Automated Focus Stacking-Achieving maximum resolution through stability.

In the previous post, I described methods for stabilizing a subject when making macro images. The issue is that when magnified, all movements in subject and camera are magnifies as well. That may even be movements as small as those caused by the breeze created by an air conditioning or heating duct.

The image above is a calyx of a flower from a Magnolia (Magnolia floribunda) tree. It was photographed with the automated focusing rail by Cognisys, Inc. as illustrated at the end of the last post. It was captured with a Nikon D800 camera with a 105mm F 2.8 macro lens and a Nikon D910 Speedlight with a single reflector. The magnification is life=size, or 1:1 on the sensor.It is a focus stack of 113 images each spaced at 100 micrometers.

Exposures were in Manual Mode, Manual Focus, 1/125 second at F11 and ISO 800. The stack was processed in Helicon Focus and Adobe Camera Raw.

As you can observe by the tiny hairs in the image, stability was achieved throughout the stack. Stability precautions included mounting the rail on a heavy base on a sturdy desk with a heavy marble slab underneath.

The following images demonstrate increased magnification:

The image above is a 5X image of a hook of the calyx. It was made with a 10X Nikon infinity Microscope lens mounted on the 105mm F2.8 macro lens used as a tube or relay lens. This produces a true 5X magnification on the sensor. The relay lens is required in the optical path since the lens is used without the microscope. The image is a stack of 15 images at 75 micrometers spacing. Exposures were all Manual, 1/125 ISO 100 and the relay lens wide open. Processing is as above.

The image above is a 10X magnification of the same hook on the calyx. It is produced with the same 10X Nikon microscope lens, however with a Nikon 200mm F4.0 macro lens as the relay lens. This produces a true 10X magnification on the sensor. 30 exposures were made with a spacing of 50 micrometers. Exposure data was the same as 5X images. Processing was as above.

Copyright © 2022 Brian Loflin
All rights reserved.

Subject Stability and Positioning in Macro Photography

A honey bee image focus stacked with 50 images. Impossible without subject stability.

In macro photography we have all learned that image sharpness is a tricky thing to achieve to perfection. Because of the very nature of macro, that is moving very close and magnifying the subject on the camera’s sensor, there are several issues that affect overall image sharpness.

In macro there are several conditions that affect subject sharpness:

  • Lens Focus
  • Depth of Field
  • Shutter Speed
  • Illumination Intensity
  • Camera Movement, and
  • Subject Movement.

At this point, this discussion will address the last two of the list above. That is not to say that the others are not important, they certainly are. But camera and subject movement are large culprits in not achieving sharp images.

Because the image details are magnified, the slightest movements of camera and/or subject are also magnified, resulting in images that are not tack sharp. Therefore, this will address eliminating camera movement and subject movement as two separate issues.

CAMERA MOVEMENT

In macro photographic imaging everything in the system from the sensor to the subject must be bolted down and must be rock solid. The first issue is to assure the camera is free from movements and vibrations during the focus and exposure process. The first step is to assure the camera is mounted on a heavy and sturdy tripod. This may vary from field to lab or studio, but a tripod that will prevent camera shake is a must.

Some years ago, a friend was appalled that their first “good” tripod was sixty-nine dollars. In today’s environment, a good tripod and head may cost ten times that much, or more. The ideal tripod will have tubular legs in several sections, be made of an aluminum alloy or carbon fiber, have solid leg adjustments, and legs that may be set to various angles to facilitate getting close to the ground or setting up on uneven terrain.

Tripod with Manfrotto geared head.

Ideally, the tripod should also have a Quick Release system and a geared head. Lighter tripods, especially those of carbon fiber, have a hook to hang a weight on to help eliminate vibrations.

Invariably, handling the tripod mounted camera will also create vibrations. To eliminate those vibrations, incorporate an electronic cable release and lock up the mirror after focus and composition are achieved.to prevent internal mechanical vibrations. Also turn off Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization because many of those mechanism may cause the stabilization unit to “hunt”, creating some internal lens blur.

Nikon intervalometer may be used for hands-off camera photography plus timing of long exposures and intervals between exposures.

Additionally, focusing the camera at life-size or 1:1 or greater magnifications by moving the camera to and from the subject will also create unwanted movement and even spoiled compositions. In this case a very smooth focusing rail is an important accessory. With the turn of a knob or crank, very small increments of adjustment are possible without unwanted movement.

NiSi linear screw focusing rail is a very economical and precise piece of equipment. Other manufacturers also make good units. Search for good quality before you purchase.

Another product is the two-directional focusing rail. At this time, I have not found one to be really that good in manufacture. They generally have a geared, rack and pinion movement. This movement is not a smooth, nor incremental, in the preciseness due to the large gear dimensions. In some cases, these rails may serve best to move subjects, rather than the camera.

A very cheaply manufactured focusing rail. Best for moving a subject rather than a camera.

And it is important to note here that the floor upon which the tripod sits must be solid. Wooden floors in older buildings on pier and beam construction or upper floors may move simply by walking around or moving your feet. Even carpeted floors have some “give” in the surface leading to instability of the tripod. The ideal is a concrete slab construction. That is also true of subject movement that will be addressed next.

If photography is to be accomplished in the vertical axis, an ideal studio/lab piece of equipment is a vertical copy stand. This will provide stable camera placement. To augment the stand’s movement, a good focusing rail may be mounted, providing minute camera movements in the vertical axis.

SUBJECT MOVEMENT

Again, consideration must be given to the construction of the floor upon which the subject sits. The most stable is concrete slab construction or solid ground outdoors.

