Category Archives: Macro Photography

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.

Review: LAOWA 15mm F4.0 Wide Macro Lens

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Nikon D800, 15mm F4.0 LAOWA Wide Macro lens.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Focal Length                        15mm
  • Construction                        12 elements 9 groups
  • Focus                                   Manual
  • Aperture                               Manual
  • Aperture, Maximum            4.0
  • Aperture, Minimum            32
  • Aperture                               14 blades
  • Angle of view                      1100 31’’ (Full Frame Camera)
    • 850 52” (APSC)
  • Minimum Focus Distance   122mm (4.8 in) from sensor
  • 4.7 mm (0.19 in) from front element
  • Magnification                      1:1
  • Shift                                     +/- 6mm
  • Filter threads                       77mm
  • Dimensions                          83.8 x 64.7mm (3.3 x 2.54 in)
  • Weight                                 410 gm   (13 oz)

 OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

Upon reading of this new lens from Venus Optics I was skeptical of its performance. It always seems that when manufacturers try to put lots of capabilities into a single package, something ends up being a compromise.

Upon handling the product for the first time, I was impressed by the clean lines and smooth operation. The focus was smooth from minimum to infinity and required only a quarter of a turn of the barrel. The focus scale read in meters from 0.12m to Infinity. The barrel was also marked in Magnification units from 0.1:1 to 1:1. Upon focusing to minimum, the lens length increased only 1/4 inch, short for a macro lens. There was no turning of the barrel so filter orientation was not affected.

The aperture ring was marked from F4.0 to F32 and had no click stop detents. The separation of the aperture indices was very small and much care was required to accurately line up the index. The aperture ring was smooth and had no slippage.

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It was interesting to note the lens had a Depth of Field Scale marked on the barrel, a feature seldom found on today’s electronic aperture lenses. The difference from max DoF to min DoF is a very small change of about 2mm rotation of the focus ring.

The lens is stated to be “Tilt-Shift” when in fact, the lens shifts up and down in the horizontal camera orientation only. No tilt is available. The shift moves +/- 6mm and is stopped by a locking lever and solid detents. The shift was somewhat stiff upon use. This should not be an issue on a tripod and may become smother with use.

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NO SHIFT

 

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FULL UPWARD SHIFT +6MM

Front filter threads are standard 77mm and with a lens of this wide angle thin filters must be used to prevent vignetting. The lens is supplied with a tulip shape lens hood and front and rear caps. When the lens hood is in place significant vignetting occurs in the full upward shift position of the lens on the Nikon D800 full frame sensor. This is said not to occur with a crop (APSc) sensor camera.

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Nikon D800, 15mm F4.0 LAOWA Wide Macro lens-Vertical shift-Note lens hood vignette.

APERTURE

The first standard test was to measure exposure consistency along the full aperture range. The test was made with a standard photographic gray card in ideal, even illumination. Aperture priority mode and spot metering was used. The camera and gray card standard were tripod mounted. As previously stated the aperture markings were small and indexing was critical. Upon examination of resultant images it was discovered there was an inconsistency in exposure from wide open maximum aperture to minimum aperture.

Exposure Composite

Reflection density results are as follows:

•F4.0 = 58.7    • F5.6 = 58.9   • F8.0 = 57.8    •F11  =  54.2

•F16  =  52.6    • F22  = 48.6    •F32  = 41.1

 FOCUS

Focus was evaluated using a standard Adobe Lens Calibration chart. Aperture selected was F11. Under image magnification, there was slight falloff at the horizontal ends of the frame, yet little falloff at the top and bottom of the horizontal frame.

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RESOLUTION

Lens resolution tests could not be conducted empirically at this time in the studio/lab. However, when distant images were examined at magnification there were significant failures in sharpness both at the small and large ends of the aperture scale. It was perceived that only F8 and F11 were truly sharp. F4 and F5.6 were soft and F22 and F32 were unacceptable.

Aperture Resolution

 

MINIMUM FOCUS DISTANCE

As a close focusing wide angle lens, this model performed as expected. Knowing that F8.0 was sharpest, several test images were made with near foreground and distant subject detail. This is an example of that performance.

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The real test was to examine images shot near the Minimum Focus Distance while looking for distant background detail. Most wide angle lenses can produce tremendous Depth of Field; super wide angle lenses even more so. This lens employs a two stage focus where the near and distant focus occurs in one movement of the optic and extreme close up focus occurs as a result of a simple lens extension, similar to the use of a very thin extension tube. Expectations in performance due to that construction configuration were great.

When it came to the actual test, two things were rapidly apparent: the lens hood was in the way and the subject was so close to the front glass that it was often in shadow of the lens.

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The first image of the flower and its environment was made at a magnification of 0.8:1 as marked on the lens barrel. It works rather satisfactorily. However, remember, I felt that F8 was the only sharp aperture which resulted in not having the detail in the background that I would have liked.

