Category Archives: Macro

Articles relating to macro photography

Farewell, Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM

Today I sold my Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens.

For a month or two, I had been thinking of offloading it, and once or twice previously, I had entertained the thought of selling it.

I was recently put into contact with someone who might be interested in it, and today the buyer collected it.

According to my lens utilisation statistics, it was my least used lens apart from my one-month-old Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM.

Looking at my images, I have only shot 10 images with it in the last five years. Two images per year is not much, and I only published a total of 36 images during the time I owned it.

I am just not a macro shooter at all, and I find macro photography too frustrating for my liking.

It is a stunning lens and is in near-mint condition, but it just is not the kind of lens I use much or really need (despite having owned it for over nine years), so it is better for it to be in the possession of someone who will exploit its capabilities.

I will use the money from its sale to fund my NiSi 150mm filter system.

My original intention was to replace the lens with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, but as nice as that lens is (I inspected one), it makes no sense at this point in time.

If I ever want a macro lens in the future, I’ll go and pick one up; but for now, the lack of a macro lens in my rig is not a hindrance.

With this most recent sale and last month’s replacement of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, that amounts to two lenses gone from my lineup in less than two months!

I have optimised my lens lineup in several ways, and I am content with what is now in my rig.

I would still like to replace my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, but for the foreseeable future, that notion will remain confined to the realm of wishful thinking.

Advertisements

2015 Retrospective: Intense and Focused

Now that we are well into the year 2016, it is time for a retrospective look at my photographic journey in 2015.

The year can be summarised as intense and focused, as the majority of images I captured during 2015 were in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, where we embarked upon an incredible seven-day safari with our friend and safari leader Mario Moreno.

Looking at my statistics, I shot more images in 2015 than I did in the years 2013 and 2014 combined.

Had the Kenya trip not happened, I suspect I would not have shot much.

Photographically, my year started quite late — near the end of April — with a macro/still life image of a new watch I had been given:

Certina 1888

Certina 1888

We had some family in town from overseas, so I took the opportunity to shoot some cityscape images from a location at which I had not shot before.

One afternoon we headed to the Glebe apartment and I waited for the right light to capture some views of the beautiful city skyline.

This was the result:

Dusk Descendence

Dusk Descendence

And a little later, during blue hour:

The View Sucks

The View Sucks

I also took the opportunity to capture this tight view of the Anzac Bridge as twilight fell:

Anzac Bridge

Anzac Bridge

In May, we all had an outing at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour.  I took a camera and a couple of lenses, but I did not shoot a great deal of images.

This image of a kangaroo was one of the more pleasing images I captured on the day:

One of Skippy's Mates

One of Skippy’s Mates

Later in the month, I felt compelled to head out and shoot another cityscape.

In the mid-to-late afternoon, I scouted for some vantage points along the western side of Circular Quay, and finally settled on the observation deck of the International Passenger Terminal, which affords a higher view, and additionally was empty and free from passers by.

I waited for the blue hour, and captured this view of Sydney which I have not seen (or photographed) before.

Circular Quay West

Circular Quay West

It had been a slow, but pleasing enough start to the year.

In June, the photography I had been eagerly anticipating since we booked the trip the previous year, would finally happen.

We headed to Kenya to spend seven days in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we would re-ignite our passion for wildlife and landscape photography.

So far I have published over 100 images from that trip, so I will not publish a great deal of those images in this article; but as the trip brought us a lot of first-time encounters, I will instead present some selected highlights from the trip.

We were based in the luxurious eco-lodge Elephant Pepper Camp, which afforded us total isolation and positioning right in the middle of where the action was.

