Tag Archives: SB-800

Small, smaller, smallest: Now nearly complete

This is an update of the first installment from

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.

Extreme magnification image making 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 is 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 these problems, I am have assembled a specialized piece of  equipment to enable the precision required on the lab bench in a controlled environment. This is my work as is nearly completed. The idea is not new, but getting all the pieces together has been interesting. Macro work in the field requires a completely different set of equipment.

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

_BKL2340

For smaller magnifications near life-size, the Nikon D-SLR camera is equipped with a 55 mm Micro Nikkor lens. Camera movement is facilitated by a geared linear positioner with provisions for a stepper motor, a long Arca-style plate on the positioner table with small ball head. All components are uniformly equipped with Arca-style QR clamps or plates. For greater magnifications, the camera is fitted with a Nikon PB-4 bellows with focusing rail. Various lenses may be used from the 55 mm Micro Nikkor to the 19 mm Macro Nikkor as seen in the two images below:

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Subject positioning  is possible in all four X, Y, Z and Theta planes. A cannibalized AO microscope stand provides coarse and fine movement in the vertical direction. A linear motion micrometer stage provides precise movement in X and Y directions and a rotation stage assembly with micrometer provides precise rotation. 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. The current mounting base is dimensional lumber, future refinements include an all-metal base and the addition of a stepper motor for automating focus stacking.

The design  is clean and compact and without bulky tripods and other equipment in the way. The Arca-style rails provide unobstructed mounting for  SB-800 or SB-910 electronic flash on a Wimberley articulated macro arm.

High magnification imaging viewing is provided via camera live view or tethered shooting on a laptop.

With this equipment arrangement deep focus stacks at high magnifications are possible in increments of 0.001 inch and at extremely high resolution with mirror lock-up and hands-free electronic remote cable release.

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The importance of managing light.

Needless to say, light is of paramount importance in photography. The word photography is translated from the Greek as “writing with light.” Without light, photography would be most difficult indeed.

Light does a lot for us in our image making. It allows making the very basic exposure itself. It provides shape, form, texture and dimension. The management of light helps us to render our subject with the most emphasis where desired. We’ll look at these ideas in a moment.

To further understand light we need to remember that it has several vastly important characteristics:

  • Light has intensity, or the characteristic of brightness. That characteristic requires us to produce a proper exposure using our camera meter, setting shutter speed aperture and ISO.
  • Light has color, the inherent wave length or color temperature of the light as it illuminates the subject. This color requires us to manage White Balance.
  • Light has direction, the angle that it strikes the subject. Front light, side light and backlight all have important uses in rendering our subject with the best results, and finally,
  • Light has quality. This characteristic is perhaps one of the most important. Light may be very soft and pleasing or hard, high contrast and very unflattering. Of all the light characteristics, the management of this quality of light requires our utmost effort.

Of all the light characteristics, the camera can manage intensity and color, but we need to be careful to manage light’s quality and direction to achieve the optimum reproduction of our subject. Unfortunately, I see a lack of lighting management in these two areas quite frequently. Let’s look at some ideas.

First let’s understand that light in itself helps us produce a shape but shadow helps us create form and dimension. We really need to manage both in the creation of quality images. I know that shadows are often bad; they may block up detail and detract from the image. And, often we appreciate images that are virtually shadow-free. I have written a piece for a shadow-less light application for small close-up and macro subjects. You may read it here.

Lighting direction is important to use in making our images. Front light gives us shape and form. Light from over our camera or shoulder can reveal a lot about our subject. As light wraps around the subject features, the variations in intensity, or falloff, tells us a lot about the features of the subject. But this comes with a price. Front light is often flat, that is, lacking in contrast. This low contrast lighting fails to give adequate details of the subject surface.

Therefore, lighting direction is most important when attempting to bring out the most subject details. Three lighting techniques are important to learn: Axial (Front), Side and Back.

With axial lighting the light source is at the lens or close to it and illuminates the subject directly on the front surface. (See Diagram Below) The image of the Overcup oak acorns below is lit with an off-camera Speedlight flash in a small softbox right up against the lens. While it produces a nice image, it is somewhat flat and lacks the contrast to illustrate the detail at its best.

Axial Lighting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Side light, corrects this failure of front light. In fact, to visually achieve maximum surface texture, extreme side light is the answer. Texture is that all-important tactile quality of what the subject feels like; as in does it feel smooth or rough.

The image below is lit with the same Speedlight and softbox to the far right of the subject. This image produces maximum detail and texture of the acorn and the surface of the caps.

