Category Archives: Macro Photography

Close up lens selection for larger insects

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Roseate Skimmer Dragonfly, Orthemis ferruginea (m)-
Nikkor AF 200 mm F 4.0 Micro Nikkor lens. Fill flash.

 

Last week I was preparing to visit one of my favorite hunting grounds for insects and other critters. The nearby Hill Country Water Gardens is an amazing emporium catering to those who build and maintain ponds. Additionally, they are a very complete nursery with a wide variety of plants. The best thing for me is that they have many tanks and ponds with live water lilies and lotuses. These water features attract many varieties of aquatic insects, including dragonflies and damselflies.

As I was gathering equipment I was selecting the optics appropriate for the day. I knew that I needed more reach than standard macro lenses like my Nikon AF 60mm F 2.8 Macro Nikkor or my Nikon AF 105 mm F2.8 Macro Nikkor. These two lenses are great, but the magnification just is not enough. My longer, Nikon AF 200mm F 4.0 has more reach, but as a fixed lens, there is no angle of view versatility and it will not accept a teleconverter.

So, the tried-and-true solution is a mid-range telephoto lens, with the addition of a teleconverter and for close-focusing ability the addition of a short extension tube. Frequently, a prime lens like a 300 mm lens with a 1.4x or 1.5x teleconverter and a 10 to 25 mm extension tube works well. The arrangement allows a full frame sensor to produce a field of view of about 4 inches and will focus to about 2 feet. That’s perfect, but that arrangement still has no angle of view flexibility.

The answer lies with a zoom telephoto lens, a teleconverter, and if required, an extension tube. With a teleconverter and extension tube robbing the optics of light, a fast lens is most desirable. The solution is a Nikon AF 70-200 mm F 2.8 VR Nikkor lens. To it we add a TC-17EII AF-S teleconverter. This produces a focal length range from 119 to 340 mm and at 200 mm, a field of view of 3.5 inches wide on a full frame sensor. The good thing about this arrangement is that it will focus down to 3.6 feet (measured from the sensor- about 2.5 feet from the front of the lens), plenty close for dragonflies and similar insects.

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Four-spotted Pennant Dragonfly Brachymesia gravida (m)
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter. Fill flash.

 

Canon makes the same arrangement with a 1.4x and a 1.5x teleconverter as well as a 2.0x. Their 70-200 F 2.8 lens will focus to 3.94 feet with a similar set up.

Both Nikon and Canon produce F4.0 versions of these two great lenses at a considerable difference in price.

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Robber Fly, Efferia albibarbis (m)
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter. Fill flash.

 

As these minimum focusing distances are perfectly ideal for butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and other insects and creatures, there is no need for an extension tube. A 12 mm extension tube will produce a 3.0-inch field of view but will further reduce the effective aperture by an additional stop. In some cases, you need all the light you can get for best auto-focusing and low light situations.

Another benefit of not using the extension tube is the lens combination can focus to infinity. This is a great benefit for that surprise bird or other subject at greater distances.

As in all outdoor photography, a flash used as a fill flash about 1.0 EV below the ambient exposure helps produce images with lower contrast, higher dynamic range and with more motion stopping capability. All the images in this article, except the lilies,  were produced with a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight at minus 1.0 EV.

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White water lilies in water garden-
Nikon AF 200mm F2.8 Nikkor lens with TC- 17 EII 1.7x teleconverter.

Copyright © 2018 Brian Loflin All rights reserved.

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New Workshops for 2018

The Favorite DigiNite:
Starry Night Sky Workshop-
September 7-8, 2018
$195.00

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. The workshop will be held at Mason Mountain in a very remote Texas 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 breakfast the second. Emphasis will be placed upon planning, locating dark sky destinations, and how to prepare for a night sky photography shoot. Photography techniques to be demonstrated include selection and use of the appropriate equipment, photographic stills of the stars and the Milky Way, star trails, time lapse star motion techniques and light painting with all the above.
Outdoor hands-on photography will include location set-up and star photos of the Milky Way, star trails and landscape features. Transportation, meals and lodging not included.

Only time scheduled in 2018.

Milky Way, Inks Lake, TX

Back by Popular Demand!
Macro & Close-up Photography Intensive in the
Texas Hill Country-
October 12-14, 2018

$695.00

Learn to photograph our small world around us in the heart of the magical Texas Hill Country for a three-day photography workshop geared to shooting close focusing images. This highly-praised workshop will be packed with hands-on instruction to help you grow your close-up photographic abilities with newfound skills, tools, techniques and proficiency. The workshop will feature one-on-one instruction and demonstrations with abundant native Texas flora and fauna. Techniques will feature creating the perfect exposure, use of flash and lighting modifiers, one-to-one life size magnification, focus stacking, macro panoramas, and also include collecting, management, and photography of small animals.  Photography will be in the field and lab setting. This workshop is held at Mo Ranch, a 500 acre facility located on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River with aquatic, woodlands, and limestone hill habitats. Meals and lodging included.

Few seats now available!

