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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A little more play with the Huge Canon 5D Mk II

Posted in Photography Tricks on August 21st, 2011 by MadDog
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Kiddies, if you have little interest in photography other than pictures of the kids or pets, then have a quick peek at the pretty pictures below and move along. You’ll soon be bored. I’ve been playing just a little (took time out to eat, sleep and do some house cleaning) with the new Canon 5D Mk II and the two lenses I purchased. All this fuss with new gear is primarily about my new job. It will likely be a few months  until I get my first assignments. I have to return to Madang to finish up my life there before I can begin in earnest anew here in Sedona. In the meantime, I have my work cut out for me. I have to learn a new camera which is far more complex than anything I’ve ever had before and I need to learn to do production quality HD video from the ground up. I’ve already started on that. I’m afraid that posts for the next few months are going to be pretty geeky. At least you will see some amusing images and learn how an old dog learns fancy new tricks.

I have noted that no matter how good I thought I was, the 5D Mk II has humbled me. I’ve known the basics of photography since I was old enough to point a camera. Since it was my dad’s main interest, he taught me little else. I inherited a Busch Pressman camera and was working with smelly chemicals in the basement by the time I was eleven. The 5D is a whole new ball game. Let me say first that it shoots absolutely stunning images on full, flat-out Automatic. You could not find a camera that will give you a higher percentage of superb shots if you never want to crack open a manual for a nice bedtime read. Just leave the knob set on the little green box, swap lenses around as you please and shoot, shoot shoot. If you have any compositional sense at all you will be shooting National Geographic style shots from day one. And, you will mightily impress your friends. Which leads me to the only reason I can think of for a family album shooter to have one – to impress your friends. You had better hope they know something about photography or they will laugh at you for buying such a huge clunker of a camera. Really, if you never want to print anything bigger than an 8 x 10 print, then buy a good quality super-zoom such as the Canon Canon Power Shot SX30IS for less than $400.

One of the many differences between the two (5D Mk II vs. SX20IS) is the the SX30IS provides many pre-programmed shooting modes which allow a shooter who has taken an afternoon off to discover them to create a wide variety of beautiful images which would have required considerable technical knowledge in times past. The 5D has none of this. It does have a superb Automatic mode, but you have to cook the fancy creative images youself. This requires a fair level of both knowledge of the technical aspects of photography (The Exposure Triangle, etc.) and the complexities of the massive control range of the camera itself.

Come to think of it, there is another good reason to buy a 5D Mk II. If you are serious about making excellent images, for whatever reason, and you want to buy a camera which will keep you happy for say, ten years, then the 5D and a couple of good lenses might be the ticket. You could possibly end up spending a similar amount of money over ten years stepping up from one camera to another and never be as good with any of them as you would be after a few years with the 5D. She would be as dependable and wise (and as amusing) as a good wife. Okay, that’s going too far. You get the idea. Believe me. You will want to name your 5D. Something this precious deserves a moniker. Just promise yourself one thing before you invest. If you lose interest and it ends up gathering dust on a shelf, pass it along to a promising photographer who can’t afford it. Give him or her an offer which can’t be refused. This is a camera which deserves to be used by someone who can learn to make it sing.

Speaking of singing, I wanted to do something a little special for the first image I show from the 5D. Frankly, I could have shot this with my G11, but that’s not the point. This image represents a change of shooting habits. I have seldom been so frightened in my long, wayward and adventurous life as I was when I was crossing over those rocks with a new 5D and two top-notch lenses. If I had my G11 there and I slipped I’d simply toss it to the other bank, pick it up, wipe the mud off and shoot. Not so with the fancy gear. Honestly, if I did not need the capabilities of this rig for my work (the HD video is broadcast-quality) I would never even risk having it. Anyway, back to the image.  I bought a variable density filter which allows me to cut the light down drastically so that I can make long exposures in brightly lighted scenes. In this shot I could hardly see through the filter. Setting the camera appropriately for a twenty second exposure, I got this silky water image at Red Rock Crossing near the house in Oak Creek Village. In order to fancy it up a bit more, I spent a quarter of an hour fooling around with Artistic Filters in Photoshop. I’m going to print this one and hang it on the wall, after asking Grace, of course.

You really have to click to enlarge it to see what’s going on.

Here’s a similar image shot with another lens on full automatic mode:

You really can’t appreciate the quality of this image at the resolution I have to use to make it manageable for the web. The original RAW file was twenty-six megabytes!

I can’t live without macro photography. I’d sooner give up my one beer a day. (Hey, I gave up my one cigar a day habit. Give me a break.) I was concerned that my Canon 17-40 F4.-5.6 L USM lens would not cut the mustard. This is about a 30% crop of the center of a full frame at 40mm focal length:

That was as close as I could get while allowing the auto focus to operate. Someday I might find a used macro lens for the camera, but it can wait a while. This makes me happy. I won’t be blowing up any ants as big as small dogs, but I still have my G11, which is actually a better macro rig.

There is a nice little pub within easy walking distance from our house. It’s called PJ’s Village Pub and Sports Lounge. I went over a couple of nights ago to meet a friend for a little conversation. It was storming beautifully outside. After it was nearly over I went outside an snapped this cute little shot:

It’s had a pleasant massage from Photoshop to correct the colors to what my imagination requires, but otherwise, it’s straight out of the camera.

Earlier, inside PJ’s, I set the 5D on full auto and held it parallel to the mirror on the wall for this tasty image:

This is a 17mm shot. It shows little objectionable distortion common to wide angle images. I’m quite happy with it. Other than the removal of an ugly power outlet under the mirror, this is right out of the camera.

For this last little bit of play, I wanted to test several things at once. First I wanted to see if I could really get five frames per second out of the 5D. I want to try some portraits on burst mode. I find it difficult to get just the right expression when doing portraits. I’m going to try getting all set up, provoking the right mood and then letting fly with about a hundred exposures over maybe twenty seconds. Then I can pick just what I’m after. Next, I wanted to see how good the 64oo ISO setting is. I’ve never been able to shoot this sensitive before. My G11 dies a horrible noisy death over 400 ISO. (The results show that the 5D Mk II is four or five stops better for noise.) Finally, I wanted to gen an idea how well Microsoft Photosynth could stitch together the shots for a 3D walk-around presentation. Here is the result, using our home office as a test subject:

Well, I’m sure that you were fascinated at that. I have more worthy subjects in mind. How about a walk down Oak Creek Canyon, peering into holes and turning over rocks in the stream?

Maybe I had better save that for HD video. My next project is a home-made flying camera rig.

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Arizona Colorfest – The G11’s Last Gasp

Posted in Arizona Images on August 15th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’ve been painfully aware lately that I’ve outgrown my G11. I would still recommend it to any amateur who wants top image quality in a small, weapons-grade package. Truly, they are as tough as nails. I’ve often (possibly too often) said that it’s the only camera I know of which you could wield to bludgeon an assailant unconscious and then take his picture. My G10 was once stolen from me on the street in Madang. When a cop accidentally caught the mugger the felon threw my camera on the pavement hard enough to dent the metal casing. I was amazed that the tough little beast still worked perfectly. Anyway, I’ve gotten a good run from the G series. I’ve had a G9, a G10 and a G11.

However, events in my life are going to require me to present a more professional image, if you will excuse the pun. It’s sad to say that photographers are sometimes judged by their gear. It’s one case in which size does matter. I’ve often been gently scorned when I show up for a shoot with my dinky G11. No matter that the images are great. Most shots do not require anything more sophisicated. My theory was that if I could take 90% of the images I want with a $500 camera, then a $5000 camera to get the last 10% made no sense at all. Well, I’m not about to spend $5000 for a camera, but I certainly need to take a step up.

Today I ordered a Canon 5d Mk II with appropriate lenses and accessories. It’s a lot of camera for the money. I’ve drooled over several of them in camera stores until the clerks take them away for a wipe-down. It’s suitably massive and professional looking and sports a humongous twenty-one megapixel sensor. It has astounding low light level capabilities. The only thing I did not like about it is that it has no inbuilt flash. I suppose that the pros turn their noses down at such niceties. Photographers can be horrible snobs.

So, since my G11 will shortly be retired to the hermitage of the glove box so that I always have a camera in the car, I had a last fling with it at the Grand Canyon a few days ago. My good friends Ian and Liz Dosser happened to be in the USA for extensive holiday travel. I persuaded them to come for a visit to Sedona. I wanted them to meet Grace, but Grace departed two days early for the impending birth of another grandchild, so I’ll be playing Lonely Guy for three weeks until I join her in St. Louis. Ian and Liz and I visited the Grand Canyon on Friday and the Painted Dessert and Petrified forest on Saturday.

Herre’s a shot of the Grand Hole in the Ground:

I was fiddling with the color of the far rim to try to get some of the blue out. I went too far. It looks like a coal strip mine.

This is more the way it actually looks. Here Ian and Liz are standing out on the edge of a rock which hangs right out over the canyon. I reckon it is several hundred feet to the nearest rocks below. When you walk out on this rock you can not help getting a strong feeling of vertigo. When I approached the edge all I could say was, “Whoa!”:

I can sit in the door of a helicopter all day with my feet hanging out in space and enjoy myself immensely. I don’t understand what the difference is. When I get out there close to the edge I freeze up.

There are plenty of safer places to enjoy the view. There were several ravens riding the updrafts near the rim. They seldom needed to flap their wings:

I wish I could do that. I sometimes dream about it.

This is known as the most dangerous beast of the canyon. It’s a Grand Canyon Squirrel (Rock Squirrel) – Spermophilus variegatus:

They bite for the fun of it and carry several nasty diseases. I watched this one run right over a man who was sitting on the ledge. The critter did not even slow down. I can imagine someone being so startled that they might fall off the edge. I wonder if that has ever happened?

Back at home Ian and I drove down to Red Rock Crossing to catch the afternoon wine light reflecting off of Cathedral Rock. It’s a famous photographic location. There were three or four guys there with probably twenty thousand dollars worth of camera gear each. I almost asked Ian if he’d like to help to rob them, but he’s an ex copper. I did not think the idea would go down well with him. Anyway, these guys had Nikons and Pentax gear. I’m a Canon man. These two shots are High Dynamic Range compositions consisting of five frames with exposure running from way dark to way light. It’s the only way you can capture the range of brightnesses in these scenes:

This is going to be a favorite place for shooting. It is only down the street from the house.

Here was the scene down at the crossing itself, where the old road went through Oak Creek:

When I get my new 5D I’m going to try for a “silky water” shot here.

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