Bugs are Beautiful

Author:  Bruce Taubert

For whatever reason I have become obsessed with taking macro and micro photographs of bugs.  Beetles, files, wasps, bees, stink bugs, moths, butterflies, and whatever other bugs in Arizona and around the world.  Bugs are cool!  They have compound eyes, colorful exteriors, antennae, exoskeletons with sharp spines or hairs, scales like a fish, and many endearing body forms.

To take extreme macro/micro images of bugs I have purchased some types of photographic equipment that one would not normally find in a photographer’s bag.  All the cameras I own are adequate to take wonderful macro images, but it is the lenses that lack the magnification power to get the job done.  My first super macro lens purchase was the Canon MP-65 f/2.8 1X-5X zoom lens.  This unique lens does not zoom from wide to telephoto but zooms to different magnifications.  By moving the “non-focusing ring” the lens zooms from 1X to 5X without the need for extension tubes, teleconverters, diopter lenses, or the like.  Very easy to use when it comes to changing the level of magnification.

Cognisys “StackShot” attached to the automatic focusing rail. The camera is the Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon MP-E-65mm f/2.8 1-5X. The diffuser is a tapioca cut. In the set-up there would either be a LED light or two flashes.

When I want to go past the 5X world I must resort to purchasing equipment normally found in the research laboratory and, not in the camera bag.  For 10X magnification I have purchased a Mitutoyo microscope objective.  To allow me to use my digital camera and not a microscope I place a 70-200mm lens on the camera and use an adapter to place the microscope objective on the end of the camera lens. Not difficult to do and the cost of objective is less than the cost of a quality macro lens, and there are more inexpensive options than the Mitutoyo lens I have.

Mitutoyo 10X microscope objective mounted on a Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens attched to a Canon 7D Mark II camera. This set-up gives a 16X magnification.

From here the only other relatively costly item is a focusing rail.  When taking images at large magnifications, it is necessary to use focus stacking.  Focus stacking is a mechanism by which the computer puts several images taken at different focal distances together resulting in a final, single image that has more depth-of-field than possible by any other process.  For smaller magnifications I may only take 10 images for stacking but at higher magnifications I take 200 or more images.  The focusing rail allows me to move the camera in very small increments and makes it easy to take the multiple images necessary for stacking.  To make life easier I purchased an automated focusing rail.

The rest of the equipment is easy and cheap.  I use either an empty tapioca container, plastic cutting board, printing paper, or even a ping pong ball for diffusion.  Camera flashes or LED lights provide the illumination and the bugs are free.

This sinister looking portrait of a wasp face was focused stacked from 44 images taken with the Canon MP-65 lens.

Not only are the images, in my mind, beautiful they represent forms that are unimaginable without having a photograph to view.  With this level of magnification, we can better appreciate the natural patterns of even the most obscure creatures.  Small bugs that are completely unappreciated become things of beauty, hopefully allowing the viewer to better appreciate them.  Even with all the biological experience I have and my love for all things alive (yes Roberta, even Creepy, Crawly Critters) I am forever amazed to see the intricate details these images uncover.

With a little practice and some unique equipment, it is relatively easy to see the smaller things in life.  The learning curve is not steep and the equipment not as expensive or exotic as one might imagine.

used a Canon MP-65 to capture this image of the beautiful scales on a moths wing.

If this type of photography interests, you I teach macro photography workshops through Arizona Highways PhotoScape’s and I have just written a book with Amy Brooks Horn on The Art of Macro Photography.

Bruce Taubert is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

 

LEE’S FERRY WITHOUT A BOAT

By Vicki Uthe

In November 2016 we loaded our mountain bikes and tent and headed to Lee’s Ferry for a three-day campout over Veteran’s Day. The weather was spectacular. The ferry is generally the fist thing you think of when launching a Colorado River trip through Grand Canyon but this time we didn’t bring boats, we brought bikes and hiking boots.

Paria Canyon meets the river here and created this riffle. There were other buildings near the put-in that housed the ferry company back in the day. I did not include them here but they are fun to explore and photograph as well.

We parked the cars for the weekend and took the bikes all over. We road out to Highway 89 and down the road to this dirt road that seemed to go on forever.

That’s Navajo Bridge in the background, the only way over the canyon for hundreds of miles. We also had a great view of the river below.

We ran across this hogan, a traditional Dine’ dwelling, out on a dirt road with the beautiful Vermillion Cliffs in the background.

This is just a fun low angle shot I took while out on the bike ride. I had with me my Canon S120 point and shoot because it was easy to slip in and out of my pocket. It is also an easy camera to shoot one handed.

