Tag Archives: insects

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.

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.

High Key-MedREZ-2

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.


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).


Copyright © 2016 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

The Queen Emerges


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:

Queen Butterfly

Extreme close-up

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

June Macro Photo Workshop

June Macro WS-7688

Ten avid participants from as far away as Minnesota discovered great surprises as they developed new skills in the exciting small world of macro photography. The workshop was held in the heart of the Texas Hill Country at the historic Mo Ranch Conference Center in Hunt. Everyone expanded their understanding and skills through classroom instruction, and intensive, hands-on field and lab photography sessions.

Participants said their macro images are much better than any they would have taken before this instruction.  Most participants were also in for a big surprise as they learned precisely how little DOF their macro lens has. All appreciated learning how to use flash to improve their work and learning to use Live View for better focusing on tiny objects.

Of special interest was the use of a macro focusing rail, focus stacking, flash for additional depth of field and techniques for mitigating wind.

Mo Ranch was a really great place to hold the workshop–very relaxing and lots of nature to photograph. Participants would definitely recommend this workshop to others.

Several of the images from the workshop are shown below:





Photos:© Melody Lytle, Rose Epps, Steve Houston.

See more participants small world images on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brian-Loflin-Macro-Workshop/469018396566911

Copyright © 2014 Brian K. Loflin. All rights reserved.

New Photography Workshops for Fall and Winter

Three new workshops are slated for the months ahead including one Macro Workshop and two South Texas Bird Photography Workshops.


Field Macro Photography Workshop • October 10-12, 2014
MO Ranch, Hunt Texas

Join us in the very heart of the magical Texas Hill Country for a three-day macro photography workshop geared to shooting in a field setting. This workshop will be packed with hands-on instruction to help you grow your photographic abilities with new found skills, techniques and proficiency.

The historic, 500 acre Mo Ranch is located in a beautiful setting on the North Fork of the Guadalupe River. Here, habitats include: aquatic, riparian areas, grasslands, oak-juniper woodlands, and limestone hills. We will make use of all of them.

The workshop will feature hands-on learning and demonstrations with native flora and fauna of the area and will cover many subjects including discussions on: Equipment for getting close, Tools to make macro work easier, Wide Angle Close-Ups, Lighting with Flash, High Speed Flash, Focus Stacking, Extreme Macro, and much more.

Don’t miss out on this workshop. Only four slots remain.
(The June workshop sold out in ten days.)

For more information see: http://www.thenatureconnection.com/files/Macro_Photography_Workshop_in_the_Field-Oct_2014.pdf


South Texas Bird Photography Workshop •Laguna Seca Ranch Edinburg, Texas
• October 23-26, 2014
• February 27-March 1-2015

This instructional, hands-on bird photography workshop is located in the heart of the South Texas flyway. The workshop features a half-day of hands-on instruction and a day and a half shooting (or two and a half days) in some of the best South Texas birding habitat available where neotropical South Texas varieties abound.

The workshop will be held at the Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas in the heart of the lush Rio Grande Valley. The facilities of the 700-acre ranch are purpose-designed for photography and preserved with all native species. It features four constant-level ponds, each with permanent photography blinds oriented for the best use of light. A fifth blind is set up specifically for raptors.

Each location has been hand-crafted to provide the most outstanding bird photography opportunities. With nearly eighty species found on the property, Laguna Seca Ranch clearly offers a uniquely outstanding South Texas bird photography adventure!

For more information, see: http://www.thenatureconnection.com/SoTxBirdPhotoWS.html

Small, smaller, smallest: A work in progress

Commonly, when we think of close up images we envision filling the frame with subjects the size of a butterfly. When we think of macro, that subject size becomes smaller by a factor of five or so. That might be a small beetle or maybe a fly. There is a vast world that is much smaller that is worthy of our photography prowess. That is the world of ultra macro or indeed micro photography.

There are many tools used for life-sized images. The macro lens, extension tubes, bellows attachment and even microscopes. Each has its advantages,  disadvantages and limitations. Some of the major considerations when doing image capture at magnifications vastly greater than life-size include, image resolution, focus, depth of field, lighting and vibrations to name a few. The micro world is a challenging one indeed.


The above image is the head of a bee. It is magnified about 1.6 times on the sensor. This is not a very great magnification, but in order to capture sufficient depth of field in this image 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.

Image making like this calls for a stable specimen and camera platform, precise and uniform movements in focus and absolutely uniform, clean lighting. In order to accomplish this a bellows and true macro lens was used with a micrometer specimen stage and electronic flash. All this apparatus may create a big problem: movement through vibrations. This really reduces image resolution.

To overcome the problems, I am assembling a specialized piece of equipment to enable the precision required. This is my work in process. The idea is not new, per se, but getting all the pieces together has been interesting. It looks like this:


This micro set up is designed for versatility and for use from magnifications of 1:1 or life-size on the sensor with a 55 mm macro lens to magnifications of close to 40:1 with a true microscope lens on the bellows.

Camera movement is facilitated by a geared linear positioner with provisions for a stepper motor, an Arca-style plate on the positioner table and the focusing rail of the Nikon PB-4 bellows.

