Category Archives: Biology

Multiple Flash Hummingbird Photography

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Capturing the inflight antics of hummingbirds, like this Black-chinned female,  poses a number of challenges. We have to think about getting them where we want them to be, to be in focus, to have a good exposure, and to be sharp with wing feathers rendered in fine detail.

With today’s digital cameras, automatic technology makes some of this possible. But to get truly refined in-flight images of these little jewels, requires a bit more than camera and high shutter speeds alone. So multiple off-camera, electronic flashes is the only way to go.

To get the flying hummer where we want it, requires placing a feeder with one feeding port in the shade. Shade is important because we need the high speed capability of the off-camera flashes to work for us to stop the motion and wing beat of the hummers. If the set is placed in the sun, most flashes don’t have the power at high speed to compete with the sun for proper exposure.

A diagram of my most frequent set-up is below:

Hummingbird Photo Set-up

Specifications include: 

CAMERA:

    Medium Telephoto Lens 70-200 mm

    Manual Shooting Mode

    Manual Focus – Focus on feeder tube-

    ISO 800–    (Adjust to achieve good shade exposure)

    Shutter speed 1/250 sec   (Or maximum flash sync speed for your camera)

    Aperture F11-   (Depending on adequate exposure in the shade)

FLASHES:

    Three:    2 on Bird –about 2 feet in front of bird

                    1 on Background (Optional) — about 3 feet from background

    Set at 45 degrees to bird

    Zoom at 35mm

    Flash Power- Manual 1/64 (Flash duration: 1/35,000 sec)

    Trigger: Wired, Radio or Ettl / iTTl

BACKGROUND:

    Out-of-focus photo of vegetation printed on matte paper about 30×40 inches

    Mounted print on foam core board

    Positioned on easel or stand about 3 feet behind bird (must remain in the shade)

ADJUST EXPOSURE:

    Tweak flash-to-subject distance (preferred) or

    Flash power in Manual Mode. (This changes flash duration)

Here is a photo of the actual set-up:

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The real key to this method is to let the electronic flash do the work for you. They are designed to produce crisp, daylight-white light, and at a very fast flash duration. Today’s Speedlights can produce a flash duration as short as 1/40,000 second.

But that speed is not to be achieved at full power. That full-power flash duration may be as long as 1/900 second, much longer. The short flash duration therefore, comes at a trade-off of output light intensity (or exposure, if you wish). Therefore we must be in the shade to overpower the sun. Two flashes on the bird provides additional exposure for increased apertures and better Depth of Field. Place the flashes on stands and synchronize them with the camera using cables, radios or IR triggers or the flash eTTL / iTTl technology. The flash sync does not need to be TTL as everything is in manual mode. The light intensity at the bird may be controlled by simply changing the flash-to-subject distance.

Once the feeder is set up and hummingbirds are using it frequently, it’s time to bring in the other equipment, including camera, flashes on their stands, and the background. It may take a few minutes for the birds to become settled down with all this around, but my experience has showed it is not very long.

When feeder, camera and background are in place, the camera needs to be focused on the feeder port in manual focus mode. The aperture will provide sufficient Depth of Field to assure the bird is sharply focused. As things are moving around, especially in a breeze, auto-focus tends to continuously hunt for a target. The picture you are trying to achieve, depending on lens focal length is like the one below. As the hummer sips, it will back away and then return to the feeder. When it backs away is the opportune moment to shoot.

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Finally, the last thing to do is process the image. I shoot in RAW, so I can achieve excellent white balance and tone values in blacks, whites, shadows, highlights and mid-tones. Adobe Camera Raw is the perfect solution for the processing. Other software packages are available including, Lightroom, and On1. After processing, a final crop will yield excellent compositions.

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Later, as your success rate increases, the set may be fine-tuned by the addition of a couple of strategically-placed flowers and greenery to hide the feeder and to provide a framing device for the composition. In addition, the hummers may enjoy actually feeding from several species of tubular flowers with a bit of sugar-water mix in the flower throats. Watch the vegetation the hummers actually use and select some blossoms and greenery for a natural set-up. Then get your finger on the trigger and enjoy!

Copyright © 2017 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New tool simplifies focus stacking

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Many times when producing images of small subjects we find that there is insufficient Depth of Field (or depth of Focus) to render the entire subject sharply from front to back. Insufficient Depth of Field (DoF) is cause by three factors:

First, we understand that, in addition to exposure,  aperture controls DoF. As we increase the F number we add DoF. However we may not be able to make a good exposure with a big F number like F22.

