Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Test shots: Pachydiplax longipennis exuvia

November 19, 2018

A Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) exuvia was received from Andy Davidson, a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Test shots of the specimen were taken using a relatively small aperture of f/20 for greater depth of field. Each photo is a “one-off,” that is, not a composite image. Focus stacks will be created sometime in the near future, after the exuvia is rehydrated and posed for better composition.

Extremely shallow depth-of-field is a common problem in macro photography. Depth-of-field increases as aperture decreases — in other words, they are inversely related. In this case, an aperture of f/20 was insufficient for the entire subject to be acceptably in focus so it will be necessary to create some focus stacks.

Also notice the background of the second photo looks darker and bluer than the first one. That was caused by the fact that the subject was farther from the front of the lens. There are work-arounds for this lighting problem, but hey, like the title of this blog post says these are “test shots.”

Related Resources

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot both of the macro photographs featured in this post: Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; Fujifilm MCEX-11 extension tube; and Fujinon XF80mm macro lens. The camera was set for both manual exposure and manual focus. That’s right, a switch on the camera body is used to set the type of focus. It’s a Fujifilm thing. Actually, back-button focus was used to autofocus the image and adjusted manually as necessary. That’s also a Fujifilm thing. For details, see “More Tech Tips” (below).

Godox XProF radio flash trigger, mounted on the hotshoe of my X-T1, was used to control a pair of off-camera Godox TT685 Thinklite TTL Flashes(TT685F and TT685C) set for radio slave mode. Each flash was fitted with a snap-on plastic diffuser.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to spot-heal and sharpen both images.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Test shots: Erythemis simplicicollis exuvia

November 16, 2018

An Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) exuvia was received from Andy Davidson, a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University.

This individual is a male, as indicated by the vestigial hamules visible on the ventral side of the exuvia, abdominal segments two and three (S2-S3).

Food for Thought

This exuvia is one of three “cast skins” from odonate nymphs that were collected in the field and reared in the laboratory as part of a research project entitled “Predator-Prey Interactions in a Changing World.” Since all three nymphs were collected from the James River rock pools, I assume they lived in essentially the same habitat. I wonder why the E. simplicollis exuvia is so much darker in color than either the P. flavescens or P. longipennis exuviae.

Related Resources

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot both of the macro photographs featured in this post: Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; Fujifilm MCEX-11 extension tube; and Fujinon XF80mm macro lens. The camera was set for both manual exposure and manual focus. That’s right, a switch on the camera body is used to set the type of focus. It’s a Fujifilm thing. Actually, back-button focus was used to autofocus the image and adjusted manually as necessary. That’s also a Fujifilm thing. For details, see “More Tech Tips” (below).

Godox XProF radio flash trigger, mounted on the hotshoe of my X-T1, was used to control a pair of off-camera Godox TT685 Thinklite TTL Flashes(TT685F and TT685C) set for radio slave mode. Each flash was fitted with a snap-on plastic diffuser.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to spot-heal and sharpen both images.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Test shots: Pantala flavescens exuvia

November 14, 2018

A Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens) odonate exuvia was received from Andy Davidson, a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia USA. Sincere thanks to Andy for sharing this beautiful specimen!

The exuvia is a “cast skin” from a nymph that was collected in the field and reared in the laboratory as part of a research project entitled “Predator-Prey Interactions in a Changing World.”

Test shots of the specimen were taken using a relatively small aperture of f/16 for greater depth of field. Each photo is a “one-off,” that is, not a composite image. Focus stacks will be created sometime in the near future, after the exuvia is rehydrated and posed for better composition.

Related Resources

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot both of the macro photographs featured in this post: Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; Fujifilm MCEX-11 extension tube; and Fujinon XF80mm macro lens. The camera was set for both manual exposure and manual focus. That’s right, a switch on the camera body is used to set the type of focus. It’s a Fujifilm thing. Actually, back-button focus was used to autofocus the image and adjusted manually as necessary. That’s also a Fujifilm thing. For details, see “More Tech Tips” (below).

Godox XProF radio flash trigger, mounted on the hotshoe of my X-T1, was used to control a pair of off-camera Godox TT685 Thinklite TTL Flashes (TT685F and TT685C) set for radio slave mode. Each flash was fitted with a snap-on plastic diffuser.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to spot-heal and sharpen both images.