Subject positioning  is possible in all three X, Y, and Z planes. A cannibalized AO microscope stand provides coarse and fine movement in the vertical direction. A linear motion micrometer stage provides movement in X and Y directions. The specimen is held by an articulating holder mounted on the linear stage. (See Variable macro specimen holder) This holder will facilitate the use of pinned insects in addition to other larger materials fastened to the stage itself.

All this assembly is mounted together on a platform to reduce independent vibrations. The weight is substantial, providing additional aid in mitigating vibrations. While the current prototype mounting base is dimensional lumber, future refinements include an all-metal positioning table and the addition of a stepper motor for automating focus stacking.

The clean design without bulky tripods and other equipment in the way allows the use of SB-800 or SB-910 electronic flash on articulated arms in a unobstructed manner.

A future post will visit images made in much greater magnifications. Improvements to image resolution will be measured and discussed. Stay tuned!

Move the Mole Hill, not the Mountain

In macro photography we are supplied with a variety of components for fine-tuning focus. This equipment includes focus slider rails and built-in sliders as part of a bellows. All of these devices facilitate changes in focus by moving the camera closer or more distant from the subject.


All of these components work quite well; some better than others. A well-made slider (above) can provide infinite adjustments in focus with extremely small changes in distance.  These are ideal for gross specimens or single shot macro images.


Bee head. 53 images stacked in Helicon Focus. Nikon D2Xs, 50 mm flat field EL Nikkor lens on bellows, two SB-800 flashes, tripod. Image magnification in camera: 1.6X.

However, when enhanced depth of field of tiny subjects is required through focus stacking, moving the camera may not be the most ideal method of changing point of focus. With very small insects like the bee above for instance, many exposures–perhaps 50 or more– must be produced over a distance of less than one centimeter.


Several problems are presented. First, the mass of the camera, bellows, and lens assembly is great. Moving it smoothly and accurately may not be possible. Second, the focusing rack and pinion may have coarse threads, not suitable of minute adjustments.  Further, the camera, bellows and lens combination when moved is subject to unwanted vibrations. The answer therefore, is to move the subject, leaving the camera solidly stationary.

Macro subjects like those encountered for focus stacking are most frequently tiny and present no above mentioned problems. They are small, lightweight and can be easily and smoothly moved. And making repeated movements at uniform dimensions is practical. All this suggests that moving the subject instead of the camera is an ideal solution.

In my photography, I use two devices. For single shot macro I have converted an Olympus microscope stage for an X-Y-Z motion platform in the image below. It has a movement of 3 inches in left-right and fore-aft directions and a vertical movement of just under 1 inch. In addition, it has a 2 x 3 inch hole for sub stage illumination. All movement controls are under the stage so they are perfectly out of the way.

Macro platform-0964-Sm

For focus stacking I use a single-axis micrometer linear positioning stage. Movements are possible along the lens axis for focus stacking in uniform increments as small as 0.001 inch. The movement for this stage is only one inch, but that is more than adequate for most focus stacking tasks. To center and align the subject, I use the gear head on my heavy duty Gitzo tripod. As illustrated in the photograph below, everything is locked down tight. Consistent, vibration-free images are possible with this set-up.

Micrometer positioner-0981-Sm

For the ultimate in focus stacking, a motorized linear positioner like StackShot® by Cognisys makes life easy. The price is affordable if a lot of focus stacking photography is required. Even with the StackShot it still makes perfect sense to move the mole hill not the mountain!

© 2013 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.


Ento-What? Well, let me explain. Last weekend I had the pleasure to participate in a large, insect-based biological survey and specimen collection. Hosted jointly by the Texas A&M University Entomology Graduate Student Organization and the University of Oklahoma Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the long-standing Red River rivalry was put aside for 45 entomology specialists to gather at the OU Biology Station on Lake Texoma in southern Oklahoma.

The purpose of the activity is to provide a rapid assessment of the insects found in the selected habitats over the three day weekend. Insects are collected by a wide variety of techniques during the day and at night. After collection, they are properly identified, labeled and curated for continuing study and research. And to a lesser degree, to compare with populations during previous periods.

These entomology specialists collected specimens from pin-head sized mites to much larger wasps, butterflies and moths. Because the weather in the region has been warm with ample rain throughout this year the insects were very abundant. While the collection data is still undergoing processing, the group collected some very unique species records that will be of value for future research.

During the event, many interesting collection techniques were utilized like light-trapping at night.

Here an entomologist uses a mercury-vapor light and a white fabric background to attract insects after dark. Naturally attracted to the light’s wave length, the insects land on the white fabric where they may be visualized and collected.

An entomologist uses a pair of fine-tipped forceps to collect tiny beetles for further identification, examination and study.

An adult antlion lands among a myriad variety of beetles, flies, moths and other insects on the light trap. Most widely seen as larvae in funnels in sandy soils, the adults are weak fliers and often resemble damselflies.

An unusual ichneumon wasp is also attracted by the light. These wasps are in a family with well over 3,000 known species north of Mexico. These wasps are parasites of the pupae of moths and butterflies.