I like shadows.

Shooting while riding…NOT recommended.

This is the gate to the local cemetery that tells a very sad story. There are several children buried here that all seemed to pass in the span of a year. Not sure what the illness was but it ravaged this family.

We parked our bikes at the opening to the Lonely Dell Ranch like they were horses. This property had several buildings and an orchard. It was a great place to shoot.

Heading down Cathedral Wash, this was the trickiest part. The hike was beautiful but nothing compared to what we got to see at the bottom, our beloved Colorado River!

Mud patterns and reflections

This rock looks like a turtle head!

We found a great beach to hang out on and enjoy the roar of the river. Beach time in Northern Arizona!

Go explore, bring your camera and document your adventures. It’s fun to go back and relive them through photographs.

Happy Shooting!

Vicki Uthe is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Photo Workshops vs. Photo Tours – What’s the difference?

By David Halgrimson

Have you had an opportunity to take a photography workshop? And, was it really a photo workshop or was it a photo tour? There is a difference!

A workshop is a learning experience to not only take you to great places for photo opportunities but also to guide and assist you in capturing superb images by locating the best places at the perfect time, seeing the light, identifying the best compositions, using proper camera settings and much more. A great workshop will provide group and one-on-one instruction with guidance from top photographers who make their living in photography and provide strong, approachable instruction. Image critiques, evaluation, and feedback from instructors and peers are some of the additional advantages of attending a notable, high-quality workshop.

On the other hand, a photo tour usually takes you to ideal locations, but leaves you on your own. This can be great for those who just need to get there, do not need any special assistance, and prefer limited interaction with others; it really leaves the learning process strictly to you, through trial and error.

When attending a workshop you not only get interaction with the photographer, but also the chance to share with the fellow participants, which in itself is a learning experience.  It is a perfect opportunity to develop camaraderie with individuals who share the same creative passions in photography and learning.  Whether you are a beginner or advanced photographer, Arizona Highways PhotoScapes offers some of the best workshops around with the most exceptional photographers in the business.  The photographers intimately know the workshop locations, and will get you to the best spots at the most opportune times, then help you get your finest shot possible – all while encouraging you to take your creative vision a step further than before.

Being an Arizona Highways Photoscapes Volunteer Trip Leader for the last 11 years, has only encouraged my feelings on the truly exceptional benefits that transpire on an AHPS Photo Workshop.  I continue to encourage others to take advantage of these opportunities, as I know first-hand just how valuable they can be.

Tetons NP Wyoming

White Sands NM New Mexico

White Sands NM Balloon Festival New Mexico

Death Valley NM California

Palouse Washington State

For more information on these prime photography workshops through Arizona Highways PhotoScapes, check out their website at https://photography-workshops.directory/photographer/arizona-highways-photo-workshops/

David Halgrimson is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Action Photography with Cowboy Mounted Shooting

By Sara Goodnick

To improve your action photography skills a day or two spent photographing the fast-growing sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting is just the ticket.

Cowboys and cowgirls compete on galloping horses, shooting single-action 19th century style revolvers, with theatrical black powder ammunition blanks at balloons. They compete one at a time, racing through one of 82 pre-determined patterns of 10 balloons on sticks, with the goal of having the cleanest round and the fastest time.

It’s dramatic, but fun and completely family-friendly. The noise is loud, but one can get used to it, or just wear ear protection. The participants and their horses definitely wear ear protection.

They often dress in traditional western gear, both modern and historical, so when you get tired of the action, go for the interesting details.

Because they run the same pattern, you can stay in the same spot and get some consistency in your photographs as you improve your skills.

I have had horses for most of my life, so I know how to behave when around them. For those of you new to the horse world, if you go, just remember, be polite and friendly, stay out of the way of the riders, do not go into the arena, do not feed or pet the horses without permission, do not move quickly when you are behind a horse, smile and chat with the other photographers, and stay out of the way of the official paid photographer.

The photography skills I was working on during the two days I photographed the Phoenix Winter Championships recently:

  1. Using my Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens at 400mm and getting the fast moving subjects in focus. The depth of field for this lens on my Nikon D810 at 50 feet is a short 1 foot 6 inches, according to my app, DOF Scale, so it was a real challenge. I had to guess how far they were, but it varied by as much as 50 feet at least.
  2. Capturing and freezing the action as they fired the pistols. Getting the smoke was good, but the real test was in getting the flames before the smoke.
  3. Finding good light both inside the covered arena and outside.
  4. Finding a spot without a distracting background.
  5. Testing the limits of the camera’s ISO range.
  6. Learning to use focus tracking.

