Windows For the Soul - Photography

Butterfly season with different cameras

I know that we all see the photos first and only then, if ever, go on to reading the post. However, just this once, try to read first and check out the photos in the end because it’s quiz time.

Another year has passed, speeding into oblivion, and here comes butterfly season. I like shooting butterflies, but I like it more for the effort that I have to put into it than for the results. One could be led to believe that photographing butterflies is easy. I guess it probably is, but not around here. Even in the hottest summer days, mornings tend to be too cold until the sun is high in the sky, but as soon as the heat comes in so does the wind. For those who believe that shooting butterflies is easy, try doing it on a windy day. Yet, occasionally, I get lucky. I came across a seemingly uninteresting small meadow on a field, not too far from my house, that was populated with small butterflies of different species. On my way back home, I took 30 minutes off on a few different days. On two of those days, the wind called for increased shutter speed, but when the breeze was gentle the butterflies were not too active. This was also due, I imagine, to the fact that it was quite early in the morning and it was probably too cold for them. I had a chance to try different compositions and different settings; to work the DOF that can be a bit tricky with small creatures with such a peculiar shape; or to avoid the nasty backgrounds on a natural environment. As I said, it is more about the effort than about the result because, in the end, photos of butterflies seldom have anything interesting about them other than the creature itself. And when they do, more often than not I am left with the sensation that they have been “engineered” to obtain a perfect scenario, with ideal conditions.

Three different days, at roughly the same time of the day, with three different cameras (D600, D7100 and D700) and the same lens (Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G). When I am out looking for small creatures there are occasions when the crop factor of the DX camera is welcome. However, I do not fancy extreme macro shots, particularly when it comes to butterflies, as I rather prefer to include a glimpse of their environment. So, I tend to use the FX cameras for this sort of shot, unless the butterflies avoid my presence and I need increased reach. I have added the D700 to my kit bag only recently. I had been curious to give it a try for quite some time and finally I came across the opportunity to grab one. I am not disappointed. In fact, after only a couple of weeks using it, I end up picking it up most of the time. I just love its handling and I really like its results. For some reason, I can see myself using it more than the D600 (or the D7100, a great camera that, in the meantime, I have sold ) for portraits, landscape and whenever I want to capture a certain light or ambient. There is just something about it that I guess it has earned it its iconic status. To be honest, right now I can hardly keep my hands off the D700.

Ok, it’s quiz time: I know it is not easy, or it does not make much sense trying to compare them, because the subjects, the settings and the conditions are different but try to look at the three photos below without reading the settings caption and guess which photo was taken with the D700.

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Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 220, 1/2500, f/4.0, SB-28.

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Nikon D700, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/250, f/10, SB-28.

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Nikon D7100, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/200, f/11, SB-28.

It's Praying Mantis season

Every September it’s Mantis season in my backyard. These are little mean ugly creatures, one would think. However, once you start “hanging out” with them, you come to a point that you are always expecting them to break the silence and talk to you. That’s just how expressive they can be, at least to my eyes. Those big inquisitive eyes can have all sorts of expressions it would seem. Here are some examples and I will let you decide what each expression means.
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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/160, f/13.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/400, f/13.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 320, 1/400, f/14.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/640, f/8.

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.

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.

Snail on flower_7SC7573
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.

The Lady and the Papparazzo

There she was, one second she was moving around as if she was looking for someone, the next she stood still, as if she was waiting. Briefly, though, because she never stood still long enough to give the paparazzo (me) time to compose the shot properly. The light was natural, no strobes, reflectors or any other devices to compensate for the less than perfect light (in the shade, actually) of a late afternoon of the early spring. No macro lens, just my poor man’s Nikon 18-55 kit lens and no tripod to compensate for my usually rather shaky hands for low shutter speed. With a regular white plastic bag I improvised a reflector to slightly brighten up my subject. Disturbed by our presence (mine and the bag’s) the ladybug stopped and seemed to look over her shoulder as if she was saying something like “get lost, will you?!” Well, I know the result could be better, but it could also be worse... I hope.

Ladybug being harassed by a papparazzo

Nikon D90, Nikon 15-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @55mm, ISO 200, 1/60, f/5.6.