Friday 26 February 2021

Plant and Fungi POTY, SWPP

 Tonight I was awarded Plant and Fungi photographer of the year 2020, from the SWPP, with this being the winning image. Im over the moon.

It was actually a lot of work getting this shot, travelling into woods on a mobility scooter, it was a nightmare getting to the spot. I took a mat to lie down on and LED light panels which I had to prop up using various sticks due to the lay of the land surrounding it. It was a battle to stop glare on the cap, being a slimy mushroom ( a Blue roundhead) , despite using a polarising filter to help. I ad to clean the mushroom stem with a tiny soft brush to remove specks of dirt, and remove distracting leaves and vegetation from surrounding area. I set up using a mini tripod with ballhead, but it was still difficult getting in the right position due to a .slope and the fact that the tripod is fixed size. I used my Sony A7ii plus a Sigma 150 macro lens and adapter. I had to manually focus using peak focusing as it was dark in the woods. I used ISO 50 to keep noise to a minimum, F10 to get the whole mushroom in focus yet still get bokeh from trees and shutter of 1/13 sec - utilising a shutter release cable to avoid any movement. I had one LED balanced but had to hold a second in place due to awkward location.

Here are other images taken at the same session.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Lockdown photography part 5 - In camera Double exposures

 I have been keen on trying double exposures or multiple exposures in camera for a while, but did not have the option on my camera. I recently discovered that there is a downloadable app for my camera (Sony A7ii)) from Sonys website Play Memories that allows double exposures in camera, so promptly downloaded it at a small cost of £3.99.

I was feeling quite excited at using this option because it would allow me to pull together two aspects that I love in one image - firstly getting my main macro subject mostly in focus ( By shooting at F11-18 and using good lighting) whilst adding the soap bubble bokeh ( from a Meyer Gorlitze primoplan lens) which is best achieved wide open at F1.9 with backlighting. The weather outside was murky, dull lighting with winds that would move my subject so I opted to attempt setting up on my dining table rather than in the garden.

 There were several obstacles including having to create my own backgrounds, naturalish look, backlighting to produce the bokeh that I love from the Primoplan lens, then getting the two images to work well together. Plus working at macro photography meant having to be very precise. Then I got silly and decided to photograph a moving subject - my Orchid mantids on tiny spring flowers - giving myself an extra challenge - but then I do love a challenge and both mantids appeared content to explore or preen themselves. I like the option of using current spring blooms for this project with snowdrops, crocuses, mini daffodils and Grape Hyacinths all in bloom this last few weeks.

 The image below has a very light bokeh and I found this was the result with many of my images - using the "screen" mode.

 I did try a few options - using two Primoplan images, or combining one with either a 90mm macro lens shot or a Sigma 150mm macro capture. I was constantly forgetting to change my settings ( switch off flash between images and alter aperture as I was having a major brain fog day  - but kept trying. It was also a good exercise in learning what distances are best in producing the specific bokeh from the Primoplan lens - often it is difficult to find the correct distances in that single image - so you can see why I was keen on double exposures to produce what I wanted.

 The image below was from two Primoplan exposures, one of the snowdrop alone then another of some out of focus Hyacinths covered in water droplets, plus a few more images taken using this method.

I could not resist trying this out with my Red eyed tree frogs using one of my latest backgrounds in red, plus a red flower captured with studio lights at F14 using a Sony 90mm macro lens, with the second image being of the flower covered in water drops photographed with the primoplan lens and macro extension tubes, using led back lighting. 

 The double exposure app has a few different features which I still need to experiment with such as the mirror option used below on my partner whilst he was eating breakfast :D - ( sorry not sorry lol) 

Then there is the soft focus choice which I have yet to try, plus  the reflection and the silhouette possibilities. There is a manual alternative where you can try 6 different blending modes too, viewing the previewed result prior to pressing the shutter.
Below is a quick effort using the silhouette action, my first image was houses out the back and the second one simply plant pots in the garden - nothing particularly creative but an exercise to demonstrate the effect.

Another attempt using the silhouette version resulted in a strange appearance, maybe as the subject was light and background dark - it gave a sort of opposite silhouette look.

 Many cameras do have double exposure or multiple exposure options and some that dont do have an app that can be updated to your camera. Even if yours does not, there are phone apps that can also be used to great effect - so worth looking into and another fun activity to try out whilst we are restricted in leaving our homes. Whilst it is fun to be actually taking the photos and obtaining in camera double exposure, don't forget to try producing these in photoshop by bringing together two images and simply changing blending mode and opacity. I would love to see your double exposures in the comments.

Below is a quick blend of two of my images in photoshop as an example, it was as simple as pasting in the second photo and scrolling through the blend modes to see which looked best, and thats it. 

