Saturday, October 24, 2009

No New Diffuser

I thought I had a good plan: Order a few ABS plastic project cases from All Electronics, cut out holes on one side of the boxes for the flash heads of my MT-24EX and the other side where I'd mount a piece of diffusion plastic and presto! I'd have a brand new diffuser set. I could easily change the diffusion material just by taking the front of the case off and putting a different plastic on it (great for experimenting).

So over the course of three evenings I became one with the Universe and a Dremel Tool. There were so many plastic shavings scattered all over the kitchen it looked like I had tossed a manikin in a wood chipper. I'm a man who knows his limits so when I wanted to test two different box sizes I ordered three of each, even though the MT-24EX only has two flash heads. After completely ruining one box, and the bottom of another, I had two sets of diffusers built and I tested them against the set of Puffer diffusers that I built over a year ago. During testing I ran into one minor snag...

The new diffusers didn't work.

Well, they did "work", but I couldn't get light that was more diffused than the Gary Fong Puffers that I've been using (if you use that link to order two Puffers you'll only pay $30 USD + shipping). Looking back on it I think I'd have to build a diffuser that has at least twice the surface area of the Puffer plastic. Unfortunately the resulting diffusers would be too large to use with the flash heads connected to the flash mount that Canon supplies with the MT-24EX. I'd have to get the new diffusers further away from the lens, and it would just make hand holding the rig more difficult. So for my style of shooting the Puffer makes a better diffuser.

Here's a video showing what the Puffers look like and how I use them:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"The Bee Man"

Freckles V
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
The title of this post is one of the things that I've been called this year, along with "The Bee Whisperer" and considering the number of bee photos I've taken this year I'm stunned no one has said "Dances with Bees" :D

It was really unintentional -I shoot whatever I have time for, and whatever will let me get close. I typically only have about 30 minutes a day, on average, to take photos. This year I missed about six weeks of the "macro season" between my son going into the hospital for an asthma attack (he's OK now) and my MT-24EX dieing. Sadly the flash went south during the height of the solitary bee emergence here, and I got the replacement three days after one of my best shooting locations was mowed. So I actually took fewer bee images than I could have, but still managed to fill my gallery with them. Go figure...

The only planned bee shoot that I did was toward the end of August. For three consecutive weekends I baited pumpkin flowers so I could photograph honeybees while they were feeding (like the one in the image I've used for this post). I had a few compositions stuck in my head from when I was shooting honeybees out at the farm two years ago and I wanted to see if I could get those images into the camera. Unfortunately I waited too long to track down a beekeeper to photograph honeybees on comb, but I've got that session on the list for next year.

This coming spring I plan to photograph more hoverflies, particularly Banded Eye Drones. But I really can't say what I'll definitely be able to photograph at any given time. I can say that I'm not really fixating on any one insect though, because I don't want my gallery to get repetitive and boring. It also isn't any fun for me to shoot the same critters all the time -and it needs to be fun...

I'm working on a new set of diffusers for my MT-24EX, so my light will be different in the coming year. Also I might just get my MPE-65mm macro lens back from the Canon Service Center -after almost two years of constant use it broke as well. What a year...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Annual Charity Bazaar

Bazaar Booth
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.

As I write this it's Sunday morning, and I still haven't recovered from the two day charity bazaar at the NATO base here in Naples, Italy. Along with the photo at the right here's a short video clip of the area where Scott Knaust (my coworker and fellow photographer) were selling our work:

This year we paid a little extra money for an indoor spot, and with the weather turning cold and raining on Saturday it was money well spent! Setting up inside allowed us to leave everything so we didn't have to take the photos down at the end of the first day and set them back up the next morning. There were also a lot more people viewing our work this year than last, so I don't think we'll be renting an outdoor spot next year. My favorite critique came from a young girl, probably no older than my 8year old, who saw this image...

Early Morning Dragonfly II

...and said "Oh now that's just gross!!". Critics one, Dalantech zero :)

One advantage to doing an event like an international bazaar is that you get to meet people from all over the world and to see the cultural differences between them. Almost to an individual the French love macro photography and think that it's an art form. If I were single I'd find a busy street corner in Paris and just sell photos for a living. I'd probably be eating peanut butter and crackers on a regular basis though :)

I took one poster sized print and one large canvas print with me just as "show pieces" -no real intention of selling them because the cost to produce them is too high. Simple economics governs every event like this one, and people just don't have the liquid capital that they use to. No matter how good your work is you still need to offer someone a quality product at an affordable, and attractive, price. But I like to take at least one large print to the bazaar just to show people how an image will look when printed poster size (lots of detail because I don't crop) and if someone wants a different photo printed large they can just send me an email and I'll give them a quote (it pays to have business cards).

I had three copies, in different sizes, of this image...

Freckles II

...and I thought I was taking a risk by having too many copies made. In addition to the poster sized print I had an 8"x12" and a 13"x19" and the 13"x19" was the very first image that I sold on Friday morning. The smaller copy sold that afternoon, and people were leaving the bazaar and talking about the larger image so much that the people they talked to were coming just to see it. Hind sight being what it is if I had about six more 8"x12" copies I could have sold them. I did end up bringing the poster sized version home, it was just too expensive to produce once I paid to have it framed so I couldn't sell it at an affordable price. But when I choose images to use as show pieces I pick photos that I like, so if they don't sell I can always hang them on my wall. Scott and I talked at length about the need to find a way to make poster size prints that are good quality (worth buying) and inexpensive (easy to sell)...

