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

 

How well do you know your camera?

By Amy Horn

Ice focus stacked imageAlmost a year ago I changed camera systems. Sold all my Nikon gear for an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and it has been a fun year learning new features on this camera. The two I use most are focus bracketing and focus stacking. The focus bracketing feature programs the camera to take up to 999 photos and it adjusts focus from near to far on the subject. Of course, a tripod and shutter release are

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

crucial.

Afterward I plug the images into Helicon Focus to stack the images. Here is an image of frost from a stack of 53 images using this feature.

Afterward I plug the images into Helicon Focus to stack the images. Here is an image of frost from a stack of 53 images using this feature.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Focus stacking on the Olympus camera is similar to focus bracketing in that the camera is programmed to capture images from near to far but it will only capture eight images with this feature. The bonus of this stacking feature is the camera stacks the eight images and processes a final stacked .jpg in camera! The image of Queen Anne’s Lace is an example of a .jpg using this feature.

Another feature I enjoy using is the double exposure setting. With this feature, I capture one image and before I capture the second image, the viewfinder displays the first so that I can place the double image where I want. This is an image from Gold King Mine, Jerome using the double exposure setting.Double exposure image

There a few other features I have yet to explore on my new camera and I will get to them. Do you have features on your camera that you don’t use or didn’t know you had? For me, learning is fun and if it gives me an excuse to play with my camera, I don’t complain!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAME 

Amy Horn is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Focus Stacking

Author:  Megan P Galope

A few weeks ago I spent a weekend learning more about macro photography. There is so much to learn! One thing that was completely new to me was focus stacking. I had heard of it and understood the basic concept, but never actually tried it myself. First it required a sturdy tripod and a subject that did not move. I used a 100mm macro lens on my Canon DSLR. I set the focus to manual and focused on the closest part of the object to me. I moved the focus ring just slightly to start my images with nothing in focus (this is to make sure you didn’t miss anything that might end up in focus). Using a shutter release, I took a photo, manually moved the focus ring ever so slightly, and took another photo. I continued to do this until I took a photo that was slightly past focus of the farthest part of the object from me. I ended up with anywhere between 8 and 114 images, depending on what I was photographing. Note: if you plan to take more than one stack of the same object, make sure you take a bookmark photo (say, of your hand) that will separate the stack images when you work with them on your computer.

Once I uploaded the images to my computer, I looked through them all and removed any photos where none of the object was in focus. I then used the software Helicon Focus from HeliconSoft to automatically stack the photos. You can try the software free for 30 days, or if you take one of the Macro classes from Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, you will receive a discount code for the software as part of the class. The software is incredibly easy to use for basic stacking. Here are a couple of images that I stacked (but did not touch up using the software):

 

There are ways to touch up the photos even more using the software to remove any parts that aren’t totally in focus, but I haven’t looked into how to do that yet.

Here you can see the difference between a single image and focus stacking (look especially at the butt of the tarantula):

 

Focus stacking does not have to be complicated and you can end up with some amazing images!

You can find upcoming Macro Techniques classes with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops here: http://www.ahpw.org/workshops/.

Megan  is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops
Twitter = @megangalope