The next consideration is the table for the subject. It too, should be heavy and sturdy. I find that wooden tables with large diameter legs work best. Some macro photographers even prefer to use a slab of heavy steel or granite to use as a table top it increase weight and thus, stability. The table should be small enough to move around with ease so as not to bump a fragile set. The height should be about waist, or counter height. This depends on whether the photographer prefers to work sitting or standing.

Next in the list of considerations, is the platform that holds the subject. Since we are considering macro, or at least close-up, the subject is probably small. This will stimulate some innovative thinking about subject stabilization and positioning in very small increments.

XYZ and Rotational stage. This precise devise provides tiny, measurable movement in three axes.

An ideal piece of equipment is a small platform that can move in four axes, left-to-right, front-to-back, and up-and-down. Another axis is rotational about a central point. There are several commercial products for this; one being a micrometer XYZ linear positioning stage with a rotational platform. These devices can become quite expensive, yet extremely functional, depending on the size, magnification, movement, and type of work accomplished.

Another commercial product is a lab jack. This is a platform operated with a cranked scissors lift. It provides movement only up and down. Although somewhat coarse in adjustment, it provides a reasonable change in the vertical axis.

Another commercial option is a Pana-Vice, a vice mounted on a ball head providing a variety of stable movements. Fitted with a micrometer stage, this will work nicely for focus stacking of even tiny subjects.

A Pana-Vice is available from electronic retailers.

On the do-it-yourself (DIY) end is a cannibalized microscope base with a XY specimen table and course and fine focus adjustments. This automatically provides XYZ axis movement.

Salvaged base and stage from a discarded microscope.

Another DIY aid is a “Lazy Susan”, made from two pieces of lumber with a rotating ring from the local big-box hardware store. While not perfect for small, incremental adjustments, this works well with a Pana-Vice or lab jack for rotational movements.

The ultimate in macro/micro photography is a software controlled, motorized focusing rail. Manufactured by various firms, these rails allow very small, incremental movements as little as 5 micrometers per image, or less. While somewhat costly, these systems will significantly improve results and speed up the process if the work requires doing so in volume.

Micro photography system using a Cognisys Stack Shot motorized rail, a 10X microscope lens, and a 200mm macro lens as a relay lens. This unit produces images at ten times life-size on the sensor and movements as little as 1 micrometer (micron).

HELPFUL ACCESSORIES

In macro photography in the lab, like any table-top photography, there are many accessories available to make the work easier or perhaps, less frustrating.

The first item is a machinist’s block, or rectangular billet of steel. These are most useful for providing a weight to keep items in position.  They may be also used under materials to lift them up.

A frequent and important use is to support magnetic flexible arms to hold subjects, accessories, reflector cards, and so forth.

Another DIY tool is a length of flexible copper wire mounted on a wood block with an alligator clamp soldered to the end. These may hold reflector cards, flags, mirrors, or other materials.

Most useful are tools called “Helping Hands”. These are commonly heavy bases with articulated arms with small clamps on the end. They are invaluable for positioning anything small for multiple reasons.

One cannot function without a large assortment of various clamps. From A-type spring clamps to common close pins, clamps are any photographer’s best friend.

A variety of clamps are available from hardware stores and office supply retailers.

One common use of an A-type spring clamp is to hold a piece of card material for a local reflector, or flag to modify a light source near the subject.

An A clamp with a foil reflector.

Another great tool is a miniature articulated arm. Like the large arms and grip clamps, these are about seven to ten inches long. Many come with standard tripod threads (¼ in x 20 tpi) and cam be screwed int a breadboard for support. These are strong enough to hold a speedlight flash.

Mini ball heads in various sizes can be used for mounting flashes, reflectors, scrims, or any type of modifier. They may be used in combination with the articulating arm for versatile positioning of table-top materials.

Several small weights are a handy table-top tool. These are useful for holding down materials that are subject to falling over, or to hold the corners of fabric or paper backgrounds or surfaces.

Another DIY tool is a background holder to support printed backgrounds on a small table-top set. Produced from a couple of wood pieces and a screw, they are most valuable.

Subject Stability and Positioning in Macro Photography

Copyright © 2022 by Brian Loflin

All rights reserved.

Carnivorous Plants of Texas

During the summer of 1860. I was surprised by finding how large a number of insects were caught by the leaves of the common sun-dew [sic]… I had heard that insects were thus caught but knew nothing further on the subject. -Charles Darwin, 1875.

This article begins with a misnomer, or misconception, if you wish. The plants described herein, while carnivorous in the most general sense, should perhaps be labeled insectivorous in a more specific sense.

Found in soils that are generally poor in nutrients for most plants, this group of plants has adapted by developing mechanisms that allow for the capture and subsequent digestion of small insects that become trapped by the plant. There are several trapping mechanisms found within these most interesting plants and this review will document several.

Surprisingly, in Texas there are four of the five North American carnivorous plants. These include the largest and showy Pitcher Plants (Saracenia), Sundew (Drosera), Butterworts (Penquicula), and Bladderworts (Utricularia). Missing in Texas is the most curious Venus Flytrap (Dionaea), found only in the Carolinas.

Unlike the open, arid lands commonly found in Texas, the Piney Woods vegetative area of East Texas comprises an area of some 16 million acres and is the far western edge of North Americas’ great southeastern forest. Here, along the border with Louisiana, the region receives 40 to 56 inches annual rainfall, more than anywhere else in the state. Therefore, many rivers, creeks, and bayous drain the region. Most of this area ranges from about 50 to 700 feet above sea level where the weather is temperate, and the soils are conducive to amazing plant growth.

