MYN – Hits and misses

May 25, 2020

This blog post might have been called “New ways of doing the same old thing.” In other words, experimenting with new techniques for shooting sets of macro photos of a familiar  subject and new variations for creating focus-stacked composite images.

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/16 | 1/200s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Tech Tips

In-camera focus bracketing was used to shoot a photo set with my Fujifilm X-T3 mirrorless digital camera and Fujinon 80mm macro lens (coupled with 11mm and 16mm extension tubes for a little additional magnification).

The camera lens was focused manually on the closest point on the face of the subject. The shutter button was pressed one time; the first photo was taken after a 10-second timer elapsed, then the focus point advanced automatically from the initial focus point to a far point on the subject in the background of the photo.

RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 3.0 was used to batch-convert the resulting 50 images from Fujifilm RAF files to TIFF files. Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create five sub-stacks (10 photos per sub-stack) that were combined into one focus-stacked composite image. The final image was edited using Apple Aperture.

Analyzing the results

Most of the “misses” were self-inflicted.

For example, minimal effort was invested in arranging the subject and lighting the scene. Generally speaking, better lighting results in better photos.

Some trial and error is required in order to determine the correct focus bracketing settings for a given combination of camera and lens. The following settings were used to shoot the photo set for the focus-stacked composite image featured in this post: Frames = 50; Step = 10; Interval = 4 s.

Step size is a number from one (1) to 10, with one being the smallest increment and 10 being the largest. Although a step size of 10 enabled the camera to cover the subject completely from front-to-back in 50 frames, selecting the coarsest step increment might have resulted in small “focus gaps” that are noticeable in a few places on the full-size version of the composite image.

I cabled a Godox PROPAC PB960 to the Godox TT685C external flash unit that is used to backlight the white background. The power pack enables faster flash recycle times and increases the number of times the flash can be fired before its AA batteries run down. That was a big “hit!”

I didn’t realize the radio flash trigger was set for a power ratio of 1/4 +0.7 — that’s 2/3 of a stop slower than my preferred setting of 1/2 +0.3 that usually results in the pure white background (255, 255, 255) that is a goal of the “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique. That was a big “miss” I was able to correct in post-processing, although increasing the exposure enough to blow out the background might have degraded image quality a little.

One of many reasons the Fujifilm X-Series cameras are so popular is their retro look and feel, including lots of buttons and dials on the camera body. That’s good and bad: it’s good to be able to adjust many camera settings using either an external button or dial rather than navigating through menus in the camera’s firmware; it’s bad that it’s easy to change camera settings accidentally.

I must have rotated the back dial slightly because the shutter speed was set for 1/200 s rather than the camera sync speed of 1/250 s. Using a faster shutter speed can result in sharper images.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Macromia illinoiensis exuvia (face-head) redux

May 22, 2020

A Swift River Cruiser dragonfly (Macromia illinoiensis) exuvia was collected, with permission from park staff, on 27 May 2017 along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The preceding image shows the remnant ommatidia clearly.

From this viewpoint, it’s harder to see the prominent horn on the face that is a key field mark for larvae/exuviae in the Family Macromiidae (Cruisers). The base of the triangular horn is located above the labium (face mask), between the long, thin antennae; the apex of the triangle is pointed toward the viewer.

It’s easier to see the horn in the featured photo in my last blog post.

Tech Tips

The subject was photographed against a pure white background (255, 255, 255) using the “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique.

20 photos of the specimen were taken using 2.5x magnification at an aperture of f/4; in-camera focus peaking was used to highlight select areas in each photo. RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 3.0 was used to convert Fujifilm RAF files to TIFF files. Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create a focus-stacked composite image that was edited using Apple Aperture.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Macromia illinoiensis exuvia (face-head)

May 20, 2020

The following photograph of a Swift River Cruiser dragonfly (Macromia illinoiensis) exuvia shows a prominent horn on the face that is a key field mark for larvae/exuviae in the Family Macromiidae (Cruisers).

The specimen was collected, with permission from park staff, on 27 May 2017 along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Tech Tips

The subject was photographed against a pure white background (255, 255, 255) using the “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique. The specimen was posed on its dorsal side, so the camera was focused on the face-head-ventral view of the exuvia. The final image was cropped and rotated 180° during post-processing.

10 photos of the specimen were taken using an aperture of f/16; in-camera focus peaking was used to highlight select areas in each photo. RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 3.0 was used to convert Fujifilm RAF files to TIFF files. Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create a focus-stacked composite image that was edited using Apple Aperture.

Editor’s Note: This blog post is the last installment in what turned out to be a three-part series. The featured focus-stacked composite image is a little closer to what I had in mind when I set up the photo shoot.

  1. MYN – Macromiidae larvae/exuviae are horny
  2. RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 3.0

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 3.0

May 18, 2020

RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 3.0 powered by SILKYPIX is a free application available for download from Fujifilm USA. The application can be used to convert Fujifilm RAF files to TIFF files.

The application is somewhat counterintuitive. For example, if you look at the File menu (shown in the menubar) notice “Export” isn’t an option.