Sunday 14 February 2021

Lockdown photography part 4 - focus stacking macro work

My Focus stacking journey 

  I have always been drawn to extreme macro photography images, revelling in their fantastic intricate details and the ability to view magnified subjects that we cant truly appreciate by eye at life size. Things like a butterflies wing, the eye of a bee or fly, the refraction of a flower within a water droplet, a snowflake. I also love to see the world from different points of view - getting down low amongst foliage to capture mushrooms, insects, flowers and a more recent interest - slime moulds. I enjoy experimenting with a wide variety of techniques from using vintage lenses like Helios and Meyer Gorlitz Primoplan, filters such as Lensbaby Omni filters or crystals, sparkling fibres, shooting through items like gauze - the list is endless. I always try all techniques in macro and close up and I focus stacking macro/extreme macro has been on my to do list for ages.

One of my first ever stacked images - taken March 2009 - droplets on a peacock feather using a Canon 300D and Canon 60mm lens

Below- Another of my early stacked images of droplet refractions taken using Canon 300D plus Canon 60mm macro lens and possible macro filter added. June 2009

Below is a handheld stack of about ten images obtained using a Sony A7ii plus Sony 90mm macro lens plus 32mm extension tubes plus Raynox 250. Jan 2021

The last time I tried focus stacking macro images must be about 10 years and I didn't exactly make a proper informed effort. Since then it has been something I have fancied trying but never got around to, partly because I did not have the equipment ( macro rail) nor a camera that takes focus shift images to stack. More recently my partner turned to focus stacking macro images and is building up his equipment and set ups. So I ended up borrowing one of his macro rails which allows me to take images by altering the focal plane by the turn of a dial. I don't have a camera that takes multiple images focus shifted so it was a case of getting everything set up with camera on a mini table top, sturdy tripod, ensuring my subject was placed well and would not move at all, attaching my shutter release cable to avoid any movement then taking the individual images - turning the dial on the macro rail a fraction, waiting a few seconds to ensure no movement, pressing shutter, then repeating until the whole subject was photographed. 

Below is one of my stacked images from 2012 - I manually stacked these myself in photoshop.

Focusing is key here, I had to use manual focus and took advantage of my cameras peak focusing feature so I could see which areas where in focus using my live view. But despite the painstakingly slow and careful procedure I found I was still getting the tiniest movement from adjusting the macro rail - whether this was due to my tripod as well I am unsure. So on stacking my images in Helicon software there were just too many errors/blurred sections. I found this whole method just was not precise enough with both the distance between each image and with the movement due to my set up. After numerous attempts I found I just was not getting the results I wanted. I did also try the handheld stacking method of setting my camera on high speed burst as I slowly rocked forward - this gave some reasonable results for larger macro subjects when a smaller aperture was used.

Below is an image of a Parrot waxcap mushroom - about 2 inches tall, I took just 10 images and stacked them in Helicon, with a fair bit of fixing in photoshop.

These Tulip stamens were taken with Sony A7ii plus 90mm macro lens plus 20+12 macro extension tubes, plus a Raynox 250. Each image is created by stacks of 36 or 38 images stacked in Helicon. I was using a manual focus rail here and there were a few gaps, artifacts and blurred areas that I needed to correct in photoshop, despite trying different settings with the three different rendering methods in Helicon. I was reasonably pleased with one of them but still found that the detail and accuracy was lacking - I want to produce really fine detail. Lighting wise I was using my 2 Studio lights with various diffusers/softbox/white brolly and a speedlight with a mag mod sphere to diffuse.

Below- Taken with a macro lens plus two macro extension tubes plus a Raynox 250. 18 images stacked to get the whole drop in focus. A tiny droplet on a tendril, placed in front of an Anemone.

More images from using Sony A7, Sony 90mm macro lens plus Extension tubes ( 12+20) plus Raynox 250

In the meantime my partner was constructing his own set up with a better macro rail which he attached to a piece of a heavy wooden block to help it stay stable, this kept his camera absolutely still. He also purchased a little microscope stand which adjusts height with the tiniest fraction with the turn of a wheel and gave it a diy platform for his subjects to sit on - this came with two tiny lights attached to bendy arms. Michael owns a Z6 which can be set to take up to 300 images using a focus shift system, moving the focus a miniscule amount between each one - all easily set up with just a few clicks. He purchased a few tiny continuous lights from IKEA at just £2 each, on bendy arms, allowing flexibility - these just plug into our phone charger. With a little ingenuity, a few pieces of paper, and polystyrene cups the light can be diffused. Michael was getting some fantastic results so I asked him to teach me how to use his camera and set up - he has a few different options with lenses, reversing lenses, extension tubes, Raynox filter and another super macro lens - a Componon S50mm 2,8 which he uses reversed coupled with a 70-300 lens or macro lens . Images below show my partners set ups and equipment that I borrowed ( just quick phone snaps to give an idea)

It only took a couple of attempts using Michaels kits to get the hang of it, and whilst using the tiny continuous lights works, it does not give the effects that I can obtain using multiple of camera flashes so this is an avenue I want to explore with Michaels equipment. I know I can get my studio lights and our various speedlights working with his camera, however Michael found that they only fired three times when he attempted using them with his focus stacking set up - so we need to get this working, with intervals allowing flash and triggers to recharge - although I am unsure how they will cope with 300 shots! But this is my aim lighting wise.

