Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nationa Geographic's Daily Dozen

The photo to the right was selected by National Geographic for the April 8th Daily Dozen. If I get enough votes the image may be printed in magazine, so please vote!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Stacking Done Right

Gymnosoma cf. rotundatum (Linnaeus, 1758)
The image included in this post isn't mine, it was taken by Andrea Hallgass and I'm blogging about it because I think that it's a great example of an excellent photograph. The light, color, and composition are all spot on. Normally I wouldn't be interested in a top down composition but the way that the subject flows into the frame, the dead space in front of it, and the fact that everything from the wing to the head is in focus really works for me. So it's one of those images that kinda breaks the rules but in a good way. The lighting is also really good and it's very well diffused, and it's that well diffused light that's helping to bring out the textures in the subject.

...and I have to admit that the detail in this shot is a part of what makes it stand out...

I'm not so sure that the image had to be taken at F4.5 to get that level of detail, pretty sure that F8 would have worked just fine at 1.8x and Andrea wouldn't have to take 85 frames at that Fstop, but the detail when added to a well lit and well composed scene makes for a spectacular image! Well done Andrea -you've definitely set the bar high with your macro photography!

One of the benefits of linking my blog to my Google Plus account is that when I blog I can also announce the post on my Google Plus page. In response to this post David Elefante brought this video by John Hallmen to my attention that might help some of you deal with those pesky antenna that just don't seem to sit still.

For those of you who do not know John Hallmen it's my honor and privilege to introduce you to his work!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Explaining Diffraction

Sadly a lot of you are going to view this video and use it as an excuse to focus stack. But as a macro photographer who routinely shoots single frames with a macro lens stopped down to F16 this video reconfirms what I've been saying for years -diffraction is not the devil that the macro community has made it out to be...

There are so many factors that can impact image sharpness that blaming all of the softness in your photos on diffraction, IMHO, shows a great deal of inexperience.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Working on a New Diffuser

Beetle in November Series 1-1
The diffuser that I mentioned in this post is still the best commercially available diffuser for the MT-24EX, but last November I started working on a new set. I built the prototype out of some diffusion material that I had laying around the house and took the shot that's included with this post. At life size that beetle was a pretty good torture test -the diffusers are at their maximum distance from the subject and the shell is very reflective, but there is still color and texture in the specular highlight area.

I built a second model that had just a few minor improvements over the prototype, and after I finished it realized that what I need is something modular that I can take apart, change out diffusion materials, and reassemble. So I went through my son's Legos, determined what plates I'd need to build a diffuser, and ordered the pieces from the Lego online store. I'm still waiting for the order to arrive, but when it does I expect to have a diffuser set that not only works better than what I have now but I'll also be able to rapidly make changes to it. As it stands now every time I want to experiment with some new plastic I have to build a new diffuser, and it's just too time consuming and expensive.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Turn Down for What?!

Every year it's the same story; I think that "this is going to be the year" -it's gonna be better than the last and I'm going to shoot more. But every year the song remains the same and real life gets in the way of what's really just a hobby. Network engineering pays the rent and being the "gatekeeper to the small world" is charity work ;)

This year started off just like any other in that I was optimistic and passionate only to get curb stomped by the day job. Mason bees emerge in the early spring, during the first warming trend after the cold weather has passed. I really like photographing the little critters and this year I completely missed them. One of the first images that I posted this year was a Red Velvet Mite that I found on a flower growing in my back yard -it's all I had time to look for...

