Saturday, December 22, 2012

PP - Example 3 - Applying a textured background

After watching some more of Gavin Hoey's short video tutorials, I was inspired by one he did at the beach using some pebbles to create a subject to photograph, and then put a texture around it in Photoshop.  This is my attempt to recreate his image.  He made it all seem so simple, but then again, I think he probably knows Photoshop a lot better than me  ;-)

Step one was to take a picture of something to be the main subject.  He built a little pile of pebbles and so I did the same.  Even my pile of pebbles was nowhere near as artistic as his.

Next, I looked around for some nice textures.  The area of beach near my work has some very fine sand, some tesselated rocks, and some coarser sand with bits of broken shell and so on, so I took several photos to try and get something I could use once I got back home to my computer.  You'll see I took some of weathered wooden posts and tree bark as well.  Here are a few samples... 

I decided on one of the coarser sand shots to use for my texture (the top middle one here, actually).  It was a quite arbitrary decision based on no prior knowledge or experience whatsoever.  It was just a 'pick one and run with it' decision. 

Now, according to Gavin's video, he suggests duplicating the texture layer so you have 2 copies, and then rotating one 180 degrees, and then playing with different blending modes and opacity to recombine them before merging them back into a single layer.  This helps even out any differences across the width or height of the texture image.  The shot below shows the result from my 2 layers in Photoshop, and the blend mode and opacity I used.

The next thing is to take the texture layer and add it to the pebble pile image.  Again, playing with opacity and blending modes provides an endless number of possibilities to experiment with, and you can even add adjustment layers to change the hue, saturation, contrast, etc. on the texture, as well as the original image.  Then, using a layer mask on the texture layer, use a large brush with 0% hardness (i.e. soft fuzzy edges), to 'erase' the centre of the texture layer and let the pebbles shine through.  The next shot shows how I combined the texture with the pebble picture, and used a mask to make a hole in the middle area of the texture.  I have left the texture a little more visible than in the finished picture, so that you can see the effect more easily.

I did a little more work on the original image to crop it, and adjust the lighting a little to reduce that harsh shadow under the lowest pebble, and also placed the whole finished image into an expanded white canvas with a drop-shadow - here is my finished article.  I hope you like it.  Who would guess that the texture was actually sand from the same place as the pebbles?
I probably didn't use the same blend modes as Gavin - mainly because I was doing it from memory after watching his video yesterday - but I was quite pleased with the overall result.  It just adds a little interest to an otherwise boring and blown out background, without detracting from the main point of the photo.

Click here to check out Gavin's version.

Well, as you can see, this was posted a little while after the Mayan's predicted 'end of the world as we know it', though I was putting it together as that moment came and passed (having already lived through 1984 and the Y2K bug, I was so worried about it, that I needed something to keep my mind busy). 

So, now that I can fairly confidently expect to be around for the foreseeable future, I'll take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a safe and happy new year.  Enjoy time away from work, with your loved ones, and your cameras - obviously.  I hope you all get the photographic pressies you asked Santa for (I gave him a BIG list... but I've been a very good boy so I should be on his 'nice' list).

I'll see you again in 2013 - until then, happy Christmas snappin'

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Inverse Square Law (part 2) - in plain English

Having had a few days to mull over the concepts I introduced in the last post, now - I want to explain the practical application of this principle.  In place of the first beer bottle, lets use a model and instead of the second bottle, we'll use the wall of my imaginary studio as a backdrop...

The back wall of my studio is 6 metres behind the model, and the model is 1 metre from the softbox.  If you note the exposure for the model, and then do the same for the back wall, you should find that there is a little bit over 5 stops difference between them.  So if you take the picture exposed for the model, the back wall will only be receiving about 1/36th of the light, and will look pretty dark.

Now- leave the light where it is (and the back wall - obviously... I don't want the roof to collapse), but move the model back, so that he/she is just 1 metre from the wall - and therefore 6 metres from the softbox.  NOTE - our distance multiple unit is now 6 metres, and therefore the wall is now only 1/6th of a unit behind the subject.  In our examples above, we lost 2 stops of light in the first movement of 1 distance unit, so we should lose considerably less than that in just 1/6th of a unit - maybe even less than half a stop.  This means that if you expose the picture perfectly for the model, the back wall will only be half a stop darker, rather than the 5 stops we saw before - hardly even noticeable.