Side Lighting Diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Backlight, while sometimes difficult to work with because of little definition to front details, provide a maximum understanding of shape, a two-dimensional quality. Backlight can separate the subject from the background and produce a striking edge-light or “halo” around our subject for maximum definition. In the image below, the single Speedlight and softbox is placed behind the acorns. The image illustrates maximum shape and edge detail, but is lacking in front surface detail due to insufficient light from the single source.

Back Lighting Diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now, as it turns out, we may use more than only one style of lighting direction; a mixture is frequently best. Here the lighting is predominant back light with a front fill card. This image provides more information, better illustrating the acorns and the detail of the caps.

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In addition to direction, lighting quality is vastly important as well. Small point light sources create hard, high contrast light. A point light source is very small in relation to the subject and directional. The light from our sun is actually small (you can cover the sun with your thumb at noon) and directional, creating lots of unflattering, dark shadows.

On the other hand, large and broad light sources are much softer, especially when close to the subject. An overcast sky is a perfect example of a large light source; the clouds themselves act as the large source of light. Let’s look at some specific examples.

In the first two images below the light is a single off-camera Speedlight flash both at the same distance (2 ft.) from the subject. In the left image the flash is unmodified and the right uses an 18 inch diffuser in front of the Speedlight. The first has considerable more specular reflections and sharper (harder) shadows; the next with the larger light source is more diffused, both in the highlights and shadows. The larger the light source, the softer the light and less contrast.

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The quality of the light is also subject to the size of the light source relative to the subject as a function of its distance from the subject. In the four examples immediately below, the light source is the same exact fixture — an eight-inch softbox on a Speedlight. In the top examples the light source is six feet from the subject. In the lower images the light is only one foot away.

When the light source is at a distance it seems small as below, shadows are at their maximum and spectral highlights are small and hard. Look at the detail of the reflection from the light source. (Closeup second below).

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When the light source is large (closer) as below, shadows are at their minimum and spectral highlights are large and soft. (See the next closeup.)

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The images below are shot with a very soft lighting technique making use of a large light, close to the subject with reflectors and diffusers, resulting in less contrast, less shadows and more diffused highlights. This is a technique used frequently for shadow-less lighting with diffused specular highlights, like shiny metal or glass objects.

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So after all that, let’s take a look at some examples where direction and quality play an important role in making or breaking an image. The images below are of the skull of a white-tailed deer. This animal was probably killed by being hit by a car resulting in the crushed skull as shown here.

The first image is taken with the light suggested for everything. Near axial, front lighting with a softbox on an off-camera Speedlight flash. The enlarged detail shows the image is well lit and exposed and illustrates the subject and the trauma.

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The image below however, used side light with the same Speedlight and softbox. This image illustrates more detail than the first as the sidelight creates more texture, giving more definition to the bone and its structures. This is clearly visible in the enlarged detail.

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Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Understanding the myth of “Crop Sensor” cameras.

Why crop sensor cameras do not produce greater subject magnification than their full-frame brothers.

I am disturbed by a lot of talk over the last few years stating that cameras with “crop sensors” produce larger in-camera subject size to cameras with full frame sensors. This thinking is both incorrect and continues to mislead the photography world. I feel this misleading language comes from two camps: One, the marketing folks who try to tell us that with a 1.6 crop sensor our 200mm lens is now a 320mm lens. And two, the wildlife photographers who want large in-camera images and who use a crop sensor camera believing the crop sensor somehow produces greater subject magnification.

Let me provide a couple of examples of that talk:

“For nature, wildlife and sports enthusiasts, it might make more sense to stick with a smaller sensor. You can take advantage of the crop factor to get maximum detail at long distances.” http://digital-photography-school.com/full-frame-sensor-vs-crop-sensor-which-is-right-for-you/

 “…the Mark IV has the 1.3 crop factor and a higher megapixel count than the D3s, which are nice for telephoto work.” http://www.deepgreenphotography.com/the-gear/

 “Focal length measurements on lenses are based on the 35mm standard. If you are using a crop frame camera the sensor is cropping out the edges of the frame, which is effectively increasing the focal length. The amount of difference in the field of view or focal length with a crop sensor is measured by its “Multiplier.” And,

 “…while a crop sensor DSLR doesn’t provide the same level of image quality as a full frame DSLR, it does [offers] sic. major advantages when it comes to cost. It can also be very effective for telephoto photography for the extra reach gained from the crop sensor multiplier. For example, this can be very useful when shooting sports, wildlife, and other types of photojournalism…” both from: http://www.slrlounge.com/school/cropped-sensor-vs-full-frame-sensor-tips-in-2/

 First let me state two facts: One, images from crop sensor cameras are not inherently of lower quality than those of full-frame cameras and, two, crop sensor cameras produce exactly the same in-camera image magnification as do their larger full-frame brothers.

