Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Life in Macro

 Even thought I'm not very good at it, I love macro photography.  I've written recently about my experience with a new flash unit, and I've tried to make more use of it.

One of the problems I've had for a long time is wrestling over depth-of-field.  My trusty Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens has served me well over the years, but because of natural light, I was prone to shooting it wide open at f/2.8.  Thus the shallow depth of field.

It's possible to teach an old photographer new tricks, though.  With a ring flash, there's no reason why I couldn't stop down.  My macro lens can stop down to f/32, so I gave that a try.  The first problem I ran into at f/32 was that my shots were dark.  I compensated to this in Lightroom, where I was able to recover amazing detail.   I do need to learn how to goose up the strength of the flash, if it's possible.

But the low f-stop really made a difference. Here are two recent shots:


This is a Red-headed bush cricket (Phyllopalpus pulchellus) sitting rather boldly on the leaf of a miniature rose at my house.  A here's a real beauty:


It's a tiny little sweat bee belonging to the genus Augochlorine.  I would normally have to create a focus stack to get this kind of DOF, but shooting at f/32 did a darn good job for a lot less work.

Now, this shot wasn't quite this sharp to begin with.  I ran it through a couple of plug-in filters that I had bought from Topaz Labs:  Sharpen AI and DeNoise AI.  I'll have to tell you more about those later!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A New Old Lens

 I while back, I managed to score a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens on ShopGoodwill.com. As always, a Goodwill auction purchase is "as is."  Turned out that both automatic and manual focus on the lens would not go below four meters.  There has apparently been a long-standing problem of this sort with that lens.  It has a part with a design flaw that makes it very easy to damage. A repair company was able to replace the flawed part with a redesigned one that isn't as easy to damage.  It wasn't a cheap repair, but it's not a cheap lens, either.  Of course, the lens also got a thorough cleaning as part of the repair.

Although I already own a couple of 50mm f/1.4 lenses, they are both vintage, manual focus lenses.  Perhaps because of that, I hadn't been as attuned to their superior light gathering properties. Since this new one is made to work on a Canon digital SLR, I can more easily appreciate the superior optics.  Foremost is that the lens can work really well in low light and natural situations.

Another great feature of the 50 is the focal range.  It's great for portraiture because it give a nice blur to the background.

Here's one of the best shots I've taken with this newly repaired lens:


This is a great spangled fritillary butterfly on an iron weed. I shot it with the lens wide open at f/1.4, where it is said to be "soft."  Note the dreamy background, which is the woods behind the flower.  If I want sharper pictures, I'll need to stop it down to at least f/2.0.

Despite this newer, easy-to-use lens, I'm going to find it difficult to part with my Konica 50mm manual lens. I'd love to compare the image quality side-by-side with these two lenses.  Perhaps another day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Getting the Bugs Out

 Ever since I got a replacement for my old Sigma EM-140 ring flash (it's an older model and it doesn't flash on my EOS D77), I've been back to shooting macros out of doors.  The cheap replacement for the Sigma ring is a "KF150 TTL Marco (Sic) Ring Flash," which seems to be doing a decent job.

But what I really want to write about is a site that I recently stumbled across.  It's called iNaturalist. According to a Wikipedia description

iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.

I've joined iNaturalist and have posted a number of my recent shot to the site, along with my tentative classifications.  Boy, what a humbling experience.  My identifications have been largely challenged by the experts, and I have little to doubt their authority as to the correct species.

I had labelled this a a Dog Day Cicada (Neotibicen canicularis):

However, it turns out that it's really a Common Swamp Cicada (Neotibicen tibicen).  To my delight, this photo has been flagged as a "research grade."

One other earned that classification.  I'd originally identified this as a Modest Masked Bee (Hylaeus modestus), but that has been corrected to be an Eastern Masked Bee (Hylaeus affinis).  At least I've been getting the genus right.


In my defense, if you look at a picture of a Modest Masked Bee, it looks identical to this. The telltale distinction, according the the expert, is the presence of a yellow spot on the tegulae.

Just for grins, here's one that I took with my Canon EF70-200 telephoto:


It's tentatively identified as a Robber Fly (Efferia aestuans).  Let's hope that I got this one right.