This is a view of one of Elephant Pepper Camp‘s honeymoon/family tents:

Elephant Pepper Camp's Honeymoon Tent

Elephant Pepper Camp’s Honeymoon Tent

And this is a view of the camp at twilight, depicting the dining tent, lounge and camp fire:

Around the Camp Fire

Around the Camp Fire

Highlights of the trip included one of my finest bird images, which was my first frame of only two I snapped while this pied kingfisher was bobbing up and down in flight:

Suspended

Suspended

Just about every day, we were treated to lions — most prominently, the Cheli Pride.  One of the fantastic things about the Cheli Pride was its abundance of cubs, and on this trip, it was our first time seeing wild cubs, such as this cute little lion:

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

On one afternoon, we were fortunate enough to spend some time, in pleasing, afternoon light, in very close proximity to a lilac-breasted roller, where I captured this and a number of other images of the national bird of South Africa:

Plumage

Plumage

Naturally, a safari in Africa encompasses more than just wildlife — there are amazing opportunities for stunning, iconic landscape shots, and we certainly took advantage of that, rolling out into the plains in the pre-dawn darkness before other safari-goers were even awake.

This was one of my earlier landscape shots, captured during a moody morning:

The Moody Mara Plains

The Moody Mara Plains

On another morning, we captured the ‘postcard shot’ of a rising sun behind a lone acacia tree:

Sunrise on the Mara

Sunrise on the Mara

This particular tree is known as Mario‘s Tree, as Mario often photographs it.  We certainly did — several times — including one particular morning which greeted us with a colourful sky:

Lone Acacia

Lone Acacia

On only our second day on this trip, we were treated to a number of first-time encounters.  In the morning, we encountered our first Mara leopard, who was also also the first leopard we had seen in a tree; and in the evening we found our first male lion of the trip, again a member of the resident Cheli Pride.

We had gone back to Leopard Gorge to look for the young male cat, when we found a large, dominant male lion in the area instead.  If the leopard was around, he was hiding and would not be seen.

Here is the beautiful young male leopard perched high in an elephant pepper tree:

Leopard of the Day

Leopard of the Day

We not only encountered one male lion, but two!  His brother also emerged from the distance and joined him for some bonding and lazing before the night‘s hunting commenced.

Here is one of the stunning Cheli Pride males we encountered:

Surveying

Surveying

The day after we met the dominant males, we encountered numerous members of the pride, minus the males, feasting on a zebra kill the next afternoon.  This was another ‘first’ for us, as we had hitherto never seen lions feasting on a kill.  It was quite a sight, as this wider image shows:

Feast

Feast

The next day, we spent a dramatic afternoon with the Cheli Pride again, firstly as we encountered one of the mothers on her own, out in the open, calling for the pride.

Here is an image I captured of the lioness in the warm afternoon light:

Cheli Mother

Cheli Mother

Before long, a mighty rainstorm descended upon us, which made the big cat uncomfortable, as well as presenting challenges for us.  As the rain began to subside, camera shutters sounded like rapid gunfire as we captured action shots of the lioness shaking the water from her head.

Shake It Off

Shake It Off

Towards the end of the trip, we spent one day further south in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we experienced yet another first.

So far, the one species of African big cat we had never seen in the wild was the cheetah.  On that trip, we finally encountered wild cheetahs.  It was an exciting experience to firstly see them from a distance, and then drive to position ourselves optimally to be ahead of where they were headed.  It became more exciting as the cheetahs got closer, and I had a few opportunities to photograph the family, which consisted of a mother and four sub-adults.

Here is one of the nicer images I captured of these amazing big cats:

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

It had been a long wait, but finally we spent some time with wild cheetahs.

Our next morning in the Mara consisted of a portrait shoot with Maasai tribesman called Baba, with whom we travelled to Mario‘s Tree, where we shot some dramatic silhouette portraits of him as the sun rose on one of our final days in the Mara.

Here is one of the more striking images I captured during the session:

Baba the Maasai

Baba the Maasai

Our final evening in the Mara brought something we could have never predicted, and something which is quite rare to see: mating leopards!

At first, we spotted a young female leopard high in a tree during the warm afternoon light, but within a short time, a large, amourous male emerged from the thicket, and the two leopards began (or continued with) their ritual of rapid, exposive mating sessions, which can last for days.