The Piney Woods is predominantly a coniferous forest with three native species of pine: longleaf, shortleaf, and loblolly. An introduced species, the slash pine, is also widely grown. Hardwoods include oaks, elm, hickory, magnolia, sweet and black gum, tupelo, and others.

I have recently been increasingly interested in an unusual group of plants found in East Texas– carnivorous plants. Of the five types found in the U. S., Texas has four, but found almost exclusively in the big woods of that area. The many wetlands and bogs give rise to several of these very special plants. The plants include the large and showy Pitcher Plants, the hard-to-find, floating Bladderwort, the obscure Butterwort, and the diminutive Sundew. A fifth, more well-known carnivorous plant, the Venus Fly Trap, is found only in the Carolinas.

In reality, these plants are more specifically insectivorous vs. carnivorous in the strictest sense. Found in nutrient-poor soils that are particularly lacking in nitrogen, these plants absorb food from trapping insects and absorbing the much-needed nutrients that are missing from the habitat.

It is this mechanism that I am now most interested in. The mechanisms involved include leaves that are modified in the form of traps. The trapping mechanisms are designated as active or passive depending upon whether they move to capture the prey or not.

The different types of traps found in insectivorous plants in Texas are passive and include pitfall traps, found in the pitcher plant. They have a hollow and funnel-shaped modified leaf with a lid that is filled with liquid to digest the prey.

As the name implies, flypaper traps are sticky and adhesive. The leaves are covered in stalked glands that secrete sticky mucilage that captures an unsuspecting insect. In Texas flypaper traps include Sundew and Butterwort.

Bladderwort traps are commonly found in Utricularia. Somewhat active, they have many tiny underwater tissue bladders that when an insect touches trigger hairs it instantly creates a partial vacuum or negative internal pressure to suck in the small organisms.

In the past, I have photographed many plants before. But that photography, except with cacti, consisted largely of images of the showy part–the flowers. Therefore, in the past, my photographs have been mostly flower or plant portraits. Those images neither show much about the nature story or what the plant does, nor their relationships with others.

I wanted to change my focus more on the story rather than pretty portraits. With these plants, I wanted to concentrate on the mechanism and illustrate the tiny structures that enable trapping and absorbing insects. So, in order to capture photographically this capture mechanism in detail, I have worked on ways to get my camera and flash on the ground and with enough magnification from 1:1 life size to 10X life size to get the details needed to see these tiny structures. The following is a review of these most-interesting plants with their images.

Pitcher Plants (Saracenia alata)

The most obvious of the insectivorous plants is the Pitcher plant, Saracenia alata, a strikingly tall perennial plant with specially modified leaves that form the “pitcher”. Due to life in nutrient poor soils, pitcher plants obtain most of their nutritional needs from the fluids and soft body parts of the insects they are able to consume.

(Figure 2) A bog area in the East Texas Piney Woods, home to many carnivorous plants, including Pitcher Plants, Butterworts, and Sundews.
(Figure 3) Rising like hooded cobras, pitcher plants are the largest and most showy of the insectivorous plants

The pitchers are modified leaves and, along with surrounding leaves, stand sometimes two feet tall. These modified leaves create the “pitcher” by rolling up like a funnel, collecting water and insects that fall into the trap to be digested and used as plant nutrients.

(Figure 4) A mature flower of a pitcher plant hangs at the tip of a leafless stem. It has three bracts, five sepals, five petals, and many stamens and appears like an upside-down umbrella.
(Figure 5) This image shows reddish seed pods forming on the pitcher plant flower.

Apart from the persistent leaves and more obvious pitcher, the flower of the plant is found in spring and is responsible for reproduction. The edges of the pitcher are smooth and covered in a slick substance that cause visiting insects to fall into the bottom of the funnel. The insects land in a pool of digestive enzymes that effectively dissolve the insect and absorb the resulting nutrients into the plant.

(Figure 6) In this image an ant is walking along the lip of the pitcher at its peril.
(Figure 7) The upper lid and lip of the pitcher has a slippery surface with very small nectar-secreting pores that attract insects to the edge. As an insect enjoys the sweet nectar, it often loses footing and slides into the bottom of the funnel where the plant’s digestive juices help to dissolve the insect to allow the absorption of the insect’s nutrient.

Sundew (Drosera sp.)

Another carnivorous species that is much smaller and somewhat more difficult to find is the Sundew, one of the favorite insectivorous plants of early botanist/naturalist Charles Darwin. Two species are found in East Texas, the green, Spoon-leaf Sundew, Drosera intermedia and Pink Sundew, D. capillaris.

Spoon-leaf undew.
Pink sundew.
(Figure 8-10) The small sundews lay flat on the ground and the pink leaf structures seen here are about the size of a quarter. When in flower, the tiny blossom rises on a single stem about three inches above the plant.

These perennial plants are small herbs that have leaves with tentacle-like stalks with a mucilaginous secretory gland at the tip of each stalk. The gland secretes droplets of fluid which gives the plant its glistening, dew-drop appearance. Insects, upon being attracted to the plant through the nectar-like appearance and odor of the secretions, become stuck to the mucilage. Once the plant senses the insect struggling, it slowly encloses the insect in the array of tentacles. A digestive enzyme then is released to break down the insect into usable nutrients.