Now a final experiment - bring the softbox back up close to the model again - to 1 metre.  You now have 1 metre from the light to the model and 1 metre from the model to the back wall.  So bringing the light that much closer - surely, it will make the wall brighter, won't it?  Let's see - adjust your exposure for the model and, uh-oh... the wall just got darker again!  Why?  Remember in our first experiment, we lost 2 stops of light when we moved the subject back 1 distance unit, and this should be exactly what we see here - the model will be perfectly exposed, and the wall will be 2 stops darker, as the wall is 1 distance unit behind the model.

And here are a few test shots I did, just to prove the theory...

So, the upshot of all this is 3 simple rules...

  • If you want your subject against a really dark background, have the light source close to the subject, and the subject far from the background.  
  • Alternatively, if you want the subject and background with similar exposure, then have them relatively close together, and the light source some distance away (maybe 5 to 10 times the distance between the subject and background).  
  • Finally, if you want the background just a little darker than the subject, then have the background a similar distance behind the subject as the light source is in front.  

Sounds simple when you say it like that - so simple in fact, maybe I'll start the post off with these rules.

Happy snappin'

PS - That's it, you can leave my studio and go back home now... dream's over, go on, go home!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Inverse Square Law (part 1) - in plain English

When it comes to flash photography, or studio lighting, you won't get very far before someone mentions the dreaded 'Inverse Square Law', and then starts quoting lighting ratios and f-stops of dropoff, and all sorts of frightening sounding stuff.  I must admit, I was full of trepidation when I first tried to understand it, and I was left with only a feeling of vague understanding, and lacking that 'eureka' feeling that I had completely grasped the concept.

It is a hard subject to describe without getting bogged down with all the technical details, but the concept itself is actually very easy to understand.  Once you get the concept clear in your mind, then attacking the technical side becomes a whole lot less scary.  So - that's what this post sets out to do - explain what it means in a practical sense, explain the concept, and finally explain (in simple terms) the technical bit with real examples.  I'll split it into two parts, so as not to fry your brain...

I'll start by stating the basic rules of application, and then explain why these work the way they do.

  • If you want your subject against a really dark background, have the light source close to the subject, and the subject far from the background.  
  • Alternatively, if you want the subject and background with similar exposure, then have them relatively close together, and the light source some distance away (maybe 5 to 10 times the distance between the subject and background).  
  • Finally, if you want the background just a little darker than the subject, then have the background a similar distance behind the subject as the light source is in front.

The rules above won't mean much to you until you either try them out and see them working, or read on to get an appreciation of how these results come about.

In order to help visualise this, try an experiment.  Get a light source of some kind - anything will do, a desk lamp, a torch, anything.  Now, in a darkened room, set your light source up next to a light coloured wall, pointing along the wall.  Step back and observe the brightness of the light falling on the wall at various distances from the light itself.  Close to the light, it will be very bright, but it will quite rapidly get less bright, and then less bright again, and again... Obviously, in real life, this is a gradient rather than 'steps', but to help understand the concept, let's break up this gradient up into four imaginary brightness areas - "really bright", "quite bright still", "getting darker", and "pretty dim".

OK - here is the important bit.  Let's measure the distance from the light that falls into the category of "really bright", and for argument's sake, say it is 30cm.  Now measure the distance from there to the end of the "quite bright still" area, and this might be 1 metre.  The length of the "getting darker" area might be 3.5 metres, and the "pretty dim" area might extend for another 8 metres.

Now - I just made these numbers up to illustrate a point - and that is that the rate at which the light fades is not constant.  It drops off very quickly at the start, and then less and less quickly.  The key thing to understand here is that if your subject is quite close to the source of light, somewhere in the "really bright" area, and you move it away from the light by 30cm, it will have a radical affect on the exposure, as the level of light is changing very quickly at this distance, and the subject will now only be in the "quite bright" area.  However, if your subject is 5 metres from the light, and you move it back by 30cm, it will have much less impact on the exposure, because the light level is changing much slower at this distance, and the subject will have been in the "pretty dim" area the whole time.