Another factor is that as we increase the focal length of our lens, the DoF becomes smaller. We could select a shorter lens, but that changes perspective and ability to focus close in the case of a macro lens.

The final consideration is that when the lens is moved closer, the DoF also becomes smaller. Thus we are our best enemy and must deal with self-imposed photographic criteria.

Therefore we have learned to use focus stacking to solve this problem. This requires a series of often many images, each made at a different point of focus from front-to-back. The images are blended into on in the computer using specialized software. The image of the bee (below) is an example of a stacked composite of 50 blended images.

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The several images are captured using different points of focus. Some lenses change magnification as the focus is changes, creating alignment problems. The better approach requires moving the camera a measured increment between shots. A geared focusing rail (below) or an automated programmed focusing rail are specialized tools for changing the focal point without compromising image size.

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Another system uses a rail incorporated into a bellows system to change focus but not scale, as pictured below. There are several choices from several manufacturers to accomplish this movement process.

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Now comes the new tool on the market- The Helicon FB Tube. This new idea comes from the producers of Helicon Focus, the industry leader in image stacking software. Essentially it is an extension tube with integrated electronic micro-controller designed to enable automated focus bracketing in single or continuous shooting modes. The measured tube length is 13mm and adds somewhat to the magnification of the lens dependent upon the focal length. Mounted on the camera in the same way as a usual macro extension tube, Helicon FB Tube automatically shifts the focus by one step with each shot thus producing a stack of images of unlimited length that can be rendered into a fully-focused image.

Helicon FB Tube needs no additional hardware apart from conventional cameras and lenses. Helicon FB Tube has no optics and does not affect image quality. Helicon FB Tube settings are configured through an additional application for Android or iOS. The set contains: Helicon FB Tube with IR Receiver and LED Indicator; Front and Rear Caps; IR Transmitter – connects audio port of a smartphone and Extension cable for smartphone and IR Transmitter.

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The unit has been tested and found compatible with a wide number of camera models and lens. Helicon FB Tube is available with mounts for Nikon and Canon cameras and AF lenses with built-in motor.

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I tested the image focusing ability of the FB Tube making 15 focus step images of the acorns below using a step factor of 70. The camera was a Nikon D800 with the FB Tube and 105mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor. Selected aperture was F5.6. Electronic flash in TTL Mode within a softbox provided consistent light.

To set up the FB Tube a couple of simple settings are made on the smartphone device, including lens focal length, crop factor, aperture and step size. this was relatively straight-forward on my iPhone using the available ap:

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The phone then transmitted the data to the FB Tube via an IR emitter plugged into the phone audio jack and aimed at the tubes receiver. as shown below.

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To get started, the first focal point was focused manually at 3.0 CM on the rule. The rest of the images in the series were focused automatically by the FB Tube. Three of those images are shown below -the first, middle, and last- of the 15 image sequence.

Acorn Stack-01FP Acorn Stack-07FP Acorn Stack-15FP

The fifteen images were selected in the computer and rendered in Helicon Focus
Method B (depth map) in a normal manner, rendering sharp focus from front to back. Final adjustments for tone, color and sharpening was completed in Photoshop CC.

Acorn Stack Complete

There are several procedures to make images for stacking. Moving the camera is simple and inexpensive. A manual rail is a bit of an expense, Fully automated, servo motor driven rails and associated accessories are often more than $600. In comparison, the Helicon FB Tube costs $200.

Copyright © Brian Loflin 2017. All rights reserved.

Central Texas Endangered Aquatics

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Texas Blind Salamander (Eurycea rathbuni) lives underwater caves within the Edwards Aquifer only in the San Marcos, Texas area. They retain their external gills and have only vestigial eye spots. Nikon D800, 105 mm F 2.8 Micro Nikkor lens, SB 910 Speedlight in softbox.

In late September I had the opportunity to visit the US Fish & Wildlife Service San Marcos Aquatic Resources Center to photograph several of the endangered aquatic species from the nearby Central Texas waters.

Located near the Edwards Aquifer, a prolific artesian aquifer, the center is involved with scientific research, including equipment and technology development, captive propagation technique development, habitat restoration, native species life history studies, and invasive species life history and control studies. The Center currently serves as a refuge for several listed aquatic species associated with the Edwards Aquifer and other Texas spring systems.

The hatchery also works closely with the faculty at local universities to provide volunteer, work, and research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students in biology.

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Artificial streams are the main aquaria for the center and use fresh water from wells drilled deep into the Edwards Aquifer. The water is filtered and chilled to temperatures suited for each species and circulated throughout the unit.

