Monday, May 16, 2016

Products that work: Eyelead Camera Sensor Cleaning Kit

I don't do reviews because there are plenty of sites out there that do and I have no intention of competing with them. I also do not want vendors sending me kit for a favorable review (happens more often than you know). But I do want to pass along the things that I've used that have worked really well and for sensor cleaning I haven't found anything better than the Eyelead Camera Sensor Cleaning Kit. No links that line my pocket with your money -if you want to know more then off to the Google with you. I will leave you with a video that was done my The Fstoppers:

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Get My Good Side
I'm not sure why, but just today over two hundred people have started following me at 500px. Update: Since I wrote the original post less than two days ago over a thousand additional people are now following me and I still have no idea why.

To all of my new followers "Welcome!" and I hope you enjoy my work :)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Nesting Miner Bee Deconstruction

Nesting Miner Bee
Miner Bees get their name from their nesting habits. They build tunnels underground, usually in sandy soil, with tunnels branching off of the main entrance where the females make egg chambers. I've seen images of them emerging from their nests but I've never been lucky enough to take my own photos of it. That changed today when I spotted a female Miner Bee dive straight down to the ground right in front of me while I was out in the yard with my camera. The area where she was nesting was in the sun and I needed to cut all of the natural light out so I could use the flash as the only light source to help freeze motion. So I set up a large flower pot close to the hole to give me some shade, laid down on the ground with the camera ready, and waited. As she popped her head up the image above popped into my head but I wasn't at an angle where I could get it. I'd re-position only to spook her into going back into the nest. Eventually she got use to me and I had to act quickly to take the shot. Once any nesting bee gets acclimated to me they won't site still for long, and in fact she took off not long after I took the photo.

The Butcher's Bill

I spent about 36 minutes shooting the Miner Bee and took 85 frames. I have a few images that I might post later, but none as good as the one with this post. Sometime when I'm shooting it feels like fun, but this time she made me work for the shot I wanted :)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Using Canon's 80D for Macro Photography

I keep getting asked about the Canon 80D and how I like using it for macro photography. My canned answer is that the dynamic range is better, the ISO noise is lower, and that the shutter is quieter -and all of that is true. But I don't know if most people understand what that increase in dynamic range can do for you, and how well it applies to some of the subjects that a macro photographer typically shoots. For a really good demonstration of the Canon 80D's dynamic range check out this review, the entire video is good but the first eight minutes or so is dedicated to discussing the dynamic range.

So how does this apply to macro and the types of critters that we shoot? Some surfaces, like a solitary bee's compound eye, are incredibly difficult to expose because it's like firing a flash directly into a curved piece of glossy black plexiglass. If you expose the scene "to the right" (exposing for the highlights) then the specular area in the bee's eye is going to be completely blown out unless the size of your diffuser relative to the subject is huge. Well now it's possible to get a break in the specular highlights on those surfaces by under exposing a scene and then boosting the exposure and shadows in post to recover detail that would have been lost in the shadows (without getting a lot of sensor noise and a serious loss in detail). You can easily see it in the video above. For those of you who photograph the small world this shot might be of interest to you:

My son found that Violet Carpenter bee comatose on the outside stairs that lead to a store room and an outdoor shower that we use in the summer time to wash sand off before going in the house. Since it's several meters below ground there is a temperature drop at the bottom and the critter fell victim to it. It's still alive, but covered in beach sand and hasn't had a chance to wake up and clean itself off. Not a shot that I'll post to my gallery, but I thought it would be a good test of the 80D's dynamic range so I shot it at about -2.5 EV (as measured in the camera's histogram looking at the red channel). I then brought it up +2/3 of a stop in post, boosted the shadows, and dropped the highlights down a little. I use Photoshop Elements 14, and I think that those of you who use Lightroom could do an even better job of adjusting the exposure curve. I then processed the shot the way that I do all of my photos. If it wasn't for the dirt on the critter's face that would be a perfectly usable image, and the compound eyes are clearly visible even in the "harshest" specular area. Now under exposing a scene isn't going to help you as much on the specular highlights if you're light source isn't properly diffused to begin with but for those tricky subjects, with a properly diffused flash, under exposing is now an option if you're shooting with the Canon 80D. Highlight tone priority is also very practical now, and I think that I'll use it more often. In the past I always tried to expose to the right of the histogram but would lean toward under exposing a little, because I didn't want to risk losing detail in the highlights, and then I'd wrestle with sensor noise in post. Now I can be even more cautious where the highlights are concerned and still get a shot with very little noise and a lot of detail.