(Figure 11) As can be visualized in this macro image, the plant’s modified leaves have many tiny hair-like structures tipped with a sticky substance that will act like fly paper, holding the insect until the leaf pad curls around the insect so the nutrients may be absorbed. You can see a curled pad close to the left margin of this photo.
(Figure 12) One section of the modified leaf shows the tiny hair structures with the tentacle glands where its drop of sticky-mucilaginous secretion is produced.
(Figure 13) Details of the glandular tissue bulb at the end of the tentacles (image 10x).

In a matter of minutes, the sundew begins to secrete digestive enzymes and acids that start to dissolve the body of the victim. A series of glands then absorb the nutritious liquefied insect. Sundews often found among pitcher plants and may grow abundantly in the many bogs of the Big Thicket. They also grow in disturbed soil and are often common along the trails and along the roadside ditches.

Small Butterwort, (Pinguicula pumila)

Small Butterwort, Pinguicula pumila, is an annual species of carnivorous plants that use sticky, glandular leaves to lure, trap, and digest insects. Many species of butterworts occur worldwide but only one is found in Texas and it is found only within the Piney Woods (Figure 14). The three-quarter inch flower of Small Butterwort grows on a stalk 6-8 inches above the plant’s basal rosette of succulent leaves.

The leaf of a butterwort has a few secretory cells on top of a single stalk cell, producing a mucilaginous secretion which forms visible droplets across the leaf surface which lure prey in search of water. Once an insect contacts and is trapped on a leaf, the struggles trigger more glands to release encasing it in mucilage. Some species can roll the leaf margins slightly in response, bringing additional glands into contact with the trapped insect. Once the prey is entrapped, other glands that lie flat on the leaf surface begins the digestion process. Enzymes break down the digestible components of the insect body and the fluids are absorbed back into the leaf surface, leaving only the exoskeleton of larger insects on the leaf surface.

Butterworts are very small and therefore are only able to trap small insects and those with large wing surfaces.

Figure 14: Butterwort with flowers.
(Figure 15) The inch-and-a-half Butterwort uses hairy, sticky leaves that roll up lengthwise with an insect inside. The leaf near the bottom is partially rolled up. Nearby are several sundew plants.

Bladderworts, (Utricularia sp.)

Bladderworts are among a large genus of carnivorous plants with over 220 species worldwide. Five species have been found in the Big Thicket, commonly in nutrient-poor bog lakes in quiet shallow, acidic waters and can form dense mats. True, free-floating bladderworts lack roots and leaves but have flowers on erect stems above the water. The entire floating plant is only about 8 inches tall. Yellowish, dime-sized flowers emerge above the surface.

Underwater, the leaf stalks are fleshy and inflated with air which allows them to float. Bladderworts are unique in that the underwater leaves bear small oval “bladders” that trap and digest small aquatic invertebrates. In the open water, it supplements its nutrients by trapping insects in a bladder that is like a suction bulb.

Water is expelled from the bladder by osmosis, generating a partial vacuum inside. A small, hinged trap door opening with tiny hair-like projections are sensitive to the motion of passing organisms like Daphnia (water fleas). When they are stimulated, these hairs trigger the door to open. The flattened bladder suddenly draws in water with the passing animal, closing the trap door after it when digestion begins.

(Figures 16-19) The floating Swollen Bladderwort (Utricularia inflata) has a complex below-water stem and root structure with many small air-filled sacs, or bladders. Small swollen Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) is a plant with less complex structure and flower. As an aquatic insect touches a trigger hair near the mouth of the sac, an immediate change in internal pressure within the sac quickly pulls the insect inside to be later absorbed.

Many Bladderworts float on this East Texas pond.
Figure 18: Swollen Bladderwort
Figure 19: Small swollen Bladderwort.
Figure 21: Bladders. (Figure 20) Three views of the underwater structures of Bladderwort. The floating modified leaves give buoyancy to the plant. The tiny, 1mm bladders can be seen throughout the modified leaves. As a small aquatic insect triggers hairs near the end of the bladder an immediate reversal of internal pressure causes the insect to be sucked in for later digestion (Figure 21 & 22).

The Big Thicket Preserve

The Big Thicket National Preserve is America’s first national preserve. Established in 1974, the preserve comprises nine disjointed units and encompasses about 113 thousand acres of biologically significant portions of the Piney Woods region of southeast Texas. Located near Kountze, Texas in Hardin, Polk, and Tyler Counties, this region is an area where plant species of the East Coast and Midwest reach the south and western limits of their ranges. It is a most ecologically diverse area including pine and hardwood flats, wetlands, swamps, and bottomland floodplains. All of these areas have unique plant and animal species.

As the poet once wrote, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep…” is a statement with two meanings in the Big Thicket. There are many interesting and lovely things within the region like the carnivorous plants and many flowers and insects. The Palamedes Swallowtail butterfly, (Papilio palamedes), feeding on Salvia is but one example.

Figure 24: Swallow tail Butterfly.

But dangers lurk as well. Diamondback rattlesnakes, (Crotalus atrox), and Copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) are found within most areas of East Texas. So, it is wise to watch where you walk, especially in the leaf litter where the reptiles are highly camouflaged among the detritus.

Figure 25: Diamondback Rattlesnake .

The safe plan for anyone in nature is: “If you’re walking, look down; if you are looking up, stop walking!”

Another, but much smaller, danger is the Aedes mosquito, a species known to transmit a variety of viruses, including West Nile and Zika. Because they are water born insects, the wet ecosystem of the Big Thicket is a perfect habitat. Everyone should use plenty of repellent when outside.

Figure 26: Mosquito. Lots or rain and these mosquitos. This one sucking from my hand.

The Piney Woods is not dangerous. It is a region of interest, folklore, legend, and significant change. A visitor today has many recreational options: hiking, camping, bird watching and of course, photographing the wildlife and habitat within this remarkable Texas ecosystem. Much of it is public land within the Big Thicket National Preserve that is carefully conserved and protected by the National Park Service and yours to enjoy!

References

  1. Ajilvsgi, Geyata (2003) Wildflowers of the Big Thicket. Rev edn. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
  2. Wildflowers of Texas (2003) Fredericksburg: Shearer Publishing.
  3. Darwin, Charles (1875) Insectivorous Plants. London: John Murray.
  4. Ellison, Aaron and Lubomir Adamec, eds (2018) Carnivorous Plants, Physiology, Ecology, and Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Fritz, Edward C (1986) Realms of Beauty, the Wilderness Areas of East Texas. Austin, University of Texas Press.
  6. Hatch, Stephan L, KN Gandhi, and Larry E Brown (1997) Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Texas. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
  7. Jones, Stanley D, Joseph K Wipff, and Paul M (1997) Montgomery. Vascular Plants of Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  8. Loflin, Brian and Shirley Loflin (2009)Texas Cacti. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
  9. National Park Foundation (2020) The Big Thicket. National Park Service-U.S. Department of the Interior.
  10. Peacock, Howard (1994) Nature Lover’s Guide to the Big Thicket. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
  11. Watson, Geraldine Ellis (2006) Big Thicket Plant Ecology. Denton: University of North Texas Press.

Copyright © 2021 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Remove equipment clutter from your macro setup.

Have you ever spent a great deal of time to set up the perfect macro studio image and then tripped over a light stand or disturbed a modifier?

I have and its easier than you think. Your setup can and will be as complex as a product or portrait studio. Imagine this: you have a main flash on a stand, a backlight flash on another stand and a background flash on a third. Then you may have the background itself, perhaps a couple of modifiers, and of course, the tripod mounted camera. That a lots of stuff on the floor around your table with the subject. It might be a recipe for disaster.

There’s a reasonably simple fix. Like a rock concert, get everything off the floor and suspend it from a rigid grid from the ceiling. Some advocate building a “cage” of piping. Handy perhaps, but that needs to be stored somewhere when not in use. If you have the grid suspended from the ceiling, you can walk under it as it is always out of the way.

Since my macro studio and “lab” is in my garage, I was free to mount things as I saw fit. I also have the benefit of an air conditioner / heater installed in the garage so I can work in comfort.

My plan uses steel electrical channel struts, (above) cut to length and suspended from the ceiling with threaded rod and connectors. These struts are securely fastened together with hardware designed for this purpose (below).

Available in ten foot lengths from home hardware stores or electrical suppliers, the channels are rigid steel, and when fashioned into a rectangular gridwork are quite sturdy and will support a considerable weight. My suspended height is seven feet off the floor. This entire grid assembly costs less than $50.00.

To mount my flashes and modifiers I use Manfroto magic arms and clamps. These are sturdy and articulated so placement is a breeze to position and reposition. I used to mount them on the table top previously, but that created a crowded set.

After mounting my lights and modifiers-and even a background roll when required, the only thing I have left on the floor is the table itself and tripod. Now there is copious space to get to the table and arrange the subject and accessories.

© 2021 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

High-speed Flash Hummingbird Photo Workshop

 

Bert-1

Hummingbird action at the recent High-speed Flash Photo Workshop captivated and challenged the participant photographers during the morning photography workshop.  -Bert Garcia

 

Filled with early morning German strudel warm from the bakery, seven photographers met in Fredericksburg, Texas, eager to learn how to photograph hummingbirds with high-speed electronic flash.

After a fifteen-minute drive west of town, the group gathered at a private ranch that has a lot of hummingbird action spread among many established nectar feeders and native vegetation.

Bert-2

Approaching the feeder. -Bert Garcia

 

Upon arrival, the group was instructed on details of the setup and reviewed camera settings previously provided in a written brief. The group then set about to place flashes, triggers and backgrounds for three photographic positions. All feeders were removed except one at each photographic set-up. Even as the setups were refined the birds began working the nectar feeders.

Set-Up_5038 -59

Typical hummer photographic set in the shade. A nectar feeder, two flashes mounted on stands are set at fractional power for extremely fast flash duration for the bird, and one for the background. A printed background provides exposure control.

 

Tape feeder ports-9415 -60

All the holes of the feeders were taped over except one. This process provides a predictable path for the birds’ approach.

 

Each photographer had a shooting station complete with a nectar feeder, two flashes for the bird, a large printed background and a flash to illuminate the background. The tripod-mounted camera was equipped with a Pocket Wizard radio trigger to activate each flash in synchronization.

Participants_5037 -56

Participants with tripod mounted cameras with Pocket Wizard radio triggers. The tripods are not for stabilization, but for composition.

 

The hummers present a wide variety of aerial maneuvers for the camera. -Michael Martin

 

Throughout the morning shoot, the images were evaluated in-camera and the settings and positioning were tweaked for optimum results. All participants were excited over the images they capered as they reviewed the shoot on the camera displays. Many of those images are found here:

Don-1

Hummers continuously fight for feeder position. Today was no exception. Great pose and Black and White conversion. -Don Simpson

 

Screenshot_2020-06-17 Hummers June 2020(9)

Female Black-chin hummer breaking in mid-flight. This image illuminated with flash at 1/25,000 second stops all noticeable wing movement. Captured at the optimum moment the image shows great pose and feather detail. – Michael Martin

 

Cathey BC2

Male Black-chinned Hummingbird. Black-chins are the most common hummer in the Texas Hill Country. -Cathey Roberts

 

Don 3

Two samples of typical poses as the birds approach the feeder. Wings and tail spread provides aerodynamic braking. High-speed flash can capture details unseen by the unaided eye. -Don Simpson (above and below).

