Saturday, October 18, 2014

27 Frames

Feeding Bumblebee on a Sunflower III
Sometimes I think that when I post an image deconstruction I'm projecting the impression that it's really easy -as if images just jump right into the camera. But it's not and you can't just go out, buy the same hardware, and take the same photos -not without getting a lot of practice first. I've lost count of the number of emails that I've received from people who are struggling with macro photography, people who thought that the key to taking macro photos was simply having enough disposable income to afford the gear. So with this image I want to talk about what I was trying to do and how difficult it was.

I was asked if I focus stacked this image, but like all of my insect macro photography it is a single frame taken hand held (no tripod, I don't even own one). Although it would have been easier to get the shot that I wanted if I could focus stack a scene like that one, it would have been pretty tough since the critter was in constant motion. What really made this one difficult is that antenna -it needs to be in focus since it's crossing the bee's eye, and that appendage was always moving. To add insult to injury I'd no sooner frame and compose the image and the bee would move as I was pressing the shutter release. So I'd have to recompose, check the framing with my peripheral vision, look at the area that I wanted to be in focus and make sure that I could clearly see texture detail where I needed to see it, and hope that the position and focus on the antenna didn't ruin the shot.

It took 27 frames...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Extreme Macro

Recently the domain became available and I took the winning bid. Although the url for this blog will have to stay as (someone is using I've changed the title of the blog and I set up a DNS redirect so that if you surf to you'll get this blog.

Nice to have a name that's really more in line with what this blog is about, and that lines up with the title of my book. Speaking of which one of the projects that I have on my to do list for this winter is to come out with a second edition :)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Out with the Old Style and in with the New

Solitary Bee Portrait
I was chimping through the images on my camera, looking at the photo to the right, and thinking "meh". Technically there's nothing wrong with that shot but I've taken it already, or at least images like it, and I'm getting tired of shooting the same frames -and you're probably getting tired of looking at them. For me really good images come from being inspired, and passionate, about what I'm photographing and how I'm photographing it and that scene just wasn't "singing to me". To add insult to injury it wasn't the shot that I wanted. I had a composition stuck in my head for a few years, one of a solitary bee actively feeding and shooting it low enough to get the proboscis in focus as well as the head. So as I was sitting there at my patio table, looking at the carnage that once was a sunflower (petals everywhere) with a solitary bee that was getting more and more active, when it hit me: Why not put some honey on a sunflower petal, get the critter to climb onto it, and with the sunflower petal in my hand I could get the angle that I wanted...

Feeding Solitary Bee Series 1-1

Feeding Solitary Bee Series 1-4

Feeding Solitary Bee Series 1-3

One more composition out of my head and into the camera, and it's a scene that I feel good about. I'm not saying that I won't take any more "static" images like the first one, but you can expect to see a lot more "action" shots from me in the future. Out with the old style, and in with the new :)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Exposing for Two Light Sources

The last time I was out at my Mother in law's farm something strange happened. It was late in the evening and I found a bumblebee foraging on a sunflower and it didn't care how close I was getting. As long as I kept my movements slow I could get as close as I wanted, and even managed to grab onto the stem of the sunflower and rotate it a little several times. I probably stood there for a good twenty minutes shooting the critter, taking an occasional break to give my arms a rest (the joys of hand holding about 2.5 kilos in camera gear straight out in front of my body). While photographing the bee my flash batteries started to die, and I accidentally took a few frames without the flash. While chimping through the images on my camera's LCD later I started to delete them and then I realized I could turn the whole situation into a happy accident and explain a few things about mixing light sources. I was attempting to drag the shutter -use a slow shutter speed (in this case 1/30) to expose for the natural light behind the subject, and then use the flash to not only expose for the subject itself but to freeze any motion that might be in the scene. The slow shutter speed shouldn't make any difference with respect to the subject because there just wouldn't be enough natural light to expose it, and I don't care about movement in the background while the shutter is open since it's going to be out of focus anyway. Works really well if the background is well lit and the subject is in heavy shadow. But I was shooting in the late evening and had to be careful because the background light levels were low -exposing for the background would put me dangerously close to exposing for the subject, as you can see in the frame below when the flash didn't fire.

