More Macro Madness

Posted in Photography Tricks on April 22nd, 2012 by MadDog
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Life continues to be far busier than I imagined it might be here in Sedona. In fact, my hope of “simplifying” seems to be dashed. I sometimes thought that living in Madang was overly complex, considering the physical and social environment.  Our most common refrain was, “It’s always something!”, implying that just when things seem to be in control some forgotten detail or requirement rears up and makes its obnoxious presence known. It would be ungrateful of me to complain, so I’ll just make the observation that simply maintaining an existence in America is far more demanding of time, immensely more complex and requires the absorption much more information than does drifting through life in Madang. I’m barely keeping my head above water. I find that I barely or not at all understand much of what I’m doing. Most of the time I’m following the instructions of someone who’s paid to guide me through some thing or another and signing on the dotted line when required. I think I’m managing the big picture, but I’m being dragged along by the nitty-gritty.

Fortunately, I can escape the circus once in a while for an hour or so of  clear thinking and working my craft. It’s an amazing thing to have my hands on the kind of equipment I’ve always dreamed of. The title implies that this post is all about macro stuff, but I have some other images today. My Canon 70-300 zoomer has been neglected lately. It’s a workhorse lens with no particular glamorous features, though it performs its mundane tasks superbly, as this shot of a full moon rising behind a dead tree across the street attests:

Luna is partially obscured by a thin Cirrus cloud layer, softening the details of its topography and creating a soft halo. The tree is about 150 feet away and the moon is about 24,000 miles from the front of my lens. I might have stopped the lens down to ƒ32 and gotten them both in focus, but that would have required a tripod and a long exposure. This shot was taken at 300mm, ƒ22, 1/13 second with image stabilization. This combination just barely allowed me to capture the image hand-held.

Another task for which this workhorse lens excels is bird watching. Serious bird watchers will want more powerful zooms, but for my modest efforts this glass is my ticket to ride. We have some lovely birds visiting our back yard daily. One of my favorites is the Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica).  I tossed a handful of peanuts on the ground near the bird bath in the back yard, set up the Canon on a tripod and started recording HD video while I went about my business with other things:

The Western Scrub Jay from Jan Messersmith.

After about forty minutes I copied the video file to my laptop and edited out the blank spots, added a little public domain music and some titles. You can listen to the song of the Western Scrub Jay here.

Changing lenses now, I’ll blather on about my new favorite, the 100mm macro. This piece of glass is not simply a microscope for the little things. It’s a great all-round lens for many situations. I like the flattening effect of the mild zoom for portraits and its tack-sharp images and very wide range of apertures make it my favorite carry-around lens. Here’s an example of a “normal” shot in which the lens excels:

In the full resolution image from the camera the level of detail in this image is amazing. Even in the 2000 pixel wide shot, it conveys a lot of visual detail. A lens like this is really wasted on web images. It takes a full magazine page printed well to make it shine. I wish I was still in a position to sell some articles.

The shot above was taken at Red Rock Crossing, one of my favorite places for a calm walk in the woods. While walking down the shore of Oak Creek we came across an amazing example of fossil ripples in the red Schnebly Hill Sandstone formation:

After doing a little Googling on the subject I conclude that this example of fossil ripples is one of the best which is easy to visit. Here is a shot of another location nearby:

The 100mm focal length of the Canon macro lens is perfect for this shot. The slight foreshortening of distance accentuates the effect of the ripples in the red sandstone. We found three examples of the ripples within an area of a hundred feet or so.

Green being my favorite color and the high desert being particularly short of this shade, I’m snapping everything green that I can find:

Spring is coming on strong. I’m waiting for the rains which will hopefully paint the desert with flowers. I’m wishing for scenes reminiscent of the old Oscar-winning Walt Disney The Living Desert movie which I remember seeing when I was about ten years old, a very long time ago.

While I’m still showing big things shot with the macro lens I’ll show you a mysterious (to me, anyway) series of holes in a Schnebly Hill Sandstone layer at Bell Rock, a famous formation just on the edge of The Village of Oak Creek where we live:

It’s interesting to speculate what might have caused these holes. Being lined up in the same strata implies that whatever caused them was fairly brief in nature and rather unique, since I see no other examples in the area. My personal favorite explanation is that some event caused a large number of stream-rounded boulders of soft rock to be deposited more or less at once on the flat layer of material which later became the red sandstone of the area. When the Schnebly Hill Sandstone eroded, these soft rocks eroded more quickly, leaving the cavities. If you can do better than my guess, please wade in with a comment.