Don 2

VICK15 tif

Lots of action was captured near the feeders as the little jewels fed. -Vicky Eastes (above and below)

VICK 13

Every participant was able to photograph the hummers in a wide variety of aerobatic positions as they fought for the best feeder position. -Gary Eastes (three below)

gary 8gary 4gary 2

Copyright © 2020 Brian Loflin.
All rights reserved. Additional rights belong to the image makers.

 

 

South Texas Bird Photo Workshop Update

The South Texas heat did not stop workshop participants from getting some exciting images of Spring birds during my latest Bird Photography Workshop at Laguna Seca Ranch.

Pair PyrroPyrrhuloxia pair interact at Laguna Seca Ranch in Hidalgo County, Texas during Brian Loflin’s Spring Bird Photography Workshop. -Dolph McCranie

 

Held during the last week of May, the workshop featured three days of photography at water features in morning and afternoons. Additionally, a morning dedicated to raptor photography provided many photo opportunities.

GCFC

Great Crested Flycatcher -Dolph McCranie

 

Laguna Seca Ranch is located in Hidalgo County deep in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.  It is predominantly South Texas chaparral, featuring mixed grasslands interspersed with Mesquite, Ebony, and Hackberry mottes. Due to the climate, numerous specialty species abound and during this time, migrants return from Mexico and Central America.

Cardinal Pair- Cathey

Male and female Northern Cardinal pair interacting with food. Bird interaction is always nice in a photograph. -Cathey Roberts

In the afternoon, the temperatures reached the century mark. It was quite hot for photographers, but the temps also brought the birds to the water features to bathe and drink. That is an added benefit of the water features.

STFC-8531Sm

The water feature attracts many avian species, especially when it’s hot, including this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. -Brian Loflin
RR Drink-8248-SmAnother favorite at the water feature is this Greater Roadrunner getting a drink. -Brian Loflin

Pyrro-7951-Sm2

The colorful male Pyrrhuloxia is a member of the cardinal family and is generally the western member of the family -Brian Loflin

Quail Pair-Cathey

Northern Bobwhites were paired up prior to breeding. Many good images were made of these birds. -Cathey Roberts
 GRNJay-Dolph
The noisy, ever-present Green Jay is a South Texas Specialty species, highly sought after by birders everywhere. -Dolph McCranie.

cardinal landing- Cathey

Northern Cardinal male landing. -Cathey Roberts

The South Texas Bird Photography is a hands-on, teaching workshop. Led by photographer, author and teacher, Brian Loflin, it occurs once in the Spring and again in the fall. The next workshop dates are October 22-25, 2020.

For more information, contact us at http://www.thenatureconnection.com.

Copyright © 2020 Brian Loflin
All rights reserved. Additional copyrights held by the individual image makers.

 

 

 

Big Bend Landscapes, Light Painting and Starry Night Skies

Boquillas CanyonOver the last weekend in February 2020, Shirley and I led a workshop to the Big Bend area of Texas. Our goal was to specialize in capturing images of the many striking landscapes, and historical spots in the area and to teach some techniques of light painting and star photography.

Eight photographers from across Texas joined us in Study Butte and photographed for four days. We had early mornings most days and late nights for a few. To make a 7:30 AM sunrise photograph at Santa Elena Canyon requires a 6:00 AM departure from the hotel to make the road trip in time to set up properly.

2020 BBNP SANTA ELENA - GRIMES-
Looking east just as the sun cracks over the early morning horizon -Ron Grimes

Photographers are very much aware of the vast difference that a few minutes can make in the color of any given scene as evidenced by this image of the sunrise at Santa Elena canyon- just five minutes apart.

_44A0695-HDR
Spectacular sunrise at the same spot -Art Madden

Early morning light within the first hour of the day is the perfect time for Santa Elena Canyon. During this time the 1,000 foot canyon walls are illuminated brightly by the warm morning rays.

SE Cnyn-4666-Sm
View of the east end of Santa Elena Canyon from the the Rio Grande. -Brian Loflin

During the four days we had a planned itinerary that took us virtually from one end of Big Bend National Park to the other, including Terlingua (TX) Ghost Town and Cemetery and much more.

_44A0806-HDR
Cerro Castellon view with typical desert floor and vegetation.- Art Madden

Big Bend is full of varied wildlife including an extreme number of bird species.
Roadrunner -Art Madden; Whitewing Dove -Alan Lusk.
Yt2dK-OQ
Thousands of people flock to Texas to see the amazing spring wildflower displays. Bluebonnets are the most recognized species. In Big Bend, the Blue bonnets are a different variety, tall and lanky, but impressive nonetheless. – Alan Lusk
_44A1282
No desert photography trip is complete without cacti. This prickly pear, Spiny-fruited Prickly Pear (Opuntia spinosibacca), is one of this author’s favorite. -Art Madden

For most days the weather was nice, the sunlight cooperative, but the only disappointment was cloudy skies each night preventing star photography.

Adobe-B

 

By the end of the trip everyone had captured thousands of great images of this most interesting countryside.

Big Bend Group-Sm

Copyright © 2020 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.
Additional copyrights held by the individual image makers.

 

Backing up Digital Image Files

What is backing up digital files?

