Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blowing Bubbles Deconstruction

It’s been a while since I’ve done an image deconstruction and I thought it would be cool to do one on my favorite bubble blowing photo. The folks with the pocket protectors think that insects expose the contents of their stomachs to the air to aid digestion –probably to speed up the growth of beneficial bacteria. What’s cool about it is that you can either catch a refraction in the “bubble” or use it as a lens to magnify the critter’s mouth parts, or in the case of this series both :)

Don’t tell the Mrs., but I frequently bait the window sill in the living room with honey. I do it because I know that a lot of insets are attracted to that window due to the amount of sunlight that it gets. I also do it because the window sills in our house are white, and they make the perfect reflector for the flash. Knowing that I’d get a lot of reflected light played a big part in where I placed the area of sharp focus in the next scene…

Blowing Bubbles  series 1-1
Link to a larger version -click on the image to make it expand.

I have one of the MT-24EX’s flash heads at the 11 O’clock position and the other at the 2 O’clock position (relative to me) so that I can get the light to wrap around the insect, but at the same time it’s not dead even on both sides –the critter looks 3D and not flat. But notice the area directly under the leading eye –there’s quite a bit of light there, maybe one stop less than the top and the right side of the eye. That’s because the window sill is acting as a reflector. I knew that the bottom of the eye would be well lit, so it needed to be in focus. I also knew that the bubble would also get the same light, and I wanted to make sure that I got all of the bubble and the fly’s mouth parts in focus. So I placed my depth as far back as I could and still get some detail in the leading edge of that eye. At four times life size and F8 I probably have about 1mm of depth to play with and I had to decide what to keep and what to toss out…

There are some hairs on the fly’s face close to the mouth that I could not get into the shot –just not enough depth. But no one who saw that first photo noticed –if they did then they didn’t mention it. Why? Easy –your eyes go right to the fly’s eye, then to the bubble, and then to the rest of the image. You’ll go straight to the eyes of every creature that you see due to a subconscious “fight or flight” reflex: “Is this something that I can kill or do I need to run?”. You then look at the bubble because it’s so prominent and because of the pattern of the mouth parts. The rest of the photo is immaterial…

In this next shot I have the same problem; the window sill is going to light up the underside of the eye. The bubble is smaller now, but the mouth parts are extended; the fly is drawing the bubble in because it’s trying to get away from me and the camera. So I have to pull the area of sharp focus a little closer to me to keep the bubble sharp. Remember those facial hairs that I didn’t get in the first photo, and that you didn’t notice? Here they are:

Blowing Bubbles  series 1-2
Link to a larger version -click on the image to make it expand.

The downside to the second shot is that the top of the leading eye is out of focus, just not enough depth at F8 to get it all in. I didn’t think to go to F11, and looking back I didn’t really have time either. The entire scene was one fleeting moment and sometimes you just have to make the best of it…

Footnote: Focus stacking would not have been possible for two reasons. The obvious one is that the fly was drawing the bubble in, so no two frames would have been exactly the same. The other is that every time the flash fired the fly jumped –I had to reframe and refocus for every shot.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Did Canon Forget Macro?

Dear Canon,
In the race to see who could cram more pixels onto a sensor did you forget about macro and closeup shooters? Not all of us can afford your “D” series bodies that have bigger sensors, so here we sit with cameras that don’t perform as well as we’d want them to at high ISO. In fact I seriously doubt you’ll see too many of us move to the 50D since the high ISO noise performance is worse than the 40D. If you’re interested, if you still think that armature closeup photography is important to you, then here’s what I’d like to see:

1: A camera in the XXD class with a 1.3 crop factor sensor that has no more than 12MP and large micro lenses. I’d like to think that you could build a decent 1.6 crop factor sensor, but even you can’t defy the laws of physics. A sensor that has a diffraction limit of F16 would go a long way…

2: ISO 1600 performance that’s as good, if not better, than the 40D at ISO 200.

3: A big, bright view finder to make focusing at high magnification with the MPE-65mm macro lens easier.

I’ve also got a cool idea for your next macro flash –one that’s so simple I’m stunned that no one else has thought of it. Since all of the weight in a 580EX II is in the lower section where the electronics and batteries are, and the flash capacitor is in the hinge in the flash head all you have to do is separate the two with a coiled cable –one that’s about the same length as the cables you currently use for the MT-24EX. Supply a lens mount for the flash head and give it the same type of tilt swivel base that you use for the MT-24EX’s flash heads and you’re done. Macro shooters will love you since they’ll have a powerful flash mounted at the end of the lens close to the subject to help keep flash durations low and to make diffusing the flash easier. All of the weight will be centered and back toward the photographer on the camera’s hot shoe so hand holding the rig will be easy –one of the main reasons why I shoot with the MT-24EX is because I shoot nearly all of my macro hand held and I need a balanced camera. Separating the flash head from the base controller with a cord would give me that balance. Do not make it wireless! Adding batteries to the flash head section would just make it heavy. Event shooters would also benefit from a “corded flash” since they could mount the head on a bracket and have a rig with better balance –all the weight would be on the hot shoe.

