Life Lessons learned from Macro Photography

By Lisa Hanhard

I had never been what people would call a patient person. I’d always been very goal oriented and for my first 40 years on this earth I was charging through life. My quest was to aim for my next goal, whether personal, professional or physical until it was achieved. Then I would seek out my next challenge and charge forward again, single minded in my purpose of completing what I set out to do, learn or achieve. That was until I got my first macro lens, a Canon f2.8 100mm L series macro lens. And my life has never again been the same.

The day my life changed, started by taking a jaunt over to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. Armed with my new lens I set out to see what I might discover that day. As I came to the little pond that day I saw the most magnificent creature, a gorgeous red rock skimmer dragonfly posing on a rock, and I was entranced. I stared at that little guy and took probably 200 photos. As I sat at the edge of the water it stared at me and I stared back, shooting photos. Every now and then it would do a little rotation, almost saying to me “you think this side of me is eye-catching, check me out from this angle.” Through the course or 15 minutes I just sat with that dragonfly photographing it from all angles.  When I got home to view my photos I was amazed at the detail and intricacy of this creature. I was astounded that in 40 years of life I had never even noticed a dragonfly before, let alone seen their delicate details. The dragonfly became symbolic to me of all of the breath-taking things in the world that I had never slowed down enough to see. From that day forward I have been peeking into flower buds, looking into trees, and crawling on the ground to see what else I have been missing, and I’ve learned there is so much beauty everywhere if we only take the time to look.

Some things that I have learned on the journey.

Patience – If you clear your mind and relax, beautiful things will happen. The best moments in life do not happen when you are in a hurry. Sit down, and plan to stay for a while.

For example, Dragonflies are very territorial and generally flit back to the same branch or two consistently. If you miss a shot, just sit quietly and chances are they will come right back to you, and even pose for you a few minutes later.

Most of my best dragonfly shots photos have come after missing a shot. It gave me time to prepare my focus and choose the best seat to wait for the dragonflies return.

Solitude can be a very nice thing – Spending some time with nature in total solitude can be very peaceful. Not only will you get some of your best shots, but letting your brain have time to totally shut down is very relaxing.

Beauty has many angles – Make sure to explore as many as you are able. If you don’t like the way something looks, change your perspective.

Life is short. A dragonfly only flies for the final few months of its life. Get out, explore, look for beauty everywhere, and make friends along the way. Arizona Highways Photo Workshops are a great place to do that 🙂

And, next time you see a plant or flower of bush, look closer. You might find a tiny little magical world waiting for you to explore.  Enjoy the journey.






Lisa Hanhard is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Natures Abstracts

Author: Jeff Cox

I like to try different things in photography. I’ve found gems1some interesting macro- photography at the Tucson Gem and mineral show. For the last several years I’ve gone and found unique shapes and patterns in the hundreds of mineral there. The colors can be amazing.

You can also turn some of the into black and white images or have any orientation you prefer.

The above photos were part of mineral slabs. Some could fit in your hand other were much larger. I find the richness of the colors and shapes just incredible. I’ve used a macro lens on some but I usually crop an area I find interesting. You can buy some minerals or just photography some on gems4the tables.

The Tucson Gem and mineral show if full of wonderful images that make great abstracts. In addition, you can find items from all over the world. There are tables of beads of all colors or numerous other items in abundance.

Enjoy the show it’s all over town. I’m fond of the Kino sport park area it has a assortment to peak my interest.

Jeff Cox is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Frog Photography

Author: Bruce Taubert
All images copyrighted Bruce Taubert

Glass Frog Blog jpeg 2After over 20 years of photographing frogs both in the United States and the Tropics I have developed a few techniques and put together some equipment that give me the results I need.  Above and beyond having a basic understanding of frog biology these small denizens of the night offer several obstacles to the macro photographer.

To some extent or another all frogs “breath” through their skin.  To make this possible the frog’s skin is moist and as a result highly reflective.  Any attempt at using strobes without diffusion normally results in an image where the frog’s skin is dotted with unattractive, colorless white blotches.

red-eyed treefrog blog

Most frog photography is accomplished in the dark of the night so the photographer, unless they have a friendly assistant, needs to hold their camera and at the same time illuminate the subject in order to focus on it.  Headlamps are of little use since as soon as the camera is brought into shooting position your forehead and the headlamp are covered by the camera body and attached flash.

Finally, straight on light or using a flash on the hotshoe is very unattractive so the photographer needs some mechanism to place the flash/s off of the lens axis.  Otherwise red-eye, harsh shadows, flat colors, and other bad things result.