All of that is old news to anyone who doesn't shoot with a Canon camera, but then again you don't have the MP-E 65mm macro lens ;)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mason Bee Life Cycle

I'd like to be able to say that I planned it, that from the beginning of this year my goal was to photograph the life cycle and behavior of Mason Bees. But I didn't, it just kinda happened. I did plan to photograph them, just didn't think I'd do as well as I did since their life spans are so short and the weather so unpredictable in the early spring. But I did manage to document them being born...

Hatching Female Mason Bee II

Hatching Female Mason Bee starting a family...

Mating Red Mason Bees nesting and nest building...

Protective Mom

Mason Bee Collecting Mud

Almost Finished II

...and I watched about twelve capped reeds of Mason Bees turn into over sixty in just two months. Next year I'm going to have a lot of bees! I even got lucky enough to photograph some Male Blue Mason bees on their birth day, a species that I hadn't seen in my yard before.

Newborn Blue Mason Bee I

If you want to know more about Mason Bees, and possible start raising them yourself, then head on over to Crown Bees. I'll leave you with this video I shot of Mason bees collecting mud for their nest building. I was right on top of them and not once did any of the ladies bother me -they really are quite docile and excellent pollinators!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Crown Bees

Hatching Female Mason Bee II
I'm getting a lot of good feedback on my recent Mason Bee photos. One of the things that's come to my attention is that a lot of you don't know that you can raise your own Mason Bees -it's really easy! Crown Bees sells complete kits including the bees. Now there's no guarantee that the girls are going to nest in your house, but even if they don't one of the species already in your area might, and if they both nest in your house even better! They're very gentle, they won't sting unless you step on them, and they are great pollinators! Even though I have a small garden we have to give fruits and vegetables away every year -the girls are really that good! Plus they're a lot of fun to watch :) The photo included with this post is one of the Mason bees hatching out from last year's nesting season, and the wooden tray she's on is from the bee house that I bought from Crown Bees.

Note that I'm not including affiliate links in this post -I'm not trying to make money from you. What I do want is for more people to get interested in these beautiful creatures, and to see their population in the wild get stronger. We need them folks...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Natural Pollinators

New Apartment II
Last year I noticed some Mason Bees were building nests in one of the trees in my yard. Some of the branches had been cut, and the critters had tunneled into the soft cores (doesn't hurt the tree). So I hung up a solitary bee house that I bought from Crown Bees in it. I had the house sitting on my patio table and a female was already making egg chanbers, so placing it on the tree that I saw the other bees nesting in seemed like a logical choice. The image to the upper right is one of the girls starting her day.

Last weekend I noticed that some spiders had set up shop in my bee house. Normally I'd let nature take its course, but that was my house and my bees. Since it was warm (17C/62F) I thought some of the bees might hatch while I was cleaning the house so I got my camera ready. Here's a shot of one of the original bee's daughters hatching out of a cocoon:

Hatching Female Red Mason Bee

I may have more than one species of Mason Bee in my yard, because there are some clear differences in the males that I shot last year...

Tree House II

...and the males that hatched out of my bee house last weekend...

Newborn Red Mason Bee II

Newborn Red Mason Bee III

...but they had to be the sons of one or more of the females that were building egg chambers in the bee house. Irregardless of who the parents are I can't be happier about seeing a larger population of native pollinators in my yard! We have a pretty small garden and yet we end up giving away a lot of vegetables due to all of the solitary bees. Best of all they are really docile and only the females have a stinger -and you'd have to really manhandle one of them to get stung. As for those sometimes scary looking mandibles I've never once been bitten.

Newborn Red Mason Bee I

Why am I telling you this? Because natural pollinators are very important! I'm sure you've read in the news about colony collapse disorder (CCD). What you might not have heard about is the decline of natural pollinators. Most solitary bees are really good at pollinating crops because they are actually pretty bad at collecting pollen. Honeybees and bumblebees have pollen baskets on their hind legs and they pack pollen into it and use nectar to make it sticky:

Bees in a Wallflower Series 1-2

Once that pollen is glued down it's not coming off until the bee takes it off. Mason bees don't have a pollen basket and rely on the static electricity that builds up in their hairs to attract and hold pollen. So when they land on a flower to collect pollen they roll in the flower like a pig playing in the mud, and in the process spread some of the pollen that they had already collected from another flower. Also since not every flower is exactly the same some are pollinated better by different species of bee, so the more species you have foraging for nectar in your garden the better.

If you want to encourage natural pollinators in your yard or garden then check out Crown Bees -that's not an affiliate link. I'm sending you to Crown Bees not to make money off of you but because they sell quality products, have great resources on their web site (plus videos on You Tube), and excellent customer support. They can help you start your own colony of natural pollinators :)