Lazy Hazy Day In August

Woke from a couch nap to see this siesta on our deck rail.  Had complete empathy.   Double pane glass door and screen between us so focus is a little soft, in addition to the soft, diffuse light of open shade.  They are necessarily ever alert so I waited until he closed his eye which told the story better.   Removed some light branches in the background to keep attention on the main idea. Click on the image for full size.IMGP7808Gear used in this post: Pentax K3II camera, Pentax 50-135/2.8 lens + Kenko 1.5x Teleconvertor

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro


This is the second year in a row I’ve made a photograph of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail  Butterfly with tattered wings on August 5th.  There was no plan or intention.  It was simply the coincidence of us both being ragged from July in North Carolina. In my case, I needed relief from air conditioned cabin fever.  My shutter speed was too slow for the light breeze and it was entirely my fault.  Too much time indoors.           _IMG7012


December Azalea

_IGP8430Stuck inside since Thanksgiving with a bug, I needed some outside time today. Of course it was damp, grey and chilly.  The good news was, a few steps from our front door are some Encore Azaleas that survived my planting. They bloom in spring and fall and the color is welcome on a dull December 1st.

Soft diffuse light from an overcast sky doesn’t lend itself to vibrant color or contrast.  It’s simple to change that with a hand held flash.

I put my camera on a tripod and composed and focused the image.  The lens was an old manual focus 50mm stopped down to f8. It has a MFD (minimum focus distance) of about 18 inches. Adding a 1.5x Teleconvertor made the focal length 75mm without changing the MFD.  It let me fill most of the frame with a single blossom.

Shutter speed was 1/160 for flash sync and ISO to 100.  The exposure would be black except for flash contribution.  A wireless trigger in the camera hot shoe let me hand hold the flash, move around and change the light direction.

The camera was set for 2 second delay which in my case also activates Mirror Lock Up.  When I push the shutter on my wired remote, the mirror is locked in the up position and the shutter opens two seconds later to allow vibration form the mirror action to settle out.  Tripod, not touching the camera, mirror lockup – all contribute to making the camera as stable as possible for the sharpest possible image.

I wrapped a snoot around the flash to control light spill and set it to half power.  A few exposures showed me I need to drop the power to about 1/16th.

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax M 50 1.7 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod with Manfrotto 488RC2 Ball Head and Vello Wired Remote, Yongnou RF-603NII Wireless Trigger and 560III Flash

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

Frost Moon

Frost MoonAlso known as Snow Moon.  This is Waxing Gibbous, about 20 hours before it was completely full.  It rose bright and big the next day but there were light clouds so this was a clear sky.

Since it was a clear night, I knew the base exposure would be minus 1 stop from Sunny 16.  F11 and 1/100 with ISO 100 would do.

My lens is sharpest around f8 so by opening up aperture 1 stop, I could increase my shutter speed 1 stop to 1/200.  From experience, I wanted at least that shutter speed. The relative motion from Earths rotation can blur the exposure with a very long lens.

One last exposure variable came into play.  I added a 1.5x teleconvertor to make my 300mm lens a 450mm lens.  But that comes at the cost of 1 stop so I increased my ISO to 200 to compensate.

In sum, I set my exposure before I went outside to photograph and never used a meter.  Its not magic, its just a well understood exposure.  And of course, after making a an exposure or two, just look at your histogram and adjust.  That’s how I compensate as the exposure changes through an eclipse.  It’s really how I shoot everything.  Simply use Sunny16 as a base ( EV15 at ISO 100) and adjust from there.

Lastly is mounting to a tripod, a careful focus ( auto or manual or try both) and if possible, use a delayed shutter with a Mirror Lockup and a remote shutter release.  Make enough exposures so you’re confident you have very good focus on a few.

The final step is editing and preparation for presentation.  Its my habit to record RAW images so I can make all decisions vs the camera manufacturer’s built-in JPEG algorithms.  This image was mostly edited in Adobe Camera Raw aka the Develop Module in Lightroom.  I did open it up in Photoshop to add text, then used the Image Processor in Bridge to make the JPEG the size I wanted ( 720). Finally I sharpened it with the Pixel Genius plugin and an PS Action I wrote long ago.

