Small, smaller, smallest: Now nearly complete

This is an update of the first installment from

Commonly, when we think of close up images we envision filling the frame with subjects the size of a butterfly. When we think of macro, that subject size becomes smaller by a factor of five or so. That might be a small beetle or maybe a fly. There is a vast world that is much smaller that is worthy of our photography prowess. That is the world of ultra macro or indeed micro photography.

There are many tools used for life-sized images. The macro lens, extension tubes, bellows attachment and even microscopes. Each has its advantages,  disadvantages and limitations. Some of the major considerations when doing image capture at magnifications vastly greater than life-size include, image resolution, focus, depth of field, lighting and vibrations to name a few. The micro world is a challenging one indeed.

Extreme magnification image making calls for a stable specimen and camera platform, precise and uniform movements in focus and absolutely uniform, clean lighting. In order to accomplish this a bellows and true macro lens is used with a micrometer specimen stage and electronic flash. All this apparatus may create a big problem: movement through vibrations. This really reduces image resolution.

To overcome these problems, I am have assembled a specialized piece of  equipment to enable the precision required on the lab bench in a controlled environment. This is my work as is nearly completed. The idea is not new, but getting all the pieces together has been interesting. Macro work in the field requires a completely different set of equipment.

This micro set up is designed for stability combined with versatility and for use from magnifications of 1:1 or life-size on the sensor with a 55 mm macro lens to magnifications of up to to 40:1 with a true microscope lens on the bellows. It looks like this:

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For smaller magnifications near life-size, the Nikon D-SLR camera is equipped with a 55 mm Micro Nikkor lens. Camera movement is facilitated by a geared linear positioner with provisions for a stepper motor, a long Arca-style plate on the positioner table with small ball head. All components are uniformly equipped with Arca-style QR clamps or plates. For greater magnifications, the camera is fitted with a Nikon PB-4 bellows with focusing rail. Various lenses may be used from the 55 mm Micro Nikkor to the 19 mm Macro Nikkor as seen in the two images below:

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Subject positioning  is possible in all four X, Y, Z and Theta planes. A cannibalized AO microscope stand provides coarse and fine movement in the vertical direction. A linear motion micrometer stage provides precise movement in X and Y directions and a rotation stage assembly with micrometer provides precise rotation. The specimen is held by an articulating holder mounted on the linear stage. (See Variable macro specimen holder) This holder will facilitate the use of pinned insects in addition to other larger materials fastened to the stage itself.

All this assembly is mounted together on a platform to reduce independent vibrations. The weight is substantial, providing additional aid in mitigating vibrations. The current mounting base is dimensional lumber, future refinements include an all-metal base and the addition of a stepper motor for automating focus stacking.

The design  is clean and compact and without bulky tripods and other equipment in the way. The Arca-style rails provide unobstructed mounting for  SB-800 or SB-910 electronic flash on a Wimberley articulated macro arm.

High magnification imaging viewing is provided via camera live view or tethered shooting on a laptop.

With this equipment arrangement deep focus stacks at high magnifications are possible in increments of 0.001 inch and at extremely high resolution with mirror lock-up and hands-free electronic remote cable release.

Just published: Bio-Medical Photography & Digital Imaging

Biomedical Photography Cover

Now available in digital and printed formats, this new publication brings the modern digital photographer the best understanding and “how-to” of producing perfectly-exposed, color balanced and true-to-life images for the scientific publishing field. This publication removes the mystery and “looks right to me” guesswork from the production of high quality images.

This publication is the culmination of years of practice and teaching digital photography. It includes information on exposure and color management, how to produce close-up and macro images with maximum detail, and the use of electronic flash for best lighting. It also includes suggestions on equipment to purchase on a budget, how to operate in a lab setting and most importantly, how to take the guesswork out of reproducing perfect exposures and color.

Also included are protocols for processing images in Photoshop and for establishing best practices and laboratory standards  for the practitioner’s own environment.

Produced by Brian Loflin, a fifty-year veteran of scientific photography and publishing. 8.5 x 11 inches. 48 pages. Perfect bound.              