Let me just state that again - in fewer words this time, without the explanation.  A small change in the light to subject distance when close to the light source, will require a big difference in exposure.  The same change in distance when further away from the light source, will require only a small difference in exposure (if at all!)  Savvy?

Now that (I hope) you have begun to grasp the concept, let's give you some real figures so you can appreciate what it means to your camera settings, and start to understand the real life scenario.  But first of all, close your eyes, and drift into dream mode, and come on over to my studio, where I have a nice strobe in a big soft box set up for you, with Cactus V5 radio triggers, and you'll have a great camera in your hands (of course, that would be a Nikon D3000, wouldn't it?) Pssst - now, open your eyes again so you can carry on reading!!

So here in my studio, sitting 1 metre in front of the softbox, is your subject.  It could be a beautiful girl, a handsome guy, or a bottle of beer someone brought to Australia for you from England (hic!) - yes, let's go with that one.  You set up your camera to expose the bottle perfectly, and take the shot.

NB - From now on, all the distances we talk about will be in multiples of the distance from light to subject (which in this case, is nice and conveniently 1 metre).  I'll call these 'distance units', but remember, it is just the distance from the light source to the subject.

Now place another bottle of beer 1 distance unit (e.g. 1 metre) behind the first, and take another shot without changing any settings, and... whoa - where's my second beer gone!?  Being 1 distance unit further away, there is only 1/4 of the light reaching the second bottle - that is 2 stops of light lost over the first unit of distance.

Now let's move the second bottle back another distance unit, so it is now 3 distance units (3 metres) from the light.  At this distance, only 1/9th of the light is reaching the it.  Now the interesting thing is that although you doubled the distance, you have only lost a little over 1 stop of light this time.

Another metre (or distance unit) back, and now just 1/16th of the light is reaching the second bottle, but this unit cost you even less than one stop of light.

From here on, the loss of light is becoming more and more negligible.  You can now go another FOUR distance units, and only lose 2 stops of light.  Remember - you previously lost 2 stops of light just in that first unit!

Hopefully, you are getting the idea...?  Good.  Now, take a break, and come back in a few days for part two (when I've had a chance to create a few more graphics).


Friday, November 16, 2012

PP - Example 2 : Twice the taste

Over the last few days, I've been looking into retouching and have learned a few new techniques, and also noted that even the pros can spend an hour or more, tweaking an image to perfection.  So I gave my beer bottle another go.  Here are the results - original on the left and tweaked on the right.

First of all,I took two pictures - one with the main label lined up, and then a second with the neck label lined up.  The first job was to cut and paste the neck off one to the body of the other.  This went quite easily, with only a minimum of healing brush and cloning required to disguise the join where water drops were suddenly cut in half.  I think that just having the labels aligned makes a huge difference!

After merging these two into a single layer, I then used a mask to mask the bottle and reflection, while I painted the background white, discarded it as too clinical, and then applied a uniform gradient of a very pale blue (could have been a bit stronger in retrospect).  I then masked everything but the reflection part, and applied a white gradient to tone it down a bit.

The final step was to do some light sculpting.  This involves adding a new layer at the top, switching it to overlay mode, and filling it with 50% neutral gray.  Because it is 50% neutral and in overlay mode - this has no visual affect on the image.  However, if you then paint on it with either a black or white brush, it has the effect of darkening or lightening the image. So, I masked off everything except the bottle, and then I used a very soft large brush at about 5-10% opacity with white, to run up and down the middle of the labels and eliminate that mid-line shadow, then with black down the right hand side to tone down that flash highlight.  The image to the right shows what that gray layer looked like if I took away the actual image, so you can see the areas that were darkened or lightened.

OK- the difference I made was nowhere near as pronounced as those of the pros doing the demos I watched, but I was quite pleased with it as a first effort.

