Category Archives: Lighting

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.

Which lens do you use?

 

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Nikon D800, Nikkor 105 mm F 2.8 lens.

We are told that the key to making a good composition is to pick the “right” lens and decide where to place it and the camera in relation to the subject.

It quite true that you can fill the frame with a portrait and make the head size the same dimension in the frame regardless of the lens focal length used. Even though this is true, there may be a better choice for selecting one focal length over another. Let’s evaluate a few images all made at the same spot:

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This image on the left is made with a 20mm Wide Angle lens. It is quite obvious the face is distorted by the wide angle. In addition, the lens was just over one foot from this lady’s nose- quite uncomfortable for the subject.

This image on the right is made with a “portrait” lens, a fast 60mm F2.8 prime. It still is a bit wide and the lens to subject distance is still quite uncomfortable. With these two lenses the background is more defined that desirable.

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The left image (above) is made with a fast 85 mm, F1.8 prime. It is beginning to look better. There is more comfort with the subject. Yet, the background is still somewhat more defined than desired.

The image on the right is a prime 105 mm F 2.8 lens. The working distance is very comfortable, the background becoming soft and there is little distortion of the subject’s face.

The next pair of images (below) are made with focal lengths in the telephoto range. They look much better than those above.

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Camera: Nikon D800. Nikkor lenses: 20mm F2.8, 60mm F2.8, 85mm F1.8, 135mm F2.8, and 70-200 F2.8 zoom.

The left image is a 135mm F2.8 prime and the right, a 200mm F2.8 zoom . Both of these lenses produced good frame-filling head shots with pleasing facial features and nicely softened backgrounds. All images are made on a full frame Nikon D800 digital SLR at an aperture of F3.5.

So, in my book you can’t beat the image quality and feeling with the two telephoto lenses. For years and years, the choice for portraits on full frame cameras has been the 105 mm lens, regardless of whether shooting on film or in digital. We can now understand why.

So, the concept of a “portrait” lens for digital is a little misleading. The 50mm F1.4 is and always has been a great choice for editorial portraiture. This is because of the ability to better manage the Depth of Field and to tell a story, not for its focal length. For many this lens is simply just too short to use for pleasing head shots.

However, with a full frame 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera, the 50mm acts much more like a 75mm in its angle of view and  because you may be a bit further back.

Still it’s hard to beat the longer lenses. The advantages are many. You may fill the frame further from the subject, reducing distortion and improving a soft bokeh and shallow Depth of Field in the background. The narrow angle of view allows a small  “slice of life” to be made, eliminating many background distractions. Additionally, if you are shooting with lights or lighting modifiers, you have more working room if further back.

Copyright © 2016 Brian 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.

Manage the Background – Part two

I have often discussed the importance of assuring the subject stands out in the frame. To do this you must manage the background.

Previously, I discussed the first method in which you can separate the subject from the background by using a very small Depth of Field. Here I will talk about using contrasting tone values.

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Nikon D800, 105mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor lens, daylight.

In the image of the flowering seed head of Bushy bluestem grass, the highlight and mid-tone values of the plant structure contrast very well with the dark, mottled tones of the background. This allows even the finest detail to be visualized quite well. Remember, here I talk about tone values- not colors. This means changes in reflectance from dark to light. Even though monochromatic in characteristic, this subject is very well defined.

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Nikon D800, 200mm F4.0 Micro Nikkor, sun, SB-910 fill flash. Three frame HDR image.

A more colorful Passion flower really snaps out against the darkest of backgrounds. In this case some of the flower’s filamentous petals and the leaves themselves make up the background.

I am frequently asked how do you make the background dark. The answer is simple, don’t put light on it. In other words, find or make the background about two stops darker that the mid-tone exposure value. Find a Point of View that yields a nice underexposed background. Or conversely, shade the brighter background with your hand, body or a piece of cardboard or opaque reflector. If you make a shadow fall behind the subject, that’s it!

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Nikon D800, 105mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor. Two SB-910 Speedlight flashes.

The polar opposite of dark backgrounds is to make a high key, or very light background. In this case, the high key background is useful to better define the edges of medium-to-dark subjects as in the mating stink bugs above. Many times natural lighter surfaces or backgrounds may be found. When that is not possible, placing a light material or lighted surface behind the subject works well. In the case of the stink bugs, the subjects were placed on a sheet of opal acrylic plastic that was illuminated from behind with a flash (speedlight). An additional speedlight provided front illumination from above. With the capabilities found in today’s flashes, it is relatively simple to vary the TTL (Through the Lens) power ratio of each flash independently, producing the desired tone values of the subject and of the background separately.