Instead, images are exported from the Development menu.

First, select “Development / File output settings…” and configure the menu settings as shown below (or as appropriate for your purposes).

If you’d like to export several files, then select “Development / Batch development settings…” and configure the menu settings as shown below (or as appropriate for your purposes).

Use the left sidebar to navigate to a set of RAF files, then choose the images that you’d like to convert to TIFFs. Select “Development / Batch develop selected images…” [It’s worth noting that after selecting one or more images, some of the items in the “File” menu are no longer grayed-out. Selecting “File / Batch develop selected images…” is the same as working from the “Development” menu.]

Next a pop-up window appears; click the button labeled “Batch develop.”

The following window shows the progress of the file conversion process.

Tech Tips

“RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 3.0″ can be used to edit photos too. I have no interest in learning to use a new application for editing photos — I know how to use “Apple Aperture” and “Adobe Lightroom” already. The free application from Fujifilm is simply a utility that enables me to convert RAF files that I can’t open and edit on my older Apple iMac desktop computer to TIFFs that I can open/edit.

That being said, the application appears to be fairly robust and has some features that might be worth exploring.

The step-by-step instructions provided in this guide were discovered by limited experimentation. If you know a better/simpler way to accomplish the same task, then please comment on this post. Thank you!

Related Resource: MYN – Macromiidae larvae/exuviae are horny, a blog post by Walter Sanford (see section entitled “Tech Tips”).

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

MYN – Macromiidae larvae/exuviae are horny

May 15, 2020

A prominent horn on the face is a key field mark for larvae/exuviae in the Family Macromiidae (Cruisers), as shown in the following photograph of a Swift River Cruiser dragonfly (Macromia illinoiensis) exuvia.

The base of the triangular horn is located above the labium (face mask), between the long, thin antennae.

The specimen was collected, with permission from park staff, on 27 May 2017 along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Tech Tips

The subject was photographed against a pure white background (255, 255, 255) using the “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique. The specimen was posed on its dorsal side, so the camera was focused on the face-head-ventral view of the exuvia. The image was rotated 180° during post-processing.

My vintage 2009 Apple iMac desktop computer is too old to support drivers for importing RAF files from my Fujifilm X-T3 mirrorless digital camera into either Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom.

The work-around is to use a free application from Fujifilm that converts RAF files to TIFF files, which can be opened and edited with Aperture and Lightroom. Problem is I’m a big procrastinator and haven’t learned how to use the file converter application, so I simply edited one of the JPGs straight from the camera.

For the most part, the finished image looks fairly good although the eyes are blown out a little to a lot. JPG files have less dynamic range than RAF files so I was unable to recover the blown highlights.

Hmmm, it might be time to buy a new desktop computer!

Post Updates

I finally got around to figuring out how to use the free Fujifilm application to convert RAF files to TIFFs. See my follow-up blog post entitled “RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 3.0” for step-by-step instructions.

10 photos (converted from RAF to TIFF), including the one-off featured in this blog post, were used to create a focus-stacked composite image of the specimen that is a little closer to what I had in mind when I set up the photo shoot.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Adequate packing material for safe shipping?

May 13, 2020

I ordered a Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro lens from B&H Photo on 10 March 2020. The parcel was delivered a few days later on 14 March.

The first photo shows contents of the larger cardboard box in which the lens was shipped.

The last photo shows the larger cardboard box after I removed the smaller box containing the lens.

Notice there was NO PACKING MATERIAL on four of six sides of the smaller box for the lens. That can’t be good for shipping a camera lens safely!

During limited testing of the new lens, I haven’t been completely satisfied with its performance. I can’t help but think, was the lens damaged slightly during shipping? I’ll never know but I’ll always wonder.

What are the take-aways?

I remember opening the box of my first order from B&H Photo many years ago. My first impression was something like, “Wow! The items in my order were packed carefully to ensure they arrived in great condition.” Those days are long gone.

The fact of the matter is the problem of inadequate packing material seems to be the new normal at B&H Photo, and that doesn’t work for me — photo gear is too expensive to cut corners on shipping! C’mon B&H, you can and should do better.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Focus bracketing using Fujifilm X-T3

May 11, 2020

In-camera focus bracketing was used to shoot 35 photos automatically. Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create the focus-stacked composite image shown below.

Focus-stacked composite image

The toy is a Poliwrath, one of many Pokemon characters. The 7″ plastic ruler is from the Calvert Marine Museum. Do you know why the small ruler is 7″ long rather than the more common 6″ length? Please leave a comment if you know the correct answer.

Photo No. 1

The camera was focused manually on the closest point in the foreground, before pressing the shutter button.

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Select photos from the 35-photo set show the focus point advancing automatically from the foreground to background.

Photo No. 5

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Photo No. 20

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Photo No. 35

80mm (120mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 160 | 0 ev

Related Resources

Tech Tips

Minimal effort was invested in arranging the subjects and lighting the scene.

Some trial and error is required in order to determine the correct focus bracket settings for a given combination of camera and lens, in this case, my Fujifilm X-T3 and 80mm macro lens.