More Tech Tips

Focus peaking can be activated when the camera is set for manual focus mode. Using back-button focus (AF-L button) in manual mode enables one to retain full control of the exposure triangle, focus quickly, and see what’s in focus before shooting a photograph. Fuji Back Button Focus (4:06), a YouTube video by Ashraf Jandali, provides a clear demonstration of how to use back-button focus on the Fujifilm X-T1.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash

November 12, 2018

I bought a Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash from Roberts Camera recently. I placed the order around midday on Friday, 02 November 2018 and the parcel was delivered on Monday, 05 November. Impressive!

The Backstory

Godox flash photography gear, published on 09 October 2019, features my initial review of a Godox TT685F Thinklite TTL Flash that I bought from B&H Photo. In short, the flash doesn’t work as advertised by both Godox and B&H Photo, and B&H has failed repeatedly to “make it right.” (More about that in a follow-up blog post.)

Given my negative experience with the TT685F flash, regular readers of my blog might be wondering “Why would you buy another Godox flash from B&H Photo?” More about the first part of that question in a minute. As I already mentioned, I DIDN’T buy the new Godox TT685C flash from B&H Photo. Read between the lines.

Testing 1, 2, 3…

I have been testing the new TT685C flash since the day after it was received. Here’s what I know so far: In a nutshell, the flash works as advertised.

The Canon-compatible version of the Godox TT685 functions in five modes: a non-wireless, stand-alone mode (TTL, Manual, and Multi); and four wireless modes (optical master/slave modes, and radio master/slave modes). The Godox TT685C can do almost everything the comparable Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT does at a price point approximately six times less than Canon’s MSRP of $579.99.

All of that being said, there is one problem with the Godox TT685C and it’s a big problem in my opinion. More about this in a follow-up blog post.

A Canon-compatible flash that works like one made for Fujifilm

For my money, what makes the Godox TT685 product line of flashes special is they are cross-compatible. In other words, flashes made for different camera manufacturers (e.g., Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic, and Sony) can work together.

The following photo shows the LCD of my new Godox TT685C flash. The flash is set for radio slave mode (Channel 1, Group A). Notice the word “FUJI” in the lower-left corner of the display that indicates the Canon-compatible flash is working like a Fujifilm-compatible flash.

In this case, the flash was controlled by a Godox XProF radio flash trigger mounted on the hotshoe of my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera. A Godox TT685F external flash, fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier, was located off-camera; the TT685F was used to light the photo, shown below. Also notice the icon that indicates the flash is functioning in HSS mode; the HSS icon is located below 24mm (manual zoom) and the audio speaker icon (indicating sound is on).

Godox TT685C external flash LCD panel display (Slave mode).

Results from hands-on testing (so far, so good)

  • Off-camera radio slave mode works, including TTL and HSS, when the Godox TT685C is controlled by a Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for radio master.
  • Either Godox XProF or TT685F mounted on Fujifilm X-T1 hotshoe: Camera-mounted flash is Channel M; off-camera TT-685C (set for radio slave) is Channel A. Works as expected, including TTL and HSS.
  • Godox TT685C mounted on Fujifilm X-T1 hotshoe: Flash fires, Manual mode only (TTL, HSS don’t work); when the flash is set for optical master (in Manual mode), it can trigger an off-camera Nissan i40 external flash unit (set for SF Mode) confirming that optical master does in fact work.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Bonding with Bender

November 7, 2018

Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thorei) have a well-known preference for perching on gray or tan colored surfaces, including gray or tan colored clothing. Dressed appropriately, I visited a hotspot for Gray Petaltail where I hoped to shoot some “selfie” photographs of a Grey Petaltail perched on me.

The first photo is a “selfie” that shows a Fiery Skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus) perched on my left forearm. Thanks to several members of the BugGuide Facebook group for help in identifying the butterfly!

A Fiery Skipper butterfly perched on my left forearm.

The pained expression on my face says “You should have worn your glasses, you old fool!” I call it “going snake-eyed.”

The last photo is a “selfie” that shows a Gray Petaltail dragonfly perched on my Cabela’s Safari Series vest. This individual is a male that I nicknamed “Bender” because of his malformed abdomen.

A Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male) perched on my Cabela’s safari vest.

Open the full-size version of the preceding photo and zoom in on the dragonfly. Look at Bender’s face. I wonder what he was thinking.

Tech Tips

I used my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom camera to shoot the “selfie” photos featured in this blog post. The camera was set for manual focus at the hyperfocal distance for an aperture of f/4, based upon the instructions provided in the excellent video tutorial by Graham Houghton, “Panasonic Lumix FZ camera easier manual focus method — super point-and-shoot tip.”

The camera was mounted on a Sunpak 8001 UT medium duty aluminum tripod, with the articulating LCD facing forward. A JJC TM-Series Multi-Function Timer Remote Control was connected to the camera. I sat on a Coleman camp stool positioned a few feet in front of the camera, with the remote control in one hand.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Precious cargo

November 5, 2018

Odonates are aquatic insects. They spend most of their life as larvae that live in water; this stage of their life cycle can last from a few months to a few years. Finally, they emerge from the water and metamorphose into adults in order to reproduce; their offspring return to the water and the cycle begins again.

Careful and/or lucky observers will notice exuviae (sing. exuvia), also known as either “cast skins” or “shed skins,” left behind when odonate larvae emerge. Exuviae are fragile little works of natural art that are challenging at best to ship from one location to another.

The preceding photo shows a small plastic vial containing three odonate exuviae, received from Andy Davidson. All three exuviae are members of Family Libellulidae (Skimmers). From left-to-right, the following specimens can be seen inside the vial: Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens); Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis); Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis).

Andy packed the exuviae carefully inside a centrifuge tube with a screw on/off cap; pieces of crumpled bubble wrap were used to separate the specimens inside the tube. A pair of tweezers was used to remove the bubble wrap. All three exuviae appear to be in perfect condition.

Editor’s Notes

Andy Davidson is a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia USA. Andy works with Dr. James Vonesh, his faculty advisor, and a team of researchers studying the ecology of James River rock pools. Andy’s research project is entitled “Predator-Prey Interactions in a Changing World.”

Sincere thanks to Andy for kindly sharing several exuviae saved from laboratory-reared odonate nymphs — I’m looking forward to creating new annotated identification guides for the specimens!

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Peak Design Anchor Links

October 26, 2018

A set of Peak Design Anchor Links was used to connect a Godox PROPAC PB960 Lithium-Ion Flash Power Pack to the strap that shipped with the battery. The power pack fits better in one of the larger pockets on a safari vest without the strap.

I can never remember how to thread photo gear straps safely and securely, so I loosened the strap on one side of the battery to see how it was done.

Parts, before assembly.

The next photo shows one of the Anchor Links connected to the battery, and one of the Anchors connected to the end of the strap.

Anchor Link component parts connected to battery and strap.

The last photo shows the Anchor Link, well, anchored to the Anchor.

Anchor Link component parts connected.

Added flexibility using Anchor Links

The strap for the Godox battery pack can be repurposed as a replacement for the strap on my Panasonic Lumix superzoom bridge camera; the old strap is frayed at the point where it’s connected to the camera and is cause for concern.

Each set of Anchor Links ships with four (4) Anchor Links and two (2) Anchors, so I connected the other two Anchor Links (not shown in the preceding photos) to my Panasonic camera. Now it’s quick and easy to use one strap for two pieces of photo gear!

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Do-over

October 24, 2018

The Backstory

An Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividusnymph was collected by Bob Perkins. (The date and location where the specimen was collected are unknown.) The nymph was reared in captivity until it emerged on 21 March 2017 and metamorphosed into an adult female. This specimen is the exuvia from the nymph. P. lividus is a member of the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails).

A focus-stacked composite image was created from 39 photos focused on the face and head of the exuvia. I had relatively little experience using Adobe Photoshop to make focus stacks when I created the first iterations of the Ashy Clubtail composite image. I was never satisfied completely with the final output, so I decided to do a do-over.

After…

The updated version of the composite image was created using my “Latest focus stacking workflow.”

Before…

The version that I published in late-March 2018 was created using the RAW photos (CR2) from my Canon digital camera, without any post-processing. I tried to adjust the white balance and color palette of the resulting composite image, but was unable to get the “look” I wanted. The image is probably over-sharpened too.