Here is what I learned:

  1. It takes a lot of practice and concentration to follow a moving subject and keep it in focus.
  2. You must trigger the shutter before you see the flash of the flames from the pistol. If you see the flames through the viewfinder, it is too late. You have to anticipate. Watching some of the runs without trying to photograph them will help.
  3. Shutter speed must be 1/1000 sec. or faster. Shoot on manual and adjust aperture and ISO accordingly. Or you could use shutter priority.
  4. Try another lens, such as the 70-200 f/2.8. I had very nice images from this lens when I could get close enough.
  5. Shooting a high speed burst doesn’t always catch what you want if your timing is already off.
  6. Shooting a high speed burst over and over again can cause buffering problems as the camera just stops shooting and tries to catch up. I had a 120Mbs CF card but between the card and the camera, I just don’t have a top of the line sports dedicated camera. But what I have is good enough for my purposes.

Here are some of my favorites, and several with some things to watch out for.

First, the bad:

The horse’s feet are in an awkward part of the stride. This happens a lot in this type of event and there is little to be done. With practice, you can catch some better foot placement, but trying to also catch the shooting at the right time is just luck.

I really try to avoid photographing a horse with its mouth gaping open. This is a very busy background and the balloon is in front of the horse. Legs are awkward.

Some of my favorites:

Sara Goodnick is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

A Good Time to Switch to Manual–An Example

By Amy Novotny

Knowing when to switch to manual mode can be difficult these days with digital SLR cameras making it easy to capture images in Aperture or Shutter priority modes. It is often taught to use Aperture priority for controlling depth of field in landscape photography and Shutter priority for fast moving scenes including animals or sports. However, at times, it is desirable to control both depth of field through the aperture and the shutter speed to produce an image.

As a photo guide for Arizona Highways PhotoScapes, I was assisting instructor Beth Ruggiero-York with the Photograph the Charm of Cape Cod workshop this past September. We were photographing a beautiful boat scene in the early morning fog that started out so dense that the boats were hardly visible. Participants started out in Aperture mode since the scene was still and they could control the depth of field to capture both the foreground and background in focus. ISO was set at its lowest setting to reduce noise. Because the light was so low in this setting, the camera adjusted the shutter speed to longer durations to be able to capture the scene at the correct exposure. This worked extremely well since there was minimal to no breeze and the water was calm.

Nikon D750, ISO 100, 70mm, f/8.0, ⅕ sec.

Soon, however, a duck glided into the scene and changed everything. Now, there was movement that needed to be captured, but if the same settings were used, the duck would be blurry as shown below. The shutter, in this case, was open too long to freeze the motion of the duck.

Nikon D750, ISO 100, 70mm, f/8.0, ⅕ sec.

The shutter speed had to be increased in order to capture a sharp, in-focus duck. This was a great time to switch to Manual mode. I could keep the same depth of field that I had previously used because I wanted all the boats in focus but I wanted a faster shutter speed of 1/160 to freeze the slight gliding movement of the duck. Manual mode allowed me to set both of these to what I desired and I could then adjust the ISO to allow for the correct light metering and exposure. It worked and I was able to get all the elements of the image sharp, in-focus and with the exposure I was looking for.

Nikon D750, ISO 1600, 70mm, f/8.0, 1/160 sec.

This is just one example of many that would encourage me to switch to Manual mode quickly during a photography shoot.

Amy Novotny is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.
Twitter: @amynovotnyaz
Instagram: @anovotn
http://www.amysimpressions.com

Images taken while assisting as a Volunteer Photo Guide for Arizona Highways PhotoScape’s Photography the Charm of Cape Cod workshop taught by instructor photographer Beth Ruggiero-York in September 2017.

New Lenses VS Old Lenses, and Testing Them

By Sara Goodnick

Camera lenses produced before the digital age may still be in mint condition, but you might want to consider replacing them anyway. Here’s why. The newer lenses were designed specifically for capture by the digital sensor which is completely different physically and chemically from a film plane. To optimize this difference in sharpness and color capture you will probably need to upgrade.

Perhaps going to your local camera store and asking to test one of their lenses is an option. If not, rental through one of the various lens and camera rental companies will give you a feel for whether you should upgrade.

If you purchase a new lens, or want to test your old ones, there is a great tool available for free! It’s a downloadable lens test target, produced by B&H Photo Video, and available to anyone. The only problem is that it is almost impossible to find on their website. I asked them and they sent me the link: https://static.bhphotovideo.com/explora/sites/default/files/bandh-test-target.jpg

I downloaded it and took it to Costco to be printed as a 20×30 mat print. It came rolled up like a poster, but some photo mount spray and a piece of white foam core allowed me to mount it and hang or prop up for shooting my lens tests.