Digital photograph files are a non-tangible entity, a digital data file, living insecurely in the ether of ones and zeros in a computer storage system. No longer do we have a shoe box or file drawer of negatives, prints or color slides. Therefore, we must house our files in a place that is easy to access, readily retrievable, and safe.Box of Slides-0003

Tangible photographs, including negatives, prints and slides are no longer a part of digital photography. Shoe boxes and file drawers full of photos are a thing of the past. Today. we must safely store digital image files where they may be organized, accessed and protected. Such is just one job of today’s digital photographer.

 

Slide Files-0020

To achieve a storage system that meets these criteria requires some thought, planning, and a bit of monetary outlay.

Today’s planners and designers of most modern computer operating systems do not do the serious photographer any favors. Operating systems like Windows, and Apple iOS are designed around the principle of a single computer operating system drive whether a hard, spinning disk drive (HDD), or a solid-state drive (SSD), or a hybrid of both, like a fusion drive.

We must understand these components are electronic, some with mechanical components. Within the computer system, the drive with the operating system is operating full time when the computer is turned on. Electro-mechanical drives are spinning all the time. It’s understandable that these components will fail. Solid-state SSDs are vulnerable to component failure by detrimental heat.

Failure will happen. It’s not if — but when.

So, if all our photographs are on our computers operating system (op-sys) drive, and we have only one –like most photo enthusiasts– our images will be lost with the failed drive. Therefore, we must put our photographic images some where else that is safe. That’s the first step. The second step is even more important, that is making a duplicate of every photo in a second place for safety through redundancy. That’s backing up!

In an ideal situation, the op-sys drive should contain only the operating system itself plus other software such as the photo editing software and so on. Everything else including, photos, financial and medical files and all other personal files must be kept elsewhere.

There are several ways to do this. Some photographers have multiple drives installed within their computer cabinet. This is a good idea at the time of computer purchase, or at the time of its assembly. This generally requires a larger case or cabinet and lots of fans to move air for cooling- the detrimental foe of electronics. Given the physical space and electronic capability, additional drives may be added at a later time.

The use of additional drives requires not only initial planning for installation, but a serious thought toward file organization. This is food for a later discussion.

The alternative plan used most frequently is the use of external electronic drives, or portable drives. Today, these drives have become very inexpensive and create a low-cost solution to the storage issue. Let’s look at common solutions:

JBOD- Just a Bunch Of Drives

As an addition or addition to internal drives installed in the computer cabinet, external electronic drives are now very inexpensive and are available as spinning hard drives, or solid-state units. Capacities are now available in 1TB, 2TB, for pennies compared to the past, and larger capacity drives don’t cost much more. Today the HDD drive is the low-cost choice of the two and the SSD drive, the most reliable over time.

Drive-0234

Several electronic portable drives are a simple, cost effective manner of storing images off of the computer operating system drive. Over time, the file data may grow quite large. Organizing and securing the data is a more complicated task when using such a bunch of drives.

 

In operation, these additional drives are connected to the computer via a variety of methods, including USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt. Regardless, the computer will recognize these external drives and data files may be moved to them readily.

Drive-0213

Some manufacturers offer drive systems that enable expansion as required. The three drives above are tied together in JBOD system. But, management of file storage and redundancy is a continuing issue.

 

In this manner, the JBOD requires manual moving, saving, and management of file material. To create any type of redundant protection, all the data on one file must be completely duplicated on a frequent basis to a second drive.

With personal dedication and commitment, this is a most workable, inexpensive solution.

RAID- Redundant Array of Independent Disks

A RAID solution takes the JBOD solution one major step further. Most frequently, a RAID consists of two or more physical drives housed within a single enclosure and it automatically creates the duplication of data and back up continuously as it is used. The computer “sees” the drives as one and operates as such. Management of storage and duplication of data is accomplished by the electronic RAID controller within the system enclosure.

Drive-0217

The three units pictured above are a RAID system. Each box contains two independent drives, with an electronic controller. It provides a seamless, user-friendly method of safely backing up the images through redundancy. The process is managed by the internal RAID controller. Each unit is a 20TB RAID. When used together, the system will store 60TB of data, providing 30TB of file storage with an equal amount of redundant backup.

 

In such a system, disks are combined into different RAID configurations known as RAID levels. The RAID level you choose depends on which storage attributes are most important to you, including:

Capacity-               The total amount of data you can store.
Performance-        The speed at which data is copied.
Protection-             The number of disks that can fail before data is lost.

RAID 0—Data is not duplicated on both hard drives in RAID 0. This results in faster transfers and more storage, since the full capacity of both drives can be used to store unique data. However, RAID 0 lacks a very important feature: data protection. If a hard drive fails, all data in the array is lost.

RAID 1—RAID 1 provides greater safety since data is duplicated on each disk in the array. If a single disk fails, the data remains available on the other disk. However, this comes at a cost -since the same data is written to each drive, copying data takes longer and overall storage capacity is reduced by 50%. RAID 1 is a good choice when safety is more important than speed or disk space. It is the best solution for photographers requiring redundancy AND security.

Remember: Always eject a storage drive from your computer before physically disconnecting it. Your computer must perform filing and housekeeping operations on the drive before it is removed. Therefore, if you unplug the drive without using the operating system’s software, your files can become corrupt or damaged.

NAS (Network Attached Storage)

NAS is a storage system device that connects to your home or office network and can include one or more hard drives. A NAS is engineered to be a single drive, JBOD, or RAID systems. Unlike direct, hard wired solutions, files on the NAS can be accessed using a computer, tablet, or smartphone that is connected to your local network or even over the Internet. Many systems offer an intuitive and user-friendly NAS experience while offering tons of rich applications, allowing you to share files and enjoy multimedia anytime.