Regardless of your choice-light or dark- be sure to manage the distractions to produce a subject that pops!

Copyright © 2016 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Lights, LEDs or Flash?

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Illustrated from left, above: Quartz hot light, LED panel, Studio flash.

Many folks spend most of their time practicing their photographic craft outdoors. They consider themselves “Natural Light” or “Available Light” photographers. And many do an excellent job with their work. However, when it comes to moving indoors, photographic lighting becomes significantly different and many photographers are somewhat naïve, timid or downright afraid of indoor lighting and the tools required. Sometimes this fear is due to equipment cost, but I believe more often it’s the lack of understanding of the available tools. There are many, many light units available, but only some are designed specifically for photography. Let’s spend a few minutes building a better understanding the tools of indoor lighting for photography and the features and benefits of each.

Continuous Lighting or Flash

First, we basically have two different sources of artificial photographic lighting, continuous or flash. Each source of light has several styles of lighting units and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at each.

Continuous Lighting

Continuous lighting, as the name implies, is a lighting source that is “on” all the time; it burns continuously. Two things to consider are the lighting source or type and the style of the fixture or the light unit itself. Continuous lighting basically is available in three different types of sources: Hot lights, Fluorescent and LEDs.

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Quartz hot lights in parabolic can (left), and broad quartz soft light.

Hot lights use a heated and glowing filament as a source of light. Contained within a glass tube the filament is sometimes within a specialized gas that adds a special color characteristic to the light. These lights acquired their name because they become extremely hot as the filament burns. Somewhat inefficient, most of the energy used produces heat instead of light. Hot lights are most frequently tungsten white balance in the 3,200 – 3,800 degree Kelvin range. Hot lights come in many different sizes, fixture styles and price range, some quite inexpensive. A specialized type of hot light is the HMI lighting units. Originally HMIs were offered for the motion picture and video industry. These units are generally expensive and have specially constructed lamps and ballasts to provide flicker-free daylight white illumination around 6,000 degree Kelvin.

Fluorescent lighting for photography uses specialized fixtures, fluorescent tubes and ballasts to offer cool, flicker-free light. The color temperature is around 5,000 degrees Kelvin, a little warmer than daylight. Photographic fluorescent lighting is available in several fixture styles and can be somewhat expensive.

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Flat LED panel is AC and battery powered, with variable output and color temperature.

LED lighting makes use of new technology light emitting diodes. These lights are now most convenient as they are actually cool to the touch and can be AC or battery powered. LED lighting may be daylight or tungsten color balance. LED lighting fixtures are available in many different shapes from rectangular panels to cylindrical styles and can be somewhat inexpensive.

Regardless of the light source or fixture type, a major advantage of continuous lighting is that it can be visualized from the camera and its effect adjusted easily. A disadvantage of some continuous lighting units is they burn at one intensity level. Therefore, to change the intensity at the subject, these fixtures need to be moved closer or more distant.

Electronic Flash

Electronic flash provides a very versatile source of light. It is a high-speed burst of light created by a high energy electronic pulse through a gas filled glass tube. Three major advantages to this type of illumination are that it closely matches daylight in color, it is cool to the touch and it is very fast, often around 1/1000 second or faster. Two types of electronic flash are common, studio strobes and miniature flashes (often called hot shoe flashes or SpeedlightsTM).

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Studio flash head (left) and NIKON Speedlight.

Studio strobes are AC or battery powered units in several different fixture types and power levels. Two styles prevail, a self-contained monolight where all electronics are contained within the lighting unit and a style that has the lamp in a fixture separated by a cable from the electronics and transformer unit.

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Larger parabolic dish flash head.

The studio flash is more frequently a stand-mounted unit. It may come with a variety of light modifiers and is frequently very powerful. In today’s digital photography, a single studio strobe may provide enough lighting power to illuminate half a basketball court. They are now available in variable power and with electronic TTL controls to be controlled by the camera exposure settings. Compared to other flash options, these units can seem quite bulky, heavy and expensive.

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NIKON SB-910 Speedlight miniature flash. One of the most versatile flashes on the market today.

Miniature flashes on the other hand are small, lightweight and versatile units. They are available from many manufacturers, especially the major camera manufacturers. That is an important issue in that the electronics of the camera and flash are required to “talk” to each other. These flashes are available in several styles and power for on-camera and more efficiently, off camera operation. They may be relatively inexpensive.