First set up the mounted target in in an area of even light. Most do not have a portrait studio or lights, so try to find a north light from a window in a room, a well lit room, or look for open shade outdoors (however, wind will be a problem there, so secure it well). You can check for eveness of the light by setting your camera for the perfect exposure using the best combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, then use the camera’s meter reading to check both ends, the top, the bottom, and the middle to see if any parts are under or over-exposed by checking the exposure graph in the viewfinder or on top of the camera. Of course, an independent light meter is ideal. Get it all as even as possible, but if that isn’t possible, just plan to photograph the part that is most evenly lit.

Make a plan on what lenses you plan to test, and at which focal lengths and apertures. Also plan and mark on the ground at which distances you wish to test each lens. Be very methodical and it will help later. You could make these notes on individual pieces of paper and photograph each notation as you work by photographing it before each test.

For instance, if I want to test my 70-200mm Nikkor 2.8 lens this is what I might do.

Set distances of the closest distance it will focus zoomed in, at its longest focal length as listed on the lens barrel (200mm at 5 ft in this case), 10 ft, and as far back as I can and still fill the frame with the test target. At the closest distances, only a part of the target may be visible, but I will choose to photograph the part that has the most detail and set up the camera on the tripod there. Remember to use the cable or remote release, or mirror lockup. I will photograph the target at the lens’s largest aperture (f/2.8 for this lens), several middle apertures such as f/5.6, f/8, and f/11, and then f/16 and f/22.

Repeat this with the different focal lengths you want to test. I might go for one set at 200mm, one at 135mm, and the last one zoomed in to 70mm.

Then repeat this at the various distances from the target you have measured out for each lens you want to test. Lenses with variable apertures, i.e., those whose apertures will change when you change focal lengths will be a little more complicated in that you will have to take note as to what their limits are at each focal length.

At the smallest and largest apertures, you may find the need to add more light. If you cannot actually add more light itself, go to a higher ISO unless it takes you into an unacceptable noise level. Or you could begin with your largest aperture and lowest ISO. That will not affect the sharpness of the lens, and it is better if you can see the target!

Download this these images into your computer, label them with any info not already in their metadata, and compare their sharpness especially on the edges, and particularly at the smallest and largest apertures. You will learn a lot about your lenses this way, and photography in general.

It’s not nearly as much fun as going out and photographing your favorite subjects, but the knowledge you will gain will improve your future image captures!

Sara Goodnick is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

PLATEAU POINT, GRAND CANYON

By Vicki Uthe

We (my wife and I) live in Flagstaff, AZ which means Grand Canyon’s South Rim is a little over an hour away and makes for a glorious day of hiking. We like to go to the canyon for training hikes to get in shape for longer hikes.

One such day found us at the South Rim heading down Bright Angel Trail toward Indian Garden, which you can see in this image as the splash of green on the right side in the smaller canyon, then out to Plateau Point. We did it with full 25# packs. It is six miles down which means six miles back up…12 total.

Here’s another image of Indian Gardens but showing the switchback of trail heading down. My constant dilemma when doing activities such as this is…WHICH CAMERA DO I BRING?!?  Weight is almost always the first concern. I believe strongly in the “Less is More” philosophy so I only own three camera bodies, two of which are identical. I have a mirrorless Lumix Gx8 times two with four lenses and a Canon S120 point and shoot that shoots RAW images.

These images, however, were taken before I switched my setup to something lighter and easier to travel with. These images were taken with a Canon 40D and 35-70mm lens. Far heavier than I am willing to travel with these days. This is the view from Plateau Point, a 1.5 mile jaunt from Indian Gardens, to the river below. If you look closely you can see a river raft parked at the large beach on the left.

Here’s the thing about this blog: I focus on  taking images when most travelers would be shooting, during the day. In a perfect world I would be here at sunrise and/or sunset, but in a traveler’s life, that is not realistic. Time is short and many things and places are crammed into a short period of time so it is my intent to show that, even though conditions are not ideal, it is still beneficial to bring your camera and snap some pictures.

The canyon had some wildflowers  in May when we hiked. Wildflowers are always worth a stop and a shot. Here I played with a wide open F/stop to blur the canyon in the background.

The Prickly Pear cactus were in bloom as well as the cactus below. The splashes of color on the hike were wonderful to see.

So take a camera, even on long hikes. Be aware of weight so you bring the correct one and don’t regret hauling it around. And then don’t forget to take it out and shoot with it!!!

Happy shooting!

Vicki Uthe is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes