Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Great Blue Skimmer (mature male)

August 28, 2020

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell around Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR) in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a mature male, as indicated by his slightly tattered wings, blue coloration, and terminal appendages.

18 AUG 2020 | JMAWR | Great Blue Skimmer (mature male)

This male has mated many times, as indicated by the scratches on his abdomen.

Males that have mated often have marks on their abdomen where the female legs have scratched them. This is especially obvious in species in which males develop pruinosity, as the pruinosity on the mid-abdomen is scratched off, and the signs are visible at some distance. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 390-392). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Tech Tips

The preceding photo is full-frame (4,000 x 3,000 pixels), that is, uncropped.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 is one of two superzoom bridge cameras that I use as my “go to” rigs for photowalking. The minimum focusing distance in AF Macro mode is 1 m (3.3 feet) at maximum telephoto (600 mm, 35mm equivalent). My usual practice is to set the camera lens for maximum telephoto and move as close as possible to the minimum focusing distance, resulting in maximum magnification of the subject. That’s how I shot the photo shown above.

It’s worth noting the minimum focusing distance is 2 m (6.6 feet) at maximum telephoto when the camera IS NOT set for AF Macro mode. If your goal is to get as close as possible to the subject in order to fill the photo frame, then AF Macro mode is the way to go.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

I’m black in the saddle again.

August 19, 2020

Like the Singing Cowboy Gene Autry sang, I’m black in the saddle again. OK, maybe more like blue-black — either way I’m back baby!

18 AUG 2020 | JMAWR | Slaty Skimmer (male)

The preceding photo shows a Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) that was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell near Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR) in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male, as indicated by his coloration and terminal appendages.

This is the second photo I shot at the outset of the photowalk — the first photo was a little too dark because the external flash power ratio was a little too low. Most external flash units work with most cameras as long as the flash is set for Manual mode. Some trial and error is necessary to get the proper exposure. 1/16 power is a good starting point — that way the best power ratio is usually no more than two- to three stops away.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More experimentation with tethered shooting

August 12, 2020

Oh no! I have become the blogger who cried wolf. Yes, I’m guilty of over-promising and under-delivering. I promise to do better. Oops, I did it again! (Queue Britney Spears…)

Why tethered shooting?

In case you’re wondering what piqued my interest in tethered shooting, I was bored. I had figured out all there is to know about non-tethered shooting so I needed a new challenge. Not!

Tethered shooting enables me to quickly check composition, exposure, and focus, to name a few advantages of tethered versus non-tethered shooting — on a larger screen than the LCD on the back of my cameras.

Bear in mind, I don’t want to edit the photo files using my laptop computer (Apple 11″ MacBook Air) — I prefer to use my desktop computer (Apple 24″ iMac) for photo editing.

Latest testing

The following photos were taken by tethering my Fujifilm X-T3 digital camera to an Apple 11″ MacBook Air computer, via a TetherTools USB cable. FUJIFILM Tether Shooting Plug-in PRO was used to save JPG files to a folder on the desktop of my MacBook Air; in turn, the JPG images were displayed in Adobe Lightroom. Both JPG and RAF files were saved to one of two memory cards in the X-T3.

Notice the difference in way these two photos were lighted. Both shots were taken using a single off-camera flash. The position of the flash resulted in more- or less dramatic light. Each shot shows something better than the other, so I was unable to choose a clear favorite. What’s your preference?

Tips and Tricks

Oh yeah, the tips and tricks I have been promising are still in the pipeline. I made some screen grabs today to illustrate the process of tethered shooting. Turns out I overlooked a critical setting so all of the graphics are useless. Doh! Can you say “Do over”?

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

As promised…

August 9, 2020

A rare weekend blog post

The following photo was taken by tethering my Fujifilm X-T3 digital camera to an Apple 11″ MacBook Air computer, via a TetherTools USB cable. Fujifilm X Aquire (free) was used to save JPG files to a folder on the desktop of my MacBook Air; both JPG and RAF files were saved to one of two memory cards in the X-T3.

Apple “Preview” was used to view the JPG files saved to my MacBook Air. Looking at larger versions of the photos than can be seen on the X-T3 LCD enabled me to position the exuvia exactly as I wanted.

Notice the left eye is overexposed slightly (as well as the farthest tip of the left middle leg), probably caused by positioning the subject too close to the white background. Hey, it’s been a while since I did much studio macro photography — I need to play myself into game shape!

More details, including some of the tips and tricks I promised, will be provided in my regularly-scheduled blog post on Monday, 10 August 2020. Please stay tuned!

The Backstory

Swift River Cruiser dragonfly (Macromia illinoiensisexuvia was collected on 27 May 2017 along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

First foray into tethered shooting

August 5, 2020

My first foray into tethered shooting occurred on 01 August 2020. Although I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, I was able to successfully connect my Fujifilm X-T3 digital camera to an Apple 11″ MacBook Air computer, via a TetherTools USB cable. The screen on my laptop shows the display for the FUJIFILM Tether Shooting Plug-in PRO (Mac) for Adobe Lightroom.