By the middle of the year I was getting pretty frustrated. I'm very passionate about macro photography and I'm just not ready to put the kit down and walk away. But at the same time I was feeling the need to do more -if my time with the camera was going to be limited then I wanted to make the most of it and get some of the compositions that had been stuck in my head into the machine. Not content with photographing a lethargic solitary bee, and adding yet one more still life shot to a gallery that's already stuffed with them, I put some honey on a sunflower leaf and shot this critter when it woke up and started feeding:

Likewise I could have shot this honeybee while it was feeding inside of a zucchini flower, but I've been there and done that. So instead I waited until it had stopped to clean some of the pollen off of itself and baited it into feeding on my finger:

So here I am getting ready for the new year and wanting to continue pushing myself to take images that are not only different than the norm, but to dial up the difficulty and really challenge myself. To shoot more outside of my comfort zone and continue to be passionate about one of the toughest photographic disciplines. I even set up a house for the Mason bees hoping that they nest in my yard.

Turn down for what?!...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Before and After

I'm in this constant loop of self improvement that usually involves things that fall into one of three categories: Lighting, Composition, and Post Processing. That last one has been my Achilles Heel because Ive spent the majority of my time on the first two. But now that I pretty much have my lighting sorted out I'm spending more time on my post processing "skills" -in quotes cause I still suck at it. But I am getting better, and recently I was reminded of an image that National Geographic published in their Young Explorer Magazine (Jan/Feb 2011 pages 10 and 11) and I wanted to see what I could do to improve the shot. At that time I was wrestling with a flower that was yellow but always seemed to come out a little on the orange side, or with a greenish tint. Here's the original edit:

Here's my recent pass on the original RAW file:

The yellows are a lot better, and the overall contrast is much improved. For post processing I'm currently using Photoshop Elements 13 with Topaz plugins (Denoise, Detail, Clarity, and Adjust depending on the image). I'm not going to get into a play by play on my post processing because I'm still learning, but if you are looking to improve your digital darkroom skills then check out the Topaz YouTube Channel -even if you don't use their plugins there's still a lot of really good advice!

If anyone has some other online post processing references then please pass them my way in the comments.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Studio Verses Field Macro

I frequently see photographers debating the merits of "natural" photography, and these days I have a tendency to avoid such discussions like the plaque. The word natural is just too subjective -what might seems perfectly natural to you might be completely unnatural to me (or vise versa). Truth be told I do not think that macro photography is natural since most people can't see more detail than what's visible in a 1/3 life size image. So I have no interest, romantic or philosophical, in creating natural images. My goal is to make images that people want to print large and hang on the wall, even though it's a photo of a "bug". To that end I'd rather be shooting in near studio conditions so that I have full creative control over the scene, and so I can show you what I want you to see and not just what the camera was able to capture. There's just no way to produce an image like this one in the field:

I was photographing that solitary bee on my patio table, but initially it wasn't active. I'm getting bored with taking static images because the story telling aspect is, well, short. "Here is a sleeping insect. The end". Kinda dull, and I really don't want the images in my gallery to get repetitive. So I was sitting there thinking about the scene that I wanted to shoot when it dawned on me that I could probably create it. If I failed then I'd still have a static shot of a sleeping bee, but if it worked I'd not only have a much better image I'd also be able to get a composition out of my head that had been stuck there for a few years. So I put some honey on a sunflower petal, coaxed the bee to climb onto it, and when it started feeding I shot it like it was the last image I was ever going to take. For the background I used a piece of light blue plexiglass with some glossy photo paper taped behind it. Is it "natural"? Not even close. Is it a photo that looks good printed large? Well let's just say that I had a print of it on canvas gallery wrapped that's currently hanging at my mother in law's house...

Given the choice I'd much rather shoot in near studio conditions, but that doesn't stop me from chasing the critters in the heat of the day when they are hyper active. The down side is that I'm not in full control of the scene so I pretty much have to accept what the critter and the lighting conditions will give me. Sometimes I get lucky and I can use the flash to expose for the subject and let the natural light expose the background, like in this image:

I'm still holding on to the flower's stem to help keep the scene steady, but other than that I'm not manipulating the frame or the subject. Contrast that shot with this one where I'm sitting at the patio table, I have my "studio" set up, and I've baited the subject:

I'm not saying that either style is right or wrong, but given the choice I'd much rather produce studio images.