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Most Popular:
Bird Photography in the Texas Rio Grande Valley-

October 25-28, 2018
$1,495.00

Come to the avian rich Rio Grande Valley for a hands-on bird photography workshop in the heart of South Texas. The workshop features hands-on instruction and intensive shooting in some of the best birding habitat available and specifically timed for the best South Texas specialty birds and migrants. The workshop will be held at the 700-acre Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas, a purpose-designed ranch for bird photography.The ranch is preserved with all-native plants and animals and features constant-level ponds, and permanent photography blinds oriented for the best use of light. Each blind provides outstanding photographic opportunities. A highlight of the workshop is the favorite raptor shoot, featuring Crested Caracara, Harris’ Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Black Vultures and more! At our workshop we bring the birds to you creating an outstanding South Texas birding and photography adventure! Meals and lodging included.

This one sells out fast! Only five spots remain.

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For more information see our web site HERE.

Copyright © Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

NEW- Photography Workshops for 2018

2018 Workshop Promo

Copyright © 2018 Brian Loflin
All rights reserved

2018 Wildlife Photography Exhibition at Texas A&M University – Kingsville

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Winners in the First Annual Wildlife Photography Exhibition at Texas A&M University- Kingsville include, left to right:  David Campbell, Best Habitat; Kelley Wood, Best in Show; and Alex Meza, Best Wildlife. The Best in Show was awarded a sizeable cash award. The Best Wildlife and Best Habitat winners both received a Rotational 180 Backpack from Mind Shift Gear.

 

The first Wildlife Photography Exhibition represents the finest of the images produced and selected by students of the new Wildlife Photography Program at Texas A&M University- Kingsville. Students created images to best depict Texas wildlife and its habitat. The class members produced these images during the Spring 2018 semester and printed and prepared the mounted images for the May exhibit at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Center in Kingsville, Texas.

AWARDS

Exhibit-ladybird beetle - exhibit

BEST IN SHOW- “It’s a Small World”- Kelley Wood

“This ladybird beetle was on a Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) inflorescence. I was looking at the plant because there were multiple butterflies and other insects that I wanted to take pictures of. It was in the shade, so the lighting was not as harsh.”

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BEST HABITAT- “Bobcat”- David Campbell

“I was on the ranch I work on near Cotulla, TX heading to one of our ponds with a fishing pole and cold beer in hand. As I got near the water I noticed this bobcat sitting on the edge of the brush and realized I didn’t have my camera. I watched him for a second and decided to go back to the truck (a couple hundred yards away) to get my camera. To my surprise he had not moved an inch which allowed me to take this and several other great photos.”

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BEST WILDLIFE- “Burrowing Owl”- Alex Meza

“Photographed in Granjeno, Texas, a small town literally at the edge of the Rio Grande River. This owl nests in crevices created by big boulders that are placed next to the levee to protect citizens from the Rio Grande River flash floods. The Burrowing owl was out in the sunset after a hot day in South Texas.”

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Exhibit juror, Shirley Loflin, critiques an image by student Kelley Wood. Shirley is a published photographer, author and naturalist and is a long time exhibition juror. She resides in Austin.

 

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Student Alex Meza describes cropping suggestions of one of his entries made by the juror to his wife Neyda Gonzales.

 

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY PROGRAM

The new Wildlife Photography program is an unique-in-the-nation curriculum providing classes to biology majors within the Range and Wildlife Sciences department at the university. The program was started through a generous donation by the Frederick J. Bremner Trust. Dr. Bremner was a former faculty member at Trinity University in San Antonio.

The program began this Spring 2018 semester with the first in a series of classes entitled Introduction to Digital Wildlife Photography. Additional classes include: Advanced Digital Wildlife Photography, Wildlife Macro Photography, Wildlife Photographic Technology, and Digital Post Production in Wildlife Photography.

The program was developed by Brian Loflin, a Austin biological photographer, author and educator who has taught similar classes at UT Austin Continuing Education and Informal Classes for the past eleven years and in seminars and workshops throughout the country. Loflin is a adjunct faculty member at Texas A&M University- Kingsville.

ADDITIONAL EXHIBIT ENTRIES:

Exhibit-pine tree - exhibit

“Looking Up”- Kelley Wood

 

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“Rattlesnake”- David Campbell

 

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“Altamira Oriole”- Alex Meza

 

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“Colorful Flower”- Robert Dwyer

 

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“Greater Roadrunner”- Robert Dwyer

 

Exhibit-pedro (2 of 2)

“Sandpiper on Jetties”- Pedro Cesares

 

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“Ocean Current”- Pedro Cesares

 

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“Swallowtail collecting Nectar”- Jeanette Casanova

 

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“Mockingbird Chilling”- Jeanette Casanova

 

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“White-tail”- Crisantos Cesares

 

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“Gulf-Fritillary on Thistle”- Christos Cesares

 

All material Copyright © 2018 by Brian Loflin. Images copyright by their makers. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall photography workshops approaching

Four photography workshops are approaching fast. Each have just a few spots available.

For more information and to reserve your spot before they are gone, please visit the website at http://www.thenatureconnection.com/workshopschedule.html  .

2017 Workshop PromoB

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.