We spent the rest of the drive witnessing this amazing sight, and the following image captures an intense moment as the female expresses her displeasure at the male’s advances:

Growl of the Leopardess

Growl of the Leopardess

The next morning was our final, somewhat subdued game drive in the Mara before we would fly back to Nairobi for a night and another day before departing Kenya.  We were fortunate to encounter a small pod of hippos in a watering hole, where I had the opportunity to capture some relatively close-proximity images, such as this large hippo on the bank, less than 30 metres away:

Hippo on the Bank

Hippo on the Bank

Before too long, this amazging photographic journey came to its conclusion.

After the intensity of our Mara trip, and my generally low photographic output before the trip, it was not surprising that I did not shoot much afterwards.  In fact, I shot only one more image for the remaining six months of the year!

The one image I did capture was a macro image of some red and orange roses to commemmorate our anniversary.

Fifth

Fifth

And so concludes my photographic journey for 2015.  It indeed was an intense and focused year, with Kenya dominating my photographic output, but with a few other images here and there.

2014 Retrospective: Low-Output Year, but Such is Life

While we’re not quite done with the year 2014 yet, it’s close enough to publish a retrospective of the year from a photographic perspective.

Firstly, it was my most low-output year on record; but with other commitments and interests, and a waning interest in photography, I can live with that.

I only published 32 images shot this year.  2013, despite two overseas trips, was also low in output, with some 50 images online.  In the years before, I had a much higher output rate.

For a number of years, seascape photography was my main interest.  This year I didn’t shoot a single seascape, and I’m not too bothered by that.  I did it for years; everyone’s doing it, and I cannot be bothered any more.  It’s always there, and I can always return to it if the interest re-ignites; but for now, it’s dormant.

The year 2014 started with a trip to Adelaide and the McLaren Vale wine region — it was a wine trip, not a photography trip; but I shot a few images at the Penfolds Magill Estate winery.

Penfolds Magill Estate Winery

Penfolds Magill Estate Winery

Also early in the year, we headed to the Australian Reptile Park, where I shot one decent image of a Tasmanian devil.  It was more of a fun day out with some close friends, but I dragged a camera and a few big lenses along, and shot in dreadful light.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Around Valentine’s Day, the macro lens came out of hibernation, and I shot some very pleasing images of Xenedette’s rose.

Petals

Petals

My next photographic adventure was a weekend-long landscape photography workshop with Peter Eastway and David Oliver, where I shot some pleasing aerial images of the Hunter Valley.  The trip was organised through the Focus Photographers group, and it was a great weekend away with like-minded photographers.

Hills of the Hunter

Hills of the Hunter

In May, Xenedette and I headed away to Jenolan Caves for a mini-getaway, where we toured six caves, and where I opted for low-light hand-held photography using my fastest prime lenses to capture the ‘ambient artificial’ light highlighting the magnificent decorations in the caves.  I also got in a bit of architecture photography during the trip.

Shawls of the Lucas Cave

Shawls of the Lucas Cave

In August I headed away with the Focus Photographers group again, also to the Hunter Valley, for a weekend of landscape and natural-light portrait photography with David and Clare Oliver.

As always, there is something to learn from these masters of photography, and I gained an appreciation for natural light from south-facing windows, which produces very soft, flattering portraits, and which is consistent throughout the day, making shooting very easy, as the light is always soft and even.

Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter

Finally, I bought a new 400mm f/2.8 lens for next year’s wildlife safari in Kenya, and in the mean time, dabbled with a few images of near-full moons in September.

Waxing Gibbous Part II

Waxing Gibbous Part II

All in all, 2014 was undeniably a low-output year in terms of photography, but I did gain some new images, new experiences and new contacts; and delved into some of the photographic genre I shoot, as well as a few other less-frequent subjects.

Photography is a pursuit I view as one which can have its peaks and troughs, and for me, I’ve been in trough territory for much of the year.  That’s completely fine, as it’s always there, and I learned long ago to read the signs and go with the flow, seeking images and experiences when the desire makes itself known to me, and not forcing productive output when it’s just not in me.

Photographically, next year will be quite different, with the trip to Kenya being the highlight, but who knows what other photographic experiences I will gain…

And so ends a retrospective of my 2014 photographic year.