A true advantage of the miniature or hot shoe flash is the versatility of the power output. Many units provide reasonable high power for indoor events, products and portrait work. A significant bonus of the miniature flash is the ability to turn the speed of the flash burst up to incredibly high speeds, at 1/50,000 second or faster, enabling the demonstration of high speed motion such as hummingbird wings or insects in flight. A table of these high flash speeds possible from Canon and Nikon follows:

FLASH DURATION

Power           NIKON (Sec)                 Canon (Sec)

1/1                   1/1,050                        1/1,000

1/2                   1/1,100                        1/2,000

1/4                   1/2,700                        1/4,000

1/8                   1/5,900                        1/9,000

1/16               1/10,900                      1/15,000

1/32               1/17,800                      1/21,000

1/64               1/32,300                      1/30,000

1/132             1/41,600                      1/35,000

Light Modifiers

In order to use photographic lighting effectively it should be modified. Generally speaking, most light sources offer a small, point source and high contrast light. This in itself is not very appealing as an illuminant in a photograph. Like the outdoor bright sun, it needs to be modified.

The rule of thumb in effective light modification is to make the lighting source larger and closer relative to the subject. Like overcast skies, this procedure results in softer, more pleasing light. There are many ways to do this.

Lighting Fixtures

The lighting fixture is the first step. The fixture is the instrument that contains the lamp and often a modifier in the form of a reflector of several shapes, a diffuser or other styles of devices that modify the light path.

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Parabolic fixture.

Fixtures are offered in a variety of styles. The PAR or fixture with a parabolic reflector is a most common type. The size and shape of the parabolic dish controls the width of the beam of light. Commonly available are wide-beam floods and narrow-beam spots or variable-beam PARs.

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Fresnel fixture. Note lens in front of lamp.

Another similar fixture is a Fresnel. Similar to a PAR, the Fresnel has a lamp with a reflector behind it and a specialized, concentric curved, Fresnel lens in front of the lamp that forms and directs the beam. These may be as small as 250 watts or as large as 10,000 (10K) watts.

Modified soft light lamp houses may provide softer light from a “Hot light” source by designing an enclosure around the light source that bounces the light backward and from a large integral reflector surface. These are used frequently to light larger areas and products.

Another fixture used predominantly on the stage is the focusing spot or projector. Usually a powerful and highly concentrated beam of light, this style is used for providing highlight on a very small area. To maximize the versatility of any lighting fixture it should be used with an external modifier.

External Modifiers

The beauty of external modifiers is that they may be very inexpensive, quite portable and used with many different fixtures.

Reflectors are by definition a flat surface that can bounce (or reflect) the light from a fixture onto the subject or set. The may be made of many materials. Lightweight foam-style board and frame-supported fabric are most common. Colors may range from white, silver, gold, and gold/silver zebra striped, each with its own set of reflective and color characteristics. They are available in circular spring-loaded styles a few inches in diameter to rigid boards of several square feet.

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Circular diffuser (front) and reflector. Flat units with spring steel frame make packing and use simple. Often, mounting on a light stand with arm is helpful.

Diffusers are translucent fabrics that soften the light by scattering of the light that passes through the material and create the ability to make the light source larger and closer relative to the subject. Diffusers may be circular or rectangular and range in size from a few inches to 20 feet.

Umbrellas and soft boxes are essentially external modifiers that act like parabolic reflectors or enclosed reflectors with a diffuser material front.

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Silver reflective umbrella with Nikon SB-910 Speedlight electronic flash.

Umbrellas are perhaps the most simple of the two in that they mount with the lighting fixture pointing into the inside radius of the umbrella curve. When mounted on a light stand the light fixture and umbrella will make a much broader and softer light for the subject. Some umbrellas are soft white or some are silver and produce a more hard-edged, spectral light. Some are translucent and, when used in a “shoot-through” style, act as a circular diffuser. Some umbrellas now offer an opaque silver fabric with a diffusing panel for the open end, creating more of a soft box effect.

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Lastolight EXBox soft box is designed for Speedlight miniature electronic flashes. Softbox units come from 8 inches (shown) to several feet in size.

Soft boxes are three-dimensional fabric modifiers constructed with an internal spring rib to enclose the lighting fixture. Often made from high temperature, or flame-proof fabric the light bounces around the highly reflective inside walls and through translucent diffusing baffles at the opening of the soft box. Soft boxes are available in rectangular or square shapes from a few inches across to several feet in size.

Grids are honeycomb-like screen modifiers that fit onto the front of a lighting fixture that directs the light into a very constricted pool. Grids come in a variety of gradations of modification from 100 to about 600 or more, each spreading the light to a different degree. Fabric grids are also made for the front of soft boxes to provide a more controlled direction for the soft, diffused light beam.

Snoots are like funnels that are attached to the front of the fixture that narrow the beam to a very small circle.

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Barn doors on parabolic light fixture.

Barn doors are four, hinged parallel flaps that operate in four directions on the front of the fixture. In this manner the beam of light may be shaped and directed at will and may also be kept away from areas where unwanted.

Gel holders are often used in conjunction with barn doors to attach transparent colored gelatin filter “gels” in front of a lighting fixture. These gels may be used to correct the color temperature of the lamp or to provide a creative color effect.

Flags are opaque materials that block the light path. Originally rectangular fabric hanging on a pole, they looked like a flag, hence the name. Today, flags are lightweight materials like plywood or plastic or opaque fabric held within a framework and mounted on a secondary light stand. They are used anywhere to control the unwanted path or spill of light.

Gobos have a couple of meanings in the world of photographic lighting. The first and truly correct is that of a specially perforated disk, cut into numerous shapes that go before the optics in the fixture (gobo), creating a patterned light shape on the surface of the set. Most frequently, these are metal or glass disks that are inserted into the fixture itself. The resultant shape of light and shadow may resemble anything from clouds to trees or leaves, etc. A secondary, yet less accurate meaning is anything that is placed into the light path to block, cut or modify the resulting lighting form.

Cucoloris or “cookie,” is an opaque object that when placed into the light path will create a crafted shadow. Common examples can include a window frame with its panels that create the impression of window light on a wall because of the shadow. Frequently, cookies are cut from thin, and lightweight wooden panels into very nebulous shapes simply to create an abstract shape on the background. Cookies are most often positioned on a second light stand in front of the fixture so that the size and hardness of the shadow can be varied.

Grip Equipment

It is understandable that these many fixtures and modifiers require specialized support in use, regardless whether used indoors or outside. It can be effective to have an extra set of hands to hold, or grip, the modifier. As such, grip equipment includes the many different support and connection pieces from clamps, stands, booms, etc. that are used in the industry.

The many grip tools are too numerous to list here but the most important tools include light stands and arms for the mounting of light fixtures and light modifiers. Light stands are commonly a tall, vertical pole that is adjustable in height with tripod feet with a fixture mount on top. Light stands come in heights from a few inches tall to hide behind a portrait subject to light the background to many feet tall to hold the heaviest of lighting fixtures at 200 pounds or more. A lighting arm mounts to the light stand with a knuckle swivel device to hold and give control to various modifiers.

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Traditional light stand with grip arm and flag.

As can be seen, the lighting arsenal for photographers is great. One doesn’t need to employ every type of fixture and modifier. Early on a photographer should plan the needs based upon foreseeable requirements and plan a system for the future. Some will prefer studio types of strobes, others may opt for Speedlights. Regardless, the early plan should keep in mind versatility, compatibility and room for future expansion.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Tiny Views: A Nature & Macro Photography Workshop

Lenses were recently turned to the smallest of creatures at Mo Ranch in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. A dedicated group of eight Central Texas photographers from novice to accomplished image makers gathered for the the third Nature and Macro Workshop led by Austin natural science photographer, Brian Loflin.

Stick insectA walking stick or stick insect of the family Phasmatodea appears as if by magic from camouflage among a grouping of wildflowers. Close focusing lenses and dedicated lighting makes this possible.

The photographers endured three days of classroom work and photography in the macro lab and field capturing a diverse cross section of natural subjects — all much smaller than the proverbial “breadbox.”

The workshop features the tools, techniques, processes and procedures for capturing high quality images of our smallest natural world via digital camera. It includes: The equipment for nature photography; Understanding and perfecting digital exposure; How to make pictures extremely close; Lighting with off camera flash; Focus stacking; Wide angle close up-images; High key, white box and black box photography and much more.

Some of the student’s images from the workshop include:

Details found on a prairie coneflower, Mark Laussade.Macro workshop Macro workshop-2
A tarantula with reflection and Fire ant- Don Simpson.DBS-Peekaboo Terantula DBS - Fire Ant 2
Praying mantis and unidentified bee (possibly a mason bee)-Doug Farrell.

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A whimsical nature assembly and coneflower detail- Cathey Roberts.

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Participants have high praise for Brian’s workshops and instruction, stating, “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!”

Brian Loflin is a veteran nature photographer, author and teacher. His multi-day workshops include Nature and Macro Photography, Bird Photography in South Texas and Flash Photography. Classroom instruction includes Nature, Macro, Flash, Photoshop for Digital Photographers, Photoshop Lightroom and Composition & Light. He has authored photographed and published several books on natural science with his wife, Shirley, including the award-winning Grasses of the Texas Hill Country, and Texas Cacti. Another book featuring Texas wildflowers is in current production.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved. Images copyright by their respective makers.