Here’s a nice shot of an ancient looking tree on the side of Bell Rock. The 100mm macro is a great lens for this kind of shot:

But, of course, the raison d’être for this chunk of glass is the little stuff:

Popping up everywhere in the desert are a variety of tiny blossoms which appear to me to be daisies of some kind. I’m hopelessly uninformed about the local flora. I’ve come from a place where I knew quite a bit to a place where I know nothing. (UPDATE – Within minutes of posting this I got word from my friend Anne-Marie Gregory in the UK that this is a Blackfoot Daisy – Melampodium leucanthum.)

But I I can appreciate the beauty and capture the images:

That will have to be enough for now. (UPDATE – Inspired by Anne-Marie, I found a good site for local wildflower identification. This look to me to be the Spreading Fleabane or Layered Daisy – Erigeron divergens.)

Cacti are mysterious to me. I never realized there are so many kinds:

There is no shortage of new things to learn about here in the high desert.

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Holy Macro!

Posted in Photography Tricks on April 16th, 2012 by MadDog
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Our encore performance of Wedding Day is now securely in the past, most of the major time consuming tasks to create a whole new life are accomplished and my new work assignments are finally beginning to trickle in. I have about a month to get myself oriented with my co-workers and begin the climb up a couple of steep learning curves before another trip to Dallas and then St. Louis, which will take us to the end of July. So, I decided to take a few hours of “personal time” to exercise some of the many capabilities of the new Canon EF 100mm ƒ2.8 L IS USM 1-to-1 Macro Lens. Aside from being a mouthful to describe, I have to say that it is more fun to fool with than any other lens I’ve ever owned (quite a box full over about fifty-five years of photography).

When I decided that my new work required a radical upgrade of my equipment, I settled on a Canon 5D Mk II camera body, mainly because it seemed the most bang for the buck and its HD video capabilities are so good that many independent film makers are using it as a prime capture tool for raw footage. For lenses, I compromised and bought two Canon zooms, a 17-40 and a 70-300. These choices created an awkward “hole” in the focal length range right at the “normal” focal length of 50mm, but I reckoned that I could live with that.

However, this left me without a decent macro capability. Neither of the new Canon lenses were significantly better than the macro capability of my Canon G-series cameras, the latest of which is the marvelous G-12 which I gave to my bride as a pre-wedding gift. Gracie now has no excuse for not taking great pictures. I have always  been captivated by the creative wonders of macro photography, but I’ve never had a purpose-built lens with which to fully explore the tiny landscape.

Enter the Canon 1-1 macro. This was my first serious image with the new lens on the night before our April Fool’s Day Wedding, a Hydrangea purchased at Safeway to decorate the church for our do-it-yourself ceremony. If you click to enlarge you’ll see that the image speaks for itself:

I’m now using it as a desktop background on my Toshiba Tecra. It feels strange to say that I take little credit for this picture. It’s 90% equipment. I pretty much just pointed the camera and clicked. I’m used to fiddling incessantly in Photoshop to coerce an image file to comply with my imagination. Using the right gear makes most of that unnecessary.

Another thing which impressed me immediately is the amazing increase in working distance one gets with the 100mm 1 to 1 macro. I’m used to sticking the lens right up in the bug’s face to get an image on the sensor large enough to work with. Even with that, I usually had to crop and enlarge, meaning that I was losing detail on every shot. Careful sharpening can bring back some “apparent” detail, but it’s really faking it. I snapped this shot of the funny little black bee at nearly two feet and it suffered only minor cropping for the sake of composition:

The amount of  adjustment required to get used to shooting from much farther away is disconcerting. I was sitting on a rock down at Beaver Creek with Gracie when this lizard crawled up into the greyish light about three feet away. I had only to lean forward a little to grab him with the heavy Canon.

In fact, it’s very easy to get too close at first and have trouble finding your subject. It sometimes seems like trying to find a star in a telescope. I feel like I need a “finder” scope.