Screen display for 11″ MacBook Air.

I will backfill this post with more details about the hardware and software used to capture the following image, taken a few days after “first light.” In the meantime, I’m SO LATE in publishing my blog post for Wednesday I just want to put something out there STAT. Please revisit this post at a later time to read the updated version.

A Swift River Cruiser dragonfly (Macromia illinoiensis) exuvia was collected on 27 May 2017 along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female. Notice the prominent horn on the head, a key field mark for exuviae from Family Macromiidae (Cruisers).

Ignore the bad background and quick-and-dirty lighting — this photo isn’t so much about making a good macro photo as it is the process used to make it. More later…I promise!

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Flash photography: Backlighting the background

August 3, 2020

The following annotated photo shows a recent iteration of my “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique studio macro photography rig, set up at BoG Photo Studio, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The rig has evolved since the photo was taken: On the flash used to backlight the background, I exchanged the Lastolite Ezybox Speed-lite 2 (No. 7, above) for a small altura PHOTO softbox that seems to work as well as the larger Lastolite softbox. The swap enables me to use the two larger softboxes for lighting the subject.

In my last blog post, I posed a question.

How far should should an external flash unit fitted with some type of diffuser be positioned from the backside of a translucent white plastic sheet used to create a pure white background (255, 255, 255) using the “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique? Source Credit: Flash photography: 1:1 rule-of-thumb, by Walter Sanford.

Disclaimer: The following information explains how I figured out the answer to my question. Trial and error experimentation suggests my answer is valid. Opinions to the contrary are invited and welcome.

altura PHOTO flash diffuser

Imagine an isosceles triangle with an external flash unit at Point A, shown below, pointed toward Line BC. Line BC represents the translucent white plastic sheet (No. 2, above) that I use for the background when shooting small objects such as the odonate exuvia posed on a clear plastic stage (No. 3, above). Note: The white plastic sheet is actually 12″ square. I used a value of 12.1″ because the calculator doesn’t allow me to choose 12.0″. Go figure!

In the last post, we learned that the face of the Altura softbox should be positioned at a distance of 7.8″ or less from the subject; this is the altitude of the triangle shown below. Notice that Angle A is 76 degrees. Experiment with the Isosceles Triangle calculator by moving Point A (the external flash) closer to Line BC (the backside of the background); notice that Angle A increases as the altitude of the triangle decreases.

Isosceles Triangle calculator output courtesy Math Open Reference.

Have you noticed that your external flash unit has a “Zoom” setting? It does, or it should. It would be so simple if the increments for Zoom were in angular degrees. Instead, the units are in millimeters of focal length, as in the focal length of a lens. This where the water gets muddy!

The “field of view” for a given lens is determined by the 35mm equivalent of the lens and the size of the camera sensor. The same lens has a different field of view depending upon whether it is mounted on either a full-frame or crop-sensor camera. Long story short, check the table entitled “Focal lengths with same field of view” that’s embedded in the article “Focal Length and Field of View Explained in 4 Steps” in order to determine the Zoom setting for your external flash.

As a practical matter, choose the Zoom setting for a field of view that is closest to Angle A. The Zoom setting (field of view) can be wider than Angle A but shouldn’t less than Angle A because that will cause a “hotspot” on the background.

Lastolite flash diffuser

For what it’s worth, here’s the Isosceles Triangle calculator output for the Lastolite flash diffuser shown in the photo at the beginning of this blog post. Notice the face of the flash diffuser is positioned closer than 12.2″ from the background, so Angle A will be larger than 52 degrees. Set the Zoom function accordingly.

Isosceles Triangle calculator output courtesy Math Open Reference.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Flash photography: 1:1 rule-of-thumb

July 31, 2020

As I was setting up for my first foray into tethered macro studio photography, I was reminded of the 1:1 rule-of-thumb that is used to determine how close/far to position a flash unit from the subject.

The diagonal distance across the face of a softbox should be the distance to the subject [or less] for soft wrap-around light. Actually, the distance should be as close as possible without the softbox showing in the photo frame. Greater distances will result in a contrasty look.

For example, my Altura softbox is a 6” x 5” rectangle (~7.8” diagonally) so it should be positioned ~8″ or less from the subject. Buyer beware: This distance is OK for macro photography but not OK for most other types of photography.

Product image courtesy altura PHOTO.

My Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 is 8.6″ square (~12.2″ diagonally) so the softbox should be positioned approximately 12″ or less from the subject.

Product image courtesy B&H Photo.

Online Calculators

For small softboxes like the ones shown above, the diagonal distance can be measured with a 12″ (~30 cm) ruler. For larger softboxes, it might be easier to use an online calculator to determine the distance.

Application

How far should should an external flash unit fitted with some type of diffuser be positioned from the backside of a translucent white plastic sheet used to create a pure white background (255, 255, 255) using the “Meet Your Neighbours” (MYN) technique?

