungsten lights. Depending on the lights used, obtaining a good color balance may require further testing and the use of a color correction filter to obtain a neutral color balance. This is an important step because of the very small flies used and the variety of materials and colors in these type pictures.

Exposure and image sharpness: Obtaining consistently good image sharpness and exposure may be one of the hardest steps in using your digital camera when taking pictures of close objects. Lets first understand that most digital cameras make the automatic exposure and focus calculations based on what it sees in the viewfinders center zone area. If the visual image in that area is very light or very dark when the camera sets the auto focus and auto exposure values, the exposure will likely be far out of balance and the picture unusable. Here's one way to over ride these automatic camera systems to produce the results we want.

Obtain a "18% gray card" from a local camera store. We're going to use this gray card to control our camera exposure as well as set the focus of the camera. These gray cards are normally 8" x 10" in size and are on an 18% gray value that will normally provide an average mid-range exposure standard. (I prefer a Kodak gray card for this if it's available.)

On the surface of the gray card, select an area away from the edges and draw a series of fine lines about 1/4" apart and 3" long using a fine black pen. Draw enough lines to make an area about 3" square. Now draw another set of thin black lines at right angles to the original set. They do not need to be perfectly spaced apart. When you're ready to take a picture of the fly, press the shutter button half way down. (On most cameras this sets the exposure and focus of the camera. The camera will focus on the drawn lines and the exposure will be established from the gray cards surface value. Remove the gray card and continue to press the shutter all the way down to take the picture.

Evaluation of results: Hopefully you have obtained a good neutral color balance and the exposure of your subject is acceptable. If the picture is too dark, the picture is underexposed. If the picture is too light, the picture is overexposed. In either case you will need to make exposure corrections and try again.

O.K. This is enoughto get you started and ask questions. Have fun and lets see some great pictures.

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