Windows For the Soul - Photography

Focus stacking a grasshopper

On my last post I described my ordeal trying to do a focus stacking shot of a snail. That attempt ended up with the photographer throwing in the sponge and settling for a single focus point shot. A couple of days later, I met this grasshopper lazying in the sun, on a white towel that was on my balcony. I grabbed my camera and tripod and prepared to try to take a few shots to make a focus stack of its ugly mug. Given the fact that the grasshopper was so exposed and vulnerable and with a fresh memory of my bout (so to speak) with the snail a few days before, I was expecting it to be nervous with my presence rendering my attempt to focus stack the little creature a failure. To my surprise, it was quite tolerant to my presence. It kept that sort of stare-down that anticipates a clash between two UFC fighters but it did not flee the set. Indifferent to its stare down (with those funny goggles it is hard to be taken seriously) I managed to take quite a few photos and to try a couple of different compositions, choosing a lower perspective to avoid part of the background, leaving only a strip of green and sky. Despite the fact that I managed to take 10 photos from the same perspective but with different focus points, I ended up using only 3 photos for the stacking. This choice was due to the fact that, although I had quite a few different focus points, there were some out-of-focus spots within the focused area, mainly in the foreground, that were quite distracting and spoiled the effect. Therefore, I chose to focus only the grasshopper but to cover as much of it as possible. When I was just about to take a few more shots, but trying to diffuse the harsh direct sun light with a white t-shirt (the first diffusor I could grab), the grasshopper got fed up with my attention and flew away. What is the outcome of this rendezvous? A focus stacking photo of a grasshopper and the conclusion that it is easier to do a focus stacking of a grasshopper than of a snail. Who would have thought that?

Grasshopper_peeking_7SC_5973
Nikon D7000, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 250, 1/400, f/9.0, (-1/3 EV), focus stacking of 3 shots, Tripod.

Focus stacking a snail: how hard can that be?

I was hoping to have the little crawler’s cooperation for this shot. It was meant to be a macro shot using focus stacking. The day before I had found an equally tiny one that was quite still on a flower, probably eating. It was still but only until I gave it a couple of speedlight flashes and it started moving. So much for the focus stacking... This time round, I decided not to use the speedlight, lest the little guy went berserk like the one the day before. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, though. It was a rather cloudy morning, with the odd rain showers and too much wind for proper nature macro photography. With the flower pot on a cosier corner of the backyard, there was a little less wind, so there was some hope that I could focus properly. Unfortunately, the little snail had a plan of its own and decided that it was time to move.
Definitely, this is not the best subject for focus stacking. Forgetting the focus stacking I would just settle for a normal close-up but whoever says that these guys move slowly has never tried to photograph them on the move, in poor light. There were a couple of conditions to juggle besides the poor light: a nasty wall behind the flower pot that I wanted totally blurred and to avoid as much as possible as a background; some ugly damaged leaves on the plant that needed to be dealt with; the speed had to be such that I could keep the focus on the moving snail with the flimsy depth of field I had; the aperture could not be too wide or I would have no depth of field at all; I had to crank up the ISO to be able to have enough shutter speed whilst having just enough depth of field but also enough blur. The Nikon D7000 can deal with ISO as high as1000/1250 without significant noise and with ISO1000 I managed to cope with the conditions I had. The hardest part was chasing such a restless little thing around the flower with the camera stuck on the tripod.

Snail on flower_7SC7573
Nikon D7000, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1000, 1/100, f/7.1, Tripod.

The waiting

Apart from photographing my own family, I am not really into portrait photography. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I suppose portrait photography is not for everybody. Some people feel uncomfortable when they are being photographed and I would dare say that most of us do. But then there are those who feel uncomfortable when they are photographing others. Yes, that’s me, go figure... Anyway, this is just another example that if I always have my camera with me I avoid regretting leaving it home and the common excuse to sell one’s gear: lack of use.
I had just had my sunday lunch and was messing around with the camera as usual, when I saw this photograph in my mind, and I saw it in black & white, of an old man staring at the TV set in standby mode... and I don’t mean the TV. Petrified enough for me to be able to take the shot at a low speed, hand-held ... well, not really hand-held, because I laid the camera on the table. Personally, but maybe it’s just me, I look at this photo and a word comes to mind: respect. Is that not what we feel when we see photos of old people? And when we see photos of children, don’t we all see innocence? And so many other stereotypes. Maybe this is why I have some mixed feelings for portrait photography: it usually only captures the person’s good side. Who knows what wickedness hides behind a face?... Still, I will not be posting this in the “No excuses” category, but rather start a new category for my posts: “Us” and who knows... maybe I will come up with a portrait once in a while.