The second image of the flower was shot at 1:1 as marked on the barrel. It is nice and the center point of focus is very sharp. (See the cropped inset below). Interestingly, some of the flower petals are actually touching the front glass element. The lens hood was removed to get the flower in position and managing appropriate light on the flower was extremely difficult. These conditions were disappointing.

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COLOR REPRODUCTION

In this series of samples, the lens did not reproduce any significant chromatic aberration. In a couple of the building images a very slight amount of red fringing was noticeable in the highlights at 10:1 magnification. What small amount of fringing present was easily corrected in software.

DISTORTION

As one can imagine there can be distortion with this lens just like any other super wide angle optic. And there is. What’s interesting is that when used correctly and held square to the subject there is little vertical perspective distortion. (See the building image above) But move only a few degrees from square and that error is extremely noticeable. (Below)

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Fortunately for this lens the shift movement helps correct the issue. It is disappointing not to find the shift movement in both axes. Even old PC lenses have the ability to turn the barrel 90 degrees so that shift is available in both axes. (See shifted images far above.)

When used with vertical structures close to the edges of the frame, barrel distortion becomes evident. However software fixes are available for this error.

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SUMMARY

For the LAOWA 15mm F4.0 Wide Macro lens to perform perfectly under all conditions was an exaggeration at best. The lens did well at many of the tasks performed. As a super wide angle lens it did well when used properly except for the higher F stops. As a macro lens, the detail was good near the macro end of the scale. Again, poor resolution at the higher F stops resulted in a lack of great Depth of Field. This is a shortcoming of lenses in the macro range but since F16, F22 and F32 are not sharp with this lens, this characteristic is a disappointing shortfall. In the two scenarios the use of the lens hood was a problem; when the lens was shifted upward (or downward) and when used at the close focusing distances.

For the casual shooter this can prove to be a useful lens, especially for the price. Canon and Nikon lenses are generally four times the price. And, to get the most from this optic, its shortcomings must be known and used in a manner that will minimize these shortfalls. When used properly and within known limitations, this lens can perform rather well.

For more specialized photographers however, the overall capabilities do not meet expectations. Both Canon and Nikon market top-of-the line tilt-shift lenses in focal length from wide angle to short telephoto. These lenses perform flawless at the tasks for which they were designed. These manufacturers also offer macro lenses in several focal lengths that produce macro images at 1:1 of the very highest caliber. If you need the best in these areas, you must pay the price.

Copyright © 2016. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Increase Depth of Field with Focus Stacking

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Combination image of cactus with spines. Deep focus stack with 28 images, front to back, (left) and single image from center of stack (right). Nikon D800, 105 mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor, SB 910 flash and circular diffuser.

There are many times when a single image, even at the smallest aperture simply will not produce enough depth of field (DoF) to render the image sharply. This is regardless of the lens quality, camera or technique. The image above is a demonstration from a recent Nature and Macro Photography Workshop.

We have learned that DoF is dependent primarily on Aperture. (The bigger the aperture number; the bigger the DoF.) But DoF is also dependent upon Subject Distance, and lens Focal Length. As we get closer to the image and increase our lens focal length in macro photography, the total measured distance of the DoF gets smaller. Working in close-up am macro photography we are working against ourselves when it comes to DoF. Therefore, we need to improve upon this fault.

To extend the DoF we can now rely upon computer blending of several images into one with greatly extended DoF. Each image is focused at a different distance from the lens. An additional benefit of this technique is the use of a middle range, somewhat sharper aperture. When blended in computer software, part of the resultant image uses near focus detail, part uses mid-focus detail and another uses far focus detail, and so on. Often, as many as 10 or more sequential images are “stacked” and blended into one.

This blending process can include the use of multiple layers in Photoshop or free software called CombineZ or Zyrene Stacker. However, the most powerful software and today’s industry standard is Helicon Focus. The current version is 6.3.7 and its cost ranges from $30 to $200 depending on length of subscription service and number of computers licensed.

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Nikon D2Xs, 50 mm flat field EL Nikkor lens on bellows, two SB-800 flashes, tripod. Image magnification in camera: 1.6X.

In this image (above) of the head of a bee 53 individual images with a different point of focus from the antennae to the rear of the head were made. Each image was spaced 0.005 inch from one another from the front to the back. These multiple images spanned the overall distance of o.265 inch, (or about a quarter of an inch).

So as you can see, focus stacking can help produce a little more DoF or a great amount as in the bee. It is also useful in landscape photography to produce foreground, midground and background in equally sharp focus.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

The Queen Emerges

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Several days after the Monarch eclosing, I had the second chrysalis develop. This butterfly was a Queen. I was a bit late in starting preparations so I missed the first part of the emerging process. I did however get some images in the process.

The cameras, setup and procedure was the same as the Monarch, except that I used a live stem of Blue mist flower, a Queen favorite.

Here is another pair of views of the same adult:

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Extreme close-up

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.