Before I take this discussion of why these facts are true, let’s understand some things about cameras and their sensors.

First, a full-frame sensor gets its name from the fact that is physical measurements are, in round numbers, 24 x 36 mm. That’s the same size of our old standby, the full-frame 35mm film negative or transparency.

Second, I truly believe that the term, “crop sensor” is a misleading term. It is simply a sensor that is smaller than the full frame cousin. And there are now several sizes of “crop sensors”. They range from the APS-C (15.7 x 23.6 mm), the APS-H (19 x 28.7 mm), four thirds systems (13 x 17.3 mm), and even smaller. So there is really no “Standard” when it comes to identifying a sensor size.

Now let’s talk about the lens for a moment, the image forming device that projects our picture on to the sensor. Lenses have several characteristics. They affect:

  • Image size. This is governed by the focal length. Longer focal lengths produce larger subjectdetail on the sensor at any given distance,
  • Angle of view. This is the area of coverage in front of the lens that the lens may capture and project on to the sensor. It too is governed by focal length. Shorter focal lengths produce a wider angle of view that longer focal length telephotos for example. And finally,
  • Perspective. This is a relationship of components within the image to others within the same image. Focal length affects perspective, but only when the lens-to-subject distance is changed.

Crop sensor-Example 1

Let’s look at the image above to understand the physical relationship. The large frame is that of standard 35 mm film and also that of a full frame digital sensor. The yellow outline represents the area and magnification of an APS-C sensor, similar to that of a Nikon D2X or D7100 series camera body. The image was taken with a Nikkor 80-200 mm F 2.8 zoom lens.

Lenses have physical characteristics in addition to the optical characteristics above. One that is most important here is lens flange-to-sensor distance. This is the physical distance from the rear mounting flange of the lens to the sensor. That distance is specific to allow the lens to be focused at infinity. This distance is somewhat different between manufacturers, but it is standard within a manufacturer family so that all lenses will work properly.

In order for a lens of any particular focal length to produce larger image details on the sensor, the lens must be moved farther from the sensor or closer to the subject. Since the flange-to-sensor distance must be the same for cameras of a particular brand, any given lens (of that brand) will produce an image of the same magnification at the sensor regardless of the sensor dimension. What changes is the area of the projected image, not its magnification.

So let’s look at how this works.

The set-up

A standard, single focal length 200mm prime telephoto lens is mounted on a tripod. A subject is placed at a constant, pre-measured distance from the lens for all images. And two camera bodies, Nikon D90 with its APS-C sensor and Nikon D800 with its full frame sensor, were used.

The Process

Two photos of a mounted scaled quail are made from the same spot. Nothing changes but the camera bodies. Both images are processed in Photoshop in the same manner. A new composite file was made using both images together. Each image was reproduced at the same magnification for comparison. The APS-C image is produced at a six times multiple of its actual size of 15.7 x 23.6 mm, and the full frame image is printed at the same six times multiple of its actual size of 24 x 36 mm.

The Result.

One can clearly see the subject is the same magnification on both sensors and the reproduction sizes of the bird are the same for both sensors. The full frame sensor on the left captures significant additional area than the smaller sensor. This is the source of the term “Crop Sensor”.

Crop-Full Comparison

Left: Full frame sensor, Nikon D800. Right: Nikon D90 APS-C sensor. Initial enlargement (left) = 6 times sensor length 36 mm x 6= 216 mm. Initial enlargement (right) = 6 times sensor length 23.6 mm x 6= 141.6 mm.

The Misconception

When both images are reproduced at the same dimensions, the APS-C subject is reproduced at a larger size. This is only because the image is blown up to be the same reproduction size. This is why some people think there is actual in-camera magnification increase.

When viewed in the camera through the viewfinder or in live-view the smaller sensor frame is filled with the subject at a given distance than the full frame sensor. Therefore, the APS-C camera appears to produce a larger image. This is simply because the frame is filled faster with any given focal length and subject distance. What actually happens here is that the APS-C (crop sensor) image is blown up to match the outer dimensions of the full frame image.

Same enlargement comparison

Left, Nikon D800 full frame sensor. Right, Nikon D90 APS-C sensor.

Image quality

Image quality is not entirely based upon image size at the sensor, but is based upon in-camera processing technology, pixel size and pixel density. Many “crop sensor” cameras have better sensors and processing engines than full frame cameras. But that’s another story. (Maybe later.)

Copyright © 2014 Brian K Loflin . All rights reserved.

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.

DA01-bloflin0312

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:

Micro-6098-Sm

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.

FocusRailDuo-Sm

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.

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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.

Bellows-1727-sm

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.

