My name is Robert Thompson, and you can ask me anything, and I will do my best to answer your questions.
I’m a UK-based professional Natural history and landscape photographer with a specialist interest in macro. I was fortunate to have lived in a large parkland estate from a very young age, which is where my love and interest in natural history had its beginnings. My original profession was in dentistry, where I had a hospital career in the maxillo-facial and prosthodontic fields before pursuing a professional photography career in natural history photography. I have been involved in several high-profile natural history projects in Ireland and have specialist knowledge of insects, especially dragonflies, butterflies and moths. I have written several books on these insect groups and also a number of specialist photography books. I am a frequent writer for natural history publications and the photographic press.
I was an ambassador for Mamiya in the UK and I have worked with Nikon UK, especially Nikon Professional Services. There are many different reviews on my website on various cameras and equipment. I also work closely with Novoflex in Germany and have written extensively on many of their products, including many of their focus stacking equipment which I own and have tested. There is a special tab on my website relating to Novoflex products that I own and have reviewed. Please take a look.
I am also an active conservationist and have worked with various government agencies in the UK and Ireland. I also sat on the Royal Photographic Societies Distinctions Board for their awards in the Nature Photography Category. I have also appeared on television and radio as a photographer, author and entomologist and have contributed to different television programs on natural History in Ireland. I also lecture in photography and run workshops in Ireland and Europe.
Please only ask one question by replying to this topic a single time, using the yellow Reply button at the bottom. It’s also helpful to scroll to the bottom while reading the topic to make sure nobody else has asked the same question first before you ask.
Please don’t ask more than one question, so everyone gets a chance.
Please do not reply to anyone else’s post. The only purpose of replies on this topic is to ask the author one question. Please create a new topic if you’d like to discuss a related topic in more detail.
Posts not following these guidelines may be removed by moderators to keep the Q&A flowing smoothly. Thank you!
If you prefer not to receive notifications about future events, please click here to modify your notification preferences. You can remove any tags you do not want to be notified about under the Watching First Post section. These are broken down by genre, so if you only want to get notifications about landscape, macro, etc., you can do that here.
Robert, first of all, thank you for availing yourself to the NPN community for our questions. I guess my question is about your equipment, lenses, flash, etc. I use a twin flash so that I can hand hold and move around better than with a tripod. Wondering if you stay on the tripod and use natural light, and length of lens you prefer? Thank you so much.
Many thanks for your question. First of all, regarding lenses, the majority of my macro images are shot with a range of different focal lengths. It largely depends on the subject and how I want the final image to look. The background is important and in situations where it’s cluttered, I would opt for a longer focal length such as 300mm with an ext tube to reduce its minimum focusing distance and to narrow the angle of view. The main macros that I use with D850’s and the Z9 are Nikon’s 200mm macro, Z 105 macro, I also have the Nikon 85mm shift macro and the Laowa 2.5-5X and their 15mm wideangle macro. I also use specialist lenses on the Novoflex bellows systems for higher magnifications. I like to use a 300 f/2.8 frequently for flower photography. I use less flash now than I used to because ISO is so much cleaner these days. I also use a lot of different specialised equipment for macro above 1:1. I use a wide range of Novoflex equipment including the Castel Micro for high magnification work, and also their TrioPod tripod system which is really excellent; the best investment I ever made. I shoot every image I can on a tripod for many reasons. First, you can pick your focus point to maximise your depth of field for your selected aperture. Second, you can frame your subject precisely. You can also use the camera’s optimum ISO and any combination of shutter speed/aperture. You can take accurate images at different focusing points for focus stacking this is especially important when working at magnifications above lifesize. There is a lot of information on my website regarding basic and advanced macro. I do not use Nikon’s focus shift for a number of reasons. Autofocus is not the ideal way to focus stack although many photographers do use it. For low magnification work, it can produce acceptable results. However, you can end up with more artefacts to clean up. This is especially the case when shooting at magnifications up to 2X and above. I prefer to work as much as possible with natural light. I use fill-flash in woodland sometimes with fungi and high-speed flash when working with subjects in flight etc. I hope this helps!
Thank you for doing this AMA.