To date, I've submitted six insects and one plant to iNaturalist.  I'm hoping that I can contribute many more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Bee-Grade Photography

 I stepped outside yesterday on my lunch break to photograph some insects near the side of the house.  A mint plant was blooming, and I caught a couple of bees that gave me a real challenge at identification.  I got a lot of help from Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography's web site.  If you visit this site, do click on the Gallery, which contains some fantastic nature shots.

The first bee that I photographed is called a Masked Bee.  It's a tiny creature, only about 5 mm:

It belongs to the genus Hylaeus.  An interesting thing about this genus is that they don't carry pollen in the usual pollen basket.  Instead, they carry pollen in their crop and then regurgitate it into the cell where it will be used as food for the larva.

This second bee was much harder for me to identify.


Best guess is that this belongs to the genus Nomada.  They are kleptoparasitic or "cuckoo bees." which enter the nests of hosts and lay eggs there. The larvae steal the resources that the host has already collected.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Socially Distant

It's ironic that I've waited this long to post anything this year.  Here it is, already August 5th.

Due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, I've been working from home since the middle of March, maintaining my social distancing from my coworkers and the rest of society.  Being an introvert by nature, I can't say that this has been a hardship for me. 

This is all being described as The New Normal.TM   "Normal" for me is working in relative solitude, saving money on gasoline, and having my "therapy cat" visiting me every day in my "office."


For the record, West Virginia has not been hard hit by the pandemic, but it has not remained untouched.  Morgantown has seen a modest increase in the number of cases in the past month.   With University classes about to start, the number of cases will likely grow.  However, incoming students as well as faculty are being tested.  The number of positive cases has hovered at 1.5% or below up to this point


Friday, November 15, 2019

Ruby Sunset

It's often said that "the best camera is the one that you have on you."

Opinions differ somewhat as to the meaning of this.  For some, it means that any old camera that you have with you is better than none.  For others, myself included, it means that should a potentially good image present itself, you shouldn't be afraid to use what you have on you. Be it a phone or a point 'n shoot, don't pass up a great shot because you don't have your big fancy camera on you.

Wednesday evening was such an occasion.  I had just gotten out from an appointment, and I was struck by the most awesome sky.   "Red sky at night, sailor's delight."   What made this more delightful was the way that the setting sun illuminated a gap between two buildings -- Ruby Memorial Hospital and the WVU Health Sciences building.  The light reflected off of the windows on Ruby, creating an impressive arrangement of leading lines.


Could this shot have been better?  Certainly, if I'd had my Cannon 77D and one of my better lenses, I could have improved on the exposure.  But all I had was my iPhone Xs, and that's what I used.  And as for composition, I couldn't do anything about the white picket fence, which leads the eye away from the other lines.  It's a feature we'll all have to live with.

On a positive note, there was very little lens distortion in this shot, as you can see from the relatively straight vertical lines.  The electric lights are somewhat overexposed but not glaringly so (no pun intended).

Given the technical deficiencies of an iPhone picture, another school of thought would have me concentrate on the artistic nature of the shot.  Yes, I dare to say there is some of that.   So, not to leave well enough alone, I tried simplifying the photo using the BuzzSim filter from Topaz Studio. I saw this mainly as an attempt to smooth over the JPEG "noise" of the original.


Each shot has its merits.  I'll let you be the judge as to which you like better.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Up, Up and Away

It's been a busy week for me and my camera.   Last Saturday, it was Bridge Day and last night it was "night glow" for the Balloon Festival.  Night glow is what they call it when a bunch of hot air balloons fill up at night and light up on the ground.

This year it was at the Morgantown Mall.  I arrived early to catch a decent parking place and some dinner.  The night glow area was roped off between the old Sears (now, temporarily a Halloween store) and Lowes,

Some people started filling up while it was still daylight.  Here's one of them -- a very cool cat.


Once it got dark, they turned off the lights in the parking lot and let the visitors mill around amongst the balloons.  I really like to photograph the red balloon.  Here's a nice view of a number of balloons lined up and lit.  It was a lot like trying to photograph fireflies.   They all lit up and blinked independent of one another.  I had a few lucky shot where I caught several lighting up at a time.


Saving my favorite for last. The flames on these are overexposed, but it's still a nice shot.  I touched it up a little bit with Topaz Studio.