Table-top macro background holder

Many times it becomes necessary to use a card or other two-dimensional material as a background or light modifier for small scale table top photography.

Mounting these materials has been a previous challenge. The use of “A” spring-type clamps, wooden blocks and other mounting schemes is only somewhat successful. As illustrated below, some of these devices may get in the way on the table top.

The solution that really works is an adjustable clamp that will hold a variety of cards, plate glass or other materials vertically and securely. These adjustable clamps are very simple and easy to construct out of common, low-cost materials.

In use, these clamps allow the easy, yet secure, positioning of light modifiers such as glass, scrims, flags, reflector boards, and background cards or prints. They also require little space on the table top so they don’t interfere with positioning of the subject or other props.

MATERIALS :
(All dimensions, inches.)
1 ea-  1/2 X 1 1/2 X 12 clear lumber
2 ea-  3/4 X 1 1/2 X 12 clear lumber
1 ea-  1/2 X 1 1/2 X 12 clear lumber
1 ea-  3/8 X 4 inch coarse thread (all thread) carriage bolt
1 ea-  3/8 coarse thread recessed Tee nut.

CONSTRUCTION:
Assembly of the holder is straight forward. Measure and cut all wooden stock to size. Drill a hole through one piece of the 3/4 inch stock at its center and mount the Tee nut as shown below. Screw and glue the two larger pieces to the base as illustrated. Insert the carriage bolt into the side piece to secure the smaller clamping board. In use, simple finger pressure is sufficient. Position the bolt side of the assembly away from the camera on the table.

My specifications suggest 12 inch long materials. Background holders of other dimensions may be desired depending on the required use.

Sample table-top macro with a mounted color photographic print as a simple background.

Silk iris and bud. Nikon D2Xs, 200 mm F 4.0 Micro Nikkor. Two SB-800 Speedlight electronic flash with background, reflector and diffusers.

Copyright © Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Create shadowless macro backgrounds

In the world of studio photography, it is relatively easy to photograph a subject on white seamless paper and create a bright white background, virtually free from distracting shadows. In the world of close-up and macro photography that task is a little bit more difficult.

Unidentified June beetle (Phyllophaga sp.) photographed 1/2 life-size in the White Box setup.

The difficulty in the high magnification scenario is that we are usually very close to the subject with our lens and don’t have much room for a lot of lights. And too, we really need a lot of light for ample aperture and depth of field. To satisfy that requirement, we often select electronic flash as our light source.

That’s good and bad. The benefit is that it is bright, matches daylight in White Balance and is fast, so that it stops most subject motion. The downside is that it it is highly concentrated as a very small, contrasty light source. Most flash heads are only about 2.5 square inches. We know that soft light requires diffusion and large light sources.

The perfect solution for macro is to build a “White Box”. Building on the idea of a lighting tent, the white box is straightforward, economical cheap and quite portable. It also works well and is easy to make.

To make the White Box you need a sheet of white foam-core board, sometimes called foam project board at the craft stores. You also need a sharp knife, like an X-acto, a ruler straight edge and masking tape. That’s it!

To make the White Box cut two pieces of the foam-core 10 x 20 inches and two pieces 8 x 10 inches. Tape the two longer pieces and a single smaller piece together in an “H” arrangement for stability, as shown below. Then place the second small foam-core piece inside as the floor. A piece of tape across the top will keep the sides from spreading.

For a lighting source an electronic flash in a small softbox like a Lastolight EXYBox Speedlight is perfect. Place the softbox on top of the foam-core construction as shown below.  All done!

There are several softboxes available for electronic flash and they should work just fine. Perhaps however, you may need to adjust the dimensions of your construction accordingly.

Exposures are rather straight forward. I prefer Aperture Priority (or Aperture Value) shooting mode because I am concerned about producing enough depth of field for my subject. At high magnifications, close focusing distances and longer focal length lenses, depth of field drops to ridiculously small dimensions. Usually only a few millimeters.

I prefer to use a longer macro lens for this type of work, usually a 105 mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor, or 200 mm F 4.0 Micro Nikkor because of the longer working distances.

In addition, I need to be certain that my exposure renders white as white, rather than mid-tone. Modern cameras help here, but remember, the electronic meter always attempts to make the world mid-tone or 18 percent gray. So in some cases, exposure compensation in the plus direction may be required to expose correctly.

Fifty caliber civil war bullets found in our family garden in Vicksburg, MS.

In some cases, the all-white background may not be suitable for your subject. An easy solution is to have pre-cut pieces of paper ready to slip into the box as a darker background.

Eggs of Lacewing insect (family Chrysopidae) on cactus spine. Life size.

© 2012 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.