I’m reading Eaoghan Daltun’s book, “An Irish Atlantic Rainforest,” and I’m interested in whether and how you have met the challenge of photographing in places that have been rewilded. I’m specifically interested in your photographic approach to these lands for the purposes of encouraging conservation. I’m from the American West, and I am familiar with the difficulties of traveling through and composing photographs within forested land that is untouched by saw blade or agriculture. But in Ireland in particular, the saw blade and agriculture have left their marks nearly everywhere, and the Ireland of most people’s photographs reflects this. Thus it seems to me that rewilding is a different (and potentially more difficult) story to tell with photographs than a story about an untouched place in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Does that make sense as a question? Thanks.
For the closeup of the tulip center, did you do a manual stack focus or an incamera stack focus (like on the Z7ii)? If in camera, what was your focus step, f stop, and number of shots? I am trying to figure out how NOT to get a blurred area in the finished image. Thanks so much. It is a fabulous shot!
Hi Joe nice to hear from you. Well as you may know Ireland is the most deforested country in Europe. They don’t call it 40 shades of green for nothing. There are very few natural indigenous woodlands left in Ireland. There has in recent years been a drive to plant and to restore some of the naturally occurring woodlands and eco systems in certain areas throughout Ireland. Natural history projects are one of the few areas that are funded both by the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland jointly. In fact, the first major conservation and biology all Ireland project I worked on was on dragonflies. I have studied this group and butterflies and moths for 30 years and have written a lot about them scientifically. The projects aim to establish recording programs and to map the distribution of dragonflies and other species in Ireland. A lot of money was put into the projects here and we discovered several new species of dragonfly and many moths not recorded in Ireland before. This The Natural History of Ireland’s Dragonflies was the first book I wrote at the end of the project with my friend Brian Nelson, a 400 page brick on there natural history and ecology in Ireland. I went on to write several other books on other natural history subjects in Ireland. What these books did was provide a base line for study and they also helped with reintroduction programs. As a natural history photographer this became a unique combination working with the best biologists who studied and found the species and my job was to photographically document what they found; a unique and new way of working which has proved highly successful over the years. I did this with butterflies, moths and wild orchids. The biggest project I was involved with was the Natural History of Ulster a 600 page book documenting the evolving nature and habitats of the province and its inhabitants and how man has shaped the environment on the island and how species have adapted to the changing landscape. I have also worked on other specialised projects such as, lichens, bryophytes and other specialised groups. My natural history background is a big help when undertaking high-profile projects such as these. It forms a large part of my work and it all will be archived in the national museum eventually.
Hi Mary Thanks for your question, I presume you are talking about the tulip stamens image on the intro page. This is actually quite a small tiny tulip. It is a focus stack but as I explained in an earlier post I do not use in camera stacking for a number of reasons. If I remember this is almost at 1:1 as its a very small dwarf tulip. It was shot using the Novoflex Castel Micro electronic rail. As you can see there are virtually no artefacts at all and the subject is extremely sharp. The Novoflex rails is superb not cheap but it can shoot multiple images in sequence far faster than you can do manually. There results are always impressive from it! You must also remember that Helicon focus and other stacking software cannot deal with barrel distortion hence you often get these sorts of soft spots. In-camera stacking programs work reasonably well at low magnifications but you begin to see the artefacts when you start to work at higher magnifications. Using focus ring rotation and autofocus is not ideal as you are changing the subjects magnification each time whereas using a rail does not change the magnification but moves through the subject recording each section. This is a much better way to focus stack. A review on theCastel Micro is on my website.
Hi Kristen thanks for posting. Yes there is quite a story to achieving that shot. Many images taken but only one like that showing the posture perfectly under water was achieved. I had about 7 frogs, some were eager to jump others were not and after several jumps they get bored and then you have to give them a break. I was at it for a couple of days on and off. I was using hi-speed flash to freeze the movement. One of the biggest problems is getting the frog completely in focus as it interrupts the beam in a different place each time. Getting all of it in frame is also challenging. Some great shots failed because part of a leg etc was out of the frame. Perseverance is the key and each time trying to narrow down the options for it when jumping.