Which version do you prefer?

I know the version I like more. Which do you prefer, After or Before?

Tech Tips

The preceding images are composites of 39 photos taken using the following equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for 3x magnification); and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for “Master” mode, and Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites set for “Slave” mode.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to focus stack the photos and post-process the final output.

According to the “Focus Stacking Step Size Calculator” embedded in the “Focus Stacking” Web page, the “safe step size” is 0.213 mm for an aperture of f/11 at 3x magnification using a full-frame DSLR. That’s right, 0.213 mm! The safe step size is the incremental distance at which the in-focus areas of two photos overlap. The ruler on the inexpensive focus rail that I use is marked in millimeters only, so I attempted to move the focus rail in tiny increments in two passes: one pass moving from front-to-back; and a second pass from back-to-front.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Field marks for identification of S. rogersi

October 22, 2018

The following annotated images illustrate field marks that can be used for identification of Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Stenogomphurus rogersi). Although there is some redundancy among the images, repetition is a good strategy for learning.

Male

Male Sable Clubtails have eyes that are green to turquoise in color, with a black occiput located between the eyes. They have a thin, black abdomen that flares to a small club featuring thin yellow flanges on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-9).

The abdomen is marked with small pale dorsal triangles (S3-7) and tiny pale lateral spots. The number of dorsal triangles can vary individually and/or geographically, ranging from S3-5 to S3-7.

08 JUN 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

Dennis Paulson, originator of the classification system for thoracic stripes in the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails), describes T1-4 as follows.

T1–2 broad and complete, touching at ends and often with stripe between them restricted and topped with spot; T3–4 fine, T3 incomplete. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 6089-6093). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Note: T1-4 refers to the dark areas located on the sides of the thorax, not the lighter colored lines and spots. Due to space limitations, thoracic stripes are labeled using a numeral only (e.g., “1”) rather than a letter and numeral (e.g., “T1”).

08 JUN 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

Their face is pale, marked with variable black crosslines (as shown in the inset photo, below).

08 JUN 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

Male Sable Clubtails, like all male dragonflies, have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers.” All male clubtail dragonflies have indented hind wings.

Female

Female Sable Clubtails have a noticeably thicker abdomen than males. The occiput is a pale color, rather than black. Dorsal triangles, located on abdominal segments three through seven (S3-7), are much larger than those found on males. The lateral spots are somewhat larger as well.

05 JUL 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (female)

Female Sable Clubtails, like all female dragonflies, have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function. All female clubtail dragonflies have rounded hind wings.

Related Resource: Stenogomphurus rogersi exuvia.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Please help me fix a flawed favorite photo.

October 20, 2018

The following photo is one of my favorites from a set of 101 photos of Sable Clubtail dragonflies (Stenogomphurus rogersii) that I shot on 08 June 2018. Problem is, the photo is flawed by “hot spots” on some of the vegetation shown in the picture — those brighter areas in the photo tend to distract the viewer’s eyes from the subject.

I’m not sure what caused the hot spots. The vegetation was still wet from a rain event the night before. Perhaps the brighter areas were caused by the interaction of water on the plants with both ambient sunlight and the light from an external flash unit mounted on my camera.

08 JUN 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

I am convinced it should be possible to use the photo-editing tools in Adobe Lightroom and/or Adobe Photoshop/Camera Raw to fix the hot spots. Easier said than done. Every time I have attempted to “get ‘er done,” the work session ended quickly with me feeling like my head was going to explode!

Generally speaking, I’m opposed to “Photoshopping” wildlife photos. In this case, the edits I’d like to make won’t affect the subject so I’m OK with tweaking the photo to improve upon nature.

I have watched several video tutorials on YouTube that suggest the repair process should be relatively simple and straightforward. What am I missing? PLEASE HELP ME! Step-by-step directions would be ideal. Alternatively, a pointer to a good “how to” video would be welcome.

The Backstory

I was sitting on my Coleman camp stool, looking down into a shallow stream channel where I spotted my first Sable Clubtail dragonfly earlier the same day. The dragonfly landed on vegetation near the top of the channel, perched almost vertically with the tip of his abdomen pointed toward the creek. The unusual position provided a good view view of the dragonfly’s face.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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