Overcoming the Challenge of Depth of Field in Macro Photography

As anyone who has experimented with macro photography will know, this style of photography, and more specifically the nature of the subjects and lenses used, makes achieving a suitable depth of field very challenging.

Some photographers may like to produce the style of image where only one small part of the image is in sharp focus, with the rest receding into a smooth, surreal blur.

This is well and good, but sometimes one simply wants all of the details in a macro image to be rendered in sharp focus.

Sufficient depth of field is quite difficult to achieve in macro photography for two main reasons.

Firstly, the subjects often shot are typically small, which means that one needs to get close to the subject, using a lens whose magnification is life-size (or greater); and secondly, a longer focal length is needed, especially if the subject is a critter which will run or fly away if a photographer gets too close.

Longer focal lengths and very short subject distances both reduce depth of field, and do so more dramatically when combined.

One counter-measure available is to stop the lens’s aperture down to a very narrow aperture.  This sounds good, but there’s a hidden danger: diffraction.

When a lens’s aperture is stopped down to an extremely narrow aperture, light rays entering the lens at various oblique angles must bend dramatically to enter the narrow aperture, and then find their way towards the focal plane.

At very narrow apertures, diffraction causes a loss of fine detail in images, resulting in a softer appearance.  In macro photography, where fine detail is often the very subject the photographer wants to capture, diffraction is more problematic than it would be in other forms of photography, such as landscape photography.

So, with a combination of a long focal length, short subject distance and a practical limitation to how far down one can set the lens’s aperure without degrading the quality of the image, how does one gain more depth of field?

It’s easier than one would think, and doesn’t require any special software if you already have Adobe Photoshop, and even works with Adobe Photoshop CS4.

The technique is called focus stacking, and it involves capturing multiple images of the subject shot multiple times with different focus distances, and digitally blending them.

Each image captured must be framed identically, but what differs is the field of focus.  After each image is captured, it is simply a matter of adjusting the lens’s focus ring by a small amount to render another part of the image in focus.

Perhaps there might be equipment available which can adjust the focus ring in precise increments, but I’ve never looked into it, in my experience of having produced three macro images using this technique, I’ve found that the adjustment of the focus ring can be done manually, and still produce excellent results.

At the capture phase, I recommend using a tripod so that precise framing can be achieved throughout the numerous images that will be captured.

Using the ‘live view’ mode on the camera allows for a much better view of the lens’s plane of focus, and also reduces any potential bumps resulting from contact with the camera’s optical viewfinder.

I also recommend the use of a remote shutter release to further avoid needing to make any contact with the camera.

Some contact with the camera will be required, as without a device to rotate the lens’s focus ring, it will need to be touched.  For that reason, care must be taken so that the camera is not bumped out of alingment.

How many images need to be captured?  That depends on the subject, the subject distance, the lens’s focal length, and how much adjustment of the lens’s focus ring is required to capture a series of images in which the closest subject matter is in focus, right through to the furthest subject matter.

Yesterday I photographed the intricate details of a rose laden with water droplets, and rather than opting for the arty shallow depth of field prevalent in many macro images, I wanted rich details in sharp focus throughout the image.

For my macro photography, I use a Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens, which is challenging to use at the best of times, but I also attached my Canon Extender EF 2x II, which doubles the focal length.

I was therefore shooting a relatively small subject at a focal length of 360mm, with not a great deal of distance between the lens and the subject.  The result is not much depth of field.

One might think that I’d need to shoot a dozen or more images to capture the full field of focus, but in fact I only needed seven images.

To produce a focus-stacked composite image in Photoshop, the technique is as follows:

  1. After raw conversion, load all of the raw files into Photoshop.
  2. One at a time, and in sequential order (this is important), copy each image to the clipboard, and then paste it as a new layer into the first image.
  3. Rename the layers using a logical naming scheme (eg, IMG_0001, IMG_0002, etc.).
  4. In the layers pallette, select all of the layers.
  5. Click the Edit menu, and select ‘Auto-Align Layers…’.
  6. Set the Projection set to ‘Auto’ and click OK.  Photoshop will align the layers.
  7. Click the Edit menu and select ‘Auto-Blend Layers…’.
  8. Make sure that ‘Stack Images’ is selected, and click OK.

Depending on the bit depth, dimensions and number of images to be stacked, it could take a while for Photoshop to complete the focus stacking.

The result will be a stack of layers with layer masks on each.  Photoshop’s focus stacking algorithm selects the in-focus subject material in each image and masks out the out-of-focus areas such that the resulting image is sharp throughout.

The next step is to create a new layer for the composite of the stacked images.

From the top layer, press Cmnd-Alt-Shift-E on a Mac, or Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E.  This keyboard-only command will produce a new layer of all lower layers without discarding the layers.  This is not the same as the ‘flatten image’ command, which I never recommend.

Once the composite image has been captured as its own layer, proceed to apply any other post-processing as desired.

Now, let’s look at my results from yesterday’s rose image.

Firstly, here is a montage of my seven source images, and the resulting composite image Photoshop produced using the automatic layer blending option.

Focus-Stacked Rose

Focus-Stacked Rose

As can be seen in the above screen capture, images 1 to 7 all have different planes of focus.  The composite image in the lower right shows the raw result from Photoshop’s focus stacking algorithm.

One caveat of which to be aware is that the technique results in a softening around the edges of the frame, so it will be necessary to marginally crop the image.  For that reason, I recommend composing so that no critical subject matter is positioned close to the edges of the frame, as it may be damaged by the ‘soft border’.

Now, here’s the final image after I completed my post-processing, which included cloning distracting spots, detail enhancement using Calvin Hollywood’s ‘Freaky Detail’ technique, cloning out of distracting spots, and contrast and sharpening adjustments.

Petals

Petals

Hopefully this article has been helpful in illustrating how a macro photographer can overcome the challenge of very limited depth of field by carefully executing the capture of multiple frames of the same subject at different planes of focus, and using one of Photoshop’s in-built functions to digitally composite the in-focus subject matter in the multiple frames to produce a rich, detailed image with everything rendered in sharp focus.

Valentine Rose

On Valentine’s Day of 2014, I bought some roses for Xenedette.

I rarely shoot flowers or macro images, so I’ve shot an image combining both.

https://i0.wp.com/farm8.static.flickr.com/7388/12528570235_50328c9820_z.jpg

Valentine Rose

I wanted some dramatic side lighting, and I wanted to highlight water droplets on the rich red petals, so I used my trusty LED headlamp in a darkened room, manually holding it during a ten-second exposure.

More Macro: Canna Colour

Today I attended a macro photography workshop and practical shooting session hosted by my photography buddy Timothy Poulton.

After a morning disussing gear and techniques, we all headed out for lunch and a few drinks, followed by a shoot in the Royal Botanic Gardens, where we looked for insects and other interesting subjects to photograph.

I am still not yet much of a macro photographer, but I did find a nice canna lily with striking colours, so I set about photographing it.

Here is the result of some fairly extensive processing.

Canna Colours

Canna Colours

Macro Experimentation: Focus Stacking

It’s been a while since I shot a macro image.

Photo macography is a form of photography which has traditionally frustated me, because it is very challenging in terms of depth of field.

My past efforts have produced images where focus is very selective, and with a 180mm macro lens at minimum focus distance, it’s hard to get very much of anything in focus, even when the aperture is stopped down considerably to increase depth of field without introducing diffraction.

For a while I have been pondering experimenting with focus stacking, a technique whereby one shoots a series of images with an identical composition and exposure level, but different points of focus; and then digitally ‘stacks’ the images in Photoshop to produce an image with a much greater depth of field.

Today I made my first attempt at focus stacking, and it was a success.  Here is the result:

Doing My Rounds

Doing My Rounds

I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with this technique when shooting a more interesting subject, but at least I’ve proven to myself that it can work very well.

A few important notes:

  1. Yes, this ammunition is real.
  2. Yes, I am licensed to possess and use this ammunition.