The pleasant surprise came from a German couple who bought the canvas print: A woman who I completely mistook for a native English speaker looked over this image several times...

Portfolio series 2008-3

...and thought her husband would enjoy it. He's a helicopter pilot and likes the way that dragonflies maneuver :)

I sold a mix of images this year, both natural light closeups and high magnification macro shots. Different images appeal to different people, and I try to bring a wide range of photos. Some get carried away by customers, and some I carry back to my car. There's no formula for figuring out what will and what won't work -I just take the images that are my strongest compositions.

Favorite moment: Several people took photos of my work -don't get me started on how low it is to take a photo of a photo. For 15 Euro the individual could have had the real thing without the plastic bag and the reflections that it will cause (one of the reasons why I bag my prints). But the real kicker was when a guy asked Scott to move out of the way so he could get a clear shot of one of Scott's images with his iPhone. It was like asking Scott to turn so it would be easier to take his wallet...

Now that it's over can I retire, sitting on a beach in the Bahamas with some tall fruity umbrella topped drink in my hand? No way! I did make enough to pay for all the new prints and to cover my half of renting the booth with a little pocket money left over. But that's not important since the real value in doing an event like the bazaar is in meeting new people, sharing what I know with new photographers (and picking up tips from them), and getting feedback on my work -both good and bad. Definitely one of those life experiences where the journey is more important than the destination...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You're about to get left behind...

There is, to use an abused phrase, a paradigm shift occurring in macro. More and more people want to see well lit, well composed images. Just like any other photographic discipline it's the composition that will make or break a photo.

Cataloging insects is boring...

You might still be in a clique now, might still have people telling you that they like your work. That's because they are shooting like you are, producing centered razor sharp images or photos that don't even remotely tell a story. Most of the compliments you're getting are on your technique, instead of what you're capable of producing with it. Or they're just telling you what they think you want to hear.

Your fan club is going down with you...

Those photographers who are concentrating on composition and story telling in their work, that are constantly sweating the lighting, will be the shooters in the upper ten percent of the discipline. They'll not only have the respect of the macro community, but photographers in other disciplines will admire their skill and art. They won't be "capturing" the creatures of the small world, they'll be photographing them.

Anyone can take a poorly composed razor sharp image; people on vacation take thousands of them every day. If your macro work looks no better than the average vacation point and shoot snapshot then your images will never stand out. John Q. Public neither knows nor cares how difficult it is to take a macro photo -all he cares about is what he can see in print or on a computer monitor. There has to be something about your work that's going to get the average viewer to stop and take notice and capturing a lot of detail isn't enough.

Time to stop making excuses and step up your game before you get left behind...

Makes Me Wonder...

...if they can actually think and make decisions...

Not my video -I just thought it was really interesting.

Silence of the Bees

A very interesting PBS program on colony collapse disorder from 2007 Silence of the Bees.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October Bee II Deconstruction

October Bee II
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
One of the problems with shooting a bee that's trying to get it's metabolism going is that it will occasionally move, and more often than not it will move away from the camera. That's exactly what was happening while trying to shoot this dew covered solitary bee, but it's a problem that actually has an easy solution.

For this shot, and nearly all of my high magnification macro, I'm holding onto the object that the critter is on -in this case it's that smelly yellow thing. I'm holding onto the flower's stem, and resting the lens on that same hand, to keep everything steady. But the other benefit to using what I call the Left Hand Brace Technique is that since I have the stem between my left index finger and thumb I can rotate the flower as the subject is moving to keep it looking into the camera. I can also tilt the flower to change the angle between the camera and the subject.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Macro Spotlight - John Hallmen

You might know John Hallmen as morfa over at Juza Nature Forum and if you don't know him at all then you're seriously missing out on one of the top macro photographers on the web today! John's work represents what macro should be -well composed images that show the viewer what it's like to see the world from the critter's perspective. He shoots with a mix of natural light and flash, and he never harms his subjects for a photo. The image I've linked with this post is just a test shot he took while trying out a new lens.

Head on over to John's photo stream at Flickr and get educated...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Think Outside the Box

Originally uploaded by daveograve@.
The image I've added to this blog post isn't mine, it belongs to Dave Merrigan and I'm using it with his permission. Dave spotted this dragonfly but was pressed for time so he simply lit it with an LED flashlight off to camera right. When I first saw this photo there was only one word that came to mind:


What didn't enter my mind was any silly notion that the photo doesn't look natural just because the background is dark. I appreciated the image for what it is: Well lit, well composed, a shot I'd want to print large or save to my desktop as wallpaper. An image that's art and not just another "catalog shot"...

There's this thing called a box and if you don't step out of it and think about your work and where you're going you'll just end up producing the same old run of the mill images that everyone else can, and is, taking...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Published by Environmental Graffiti

Freckles IV
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
There's an interesting article at Environmental Graffiti with a few of my images in it, plus additional photos by some really talented shooters. The lead photo in the article was taken by Dixie Native and if you're not familiar with his work you owe it to yourself to check out his gallery!