Windows For the Soul - Photography

Shooting between appointments

Most of the best opportunities I get to make use of my camera do not arise when I expect them to. Often times, I get the chance to take a little time off and go for a walk but I end up deleting every single picture I took and I return home with a blank SD card on my camera. A couple of weeks ago, I had been having a bit of a hard time trying to find one of these butterflies standing still before my lens long enough for me to photograph it and I always ended up watching them flying by in windy days or waltzing over the fields, not stopping long enough for me to get closer. Between two work-related appointments, I saw a couple of these on a roadside field flying between flowers. With a quick glance at my watch, I realised that I had 15 minutes to spare. I just grabbed my camera, already with the macro lens on, switched into my “all-road” shoes (I always keep them in the boot of my car) and off I went into the field to indulged with a 15 minute break following this beauty as it floated around from flower to flower. It was high noon, though, and the sun was burning hot. The light was harsh, the background wasn’t as pleasant as I would have liked it to be, so this meant using a larger aperture than the close distance would have recommended, just to through that background out of focus. With a little effort I managed to have just enough depth of field to keep the butterfly sharp (the Micro 105mm f/2.8 is truly superb), but from the settings one can tell just how harsh the light was. I managed to take a few of these and I was quite happy with the result. Shame, though, I still wasn’t able to take a single shot of it with its wings spread open. From what I have seen this kind of butterfly always keeps its wings closed together when it is not flying. This is just another exemple of the reason why I always get my gear out.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.6.

Jurassic Park

This poor fellow has seen better days. Although spring is here and the odd sunny spells allow some sunbathing, relentless showers and temperature drops give this lizard a hard time. He has been returning to this wall for the past few days whenever there is a sunny break between the rain. I do not know much about these animals but this one seems to be going through a rough time. It tolerates my presence just a few centimetres away for some time, as long as I do not make sudden movements. Of course, this means that I have some time to photograph it. It is not an easy task, though, as the extremely short distance means that my DOF is minimal, even if I use smaller apertures and I must bear in mind that it can decide to move any time.

On the first of these two shots, I thought that a lower angle, shooting from below the edge of the wall, would give it a strange look as if it was some giant creature. To do this, however, the lizard would be strongly backlit by the sun shining through the grey clouds. Using an off-camera diffused speedlight, powered down and flashing upwards, I could underexpose the lizard to avoid blowing up the highlights in the sky. The result could be a lot better, I know, but I was happy to be able to balance the manual flash with the ambient light, preserving the sky whilst correctly exposing the lizard.
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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/160, f/36, SB-28 off-camera, Triggers, diffuser.


On the second photo I struggled to achieve enough DOF to avoid having most of the lizard’s head out of focus. The extremely short distance forced me to use a smaller aperture but I wanted to keep the background totally out of focus, to avoid having the neighbours’ fence and the fields behind my house visible on the shot. This is the only angle that keeps the green background instead of having walls on the shot, but this aperture seems to have been enough for my purposes. I would have liked to have diffused the light a bit to avoid those highlights on the lizard’s side, but I feared that I could scare the lizard (he was rather more active at the time, hence the shutter speed a little higher) and I would have blocked the reflex of the sky on its eye. The aperture and speed settings meant that I had to bump up the ISO a little, but that is something that using the D600 I am quite comfortable with, even at higher ISO settings. Great camera and after about 2500 shutter releases there is still no debris on my sensor. Knock on wood....

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1250, 1/320, f/14.

Light-painting a butterfly

This butterfly was ready to spend the night on this brick on my backyard. The night was chilly with the occasional showers and things were not looking bright for the little creature. In daylight, the odds were that the butterfly would not hold still long enough for a decent shot, so I took this one-off opportunity to take a few shots, experimenting with the light and with different settings for different depths of field. I also tried a couple of focus-stacking shots, but the results were not pleasing due to the variability of light on each shot, because I was lighting the butterfly with a simple pocket maglight. On this one, I used a 6 sec. exposure and the pocket maglight to light paint the butterfly, circling it.
The brick is old and dirty, but it was the butterfly’s choice, not mine.
By the way, any spots on the Nikon D600’s sensor? Well, not on the pitch-dark night... but I keep my fingers crossed, just in case.

PS - No animals were hurt to take this shot Happy

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1600, 6.0 sec., f/45, light painted with a flashlight, Tripod.

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?

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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.

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Nikon D7000, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 1000, 1/100, f/7.1, 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...

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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.

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