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Sigma 100-300/4 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod with Manfrotto 488RC2 Ball Head and Vello Wired Remote

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

Three Roses

On a morning walk after an overnight rain, I found these next to neighborhood mailboxes.

A gray, over cast day with its soft, diffuse light makes an easy exposure.  My eight year old Tamron 28-75/2.8 lens lets me focus as close as 12″.  That’s 12″ to the film plane or sensor in the camera.  At that distance, wide open at f2.8  and zoomed out to 75mm. a Depth of Field Calculator said my DoF was .05″. At 16″, it was .1″ DoF.  I believe that because I had to back up a little, it was very thin to hand hold.

My intent was to just get an edge or a hint of focused color and rain and let the background go soft with high contrast, to isolate the single blossom from the background. The mulch & mailbox posts share none of the elegance of the roses.

These are really a sketchpad, serendipity.  More carefully made versions would involve a tripod, remote release and Mirror Lock Up with a multi second delay.  And maybe some lighting. This is the large news print pad, Conte crayon version but that’s where you learn to draw.

All images are top lit with soft diffuse light, low key and high contrast.   001 28-75 4768

002 28-75 4765 003 28-75 4769

High, Low and Long

Our Butterfly Bush is getting sparse and so are the Butterflies it attracts.  And I’ve been scaring off the visitors with my presence.  A perfect Red Spotted Purple was gone in a moment this morning, just as I approached.  I wanted to try standing off with my longest lens at 300mm + 1.5x Teleconvertor for a total of 450mm.  Trade offs are 6′ minimum focus distance and f22.  Depth of Field would only be about a 1/2″ at 6 Feet, 3/4″at 8 ft..

Other than a few Skippers and Carpenter Bees, the only visitor for the better part of an hour was a Blue Dasher Dragonfly.  The good news is, you have a chance to establish focus because they land and stay still.  The bad news is,  trying to hold focus by hand at 450mm with all that weight and mass and not much DoF is wildly optimistic.  In hindsight, I’d have been on a tripod with a loose ball head but didn’t because I expected to be moving around and though it would be too slow to frame & focus.  Of course, had I been on tripod, butterflies would have shown up and I’d have flailed around like part of a 3 Stooges routine.

1. Dragonfly: Top lit, mid-day sun, hard light, high contrast, high key

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2. Dragonfly: Top lit, mid-day sun, hard light, high contrast, low key

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My model did cooperate in that he gave me two lighting setups, one high key and one low key.  In this case, the model moved (flew) so the background changed.  The last time I did this was a portrait session.  We finished the high key on white with soft light (umbrellas) and switched out the background to black and went to hard light (bare flash)  with snoots.

Exposure was easy.  Lens at f22 but actually f32 due to a 1 stop loss from the TC.  Lots of light, so Sunny 16 as a baseline.  Plenty of shutter speed to help with the really long lens, varying a stop or two, depending on open shade or pointed at sky.  Moved ISO between 400 & 800, shutter speed between 1/800 and 1/1000 sec..  Of the two images I kept, one was a stop over and the other a stop under but both in the ballpark.  At relatively low ISO’s, plenty of Dynamic Range with RAW files, easy to recover and keep image quality.

One other camera feature I rarely use was shutter burst mode.  Today, I’d establish focus and fire 3 or 4 frames, trying to compensate for my movement.  I have in body stabilization, so that helped.  Out of 112, I kept these two. Pushing thing as I was, it’s tough to handhold and you won’t do it for long.  And I just remembered my monopod!

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Sigma 100-300/4 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC.

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

Mea Culpa, Soggy Bee and Circular Polarizer

In my last post, I innocently but wrongly identified a Carpenter Bee as a Bumble Bee.  Seeing him today, after a soaking rain, raised a doubt. A Google search confirmed it.  And I found it was a male.  They can’t sting.

1. Dry Carpenter Bee: Side lit with flash, hard light, high contrast 002 28-75 + TC + flash 4638

2. Wet Carpenter Bee: Ambient, reflector fill camera left, soft light,medium contrast002 28-75 + TC + cpl 4654

Outside today was damp and overcast.  I used the same camera setup as last time except instead of flash, I took a small collapsible reflector. I’d never tried to light Butterflies et al with a reflector. Also, I added a Circular Polarizer Filter to my lens to cut down glare.  I rarely use one but it’s a great help with glare from wet vegetation.

Exposure was a little tricky.  The heavy overcast was 3 stops from a Sunny 16 Day or EV 12.  I was also losing two more stops from the teleconverter and the Circular Polarizer.  Usually not a problem with an f2.8 lens but I also needed a small aperture, like f16, for a usable Depth of Field.  If I set my lens for f16, I was effectively getting f32. My ISO would be too high and shutter speed too slow for a good image.

The practical solution was an exposure triangle compromise, taking a little from each variable to get a workable exposure.  I set aperture for f5.6 (f11 with TC & filter), pushed ISO to 1600 and set shutter to 1/180.  To get more DoF, I stood farther away. That trade off was getting less of the subject to fill the frame. It’s a balancing act.  ISO 1600 is okay for a good print, I can generally get a sharp image at shutter 1/180.

The Bee was where I left him the day before.  Which surprised me. He was barely moving so I could use the reflector to add some fill, a little sparkle.  I was careful not to blow out the white part between the eyes.  That’s how you know its a male.

Photo gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Tamron 28-75/2.8 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, 67mm Circular Polarizer Filter, small Impact Collapsible Reflector

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

Butterflies, Bees and Flash

A Butterfly Bush by our front door attracts nectar seekers all summer.  Silver Skippers are omnipresent, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails arrive in mid July, plus the occasional Painted Lady and more I’ve missed.  I am attracted to them as they are to nectar.  I never tire of watching or photographing them, the images help me bear the short days and gray bare branches of winter.

Even though our summer days are mostly bright sunshine ( Sunny 16 Rule / EV15 at ISO 100 ) I like to add light with a handheld flash because I can control the light direction and consequently, show the character of something as I see it vs as found with the ambient light.

Light has 4 properties: Intensity, Color, Direction and Quality (Hard or Soft). Direction is the property I most care about because it determines how we see form.

Image 1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, below is an example.  Balancing ambient  light  with my flash power setting, I held the camera in one hand and flash in the other,  extended as far as I could reach and pointed at the butterfly, from camera left.  The flash light raked across the butterfly from the side, creating shadows from the texture of her wings.  We get to see what the surface of the wings look like and the scaly texture so important for their ability to shed water and still fly. Shadows define her form, the same as any portrait.  It is a she, males don’t have blue spots.

  1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – Side lit with flash, hard light, high contrast Tiger Wings

Since my aperture is a stop or two below the ambient exposure, the background goes darker, further increasing contrast.  Compare that to the next image, 2. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  It’s a properly exposed, ambient light image. Images 1 and 2 have very different characters and impacts, accomplished simply by changing the aperture setting and adding a bit of light from the side.   And I didn’t have to wait for the butterfly to be in the right spot at the right time.

2. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail: Ambient, front lit, soft light, low contrast  003 Swallowtails 0419

Image 3. Painted Lady was taken within a few minutes of 1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  The difference is the light direction, now pointed from the front and a little below.  Without the side light, there are no shadows to show texture.  The  patterns and colors of the wings are well lit and the contrast with the darker background is maintained.

3. Painted Lady: Front lit with flash, hard light, high contrast 002 31 July 2625

Sunday was a rare overcast day, what some photographers call God’s Softbox. The ambient light was mostly directionless ( there’s a half stop difference you can use if you know where the sun is behind the clouds) and soft, so low contrast and very little shadow.  A very safe day for Auto mode.  Not being satisfied with an ambient exposure, I again used a handheld flash, this time with a snoot to get even higher contrast with the ambient light and background.

Large and colorful butterflies get all the attention but they were in short supply today. Those I saw were really ragged with large pieces of wings missing.  Skippers are always around and are more tolerant of my flash. Image 4. Silver Skipper is an example of how you can turn a grey, flat light day into something more interesting.   Same setup, camera in one hand, flash in the other, this time with aperture farther below ambient, 2 to 3 stops.

We again get to see the Skipper, its scaly texture and shape.  The shadows create contrast, revealing form.  The flash illuminates the butterfly but not the background, courtesy of the Inverse Square Law.  The light simply falls off before it can be reflected from the back ground.  Our small aperture of f16 renders the ambient dark, dramatically increasing the contrast between figure (butterfly) and ground ( background). Imagine the background “properly exposed” and much lighter.  The contrast and impact are gone.