To learn more, click the link below:

NEW! 2015-2016 Photography Workshops

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Bird Photography in the Texas Rio Grande Valley
October 30 -November 1, 2015 • March 17-20, 2016

Come to the avian rich Rio Grande Valley for a hands-on bird photography workshop in the heart of South Texas. The workshop features instruction and intensive shooting in some of the best South Texas birding habitat available.

The workshop will be held at the 700-acre Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas, purpose-designed for photography and preserved with all-native plants and animals, constant-level ponds, and permanent photography blinds oriented for the best use of light. Each blind provides outstanding photographic opportunities. At our workshop we bring the birds to you creating an outstanding South Texas birding and photography adventure!

Three Day Workshop: For more information click here:
Three Day Bird Photo Workshop

Four Day Workshop: For more information click here:
Four Day Bird Photo Workshop

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Texas Hill Country Nature, Wildflower and Macro Photography- September 18 – 20, 2015

Photograph in the heart of the magical Texas Hill Country for a three-day photography workshop geared to shooting in a field setting. This workshop is at Mo Ranch, a 500 acre facility located on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River with aquatic, riparian, grasslands, oak-juniper woodlands, and limestone hill habitats.

This workshop will be packed with hands-on instruction to help you grow your photographic abilities with new-found skills, techniques and proficiency. It will feature hands-on learning and demonstrations with native flora and fauna.

For more information click here: Hill Country Nature Photo Workshop

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Africa in Texas Wildlife Photography
May 2 – 3, 2015 • October 3, 2015 • October 24 – 25, 2015

Experience African safari-style photography at the 1,800 acre Fossil Rim Wildlife Center with our exciting and educational wildlife one-day or two-day workshops. Classroom session and hands-on instruction covers different aspects of wildlife photography and up close and personal photography of endangered species within Fossil Rim. Animals photographed include white rhinoceros, blackbuck, European red deer, waterbuck, oryx, gemsbok, zebra, addax, giraffe, sable, aoudad and kudu just to name a few.

The workshops feature a driving photo tour conducted along nine miles of remote roadways through the best wildlife habitat. Photography is timed to make the best use of the quality light and behavior of 52 species of animals on Fossil Rim’s pastures. The drive is in open vehicles designed to maximize the experience for wildlife photography. Lunch at the Overlook Cafe and discussion of the day’s photos by the instructors completes the experience. The two-day workshop adds a second day of photography, three meals and lodging at the Center’s Safari Camp, an excellent facility in the heart of the wildlife habitat.

For more information contact: Fossil Rim Wildlife Center: 254-897-2960
Or, click: Fossil Rim Workshops


“Thanks to Brian for the extensive preparation that he did for our workshop. He has expansive knowledge and photographic expertise. On top of that, he is a very capable communicator and teacher who shows much interest in his students. He goes above and beyond what you would expect in order to make the learning experience worthwhile and memorable. Our workshop was first rate!”Nancy N, Austin, Texas


To see additional images from Brian’s customers and read
what they have to say click: Testimonials.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Laguna Seca Ranch Workshop Update

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Five intrepid photographers braved somewhat unpleasant weather at my South Texas Bird Photography Workshop February 27 through March 1. Temperatures at Laguna Seca Ranch dipped into the low forties with drizzle and fog but did not keep the team from making some good images. A great feature about this ranch is that the blinds are cozy, being partially underground and protected from the wind.

Regardless of the weather, the birds performed for us in remarkable numbers. Our latest rough count lists thirty species in front of our lenses. We had lots of Crested Caracaras, Turkey Vultures and Harris Hawk at the raptor blind for most of a morning, providing ample shooting of each species. The smaller birds did not disappoint either. Many of the species were developing their breeding plumage; Pyrrhuloxia, Cardinals, and Green Jays were in brilliant color.

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A benefit in shooting from the below-ground blinds was the increased time available to practice shooting birds in flight. Perches and feeders were set to optimize flight time near the camera. This was a new skill for some participants however the time was well spent. I have received some very nice participant images like this male Pyrrhuloxia:

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And this Crested Caracara:DSC_0156-Rd

And this female Red-wing Blackbird:DSC_6440-Edit2

Water features and a a variety of perches provided diverse looks for many of the images created.

