Windows For the Soul - Photography

Nikon Micro 105mm f2.8

Looking back at a summer of odonatas photographed with different setups

This year, we had an odd summer around here. It seems to have been short on butterflies, with a particularly short number of zebra butterfly (Iphiclides feisthamelii) sightings and without a single monarch butterfly (danaus plexippus) to report. I believe that these last ones are quite uncommon on these latitudes, but I was starting to get used to seeing at least one every year. I do suppose that there is some sort of explanation for this, but I must confess I find it quite puzzling and a sign that I must try to learn more about these wonderful creatures. In September, unlike in previous years, I only saw a single praying mantis. On the other hand, this seems to have been a good year for Odonata - dragonflies and damselflies. Throughout the summer, I had plenty of opportunities to photograph these peculiar flying warriors and, as I have also made some buying and selling of gear in this period, I had the opportunity to shoot these creatures using different gear setups.

This is the first of two posts with dragonflies and damselflies as subjects. In this first one, I will look at a few photos captured with different lenses and cameras; on the second one, I will be posting some shots taken with an old 20€ crappy lens, the Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (the 8 blade version).

In this first set of photos different lenses were used with two cameras. In the first pair of shots the Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G was used with two different cameras: the D600 and the D700. I suppose that there is no argument as to which camera is the most capable of the two, as far as image quality is concerned. However, I really fancy the way that the D700 renders colours and I often tend to grab it first as my go to camera for every occasion just due to how much I like its handling.

Manually focusing this first backlit damselfly through the grass was a tricky task. Blurring the leaves in the foreground added this sort of dreamy look to the photo but called for manual focusing with the Micro 105mm.
_MP21594
Nikon D700, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 320, 1/160, f/4.

_MP19690
Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 1400, 1/3200, f/8.


For a different photo of the same dragonfly I used a manual focus Nikon 200mm f/4 AI-S, with a 20mm Kenko extension tube, on the D700. In the first shot I was expecting the dragonfly to move, hence the high shutter speed and, consequently, the cranked up ISO. This second photo was taken from the opposite side
_MP22270
Nikon D700, Nikon 200mm f/4 AI, ISO 400, 1/640, f/8, w/ extension tube.

The next set of photos demonstrate how a slight difference in the perspective can radically change the outcome. In the first shot, again with the Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G on the D600, shooting a slightly backlit dragonfly from a lower stance, exposing for the sky and with a higher f-stop number to ensure some depth-of-field produced a photo that captures just enough of the creature's environment whilst maintaining the focus on the odonata.
_MP19870
Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/11.

The next three photos also highlight the relevance of perspective by changing it whilst maintaining the subject and the pair camera/lens used. Changing the perspective achieves rather different photos of the same subject.
_MP19877
Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/1400, f/4.5.

_MP19883
Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/400, f/5.

_MP19884
Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 100, 1/400, f/5.

This combination of the D600 and the Micro 105mm is one of my favourite setups when I want to capture detail and strong colours on a photo. Furthermore, it is a very reliable combination in the sense that, given suitable conditions, it delivers consistent results with several photos that are hard to choose from. More often than not, though, I end up focusing manually by pre-focusing and adjusting my distance to the subject. As the lens tends to be a bit "nervous", on a windy day one can easily lose the focus on the odonata swinging in the wind and end up focusing on the background. Manually focusing is a way to avoid the nerve wrecking slow focus speed of the lens all the way from the distant background back to the creature. This amazing odonata below, however, was extremely cooperative, probably due to the fact that it was quite late in the day, already into the so-called golden hour, and there was hardly any wind.
_MP10395
Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 400, 1/500, f/4.

Finally, two more photos, shot using two lenses that one would not immediately think of for this type of photography. Like I said, sometimes, when the settings do not vary much, when the objects available are far from being out of the ordinary, the challenge is in trying to make the best of what one gets and in doing it by experimenting with the gear available. In the first shot, a rather boring "portrait" of a dragonfly, I tried to take advantage of the shadows and the highlights on the foliage in the background to achieve a dreamy effect.
_MP10441
Nikon D600, Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G, ISO 560, 1/3000, f/6.7, w/ extension tube.

I have been using a Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D IF-ED a lot, lately, and I really like this lens. It has become my go to lens for those shots when there is some distance to the subject and a fast focusing lens is needed, such as nature photography (bird photography, basically) and pet action photography. However, it has also proved to be useful for smaller creatures whenever I intend to capture some of the environment surrounding the creature, as it was the case in this final photo of this post. Soon, I will be posting my some of my attempts to photograph dragonflies with a Helios 44M 58mm f/2 M42 (8 Blade version), an ancient lens that costed me less than a light meal.
_MP23708
Nikon D700, Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4D IF-ED, ISO 1400, 1/1250, f/6.3.

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.

_MP18832
Nikon D600, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 220, 1/2500, f/4.0, SB-28.

_MP21244
Nikon D700, Nikon Micro AF-S 105mm f/2.8 G, ISO 200, 1/250, f/10, SB-28.

_MP25316
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.
_MAP8665
Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/160, f/13.

_MAP8436
Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/400, f/13.

_MAP7445
Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 320, 1/400, f/14.

_MAP8467
Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/640, f/8.