Another thing which I am really loving is the range of creative effects that you can squeeze from the enormous variety of tricks one can conjure up from the very broad selection of apertures ranging from ƒ2.8 to ƒ32. I’m sad that this might be getting a little too geeky for some readers, but there’s really no way to talk about it without the technical terms. If some of it seems befuddling, have a look at my post on The Exposure Triangle. In this shot of pretty orange flowers which are blanketing the high desert now, I wanted a slightly blurred background to showcase the detail of the blooming plant while maintaining full sharpness for the subject:

This was dead easy. I just set the 5D to show me the live image on the screen, put the body in the Aperture Priority mode and twiddled the aperture control wheel until I could see that the entire plant was in focus while the background was blurred just the way I wanted it. I never had it so easy. I could achieve a similar effect with Photoshop from a fully focused image, but it would take a lot to time.

Just a little more twiddling of the aperture control produced a very arty shot right out of the camera:

Here I opened up the aperture to 2.8 to reduce the depth of field dramatically, creating a bare suggestion of the plant itself, tightly focused points of interest and a cool, furry canvas of contrasting colors. Really, the lens is doing all the work for me. I’m gobsmacked!

This shot proclaims, in a tiny little voice , that spring has arrived:

This image shouts, “Spring has arrived!” by zooming the focus of attention onto the crisp young leaves:

Again, the effect was created by a few clicks of a little black wheel about the size of your fingernail

This shot was spoiled only by the unfortunate position of the sun. Had our shiny giver of light and warmth been over my shoulder, as any photographer knows it should be, the dark pinnacle would have been magnificently red, contrasting nicely with the blank blue sky. However, I would have lost the dramatic back-lighting which makes they fuzzy flowers glow so brightly. The big Canon macro lens comes with a hood about the size of a beer can, so flare and dimming of contrast from internal reflections are very unlikely. You can turn it around when you don’t need it, shortening the lens by about four inches.

Which brings to mind matters of weight and size. Unobtrusive, this rig is NOT. Here are some bananas for comparison:

By the time you get the lens on and a twin battery grip you have maybe eight pound of gear to lug around, not to mention another fifteen in a back pack with spare lenses, and two flashy things.

Still, the exercise is good for me and my Geek Index has risen astronomically. And, I can take cool , super sharp closeups such as this:

Bugs . . . where are my bugs?  I hope things liven up around here.

If I’m in an arty mood, I can back off another few feet and do this:

Get ready for many little things.

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One More Time

Posted in Mixed Nuts on April 9th, 2012 by MadDog
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Not being satisfied with marrying once in October, Gracie and I repeated the whole thing for a larger audience on Palm Sunday.  We originally planned for a wedding on April first, exercising our powerful mutual sense of humor, so that our children would be able to attend. However, last fall we decided to settle some practical matters having to do with marital status and married in a small outdoor ceremony at Beaver Creek near our home in The Village of Oak Creek. We realized at the time that the job was only half finished.

Our neighbor across the street, Laura Ridley and her friend Lynn Trombetta provided calming music to soothe the mild jitters associated with a wedding ceremony. Laura’s harp is a beautiful antique.

Loading it into her van using the special handling equipment she has constructed was a new experience for me. It reminded me of an adventure in Montana when my friends and I loaded an upright piano into a Volkswagen van for a long trip from Helena to Glendive.

Gracie ambled bravely up the aisle unaccompanied and stood while I awaited my marching orders. There was no rehearsal, so the ceremony was delightfully ad-lib.

When we finally got it sorted out where I should be we stood patiently waiting for the call to come forward.

And waited some more.

Meanwhile, kids were looking bored.

Finally, the serious business began in a very casual manner.

I tried unsucessfully to put Gracie’s tri-metal wedding bands on her wrong hand, causing twitters from the onlookers. Gracie muffed her lines during her vows, prompting us both to giggle. Most weddings are not so much fun.

Scott was in full voice for his pronouncements and admonitions which sounded strangely familiar.

Montezuma Chapel on Rusty Spurs Road in Rimrock, Arizona is about as exotic as it gets in these parts.

Unpretentious on the outside, the inside is impressive and inspiring, having the appearance of a wooden cathedral.

The official pronouncement having been pronounced, we beat a hasty retreat. Friends standing with us, Vearle and Dodie Franklin make way to avoid being trampled.

Happy that we won’t likely be doing this again for a few years, we make our way to the exit.

And make our escape.

We received our guests at Vintages Grille in Rimrock.

The staff there put on an excellent feed and provided for every need.

They also provided one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever tasted.

The decorations appeared on our first wedding cake, Micky Mouse riding a surf board and a plastic palm tree shading Minnie while she admires her boyfriend. I wonder if Gracie’s expression has more to do with chocolate than marriage?

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