Thank you for this opportunity to communicate with you!. I love macrophotography and I would like to ask you the following
I use Nikon Z7 105 mm 2.8S lens
I prefer not to work with focus stacking yet (may be later on). What would be your best advice on achieving good macros with this equipment (given a good exposure, light and all the basics). I find sometimes difficult to achieve enough of a focus on a subject, really close, to get a good quality appealing picture.
Hi Mike thanks for your question. You know that’s a difficult one as there are so many places and not enough time to fit them all in. My first love is Antarctica I have wanted to go there for many years. I think there is something magical about this continent and the animals that inhabit it. Perhaps I will get the opportunity to go before I’m too old. In terms of macro it would have to be Costa Rica just for the sheer diversity of species. I have spent a lot of my time studying moths from around the world and that place simply has an abundance of them!
Hi Marie. It is perfectly acceptable not to focus stack and you should not, in my opinion, be focus stacking every image. I only use focus stacking when there is a reason to do so. Many good macro images are about the ambience and creative depth of field and importantly how the final image looks. It is not always necessary to have every last hair in focus. What I would say is try to work from a tripod as much as possible. You can carefully pick your point of focus and it’s easier to compose your image. Try and keep the sensor as parallel as possible to the plane of focus, this will help. When you hand-hold as you do not have the same control over focus or time to look closely at your composition. Also it’s important to select your viewing angle carefully to maximise your depth of field for the selected aperture. Try to ovoid oblique compositions as they can’t hold all of the subject in focus. Also don’t be afraid to use longer lenses with an extension tube it helps compress the image. Also don’t try and fill the frame reduce your magnification a little and this will also help your DOF; you can crop afterwards. The majority of the images in my website are not focus stacked.
Hi Julie I have written in my last macro book about a basic workflow program. First I download and convert to DNG. I edit the images in Adobe Bridge. With one command I input the basic metadata Name address email, photographic details as they will not change etc. I then name the images via batch processing where possible, transfer location and GPS data. When complete I open them in Lightroom tweak and make adjustments. Once complete do a batch tif conversion to a folder called processed Tiffs. Open in photoshops do any minor tweaks then save completed files to another folder called completed Tiffs. I produce a 4000px set of jpegs and another smaller size for the web. The completed tiff images are copied into my agencies folders. So I end up with A completed Tiff file, a 4000jpeg file, and website file and then my agency files. That’s a rough outline. I work with Bridge, Lightroom, Photoshop and Topaz Photo AI. Hope this helps!
I’ve been working through your macro articles and I like how on point and organized they are, btw. Nice. Basically my question concerns flash with macro. Only recently have I added one to my kit and I’ve found that using it in Manual produces the effect that I want which is just a pop of fill so it doesn’t look “flashed”, something you are adept at. My experiments with TTL haven’t been as promising and I wonder if I’m “doing it wrong”. What I would like to do is have a prowl in the woods and use TTL to give me a particular amount of fill flash based on what the camera is reading for ambient light. I thought that dialing in flash exposure compensation would do this, but so far it hasn’t worked as well as having it on a manually chosen setting such as 1/32 etc. However this amount of flash isn’t right for all situations and often the critter moves off before I can find the appropriate light level. It always seems to over-flash. Any advice for using TTL more effectively or is it a lost cause?
Hi Kristen I don’t use TTL as much now, but your are right you want to use it sparingly. There are a number of factors. First the ISO value you choose has a bearing; higher values even at 1/32 can be a little too evident. On the lowest setting you need to pay attention to the flash to subject distance. Second it sometimes requires to slip a diffuser on as well which will help defuse it even more. Also the shutter speed is also relevant. You need to create an exposure for the ambient light first and then drop exposure by about 1/2 stop and see the effect. You can do an experiment with a subject outside to check this out and adjust accordingly. If the flash is too evident then you need to reduce it down by additional diffusion e.g. kitchen towel is often good. If its underpowered then a slight adjustment to the ISO will correct it. The ambient exposure is the key the flash is only adding a small amount of light.
I would just like to thank everyone on NPN that asked me questions. I have enjoyed the communication with all of you. Please feel free to contact me if there is any other query that you may have. It is nice to see such a great community spirit on the NPN site.