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Green Jay Bathing

Laguna Seca Ranch is a wonderful facility for bird photographers regardless of the experience level. Each blind has space for six seated photographers at eye level with the birds, well planned backgrounds and a water feature with built-in dripper system. Perches are set about 12 to 15 feet in front of the lens providing a reasonable image size without super telephotos. A favorite lens at this facility has become the 80-400 mm or 100-400mm lenses provided by both Nikon and Canon. And when coupled to a compatible tele-converter, this flexibility in focal length gives excellent  environmental or bird-in-flight images as well as frame-filling images of even smaller sparrows.

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New dates are set for Fall 2051 and Spring 2016 workshops.

Those are:

October 30-November 1, 2015, and

March 17-20, 2016.

To reserve one of the six spots before they are gone, email me: bkloflin@austin.rr.com.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

All photographs Copyright © 2015 by their respective makers.

The importance of managing light.

Needless to say, light is of paramount importance in photography. The word photography is translated from the Greek as “writing with light.” Without light, photography would be most difficult indeed.

Light does a lot for us in our image making. It allows making the very basic exposure itself. It provides shape, form, texture and dimension. The management of light helps us to render our subject with the most emphasis where desired. We’ll look at these ideas in a moment.

To further understand light we need to remember that it has several vastly important characteristics:

  • Light has intensity, or the characteristic of brightness. That characteristic requires us to produce a proper exposure using our camera meter, setting shutter speed aperture and ISO.
  • Light has color, the inherent wave length or color temperature of the light as it illuminates the subject. This color requires us to manage White Balance.
  • Light has direction, the angle that it strikes the subject. Front light, side light and backlight all have important uses in rendering our subject with the best results, and finally,
  • Light has quality. This characteristic is perhaps one of the most important. Light may be very soft and pleasing or hard, high contrast and very unflattering. Of all the light characteristics, the management of this quality of light requires our utmost effort.

Of all the light characteristics, the camera can manage intensity and color, but we need to be careful to manage light’s quality and direction to achieve the optimum reproduction of our subject. Unfortunately, I see a lack of lighting management in these two areas quite frequently. Let’s look at some ideas.

First let’s understand that light in itself helps us produce a shape but shadow helps us create form and dimension. We really need to manage both in the creation of quality images. I know that shadows are often bad; they may block up detail and detract from the image. And, often we appreciate images that are virtually shadow-free. I have written a piece for a shadow-less light application for small close-up and macro subjects. You may read it here.

Lighting direction is important to use in making our images. Front light gives us shape and form. Light from over our camera or shoulder can reveal a lot about our subject. As light wraps around the subject features, the variations in intensity, or falloff, tells us a lot about the features of the subject. But this comes with a price. Front light is often flat, that is, lacking in contrast. This low contrast lighting fails to give adequate details of the subject surface.

Therefore, lighting direction is most important when attempting to bring out the most subject details. Three lighting techniques are important to learn: Axial (Front), Side and Back.

With axial lighting the light source is at the lens or close to it and illuminates the subject directly on the front surface. (See Diagram Below) The image of the Overcup oak acorns below is lit with an off-camera Speedlight flash in a small softbox right up against the lens. While it produces a nice image, it is somewhat flat and lacks the contrast to illustrate the detail at its best.

Axial Lighting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Side light, corrects this failure of front light. In fact, to visually achieve maximum surface texture, extreme side light is the answer. Texture is that all-important tactile quality of what the subject feels like; as in does it feel smooth or rough.

The image below is lit with the same Speedlight and softbox to the far right of the subject. This image produces maximum detail and texture of the acorn and the surface of the caps.

Side Lighting Diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Backlight, while sometimes difficult to work with because of little definition to front details, provide a maximum understanding of shape, a two-dimensional quality. Backlight can separate the subject from the background and produce a striking edge-light or “halo” around our subject for maximum definition. In the image below, the single Speedlight and softbox is placed behind the acorns. The image illustrates maximum shape and edge detail, but is lacking in front surface detail due to insufficient light from the single source.

Back Lighting Diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now, as it turns out, we may use more than only one style of lighting direction; a mixture is frequently best. Here the lighting is predominant back light with a front fill card. This image provides more information, better illustrating the acorns and the detail of the caps.

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In addition to direction, lighting quality is vastly important as well. Small point light sources create hard, high contrast light. A point light source is very small in relation to the subject and directional. The light from our sun is actually small (you can cover the sun with your thumb at noon) and directional, creating lots of unflattering, dark shadows.

On the other hand, large and broad light sources are much softer, especially when close to the subject. An overcast sky is a perfect example of a large light source; the clouds themselves act as the large source of light. Let’s look at some specific examples.

In the first two images below the light is a single off-camera Speedlight flash both at the same distance (2 ft.) from the subject. In the left image the flash is unmodified and the right uses an 18 inch diffuser in front of the Speedlight. The first has considerable more specular reflections and sharper (harder) shadows; the next with the larger light source is more diffused, both in the highlights and shadows. The larger the light source, the softer the light and less contrast.

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The quality of the light is also subject to the size of the light source relative to the subject as a function of its distance from the subject. In the four examples immediately below, the light source is the same exact fixture — an eight-inch softbox on a Speedlight. In the top examples the light source is six feet from the subject. In the lower images the light is only one foot away.

When the light source is at a distance it seems small as below, shadows are at their maximum and spectral highlights are small and hard. Look at the detail of the reflection from the light source. (Closeup second below).

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When the light source is large (closer) as below, shadows are at their minimum and spectral highlights are large and soft. (See the next closeup.)

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The images below are shot with a very soft lighting technique making use of a large light, close to the subject with reflectors and diffusers, resulting in less contrast, less shadows and more diffused highlights. This is a technique used frequently for shadow-less lighting with diffused specular highlights, like shiny metal or glass objects.

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So after all that, let’s take a look at some examples where direction and quality play an important role in making or breaking an image. The images below are of the skull of a white-tailed deer. This animal was probably killed by being hit by a car resulting in the crushed skull as shown here.

The first image is taken with the light suggested for everything. Near axial, front lighting with a softbox on an off-camera Speedlight flash. The enlarged detail shows the image is well lit and exposed and illustrates the subject and the trauma.

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The image below however, used side light with the same Speedlight and softbox. This image illustrates more detail than the first as the sidelight creates more texture, giving more definition to the bone and its structures. This is clearly visible in the enlarged detail.

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Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Why do macro lenses come in several different focal lengths?

Which one do I need?

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Texas Bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis. This flower was photographed  at half life size on the sensor (0.5X) with a Nikon macro lens. Which focal length was used?

True macro (or Micro) lenses allow subjects to be photographed much closer than normal minimum focusing distance, thus greatly magnifying the image size. Often, these are prime lenses of single focal length with various focal lengths available from each manufacturer. And macro lenses produce high quality images. Because these are complete lenses that focus to infinity, many other uses of high quality are possible.

Macro lenses are the more expensive of the alternatives to focusing close. Most retain all automatic features, but have limited magnification range, frequently up to 1:1, or life size. With accessories they can produce magnifications from 1.0 X to 40.0 X life size. Because no lens extension is required per se, little exposure compensation required.

Most manufacturers make more than one macro lens. Canon, Nikon, Olympus and others produce high quality macro lenses. True macro (or micro by Nikon) lenses are produced in various focal lengths, commonly from 40mm upwards to 200mm. And they may all focus very close; most focus to life-size or 1.0X. (Also called 1:1.) Essentially, they all do the same thing.

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Three Nikon macro optics (clockwise, from near left) 60 mm F 2.8 AF Micro Nikkor, 200 mm F 4.0 AF Micro Nikkor, and 105 mm F 2.8 AF VR Micro Nikkor.

So if that is true, why would there be a variety if they all do the same thing? The answer is simple: working distance. Working distance is the actual distance between the subject and the camera’s sensor when the lens is focused. As the focal length of the lens increases, the working distance also increases at the same image magnification.