001 28-75 + TC + flash 4625

4. Silver Skipper: Side lit with flash, hard light, high contrast I used a 28-75mm lens with a 12″ minimum focus distance. Adding a 1.5X Teleconvertor ,  my minimum focus distance stayed at 12″ but my focal length became 42-112mm, easier for getting close to small butterflies. It also helps in making the subject as large as possible in the frame for the best possible resolution. It’s not true macro, a 1:1 image, but it’s gets close.

A workable Depth of Field requires a small aperture so I stopped down to f16.  The DoF calculator showed me that at 111mm focal length and minimum focus distance, f16 gave me about 3/16ths”.  At f8, the calculator showed DoF of 1/16″, not something I could use handheld.  Macro photographers know the problem well, which is why they use tripods.  I have a tripod but it wouldn’t work here as butterflies tend not to wait around for tripod setup.

Looking at small butterflies, I found Image 4. Carpenter Bee, who was very engaged in his work and completely tolerant of my flash. He cared nothing for my work.

4. Carpenter Bee: Side lit with flash, hard light, high contrast 002 28-75 + TC + flash 4638

Photo gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Tamron 28-75/2.8 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, YN603N II Wireless Trigger, YN 560III Flash, Rogue Imaging Small Flash Bender.

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro

1 Dragonfly, 2 Lenses, 4 Camera Positions

I’ve been wanting to write about photography but had no outlet until I reworked this old blog last week. Selfishly, I’ve found that when I teach, I learn and discover far more than my students.

Taking out the kitchen trash, I saw a Dragonfly on the dried stalk of an Iris blossom.  It flew when I got close but quickly returned.  With such a willing model, I couldn’t pass up an impromptu portrait session.

001 Dragon Fly 4498

These first two images were made with my workhorse 17-70mm lens that will focus at 12″.  It’s relatively wide angle of view means these are cropped down to about 30% of the recorded image.  Okay for a 5×7 or 8×10 but if I wanted to make a large print, it would be a limiting factor

002 Dragon Fly 4519

The last two images were made with an old consumer grade 70-210mm lens that has a minimum focus distance of about 3 feet.  It fills the frame at 180mm focal length.The slight crop makes a large print much easier to make.  The lens was stopped down to f8 so at 3ft and 180MM, my Depth of Field was only 1/4″.  No problem isolating the subject from background.

003 Dragon Fly 4546

004 Dragon Fly 4525

You could do this with just about any consumer grade 50-200 zoom. Put the camera in Aperture or Manual Mode and stop down the lens to f8 while shooting near the maximum zoom of the lens.  Its easy to calculate ahead of time with this Depth of Field Calculator  or a DoF Calculator app on a SmartPhone.

Folks new to photography tend to not allow themselves to see or explore the possibilities of a composition. These images are different primarily because I moved the camera, especially aware of the background.  That let me change the “key” (low, medium, high) and therefore the mood of each image,  like a human portrait session.

The ambient light stayed the same, the model stayed the same but the photographer moved, exploring all the possibilities of the scene.

Some backgrounds didn’t work, like half sun and half shade or a light tree trunk dividing the frame. I moved until I had something that worked.  Being aware of backgrounds is essential for good composition.

All exposures were manual, the only way I know how to shoot.  I forgot to check settings when I changed lenses  so my first exposure afterwards was 1 stop underexposed and my shutter speed was too slow.  The underexposure was easily recoverable at ISO100 when shooting RAW, in my case DNGs.

In camera stabilization saved me from my shutter speed ( 1/125th sec ) being too slow for my focal length.  Figure at least 1/200sec or the reciprocal of the focal length ( 180mm) as these were handheld.  I believe that’s a good rule of thumb even with in-lens or in-body stabilization.  If you’re on a tripod, its a different story and future post.

I could’ve simply started with the longer lens but I wanted to see what I could do with the other.  One of the key benefits of digital is being able to quickly try things and get immediate feedback.  Its important to know what doesn’t work and why. And sometimes you get surprised. When in doubt, try it.

And don’t forget to take out the trash.