To facilitate the photography of these aquatic species, I used a macro tank photography technique with a small 2.5 gal. aquarium, an artificial habitat and background. To better confine the aquatic individuals, a second piece of glass in a vertical orientation was used to narrow the available space for the subject specimen.

Equipment included a Nikon D800 DSLR, 105mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor lens and a SB910 Speedlight in a Lastolite EXYbox softbox on a boom. A black cloth also on a boom with a opening slit for the lens was employed in front of the tank to prevent reflections on the front of the aquarium. The setup is illustrated below.

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Great care was given to the safety of every living specimen. Before introduction of any living subjects, the aquarium, any underwater props and gravel substrate was thoroughly washed and sterilized to prevent contamination of the endangered species. This procedure was also repeated between the introduction of each subsequent species. Water was that of the specimen’s home enclosure.

Over the course of a morning I had the pleasure to photograph the Texas Blind salamander (Eurycea rathbuni), San Marcos salamander (Eurycea nana), Fountain Darter (Etheostoma fonticola), all from the Edwards Aquifer near San Marcos, Texas, and the Devils River Minnow  (Dionda diaboli) from spring-fed streams in Kinney and Val Verde counties west of Uvalde, Texas.

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San Marcos Salamander

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Fountain Darter

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Devil’s River Minnow

Copyright © 2016 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workshop Report: Macro Photography Intensive

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Seven participants joined together in September at Mo Ranch for the three day macro photography workshop including in the macro lab (From left) Kelly Sile, Richard Bennett, Glenn Rudd, Gary Eastes, Diane Young, Tracy Curran and Dan Tonnison. Nikon D800, LAOWA 14mm F 4.0 Wide Angle Macro Lens.

 

The historic, 500 acre Mo Ranch at Hunt, Texas, was the site for a three-day intensive macro photography workshop geared to shooting in a macro studio/lab and in field settings. The workshop was located in a beautiful setting on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River  in the heart of the Texas Hill Country and centered in diverse habitats including aquatic, riparian areas, grasslands, oak-juniper woodlands, and limestone hills.

Award-winning naturalist and photographer Brian Loflin led the macro  workshop packed with over 20 hours of hands-on instruction and guided shooting where participants grew in their photographic abilities with new found skills, techniques and proficiency.

The intermediate/advanced level workshop featured hands-on learning and demonstrations with native flora and fauna of the area and covered many subjects including:

• Equipment for getting close   

• Perfecting Exposure

• Tools to make macro work easier

• Grip and support equipment

• Backgrounds • Wide Angle Close-Ups

• Lighting with Flash • High Speed Flash

• Multiple Flash • High Key and White Box

• Tank Photos • Macro Panorama

• Focus Stacking / Extreme Depth of Field

• Extreme Macro • How big is it? (Mensuration)

Everyone worked hard through the workshop to capture stunning, highly detailed images of tiny subjects difficult to observe with the unaided eye. Everyone brought home images to brag about. Here are a few examples of that work:

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Richard Bennett- Stick insect, above, and grass seed head (focus stacked), below.

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Glenn Rudd, Red Ant, above and Mayfly, below.

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Diane Young- Bark lice (Psocoptera) above and below.

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Dan Tonisson- Cactus stem, above (focus stacked), and Sunflower, below.

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The next Intensive Macro Photography Workshop is scheduled for
September 7-10, 2017.

Copyright © 2016 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved. Participant images copyright by the maker.

White Table for Shadowless Lighting

A portable table for high-key photography in the field.

Many times we encounter great photographic opportunities in the field and can accomplish making some superb images of the subject in its habitat. (The mating stink bugs, below) Often however, it would be nice to capture images with greater clarity by the eliminating of ugly or distracting elements and improve the subject view by removing all the background.

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I am often told by many that you can do all this in Photoshop or other post processing software. (Don’t worry, fix it in Photoshop.) While I know that to be true, why spend a lot of time in front of the computer when we can manage the technique in the field and in the camera?

 So, my suggestion is to use a translucent white acrylic plastic background sheet and create near shadowless, high-key lighting by using an electronic flash as backlight. Similar to the White Box technique, (See: Create shadowless macro backgrounds) this has been a common studio practice for many years. Now recreating this technique in the field sheds a new light on our subjects. (Pardon the pun.) Enter the White Table.