Let’s look at the working distances provided by three popular focal lengths above: the 60mm, 105mm and 200mm macro lenses. All these lenses below are accurately focused at life size or 1.0X and the reproductions are at the same scale. Canon has lenses in similar focal lengths; the 60mm F2.8, 100mm F2.8 and the 180mm F 3.5 lens trio. All are magnificent optics to be sure.

Nikon Macro Lens

This lens is the 60mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor focused on a small portion of the flower at life-size. It focuses to 1:1 at 8.6 inches.

Nikon Macro Lens

The second is the 105mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor. It focused to 1:1 at 12 inches.

Nikon Macro Lens

This last lens is the 200mm F4.0 Micro Nikkor. It will focus at 1:1 at a distance of 19.2 inches.

Working distance is important to macro photography. Greater working distance allows several advantages. These include the freedom from making a shadow on the subject, the ability to get ample light or lighting fixtures onto the subject, the ability not to frighten or run off a live subject and the ability to work at a safer distance from a dangerous subject.

One additional attribute to remember is that the angle of view of any lens gets smaller as the focal length increases. So as a result, a 200mm lens focused at 1:1 will have an area of coverage of one half that of a 100mm macro lens at the same magnification.Three Focal Lengths-Sm

These three images were made with the macro lenses described above.  In making the photographs, emphasis was given to producing the flowers at the same size in each frame in the camera when shot. To do so the image with the 60mm lens is made from fairly close; the 200 mm lens much farther away.

The resultant images look the same, but upon close inspection there are notable differences. First, the longest lens tends to compress the image more than the other two. The distant flower looks closer to the close one. This is an example how the focal length of the lenses affects perspective. The second difference is an apparent difference in angle of view. Notice the black form in the upper right of the images. We see less of it in the 60 mm view and it tends to move and get larger as the lens focal length gets longer. Otherwise, there is little difference perceived in the three images. Because the subject size is the same in the three images, the Depth of Field is also the same. All images were shot at the same F5.6 aperture.

So, to answer the question: The lens that’s right for you depends upon your most common use. If you need a lot of accessory lighting like flashes, diffusers and other modifiers in your set up, you may enjoy the freedom of the longer focal length/longer working distance. If you want a real compact lens, then the shorter lens may be perfect. A good compromise and my recommendation is the 105 mm F2.8 AF VR Micro Nikkor.

Copyright © 2014 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

 

 

My customers make great photographs. You can too!

Goluch Jays

This is a recent image made at my South Texas Bird Photography Workshop by Denver photographer, Richard Goluch. A repeat customer, Richard shot this aggressive pair of Green Jays from one of the permanent bird blinds at my last workshop in October. The jays always make good subject matter, but Richard was able to take it a step further, catching the in-flight squabble. Well done, Richard!

Workshop participants often return for an additional season. Here is a note from another repeat customer:

“Brian is a great teacher and host. He wants you to be successful and goes to great means to make sure that you are.  I really liked the ranch and the atmosphere of the hotel. “ G. Payne- Arkansas

My South Texas workshops are three to five days long and prices are most reasonable, including all meals, lodging, instruction and ranch fees. Our ranch has four purpose-built bird blinds, each with permanent water features, automatic feeders and plenty of birds. Additional, specially constructed blinds for shooting raptors provide added exciting and action-filled photographic opportunities. South Texas specialties like the jays above are plentiful.

Crested Caracara

Incoming Crested Caracara landing at the raptor blinds. Nikon D800, Nikkor 80-200 mm F 2.8 lens with 1.7 teleconverter. This is an ideal setup for shooting on this ranch. Many of the birds are 12-15 feet from the blinds. Raptors, about 15 yards.

Workshops are planned to take advantage of both spring and fall migration. The species count is now at seventy-seven species photographed. There are two slots remaining for the next workshop in late February, 2015.For more information, please see: www.thenatureconnection.com/SoTxBirdPhotoWS.html .

Copyright © 2014 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.