Hyla cinerascens jpeg for blog

Several years ago I purchased the Canon macro twin flash.  Even though they are overly expensive they are my go to method of lighting small subjects.  Off camera flash brackets can be purchased or homemade for considerably less expense and I recommend going that route if money is a concern or if you are unsure macro photography is for you.  Nikon also makes some very nice, and in some cases better than the Canon twin flash, macro flashes.  The main problem I have with any form of macro flash is the quality of the light.  If you go to You Tube there are several very informative videos that describe making inexpensive diffusers.  Not being terribly handy I purchased two (one for each of the twin flashes) “sock-like” flash diffusers off of  The set costs about $8.  Because they are made for strobes I had to use a little Velcro to ensure they stayed on the flash heads while I walked around thick jungle vegetation or desert.  These small diffusers do an amazing job of reducing the specular highlights common to most flashed subjects.  Frog skin shine problem solved!

frog blog 2

Both the Canon twin flash and the Nikon macro flashes place the strobes very close to the cameras lens.  Although the strobes are far enough away from the lens axis to eliminate red-eye they are so close many images can be flat looking.  Some modeling light can be obtained by varying the light output from each strobe but normally the effect is not as dramatic as I want. After a brief search on I found a short (in the range or 3 inch long) shoe mounted swivel head.  I place the swivel head where the Canon strobe goes and then place the strobe on the end of it.  Now my flashes are around 5 inches instead of one inch from the lens.  Modeling flash is much more effective, the amount of skin reflection is even further reduced, and I have an easier time photographing larger specimens!

A long time ago my wife refused to go out with me late at night to hold a flash light on my nocturnal subjects so I could focus.  I can’t imagine why!  There are occasions when I can con a friend to wander around in the dark to assist me or another frog photographer to join me in my wanderings but, for the most part, I am alone with too few hands to get the job done.  While watching a video on frog photography I noted another photographer had developed a unique way of lighting their subject.    The photographer used the Canon twin macro flashes and had placed a small LED video light

frog  blog 1

between the lens and the strobe.  Two problems were solved at once. The strobes were placed further from the lens than normal and the video lights made it possible to illuminate the subject while focusing.  Since I had solved the flash extension problem I only needed to use one video light for focusing and one flash extender on the opposite side of the flash unit. Now I can accomplish most of my nighttime macro photography with the two hands I was born with.

Using this combination of equipment modifications my frog photography efforts have become much easier and more rewarding.  With the exception of the twin flashes I spent less than $60.  The set-up is light weight, easy to pack on long trips, and fast to assemble.  Getting the flash off camera and diffusing the light and having hands free focusing capabilities all at the same time makes life much easier and allows me to take more and, hopefully, better images.

red-eyed treefrog blog

Bruce Taubert is a biologist and Wildlife Photographer and instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.



Cactus Blossoms & Macro Photography

Sara Goodnick

Cactus_Flowers-2-6The Sonoran Desert is the only place I have lived that has a truly magnificent springtime. The air is cool and refreshing, and color is bursting out in a normally pale and dusty landscape. It usually begins in mid-February, and goes on in stages until late May.

My favorite flowers are the cactus blossoms because they appear on such an unlikely source. The delicate petals and amazing colors invite closer inspection, where the pistils and stamens reveal massive amounts of pollen and usually an insect exploring the inner parts.Cactus_Flowers-2-7

This March, during the late afternoon nearing sunset, I took my tripod, a stool, a reflector, my camera, a Nikon D700, with a Nikon 105 mm Micro lens, and a cable release, out around our home which is surrounded by the desert. I had decided to use a process called photo stacking to give detail throughout the photograph in the areas i felt were important. This entails making a series of 5-25 images focusing on different parts of the flower. Using the software Helicon Focus, I generated the final images.Cactus_Flowers-2-3

It is important to use a tripod and to stay organized. The differing focal lengths must go in order. This cannot be random or the software will not work well. So I set it all up, then perched comfortably as possible on my stool, and focused, clicked, focused 1/8th” closer, clicked, etc. as many times as I needed to cover the blossoms.

Cactus_Flowers-2-8I uploaded them into Lightroom, made a few adjustments to each image (all in each sub-group were synchronized), then uploaded each set into Helicon Focus. It always takes some experimenting to decide which of the 3 stacking methods works best with which set of images. The flattened composite is saved as a tiff, and taken back into Lightroom or Photoshop for final minor adjustments and cropping.


Sara Goodnick is a nature and portrait photographer and a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.