A senior entomologist and student discuss insects that have landed on a beat-sheet. Insects fall to these fabric devices after being dislodged from trees, limbs, and bushes by beating the foliage with a stick or shaking branches and leaves.

Blister beetles are often common and generally consume nectar, pollen or flowers of plants. Some eat the leaves and may damage crops. Their common name comes from the fact that when threatened they exude a harmful skin-blistering irritant.

Field biologists often endure hardships like rain, heat or other environmental discomforts. However this weekend in southern Oklahoma most participants had to watch for poison ivy. In some areas as above, the plants were dense and often head-high.

An entomologist specializing in butterflies and moths, puts on the finishing touches of spreading the wings of freshly collected specimens for his mounted collection.

Insect images: Nikon D2Xs, 200mm F 4.0 Micro Nikkor lens, SB-800 flash. Others: 60mm F 2.8 Micro Nikkor, SB-800 Flash.

Copyright © 2012 Brian Loflin. All rights protected.

Painted surprise

Boy Scouts have a motto that states: “Be Prepared”. This motto is a perfect one for the field photographer because one will never know what you may see if you really inspect the environment closely. This may change your photographic direction significantly.

Yesterday while on a wildflower trip to the Texas Hill Country near my Austin home, I stepped out of the vehicle prepared to make a wide angle landscape image of a display of wildflowers. However, I stopped to look at some Indian blanket flowers (Gaillardia pulchella) and spied this well-hidden moth  on one of the blossoms. Not to pass up the opportunity, I quickly switched to a macro lens and fill flash to capture the miniature surprise in front of me.

Painted schinia moth, (Schinia volupia). Nikon D2Xs, 200 mm F 4.0  Micro Nikkor, SB-800 flash, Gitzo tripod.

This Painted schinia moth has a wingspan of 20–22 mm and is found from Arizona to Texas, and north to Nebraska in open fields and meadows where the host and larval food plant Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) thrives. It is often seen resting on the flower heads of the host plant, as above, and is attracted to lights.

Copyright © 2012 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Extreme Macro Depth of Field

Again and again, we have learned that there are several occasions where a single, yet well-executed, digital image may not capture the expected results. Most commonly we see High Dynamic Range images from a series of bracketed frames
providing greater tone values of a scene than possible with a single exposure.

Many pictorial images have a very wide Depth of Field range that somewhat limits the capability to capture front-to-back sharpness in a traditional digital image regardless of the aperture selected. We have also learned this DoF is dependent primarily on Aperture, then on Subject Distance, and lens Focal Length. As we get closer to the image in macro photography, the total measured distance of the DoF gets smaller. Therefore, we need to improve upon this fault.

Like in HDR, with the Extreme Depth of Field process we rely upon the blending of several images into one with greatly extended DoF. Each image is focused at a different distance from the lens. 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 a free software called CombineZ. However, the most powerful software and today’s industry standard is Helicon Focus. The current version is 5.2.16 and its cost ranges from $30 to $200 depending on length of subscription service and number of computers licensed.

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 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.

The screen shot above is from Helicon Focus. It illustrates the blending of these images into the resultant single Extreme Depth of Field image of the bee. The two images below demonstrate the difference in focus from one of the more front images to one of the most rear images. As illustrated, the DoF of any of the images is nil at this magnification.

A most helpful tool for capturing the many individual images required is a focus slider, a tripod mounted, rail-like device that facilitates the movement of the camera backward and forward at very small increments, thus changing the point of focus. (Moving the camera for focus is done as opposed to rotating the lens barrel normally which would change magnification at this scale.)

In my lab, the camera remains stationary and solidly mounted on a heavy tripod. I use a micrometer stage to move the specimen which provides infinite, yet measured travel over a distance of just more than one inch in measured intervals of 0.001 inch. This process proves most ideal when dealing with insects and other tiny specimens. This equipment set-up with a variety of macro lenses is capable of producing images up to 40X magnification. (See image below.)

Camera and bellows with focusing rail mounted on heavy tripod, specimen on micrometer stage, twin SB-800 on articulating arms with ball heads, auxiliary battery power for Speedlights, electronic cable release.

As in other high-magnification applications, any movement of the camera or subject is most detrimental to image quality. Therefore, solid mounting is paramount. Bolt everything down on solid, vibration-free surfaces. The heavier, the better. In addition, use an electronic cable release and mirror lock-up to minimize motion at every possible point.

The use of electronic flash with its inherent high speed flash duration is most helpful. This is especially true as at great bellows extension, a lot of light loss is encountered. Flash provides these high light levels required for appropriate exposures. As a side benefit, the use of high shutter speed synchronization will also help reduce image deterioration due to internal camera vibrations. As a rule, I generally use 1/250 to 1/500 second shutter speeds at ISO 100 with flash. With these settings I can use the “sweet spot” aperture of F8.0 for highest resolution.

Extreme Depth of Field techniques are exceptionally useful in macro, but the technique is not limited to macro images alone. Remember, DoF is affected
by aperture, lens-to-subject distance, and lens focal length. So you are able to use EDoF whenever given aperture and selected focal length precludes deep DoF.

Copyright © 2012 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.