Until next time
Happy Snappin',

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A little taste of home

A family friend who has just been back to the UK for a visit, brought back a bottle of Spitfire for my son, so I figured I'd hijack it before he could drink it, and use it as a subject to practice my lighting on. This was the result of my first attempt - I can see some areas for improvement, so I'll have another go at it if I can persuade him not to drink it first...

I want to try and find some software that will allow me to do some setup diagrams - until then, I'll just have to try and describe the setup for you - but I've included a photo of it below.

The whole setup was done in the kitchen on the worktop, with a very DIY studio.  First off, I draped a white cloth across the worktop, with enough hanging off the back to form a backdrop.  Then I placed a sheet of glass (rescued from a broken scanner) on the cloth to provide a reflection.  I propped up a breadboard at the back and draped the rest of the white cloth over it as a backdrop.  I had the camera on the tripod level with the label on the bottle, giving a nice low angle so the rear edge of the glass wouldn't show.

For lighting, I used a speedlight off-camera with a radio trigger.  This was placed to the right of the camera, slightly in front of the bottle, to provide a bit of a highlight, but pointing past the bottle and onto the backdrop.  I used the omnibounce and flash spread set to 14mm to get an even spread across the backdrop which was less than 1m away.  The flash was set to 1/16th power.

I set the camera to 1/160th and f/5.6 in manual mode, and using my 18-55 lens, zoomed in to catch some space above the bottle, and an equivalent amount of the reflection below.  I took a test shot without the flash to make sure I had eliminated any ambient light, so that the only light in the picture would be from the flash - mainly being reflected back from the backdrop.  Unfortunately, being lit from behind, this put the front label in shade, so I used a sheet of white paper as a reflector right next to the camera lens on the left, to reflect some of that light from the background onto the label and illuminate the front of the bottle.

Of course, the most important detail was to leave the beer in the fridge for a few hours, to ensure I had some nice condensation on the bottle (though this could have been added at the end using a water spray), and that it was nice and cold when I drank it (oops, sorry son!).

Here's the setup picture...

So - I mentioned I felt there was room for improvement...

  • The background is extremely white on the right, but has a slight blue cast top left as the light started to drop off - I'm wondering if I could exaggerate that a bit,by using a snoot or some other modifier to restrict the light from the flash, or zoom it in to 105mm rather than a wide 14mm spread, and have a more dramatic graduated background.  My son suggested having a Union Flag instead of plain white.
  • The highlight on the right hand side is a little too bright, but taking the flash down a stop made the whole image too dark.  Perhaps a diffuser between the flash and the bottle would have helped.
  • There is still a darker area right the way down the middle of the labels - especially noticeable on the Spitfire outline on the neck label.  Perhaps a bigger/better reflector would have put more light on the front.
  • The neck label is not quite in line with the main label. I may be able to rectify this by taking a second shot after rotating the bottle slightly so the neck label is lined up with the camera,and then combining the two shots in Photoshop (10,000 miles is a long way to go to buy another bottle which IS lined up).
Let me know what you think, and if you have any ideas how to improve it.
Happy Snappin'

Monday, November 5, 2012

On display

I am really chuffed to announce that I now have two of my photos on permanent display at a small private gallery, in Swindon in England.  OK - perhaps I've glammed it up a bit...  by small private gallery, I mean someone's house, but they did specifically ask for two of my pictures that they 'fell in love with'.

They are my wife's brother's wife's parents, and they came out to Australia at the end of last year to visit various family.  They had seen one of my photos on facebook, as Karen had it as her homepage picture (in fact it is one of the early morning misty tree shots you can see in the 'Dabbling at dawn' post), and they asked if they could have a print of it to take home with them.  Of course, how could I turn down such a boost to my ego, so I had a 12x8 print made for them which I gave them on their last day here.

Earlier this year, we went to Tasmania for a few days, and while there, I took a shot of the moon reflecting across the bay where we were staying.  Ironically, Karen decided to use that as her facebook cover for a while, and once again, they saw it and commented about it - saying how they'd like a copy.  So, as we were travelling back to the UK for a visit in August, I had a 12x8 copy made for them as a surprise, and took it over.  We went to their house for a meal one evening, and I must say how proud I felt to see the misty tree picture hanging on their wall.  It would be great to go back and see them both up.