As it turns out, I shot six sets of test shots before I found settings that worked the way I wanted. The following settings were used to shoot the 35 photos for the focus-stacked composite image featured in this post: Frames = 35; Step = 10; Interval = 3 s.

The camera was set to save files as FINE+RAW. In the interest of expediency, the composite image was created using JPGs straight from the camera. Photo No. 1, 5, 20, and 35 are also unedited JPGs.

What are the take-aways?

The technique works as advertised and should help to save time by automating the most tedious part of the process of creating focus stacks. Further experimentation is planned.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Springtime Darner dragonflies (female, male)

May 8, 2020

Several Springtime Darner dragonflies (Basiaeschna janata) were spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Mike spotted the first one; then we teamed up to find a few more.

Female

Female Springtime Darners are polymorphic: the spots on their abdomen are either blue (andromorphic) or green (heteromorphic); the female featured in this post is a blue andromorph.

The terminal appendages and rounded shape of the hind wings can be used to identify andromorph female Springtime Darners.

“Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot” is one my mantras for wildlife photography. The first photo is an example of what some of my odonate hunter friends call a “record shot,” that is, a shot (any shot) that serves as a record of a spotting in the field.

Notice the photo appears to have been taken using only natural light. I speculate the external flash unit didn’t “wake up” from power-saving mode when I pressed the camera shutter. Do you see why I like to use fill flash for insect photography?

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Springtime Darner (female)

Mike and I followed the female to a second location where we were able to shoot more photos.

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Springtime Darner (female)

Refine the shot. (Get closer, in this case.)

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Springtime Darner (female)

Male

The last individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and “indented” hind wings.

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Springtime Darner (male)

All of the Springtime Darners that Mike and I spotted were very skittish, like the preceding male. I was only able to shoot one photo before he flew away. We couldn’t find it again.

Related Resource

Springtime Darner dragonflies” features photos of the same subject shot by Michael Powell: Mike used a DSLR camera, macro lens, and no flash to take his photos; I used a mirrorless superzoom “bridge” camera and an external flash unit to take mine.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (female)

May 6, 2020

An Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and rounded hind wings.

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (female)

Look closely at the full-size version of all of the photos and you will notice body parts from a crane fly that the dragonfly was eating during this brief time-series of photos. Also notice the spider that photo-bombed the following image (shown to the far left).

02 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (female)

Related Resource

Ashy Clubtail Close-ups” features photos of the same subject shot by Michael Powell: Mike used a DSLR camera, macro lens, and no flash to take his photos; I used a mirrorless superzoom “bridge” camera and an external flash unit to take mine.

Editorial Commentary

The Dragonfly Society of the Americas (DSA) released a new version of their “Odonata Central” Web site recently. The primary goal was to upgrade the process for searching and submitting official records for odonates.

Good intentions notwithstanding, one BIG CASUALTY of the update is the identification guides for almost every species of odonate in North America are no longer online. Site visitors looking for those resources are redirected to use “Dragonfly ID,” a third-party app for iOS and Android mobile devices.

In my strong opinion, an app is NEVER an adequate substitute for a Web-based reference library. For example, how can I point readers of my blog to specific resources in the “Dragonfly ID” app? I can’t, and as a result, many opportunities for informal science education are missed.

As a case in point, “All About Birds — Your Online Guide to Birds and Bird Watching” predates the release of the “Merlin Bird ID” app by many years. I’m fairly certain the Cornell Lab of Ornithology NEVER considered pulling the plug on “All About Birds” when they were developing their excellent app for bird identification. The two resources are complementary, not exclusive.

What’s done is done. As a consequence of the update, my photoblog is littered with broken links to what was once the authoritative online reference for North American odonates.

Currently there is no perfect substitute for the old DSA Odonata Central identification guides. Beginning with this post I will provide pointers to The Dragonflies and Damselflies of North Carolina Web site. For example, the photo captions in this blog post include links to the page for Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus), featuring an interactive, annotated photo that provides tips for identification of this species. Well done, North Carolina!

And while I’m talking about North Carolina’s excellent ode-related Web site let me ask the obvious question: Hey Virginia, where’s ours?

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

MYN – Hylogomphus adelphus exuvia (dorsal)

May 4, 2020

The following Anisoptera exuvia — collected by Freda van den Broek on 10 June 2019 along the St. Croix River in Polk County, Wisconsin USA — is definitely a member of Family Gomphidae (Clubtails), probably Mustached Clubtail (Hylogomphus adelphus).

Dorsal view

The abdomen is wider than the head. Vestigial mid-dorsal hooks are noticeable along several abdominal segments, especially segment nine (S9). A “median groove” is apparent along part of the abdomen. The lateral spine on S9 is spinulose-serrate along the outer edge.

10 JUN 2019 | Polk County, WI | H. adelphus exuvia (dorsal)

Related Resources

Tech Tips

This subject was photographed against a pure white background (255, 255, 255) using the “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique.

15 photos of the specimen were taken using an aperture of f/16; in-camera focus peaking was used to highlight select areas in each photo. Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create- and annotate the focus-stacked composite image shown above.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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