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This simple tool is an open framework created of PVC plumbing pipe. My dimensions are simple, 12 inches on each side. And with the addition of a 12 inch square white acrylic plastic top, the table is complete. I do not cement the PVC joints so the legs readily come apart for ease of transport.

In use, above, the unit rests on the ground. A back light flash is positioned to fire upward through the plastic top to provide a blown-out background. A second flash on, or near, camera provides front light for the subject and the trigger for the back light flash.

Here is an example of the same mating stink bugs carefully moved to the White Table. This process provides a completely different view of the insects without background distractions. The photo is clean and this technique allows lighting for maximum detail.

High Key-MedREZ-1A simple twist to this technique is to switch the white acrylic for a black sheet of the same material. This will allow the production of some images with nice, contrasting black backgrounds and interesting reflections. This works exceptionally well with hairy subjects like the tarantula, (below).

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Copyright © 2016 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

NEW: MacroQuest –coming soon!

 

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MacroQuest is an intensive photographic expedition into the tiny natural world that surrounds us. During the Quest each photographer works to discover as many of the small natural subjects that can be found in the study area and to document those subjects using high quality, close-up and macro photographic techniques. MacroQuest is not a competition per se, but participants all work hard to build as large a body of work as possible during the period.

MacroQuest will explore all areas of the biotic environment including land, air and aquatic realms. The Quest targets may include all forms of plant, animal and mineral specimens. The goal is to discover as many unique species from as many orders and families as possible.

MacroQuest will be held in designated geographical areas of rich biodiversity that include as many habitat types as possible and that are not restricted to public access. Occasionally, MacroQuest may be held on other private lands. The goal always is to capture biodiversity.

Equally important to MacroQuest is the informed identification of the subject of every photographic image and the inclusion of the location and habitat where found. Therefore, an image data form will be completed for each image and will be shared at the end of the quest period. It is requested that representative images from every participant be used in the promotion of MacroQuest and of biodiversity itself. All photographic images shall remain the personal property of the image maker and copyright to those images will remain with the maker.

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Watch here for upcoming announcements. For more information, please contact: bkloflin@austin.rr.com.

Copyright © 2016 Brian K. Loflin. All rights reserved.

Manage the Background – Part three.

I previously discussed managing the background through Depth of Field and through contrasting tone values. This last discussion revolves around the third method of setting off the subject, using contrasting or complimentary colors.

To understand this color concept better, we need to review the theory revealed in the Color Chart. For purposes of discussion in digital photographic terms, we use the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color chart (below), an additive color scheme.

RGB Secondary Color wheel

In the RGB color chart (above) we see the photographic Primary Colors of Red, Green and Blue labeled in white. You may notice they are spaced evenly in thirds, or 120 degrees, around the wheel. Across the wheel from each of the the primary colors we see the Secondary Colors of Magenta, Cyan and Yellow. These secondary colors are actually made up of equal parts of the two adjacent primary colors.

Colors that are opposite each other on the chart have maximum color contrast, and are called complimentary colors. Two colors commonly found in nature are blue and yellow, a maximum color contrast of two complimentary colors.

In this sunflower photo the yellow flower contrasts perfectly in color with the blue background. This is because the yellow is exactly opposite the blue on the color chart. That makes them complimentary colors and one of the most visible of color contrasts.

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_DSC6502-Sm Nikon D2Xs, 200mm F4.0 Micro Nikkor, daylight.

For this cone flower (above) we have the  secondary color of magenta petals against the primary green background. Based upon our understanding of the color wheel these colors are still complimentary, thus of maximum color contrast.

GalliardiaMoth-1533-SmNikon D2Xs, 200mm F4.0 Micro Nikkor, daylight.

However, in the Indian blanket flower photo (above) the reds and oranges are not complementary to the green background. This is because they are not opposite on the color wheel.They are in fact, analogous, meaning adjacent on the wheel. Analagous colors work well together and create a harmonious color scheme. Here, the yellow tips to the flower petals separate it from the background primarily by contrasting tones rather than color.

However , the Shinia moth near the flower  center, a symbiotic insect to the Indian blanket, does not contrast well with the flower. This is actually to the moth’s benefit- a color mimicry trait that protects this moth from predators.

So, what ever the method you can use to separate your subject from the background, it’s a good tool to help attract the viewer’s attention to the subject. If more than one technique can be used in a single image, that’s even better.

Good photographic composition begins with a visual preview of the scene. Do everything you can to find and use as many elements of good design to give your image as much impact as you can within the camera. That will make the task of post processing must easier and allow your images leave the viewer with a lasting impression.

Copyright © 2016 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.