So, though I still haven't actually 'sold' a photo to a stranger, it's a step in the right direction (perhaps I should have left some business cards with them, and made them my UK agents?)

Happy Snappin'

Bad Blogger!

Oh dear - it's like going to the dentist... the longer you leave it, the harder it is to face up to how long it's been since the last check-up, and you just know it's gonna hurt!  Yes, another 7 months has passed without a single post... I am not going to even try to bore you with excuses, so just accept my apologies, and let's just jump straight in.

First, a brief potted history of the last few months... I've been to Malolo Island (Fiji) again earlier this year - it is such a great place to relax that it is turning into an annual pilgrimage for us - I'd love to take my camera scuba diving with me - but that's a whole bunch of expense that I think I'll pass on.  This year, we flew in a seaplane from the main island out to Malolo itself, giving me a brief chance to do some aerial photography.  Then we traveled to the UK for a couple of weeks, via Paris for a couple of days on the way there, and Abu Dhabi for a couple of days on the way back.  Paris was a great place to stop and I got some nice photos there (Eiffel Tower, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and uhm... Eiffel Tower), but the UK was all about visiting the rellies, and opportunities for photography did not really abound.  There were some stunning buildings in Abu Dhabi, but it was so hot, most of my pictures were taken from within the air conditioned comfort of a dust covered Land Cruiser!

Our zoo membership expired, and when we didn't renew it straight away, the zoo offered us an extra 3 months for free - BONUS!!  So we've just renewed it again, and I'm looking forward to many more visits (he he - watch out for loads more Meerkat pictures :-] )  We never managed to get out to the Western Plains Zoo (that's the other zoo that is covered by our membership, but it's a good 8 hour drive away) during our last membership period, but maybe we can get there this time.

I've discovered a nice little area of bush/woodland near where I work, that has opened up more lunchtime opportunities for wildlife photography, especially birds, though it has also enlightened me as to some of the hazards of wildlife photography - even in a seemingly innocuous area of woodland just 200m from my office - like being dive-bombed by angry nesting magpies, bitten by giant mosquitoes, being on constant watch for deadly snakes and spiders, and finally, taking home a blood-sucking passenger or two...  It's all in a day's work ;-)

I've tried my hand at photographing the rugby out in the park near me during the winter months, and also tried to get some shots of my niece doing her gymnastics and physie competitions (in poorly lit sports halls, with no flash allowed...)  Neither of these attempts were particularly successful, but I'll maybe post some of the pictures and discuss the difficulties later.

I feel like I've reached a decision point in photography - I do enjoy photographing anything and everything, but feel like I'm just drifting and not really advancing my skills in any particular direction.  I'm a 'Jack of all trades, but master of none...', so it's time to choose a 'specialist subject' as they used to say on Mastermind ("I've started, so I'll finish.").  While I'd really love to do sports photography, I recognise that the pre-requisite of spending $1000+ on a nice bit of glass is somewhat prohibitive, and I have decided instead to learn more about lighting, and using it for product and portrait photography, which I can do on a small scale far more cost-effectively with a 'budget' DIY home studio setup.  Developing the lighting skills on inanimate objects (while hard enough) will be the easy part - developing the skills to direct people is the bit I dread but really want to be able to do...

I already have my daughter's SB-800 on long-term loan (thank you for never asking - but I'll give it back one day, I promise) and a Cactus V5 Duo radio trigger set, and I've purchased a cheap set of 2x500W workshop lights for some constant lighting.  I'm hoping to supplement this with another (cheaper) speedlight, some proper light stands, etc., as well as building myself a backdrop holder, and makeshift supports for reflectors and so on ("Stick-in-a-can" type, a la Jim Talkington).  Eventually, I can invest in one or two actual studio strobes perhaps, after I build up a selection of stands and modifiers (and learn how to use the speedlights effectively)...  I bought myself some white and black material for backdrops, and some white and black sheets of card for making reflectors this weekend, and am waiting to lay my hands on some empty paint cans - lucky one of my sons is a painter.

OK - enough for now, and lunchtime is over so I'd better get on with some work.   I'll be back with some actual photos in the next couple of days (or 7 months...)

Happy Snappin'

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A day at the zoo

Karen & I took a year's membership of Taronga Zoo last year, and we are about 8 or 9 months into it now.  Yesterday, we went and visited for probably the 4th or 5th time. It is so much nicer to be able to take your time walking around and actually observing the animals for a while, knowing that you can come back and see a different part of the zoo next time, rather than rushing around trying to do the whole zoo in one visit...  If you are interested in photographing animals, and have a zoo within a reasonable travel distance, this is something you may want to look into.  I've found it has presented me with some great opportunities (and I've fallen in love with the meerkats).

At Taronga, the meerkats have a great enclosure with lots of sand to dig in and tree stumps to climb around, and the whole thing is sunk about a metre below the observing crowd.  However, the wall must warm up in the sunshine, and one of their favourite places to be, is sitting up against the wall, right underneath those people watching.  Often people will come and look out into the enclosure and not see any meerkats, totally unaware, that they are quite literally under their noses.  With my 55-200, I can get some quite close shots, and the SB-800 flash is powerful enough to give some fill and lessen the harsh sunlight.

Taronga have had quite a few baby elephants recently, and I think there are currently 3 or 4 youngsters.  Here are a mother and her youngster, that I was lucky enough to get a clear shot of.  Because of the youngsters, this part of the zoo is always busy, and their enclosure is quite big, so the 200mm stretch of my lens isn't always good enough to reach the elephants, but today, I got lucky.

It was quite a bright sunny day,and I was having a lot of problems with lighting, as I often found myself either shooting into the sun and getting over-exposed shots with haze and flare, or shooting from the sun into deep shade, and getting very dark images.  To try and counter this,I was playing around with my settings a lot, and this compounded my woes, when I would forget to set things back again, and miss a shot :(  I lost count of the number of times this happened to me, and the shots I ended up having to discard when I got home and looked at them on the screen.

The chimpanzees have just got a new makeover in their enclosure, which again, is so big that I have to rely on cropping even my 200mm pictures, when the chimps are at the far side or up in some of the huge climbing frames they have.  In this shot, One of them was demonstrating a feature I hadn't noticed before, and also their grasp of technology, while a younger chimp looked on.  Inside the 'rock' is some form of food - I don't know if it was insects, or juice, or what, but the older chimp had a stick that he was pushing through a hole in the rock (you can see it just above his left wrist), down into whatever the food was, then pulling it out and eating it off the end of the stick.  The youngster sitting on top of the rock had an apple in his hand, and I could just imagine him saying "That's a lot of hard work for very little of a mouthful each time - here, have an apple - it's much easier..."

 The giraffes have a great spot, looking right out across the harbour to the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, and this can make a spectacular backdrop, but I prefer to try and eliminate anything man-made in the photos, so that the animals are portrayed in a natural setting - well, when I can, anyway.

Obviously, it isn't always possible.  In particular, I have been repeatedly frustrated trying to get good shots of the tigers and their cubs.  Firstly, it is always so busy; then there is the fact that you have to shoot through glass, which is far from clean, and quite severely scratched in places; and finally, the enclosure is quite shady, so the few shots I have got, have ended up blurred due to low shutter speed.  Their outclosure (it is the people that are enclosed in a little glass bubble) is also dominated by a large, very obviously man-made raised platform that the tigers love to lay on, so there is little chance of a 'natural' look.  How I would love the chance to get a clear shot either without the glass, or with time and space to figure out a way to shoot through the glass.  Anyway, back to the giraffes - in this shot, I liked the contrast of the colouring against the dark green background.  Wish I could have cropped the fence out a bit better though.

Finally, what trip to an Australian zoo would be complete without seeing a koala.  The enclosure at Taronga has a circular walkway that rises up from ground level through the trees, to an observation deck at the height of the sleeping koalas.  It offers an otherwise impossible view of koalas that you just couldn't get in the wild, as you would always be looking up into the tree from the ground.  It is a very privileged view of their habitat you get at Taronga.

So what valuable lessons did I learn at Taronga?  Take a lens hood - that's the first thing.  It makes shooting into the sun a lot easier, by cutting down haze and flare.  If you are moving away from auto settings and starting to use aperture or shutter priority, or even full manual - then you must remember to re-check your settings each time you move from one location to another.  Circumstances that are correct for one situation - like selecting f/22 in a sunny area, will fail miserably in another area - such as a shady area, because you'll suddenly find that you are taking pictures at 1/4 second with a 200mm focal length (not a good combination - no matter how steady your hands are).  Finally, choose your viewpoint carefully, to try and get more natural looking shots where you can - but accept that it isn't always possible.

Till next time - happy snappin'

Friday, March 23, 2012

Long time, no see... (again)

It's been a while since my last post - quite a long while!  Apologies all.
So what's been happening in my world..? Well, photographically speaking, I got a set of extension tubes at Christmas, and so for the last couple of months, I've been playing a bit with macro shots.  Here're a few of my more successful shots...

This dragonfly was buzzing around the pond in our garden, but to get this shot, I was standing with one foot each side of the pond, which was a little wider than comfortable :-o
I got a few more 'classic' shots, but quite liked the angle of this one looking up from below the leaf it was settled on.

I went down to the beach one lunchtime, in search of macro subjects for a change, instead of the usual surfers and seabirds (I've also found there is a pair of Kestrels that have adopted the area too - more on that in another post).  After 40 minutes of finding nothing except crabs that hid in the rocks as soon as I approached, I had given up and was heading back to the car, when I found this little fella who was brave enough to let me get within a couple of feet and take some shots.

The main thing I have found about macro work, is that doing it handheld with moving subjects is ******ng difficult!!  The working focus range is severely restricted and depth of field similarly constrained.  If you have a static subject, and a tripod, it's not so bad because you can fiddle and adjust to your heart's content - but nature doesn't respect a photographer's need for setup time, and creatures also get very edgy when you try and too close to them - so I ended up with lot's of empty shots and out of focus ones too.

Here's one I tried as an experiment, of a static subject one evening.  Those little turquoise thingies are only about 2mm long.

I haven't really figured out exactly what combinations of the three rings and my two zoom lenses at various focal lengths does, yet.  But what I have found is that the zoom from 18-55mm makes surprisingly little difference on the 'zoom' and acts more like a focus field shift instead.

The tubes I have are Kenko, and are specifically for the Nikon (they do them for Canon and probably other makes as well). I like the fact that they have all the electrical connections that allow auto-focus, and all other functionality of the lens to be used.  A set of tubes can be picked up a lot cheaper than a macro lens, and can be used with all your existing lenses to provide a lot of combinations to experiment with.  If you are thinking about having a 'play' in the macro world, these would make a very good starter for a reasonably small investment.  The good thing about them is that they have no glass elements, so there is no loss of quality - just an additional stop or two of light loss due to the increased distance between lens and sensor.  All the photos I've tried so far were with the middle of the three tubes, which are 12, 20 and 36mm respectively.

So to summarize the technical considerations of macro photography with extension tubes...
 - the focal range is severely shortened
 - the depth of focus is also extremely shallow
 - for any given aperture on the lens, the increased distance to the sensor will lose you a stop or two
 - the minimum focus distance of the lens is brought far closer to the front element of the lens
 - (in fact with some combinations, the minimum focus is actually within the lens! I have one picture of
     specks of dust actually on the lens, perfectly in focus...)
 - the close minimum focus means that the subject is sometimes in the shadow of the lens - you need
     to be careful about lighting conditions, and it is why pros use a ring flash for macro work

 - all these elements combine to make hand-held photography a 'challenge' unless you have great light

That said - it's certainly a challenge I am enjoying, and when you get a single great result, it makes it all worth while.

Until the next time (I promise it won't be 6 months this time)
Happy Snappin'