In the megapixel race the only losers are closeup and macro shooters Canon –bigger numbers don’t impress us. Image quality does, and I’m finding the 1.6x crop factor sensors lacking…

It would also be cool if you would fix the problem in the 40D that seems to cause it to use Average E-TTL metering with the MT-24EX even if Evaluative E-TTL is set in the camera -or the metering system is just horribly broken since it's not even remotely consistent. Two letters to Mr. Chuck Westfall and still no response…

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Masters of Macro - Mark Plonsky

Bold Face Hornet
Originally uploaded by mplonsky.
When I came up with the idea for this series there was one photographer that I had to interview, a shooter who’s been a big influence on a lot of other macro photographers and a man that I consider to be my mentor; Professor Mark Plonsky. It wasn’t so long ago that I’d take a photo and think that I’d done pretty well, but Mark would look at it and tell me that I could have gotten closer. I’d take a look at my shot, look at Mark’s words, take another look at my shot, and say a few choice words under my breath because he was right. I could have gotten closer, not because the insect was docile but simply because I didn’t try. I got the shot that I wanted and figured that if I tried to move in the subject would just take off so why bother. In short I psyched myself out because I told myself that I couldn’t do it. More than anything else Mark taught me to push myself and to think outside the box –I owe him for a lot of the photos that I currently have in my gallery and it is with great pleasure that I bring you Professor Mark Plonsky!

John: First can you tell us who Professor Mark Plonsky is -where you live, what you do for a living?

Mark: I am a professor of experimental biopsychology at the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point. I also serve as a k9 behavioral consultant for problem dogs, in other words, I am a dog whisperer. I typically keep to dogs of my own (shepherds). I am also a father of 3 kids, an athlete, and I like to take pictures.

John: Who influenced you early on when you first got into macro?

Mark: As a scientist, I am curious by nature. My first camera couldn't capture the dog action I had hoped, but it was great at taking pictures of bugs (with the appropriate attachments). I was looking at images on various photo sites and figured I would give it a try. I have had no formal training. I study a lot about photography from the internet and talk with folks like you on occasion.

John: What is it about macro that has you hooked?

Mark: You can see what you normally cannot and life is fascinating in all of its forms.

John: What is your favorite subject to shoot and why?

Mark: Insects because they are alive and yet so alien.

John: If you could only have one lens what would you choose and why (assuming that you also have access to any light source you want as well)?

Mark: That is a tough one. I love each of my many macro lenses. Probably the canon 100mm macro. It is the most versatile. With teleconverter's and tubes you can get a lot of magnification; it is a fast lens that is good for portraits of people as well.

John: What lens do you recommend for someone who's just getting into macro?

Mark: Canon’s 100mm macro.

John: Do you spend a lot of time in post processing or do you like to "get it right" with the camera?

Mark: I love to get it right with the camera, but I also spend a lot of time post processing since I have an illustrative style.

John: Is there any advice that you’d like to pass on to the people reading this interview? Parting thoughts?

Mark: if you want to get good, shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Then study what you have and go out and shoot some more.

John: Sage advice indeed…

I’d like to thank Professor Plonsky for taking time out of his busy schedule to take part in this interview, and for answering all of my stupid questions when I was a newby!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Image Thief

Image Thief
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
This is the reason why I don't allow the general public to view my full sized images on Flickr anymore. That photo isn't "free", and I never gave that (L)user the right to add it to their gallery.

Note to Flickr: I love the site, but you really have to give the photographer better options for how their images are displayed. I'd love to give the public access to slightly bigger image files (even though I risk getting robbed) but until that happens I'll just send everyone to my Deviant Art account...

Freezing Motion

One of the "tricks" that I use to get razor sharp images is to get my flash duration as short as possible. Normally by getting the MT-2EX's flash heads close to the subject and using a diffuser that diffuses the light but blocks as little light as possible. IMHO macro is really a form of stop motion photography. Although this video has nothing to do with macro it is about using a short flash duration to freeze motion. Chase makes four points concerning freezing motion and all but the second one is relevant to shooting macro. The first point is to keep the ambient light to a minimum and you can do that just by shooting at life size or higher magnification while setting the camera to a high Fstop (F11) and a low ISO (100 is best). Take a shot without the flash and if you can see any part of the subject then there is a chance that the ambient light in the scene is going to be a problem. One work around is to set the flash to second curtain sync, so that the flash is the last light source that the camera records. If there is any motion blur freezing the scene right before the shutter closes with second curtain sync can help to hide it. Points three and four are pretty self explanatory:

Discussion on freezing motion.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Living Pixels is Live!

Allan Melsen has built a new web site dedicated to macro and closeup photography called Living Pixels and it's my pleasure to announce that it is live! Allan was kind enough to ask me to join the staff and I'll be available to answer questions that you might have as well as share photos with you -and I hope you register and share your work with me! To my knowledge this is the first site dedicated to macro and closeup photography, and due to the level of interest in the discipline it couldn't come at a better time! Macro and closeup shooters deserve a site dedicated to their craft!

Living Pixels is going to be my new home on the web with exclusive material published on the site before I publish it anywhere else -so register and join Allan and I in making macro and closeup photography better!