The waiting_DSC_0866
Nikon D90, Nikon 55-200mm f/4.0-5.6 @165mm, ISO 400, 1/3, f/8.0.

A photographer's dull life or creative jealousy?

A post by John Schell (Turning Around That Creative Jealousy) on stoppers.com brought me back to the subject on a previous post. Basically, the question could be summarised as something like “why does my work stink?” I imagine that many of those who love photography but are only newbies or even enthusiasts often look at their shots and think: “Sh**! What happened to the photo I thought I had taken? What have I done?” And things get worse when we look at the work of others and realize how poor our portfolio is. Sometimes I get quite blown away with some photos I see on the web. The jealousy meter would not reach the red line if all those shot were taken by real pros, with real pro gear, in dream-only scenarios and stuff like that. The problem is that often enough those jaw-dropping shots are taken by amateurs, with amateur gear, in everyday scenarios. How can one live with the quality of one’s work? How can one not give up in hopeless frustration? Too often we can find people selling their gear for confessed lack of use. I wonder if this is not a sign of forfeiting to creative jealousy.
Creative Jealousy, as John Schell called it on his post, must not lead to forfeiting one’s dream of being able to capture his vision of the world through photography. This jealousy must be accepted as natural. Recognising it is, indeed, liberating. If you don't feel it at all, you are probably wrongly convinced that what you do is great and you face the risk you being ridiculous. Just go through all the profiles on Flickr and such and when you find people looking for meaningless compliments you will see a lot of that. However, just feeling that Jealousy but failing to recognise it may lead you to hide what you do, not daring to expose yourself to honest criticism. Once you acknowledge the true (small) size of your work, you accept what you are and become much more open to get slammed in the face with criticism. Of course, much can be justified with differences in gear, in subjects, places, opportunities, time available, etc., but when deep down you accept that what you do is just so-so, you are truly ready to start learning. Acknowledging that most of what goes wrong in my photos is my own doing is the only way to improve. Understanding what went wrong is a condition for you to go back, to take my time, not to rush, to correct your settings and try to do it properly. Many times, though, it is not possible, either because that dawn is gone, the bird has flown or the skills are just too short. Even when this is the case, there is surely a learning outcome.
The work of others is more and more cause for admiration rather than true jealousy. The more I struggle to get results that I can be happy with, the more I admire the work of others but also the more I understand how often there is so much post processing into some photos, sometimes way too much. In the end, what really matters is how I feel about my photos, more than what others do, as long as I keep my feet on the ground...

Autumn sunset_7SC_2308
Nikon D7000, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ISO 400, 1/40, f/8, Tripod.

For the missus

After a heavy shower, the wife’s camellia seemed to be a good excuse to make use of the macro lens. Unfortunately, the vase is in a rather messy corner of the garden and all the dirt left by the non-stop rainy days would have spoilt the photo. In broad daylight it was just too much dirt around for me to able to conceal it in the shot. Under-exposing the shot to kill ambient light, the hardest part was trying to juggle the speedlight’s power to have just enough light on the flower whilst keeping the close-by background dark and not having nasty highlights on the camellia and on the water drops. I wanted just enough depth of field to have as much of the flower as possible in focus and the tripod helped to hold the camera and the focus steady, as I had to bend over in a rather awkward position. If I had framed it in such a way as to included a bit more of the flower on the right-hand side of the shot, I would have had to include a damaged leaf and, of course, damaging the missus’ plant by cutting out the damaged leaf was not an option...

Camellia_7SC6249
Nikon D7000, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/13, f/29, Tripod, SB-28 off-camera.

A helping hand

I left home committed to get the shot properly, this time. I had been there the day before, on my way to picking up the little one from school at lunch hour, but because of the strong sun and the fact that I was without my hood loupe I could not check the result properly on the spot. When I got in front of my computer, I wasn’t quite happy with the outcome. So, there I was again, at the same daisy covered field, but this time I went there early in the morning, just after I dropped the offspring at school. Tough luck...it was a rainy morning. I had to go back to work but I did not want the few minutes of the detour to go to waste. So, like I said, I was committed to getting “the” shot, but I would settle for “a” shot.

Nature has this way of giving us a motive when we least expect. In front of me I had nothing but a field of “sleeping” soaked flowers, but the light was soft, the grass was green and with a little help from nature I found a reason to kneel down. In a whole field there was this one little daisy that decided I needed a help.

Single open daisy_7SC6821
Nikon D7000, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 800, 1/200, f/6.3.