CLOUD Storage

Online, or Cloud storage is now a viable option for independent photographers. This system requires the upload of digital files to an online, commercial site for storage and retrieval. To commit to a cloud-based solution, keep in mind several considerations:

Internet speed and reliability– how long does it take to upload and access your files
Cost of internet service– are you charged a premium for high use
Frequency of use– do you need the service all day, every day
Type of files stored– are you storing only JPGs or RAW files and complete projects

After a review of the above, you may find cloud storage may not be a good fit for you. Some plans are good for small amounts of data (images) but if you shoot in RAW and have thousands of images, some plans can’t cut the mustard.

If you do feel the Cloud is right for you make certain you carefully consider the following before you commit:

Have a Plan with Three Backups (see the 3-2-1 Backup plan below.)
In addition to your master working files, have at least one Local Backup

Have an Off -Site Solution
Use a multiple hard drive system
Use on-line Cloud storage only as part of your strategy
Don’t rely on the Cloud as your primary or only backup

The Cloud may not be reliable
Internet goes down
Servers get hacked
Fees are late or don’t get paid
Terms change without notice
Cloud companies go out of business or are acquired by others

Minimum Acceptable Usage Scenario
Consider 1TB of RAW files as minimum capacity- (Some plans don’t support RAW)
Fast broadband connection- No Dial-Up or Wi-Fi
No metered web usage from your service provider
Fast service Up / Down Speed
Works with either Mac or Windows.

The 3-2-1 backup plan

Serious photographers who are conscientious about their work carefully store, safeguard, and backup all their images. As we have seen, there are several ways to do this and additional variations on each system. Regardless of the system that is used, you should have a thoughtful plan in place that will provide you the comfort in the safety of your work and your legacy. A workable plan is outlined below:

  1. Have at least 3 copies of your data
    Having three copies of data means that the first one would be your actual data, wherever they reside. The other replicas (redundant clones, or mirror images) will provide for high availability and redundancy, since the more replicas you have, the more chances to keep the data safe.
  2. Keep these backups on 2 different media
    You should keep the data in two different formats, for one format outlives the other. For example, disks from the same RAID are statistically dependent, and often, after one disk failure, you might experience the failure of another disk from the same storage in a short period (often because the devices are of the same age). Using different formats reduces the risks that all your backups will be damaged, as different formats have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to redundancy.
  3. Store 1 backup offsite
    It is understandable that a big disaster like an earthquake, fire or another unpleasant event will destroy buildings, and even data centers may burn down resulting in powerful data loss. It is the reason why considering offsite data backups comes into view.
    Offsite means as FAR AWAY as possible, in another city, state, country or even continent. Your data is safe then, even if there is a fire or national disaster.

There are many ways and solutions to accomplish this 3-aspect task, be they software or hardware. Backup process should be set as far from manual interaction as possible to avoid human error. It is highly recommended to run backup jobs on a regular basis and scale (weekly, monthly backups, etc.) to be able to restore from the most recent and consistent one.

Copyright © 2019 Brian Loflin. all rights reserved.

South Texas Bird Workshop – May 2019

May begins a traditionally long hot, and often humid, season in far south Texas. This year is no exception. However many copious rains in April have kept the countryside lush and green. This has been a blessing for bird life.

This workshop during the last week of May was very productive with a large variety of great birds. Frequently in pairs, the species photographed numbered thirty-one, including some favorites including Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak and Grove-bill Ani. The traditional South Texas favorites included Green Jay, Pyrrhuloxia, Great Kiskadee, both Long- and Curve-bill Thrasher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Olive Sparrow and many more.

The following represents just a few of the favorites.

.From the top left:Painted Bunting female, Painted Bunting male, Painted Bunting first year male, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager male, Couch’s Kingbird, Grove-bill Ani, Green Jay, Curve-bill Thrasher, Mature and immature Crested Caracara, Crested Caracara Portrait with mouse, Greater roadrunner with mouse, Greater Roadrunner, Pyrrhuloxia, and Long.bill Thrasher.

Everyone was able to make many amazing and similar images to take home. And the camaraderie was top notch.

If you have interest in a similar workshop, the next one is scheduled for October 24-27. 2019. If you have interest visit my web site at The Nature Connection or send me an email to bkloflin@austin.rr.com.

Copyright © 2019 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Starry Nights in Texas

StarTrails ONE-Sm

The night skies are bigger in Texas! Join us during the dark of the moon for an afternoon and overnight photography experience that will be unforgettable. DigiNite is an introductory expedition into photographing the night skies. No previous sky photography experience is required. Participants will learn night sky still photography techniques including photography of the stars and the Milky Way, star trails, time lapse star motion and light painting of terrestrial structures with these star techniques.

Milky Way, Inks Lake, TX

This workshop will be held at Historic Seminole Canyon State Park – overnight May 3-4, 2019 in a very remote location without light pollution to take advantage of the best night skies. The workshop begins at 1:00 PM the first day and ends after a group brunch the second. Transportation, meals and lodging are not included. Lodging will be at Comstock Motel in Comstock, TX, nine miles from the state Park. After workshop signup, reservations may be made at 432-292-4484.

For more information see: http://www.thenatureconnection.com/workshopschedule.html  A detailed packet of information will be sent to those who register for this workshop.

Copyright © 2019 Brian Loflin
All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: