Category Archives: Lighting

Advanced Macro Photography & Digital Imaging

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This new book was just published in January 2019 and is the ideal volume for everyone seriously interested in close-up and macro photography. Written in simple language for the digital photographer, its 150 glossy pages are cram-packed with over 270 images and diagrams in full color.

Advanced Macro Photography & Digital Imaging begins with the digital camera, basics of digital exposure, close up photography and a easy-to-understand discussion on the tools and techniques required to produce close-up and macro images. Each technique is well-illustrated with color images that enhance the text.

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This book is written with the wildlife scientist and biologist in mind, but every application is useful for any field of study where close focusing and high magnification images are used.

Included in the text are methods to standardize color and to achieve true-to life images in a manner that is accurate and repeatable.  There are sections on how to set up a macro photography studio or lab, as well as photography in the lab and in the field.

Several detailed chapters are dedicated to new digital techniques, including the use of electronic flash, very high magnification, focus stacking of multiple images for enhanced Depth of Field, and post processing software and techniques.

The ample appendix is also filled with lighting tools, techniques and diagrams, information on memory cards, electronic storage devices, file production for publication, archival standards, and much more.

The book is now available in digital format for download and in a soft cover, 8.5 x 11 inch, paper format. Both formats are available through online sales at MagCloud at http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1556203 .

Copyright © 2019 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

20mm-8356-LG-Sm    60mm-8361-1-LG-Sm

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.

85mm-8366-1-LG-Sm     105mm-8376-1-LG-Sm

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.