Image One

To me there are three things that stand out in that image. There is a specular highlight caused by the sun in the bee's eye. That specular highlight is going to be additive with the one that the flash will create, possibly reducing the detail in that area of the eye. I can also see the color in the bee's "fur" and the sunflower's petals so both those area could be subject to ghosting if there is any movement, and it usually ends up looking like an odd shadow or blur of colors in those areas that are being exposed by the natural light. Fortunately for me the bee wasn't moving, I had the flower's stem in my left hand and the lens resting on that same hand, and I press the shutter on my camera like I'm squeezing the trigger on a gun. Here is the resulting frame with the flash.

Image Two

I like the angle that I have on the bumblebee and the way it seems to be posing for me, but I don't like the foreground (too distracting). Since the natural light was failing I eventually went to twice life size, brought the shutter to 1/250 to cut out all of the natural light, and just let the background go black due to flash falloff (nothing in the background to reflect the light from the flash back into the camera so it simply becomes black). I could have done the same thing when I was shooting the life size scene above, but if there is a lot of space around the subject I want to see some color in it other than black (and based on feedback so do you). Here's the resulting 2x frame.

Bumblebee on a Sunflower II

Exposing for two light sources sounds tricky, and it can be. Keep in mind that the natural light exposure is going to be effected by changes in ISO, shutter speed, and Fstop. Flash exposure is effected by ISO and Fstop but not the shutter speed as long as the speed of the shutter is not faster than the flash sync speed. When using the flash to freeze motion you want to avoid using high speed sync (HSS) since it pulses the flash to take multiple exposures while the shutter is open and any movement while the flash is pulsing will be recorded.

By now it should be obvious why I've been experimenting with materials to reflect the flash back into the camera so I can cut out the natural light in a scene and just use the flash as a single light source. Like my "blue sky" -a piece of light blue plexiglass with a sheet of glossy photo paper behind it.

Feeding Bumblebee on a Sunflower

Or a nearby grape leaf and a honeybee that's cooperative enough to let me move her in front of it for a shot.

Pollinators Series 3-1

Until next time happy shooting folks :)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Daily Deviation Number Seven

Swapping Spit
I just received my seventh Daily Deviation at Deviant Art for this image.

Thanks to all of my followers at Deviant Art -you folks are the greatest!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Accept No Limits

The mosquitoes had turned my legs into an all you can eat buffet. Looking at the little red dots that marked the end of their existence on this plane I wondered if I was creating a super race. Maybe, just maybe, I was only killing the slow and stupid ones so that the fast and smart would reproduce. While I was still contemplating my role in natural selection I noticed a honeybee covered in Zucchini pollen. She landed in a flower that was very low to the ground and the angle would make for a really difficult shot. I’ve photographed honeybees covered in pollen before but it was was several years ago. My lighting and skills have improved a lot since those early images, but shooting her in that flower was going be tough. The petals act like a yellow bounce card making the light very warm, and then there’s the background to worry about. If I shot her at the edge of one of those petals to get a break on the light then there’s a good chance that the background would be black. Given the choice between a shot with a dark background, or no image at all, I can go quite a while before posting a photo to my gallery. The average macro photographer will accept a black background due to flash falloff but John Q. Public (someone who knows nothing about macro and the difficulty of shooting the small world) will not and he’s my target audience. There had to be a way…

Watching her feed I realized that she was looking for nectar, and just happened to be covered in pollen. Honeybees generate static electricity with their wings, and that static charge builds up in their hair and attracts pollen. Since she was looking for the sweet stuff she just might take some bait because honeybees are also very task oriented –if they are looking for pollen then they won’t take the sweet stuff. But she was definitely going for the nectar at the very bottom of the Zucchini flower. So when she came up to the top of the flower to do some pre-flight maintenance (there was so much pollen stuck to the hairs in her eyes she probably couldn’t see) I put some honey on the end of my finger and put it in front of her. She not only climbed onto my finger to feed on it, she let me stand up so I could position her in front of a grape leaf to keep the background from going black. Sometimes the flash would bother her and she’d fly off, and sometimes she’d just finish the honey and would move on. But each time she’d land less than a meter from me to try to get more of the pollen off, and each time I’d offer her a baited finger and go back to shooting.