As it turns out that’s a little more complicated to calculate, assuming you would rather not waste time with trial and error experimentation. Stay tuned for a follow-up post in which I will explain how I figured it out.

Related Resource: Flash photography: Backlighting the background.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (females)

June 12, 2020

At least 11 Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphurus vastus) were spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, including 10 females and one male. This blog post features photos of the first two females that I spotted.

No. 1a

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and rounded hind wings. Notice the injury to her right rear leg.

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

No. 1b

Inspired by Fred Siskind’s portfolio of dew-covered insects, Mike Powell and I are on a never-ending quest to find and photograph dew-covered odonates. The last photo shows my best effort to date.

As we were photographing female No. 1a, I noticed another individual perched nearby. No. 1a was perched in a sunny spot where most of the morning dew had evaporated; No. 1b was perched in a shady spot where everything was still covered by dew.

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Cobra Clubtail (female)

Unfortunately, this female was quite skittish so her glamor shoot was one-and-done.

What is dew and how does it form?

Dew forms when the atmosphere is cooled until its temperature reaches the “dew point temperature” and water vapor in the atmosphere (an invisible gas) condenses to become liquid water. (The temperature when this phase change occurs is also known as the “frost point temperature.”)

The dew point temperature varies depending upon the amount of moisture in the air. Typical dew points in the mid-Atlantic states are in the 60s and 70s during the summer months, 40s and 50s during spring and fall, and 20s and 30s during winter.

Check your local weather forecast to see whether the predicted overnight low air temperature will reach the dew point temperature. Sometimes close is good enough, as surfaces that are good radiators of thermal energy can cool a thin layer of air to the dew point.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (female)

June 3, 2020

A Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus lineatifrons) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Easy for me to say now. As it turns out, my initial identification was incorrect.

The first photo I took of the dragonfly — the record shot — is shown below. Notice the pattern of yellow lateral marks/spots on its abdomen. Also notice the yellow blotch on the side of abdominal segment eight (S8) extends onto the club flange, as shown in the full-size version of the image. (Thanks to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for sharing these key field marks for Splendid.)

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Splendid Clubtail (female)

In contrast, the pattern of yellow lateral marks/spots on the abdomen of a female Cobra Clubtail (Gomphurus vastus), shown below, looks quite different. And the yellow blotch on S8 DOES NOT EXTEND onto the club flange, as shown in the full-size version of the image.

09 MAY 2017 | Riverbend Park | Cobra Clubtail (female)

The last photo, published in a recent blog post, is the one that caused me to misidentify the dragonfly. Notice the pattern of yellow mid-dorsal lines/marks is somewhat similar for both Cobra Clubtail (above) and Splendid Clubtail (below).

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Splendid Clubtail (female)

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

The Backstory

My last blog post features an actual female Cobra Clubtail dragonfly that I spotted soon after seeing the Splendid Clubtail shown above.

The Cobra appeared to be noticeably smaller than the Splendid, and in fact it is. Cobra is 4.7-5.7 cm in total length; Splendid is 6.7-6.9 cm. In my experience it’s often difficult to judge the relative size of dragonflies in the field. That being said, a difference of ~2.0 cm in length was easy to see.

There is, of course, some natural variation in size among individuals of the same species. I walked around the rest of the day wondering why the two “Cobra” that I’d seen were so different in size. The answer seems obvious in retrospect: the larger one is Splendid; the smaller one is Cobra.

Official Records

When my friend Mike Powell submitted an official record for the Splendid Clubtail, he followed my lead and called it Cobra Clubtail. Mike included a photograph showing a dorsal view of the dragonfly that looks similar to my dorsal view.

Rick Cheicante and Mike Boatwright, two vetters for the Odonata Central records database, thought the dragonfly might be Splendid rather than Cobra. Mike Boatwright contacted me and asked to see more photos of the Splendid. One look at my photo showing a side view of the individual and Mike B. knew immediately the “Cobra” is actually Splendid.

So what’s the take-away? It’s good to be wrong, in fact, it’s Splendid! (See what I did there?) Especially when Splendid Clubtail is a new species for my life list as well as a new species for Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

And while I’m giving credit where credit is due, it should be noted that Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, deserves credit as the first person to discover Splendid Clubtail in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Although Kevin didn’t submit official records for his finds, he beat me to the discovery by nearly a decade!

Adult Flight Period

According to records for the Commonwealth of Virginia maintained by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, the adult flight period for Gomphurus lineatifrons is from May 01 to June 27. The species is classified as uncommon. Its habitat is “rivers.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for Gomphurus lineatifrons seems to be longer than it is in reality. The adult flight period for a single site is probably shorter. For example, according to records for Northern Virginia maintained by Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the adult flight period for Splendid Clubtail is May 28 to June 15.

Related Resource: Gomphurus lineatifrons (Splendid Clubtail)

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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.


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