And a crop to show details at 100%

Above is a Tulip stamen only my 3rd attempt using Michaels camera and focus shift option, a stack of 300 images taken with my partners Z6 plus 105 macro lens, extension tubes and Raynox filter - I probably only needed about 180 images. I placed a miniature daffodil about an inch or two behind the stamen to get the lovely glowing yellows. I used F8 to get the best sharpness from the lens, which gave enough detail to aid stacking whilst still giving a blurred out of focus backdrop. Stacked in Helicon, then minimal cleaning up in photoshop.

Below is a photo of a Scarab beetle approximately 1cm across. It is a stack of 380 images stacked in Helicon. F8, ISO 400, shutter 1/5. Nikon Z6 plus 105 macro lens and extension tubes ( 29mm) plus Raynox 250 filter.

I pretty happy with the two results above, the level of detail obtained using this equipment is phenomenal. I need to learn how to get the best out of Helicon by experimenting with the 3 rendering options and altering smoothing/radius, plus I need to work on correcting and fringeing and artifacts that are produced. I may try a trial of Zerene stacking software to see how effective it is and if it produces any less fringeing etc. The option of using Michaels equipment has allowed me to improve on any results that I have been able to produce previously and I feel like I am getting closer to producing the image quality that I am after. My next steps are to practice and to work on lighting and improve in editing.

Below is the eye of a Preying mantis ( I keep them as pets and this one died of old age last year - I kept it to photograph) Unfortunately my stack stopped after 80 images so it is incomplete and something I need to retry. Equipment used is Nikon Z6 plus extension tubes, a 70-300 lens plus a reversed Componon S 50mm lens as close as I could get. Definately room for improvement, not concentrating on composition, simply practicing getting extreme macro.

This last image is my favourite yet, taken with Michaels camera and focus shift option, a stack of 180 images - Z6 plus 105 macro lens, extension tubes and Raynox filter, F11, ISO 400, shutter 1/15 plus 6 lights. It took hours in photoshop correcting the many minor problems from stacking in Helicon.

Continuing on with Still life - plus IGPOTY award

  ( Written October 2020 - just forgot to publish)

One of my goals last year and this year was to get an image awarded in International Garden Photographer of the year (IGPOTY) - Last year I managed to get some shortlisted but none awarded. This year I have managed to get one Highly commended in the Still life category which I am so thrilled about after trying so hard to learn and improve in this genre. This is the commended image below. I will be entering another category this month, so fingers crossed with this too. 

I had been looking  forward to using autumnal items in still life and have certainly utilised found and foraged nature alongside bought food, plants and some bargain items from charity shops/ebay. I think I may have gone over board in making the most of having pumpkins, winter squash, Chinese lanterns and berries etc Ive had my winter squash and pumpkins around a month now and they have kept well, stored in a cool place. 

I have been trying light painting with a small book light and another small led light. It is a little trial and error but I feel like I am getting to grips with it slowly. The 3 images below were light painted - anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds seems to work nicely so far.

Another theme that seemed a natural progression for me, given the pumpkins, autumn theme and my pagan interests is a bit of a Halloween / witchy theme so I produced some along this idea. Candles worked well to light some of  these.

Below are a couple of my favourite autumnal still life images taken in the last month, just using standard studio lighting.

I have tried to concentrate on better composition and tried to keep them reasonably simple

I have tried a few with side lighting which does appeal to me.

Another approach I have played around with is flat lay, both in still life and touching on food photography. Ive mostly used the same items to experiment.  The flat lays are easily set up on a table or floor and photographed with a tripod over head. I have used studio light pointed at the set, then bounced off the ceiling and sunlight coming in from the side as you can see in the first two images of pretty much the same set - the different lighting makes a big difference. Whilst the first image has the down side of looking too busy in my opinion due to the shadows - I also find it more appealing because of the shadows. The seemingly well lit image underneath feels flat in comparison.

This image was the result of sunlight streaming through our blinds, onto a flat lay that I had set up. Whilst its quite bust and composition was not set up for images taken from this angle, I do like the lighting and feel it makes it warm and inviting.

For my flat lays I have used a combination of story telling in some and composition for others. I think I need to get both in one image and also find the lighting style that works best for me. Its amazing how many different images you can create from one basic set up, just swapping a few items. I do like introducing the human element - ie hands holding a drink and intend to try more like this - pouring drinks, cutting bread/food, stirring etc.

These are really amongst my first proper attempts at food photography in flat lay.

I do feel like I am learning and getting somewhere, but still there is so much to learn - especially with food photography. I will stick mostly to still life as I dont have the energy and stamina to be making meals to photograph them, but it is interesting to dabble in.

Blessed Ostara and submerged flowers

 I am still tinkering away creating submerged floral images and thoroughly enjoying myself. Lots of people have been in touch asking questio...