There was so much pollen on her that, even from a distance, I could see it falling like snow.

I took a range of compositions and magnifications. I knew that it might be quite some time before I had an opportunity to shoot a cooperative pollen covered honeybee under almost controlled conditions so I wanted to make the most of it. One of the things that has me spoiled about shooting with the Canon MP-E 65mm is that I know what magnification I have to be at to get the framing that I want. Being able to simply dial in the mag without having to add or subtract extension tubes from a normal macro lens means that my EF-S 60mm doesn’t get as much time on the camera even though I can take it to almost 3x with a full set of tubes. I only edited three of the frames, saving the rest for this winter when there’s nothing moving and I want to post an image to my gallery. Below are the two that I like the most. As always they're single, un-cropped, frames taken hand held. I am the "finger model".

Pollinators Series 3-3

Pollinators Series 3-2

Someone asked me “How did you even think to do this?!” My mentor, Professor Mark Plonsky, got me to think outside the box and to accept no limits when shooting the small world. I remember showing Mark a photo of a dragonfly that I was really proud of. He said something like “That’s nice, but you could have gotten closer”. At first I was kinda upset, but the more I looked at the image the more I realized that he was right. I could have gotten closer but I didn’t because I thought the critter wouldn’t let me. I failed not because the subject didn’t cooperate –I simply assumed that it wouldn’t…

Footnotes: Looking at those old honeybee shots I know that I could go back and re-edit some of them because my post processing has also improved. Added to my “to do” list…

Some of you are gonna want to over react to my using honey to bait honeybees. First it was probably their honey, since there is a hive less than 100 meters from where I was shooting and I bought the honey from the beekeeper that “owns” the hives (owns is in quotes cause we all know that women rule the world and the girls are just letting him think that their home is his). Also most beekeepers have told me, due to the small quantities that I use, that even if there’s something bad in the honey a healthy hive will not be affected. So relax.

Last, but not least, be VERY careful when shooting anything that can sting you. You could be allergic, and even if you’ve been stung in the past you could still have an allergic reaction to the venom. Do not shoot alone…

Friday, August 1, 2014

It's All About the Background

Honeybee Feeding on a Blackberry Flower
For quite a while now I've gone out of my way not to get a black background in my photos -everything from holding the subject in front of grape leaves to fence posts. But one of the things that I've wanted to do for a long time is simulate a blue sky. So I bought a piece of light blue plexiglass and experimented with putting different materials behind it to reflect the light from the flash back to the camera, but nothing seemed to work. One day while driving home I was looking at a blue sky that was being diffused by some very thin clouds and it dawned on me that what I really needed was something that was going to diffuse the light before it passed back through the plexi. Something like a white card, but what did I have at home that acted like a white card? Then a little voice in the back of my head said:

"What about all that photo paper that you don't use, you idiot. You know, the stuff you have laying around from ink jet printer kits that you had to buy when the store ran out of individual ink cartridges."

The voice was right -suddenly I was getting that light shade of blue that I wanted to see in my backgrounds and all I had to do was gaffer tape a piece of photo paper to the back of the plexiglass, glossy side to the camera. If you try this trick yourself be advised that if you get the subject too close to the plexi that there will be a visible halo around the critter that's gonna be impossible to remove in post. I try to keep the subject at the same distance from the background that it is from the lens (maybe a little more).

Here's a short video of me using the plexiglass in the field to shoot the image included with this post. Pretty basic stuff really, but the results are pretty nice.