Thursday, April 24, 2008

Macro Fun

A while back I bought a 58mm filter thread reversing ring that will attach two lenses together: filter threads to filter threads. The reversed lens acts like a magnifying glass.

A few weekends ago, I got to playing around in the backyard with our bumper crop of Amaryllis. First, here's the rig:

Now, a photo from that setup:

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The above photo is roughly a 50% crop of the original. This shows you how narrow the DOF is, even with the main lens stopped down to f/8. I shot this hand-held (used ISO 800). I wanted to get a shot of these tiny, fast-moving bugs crawling on the Amaryllis. So I sat on the ground, braced my elbows against my legs, and gently rocked to bring the focus in and out. When I saw a bug in the viewfinder, I "chased" the bug with the point of focus and fired on burst mode. (I didn't use the flash for these bugs-on-the-move photos)

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The above is a non-cropped shot of the flower's anther. For this shot, the camera was mounted on a tripod and MLU was engaged. I also used an off-camera flash and a white reflector underneath the flower for fill-in light (the main light was the sun coming from an angle behind the flower). I swapped the old 55mm lens with a Canon 50mm f/1.4. I also added a Tamron 1.4x teleconverter. I focused on the front fibers of the anther and waited for one of the bugs to crawl past.

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This heavily cropped shot is of a very small ant ("sugar" ant, or some type of ant slightly smaller than a typical fireant). I found this guy deceased and placed him on a white sheet of paper. The light is from a single florescent blub placed at close range (custom WB done on the paper). This shot was done inside my house (too much wind outside!) with the camera on a tripod and MLU engaged. I again used the Canon 50mm reversed (instead of the old 55mm lens) with the 1.4x teleconverter AND added 68mm worth of extension tubes. The great part about shooting static subjects indoors is that it allows you to use very long shutter speeds (i.e. you don't need great amounts of light). I set the ISO on 200, used a small aperture, and let the shutter speeds be what they needed to be (several seconds).

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The shot of the fly was done with my "normal" macro set up: extension tubes and a Canon 70-200 f/4L. This shot was made handheld (these bugs don't stay in one place for very long) and I used the off-camera flash. The funny thing was seeing the fly jump at every flash. When it popped, the fly would jump up and then land almost in the same spot as it was before the flash.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Butterfly and the Cheap Lens

A while back, I bought a Canon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM lens to use casually. I wanted a beater lens that was cheap, light, and small, and that I could haul around for snapshots. I wasn't too concerned with optical quality, but I did choose this lens because it seemed to be given better reviews than some of the other consumer (non-L) Canon zooms.

The 28-105mm is very light and small compared to my other lenses. It has USM and focuses without hesitation or complaint. For what it is, this lens is well built and solid. Coupled with my 5D, the package is very portable and somewhat unobtrusive (just see what kind of attention you get hauling around a large and heavy Canon L lens!).

Optically, it has surprised me again and again. In the past couple of months, I've taken to shooting more seriously with this lens.

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The 28-105mm does lack the bite that the more expensive lenses provide. There is a slight loss of sharpness. The colors and contrast are a little bit subdued. But with careful RAW processing and editing in Photoshop, I've been able to snap things back to what I'm used to from the heavier, higher quality lenses. Well, almost.

At the short end (28mm), there is some softness that just cannot be corrected in post work. But, it's not terribly bad. I've seen much worse :-) I'm quite comfortable making 8x10 or 11x14 prints of photos taken with this lens.

Camping, Part II

Earlier this year, Henry and I camped in the backyard. He loved it, of course, and I promised to take him camping for real.

In early April, we all went to Bastrop State Park for two nights of camping. Henry had a blast. He hiked well, somewhat minding us as we walked along, and stuck it out for most of a 2.5 mile hike. Sleeping in the tents was fun for him too. It wasn't Big Bend, but we all had a great time.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dove at 1254mm

The second installment of the photo diary continues today with a little fun from my backyard.

Here's a non-cropped shot of a white-wing dove sitting 30 - 40 feet away from me. This was taken at 1254mm (effective): Canon 40D with 400mm f/5.6 lens and two 1.4x teleconverters. The lens stack-up has a max. aperture of f/11, and I stopped down one stop from max. for this photo (f/16 effective). This was taken at ISO 400, 1/320 sec. shutter speed, locked down on a heavy tripod, and MLU engaged.

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I don't normally shoot with two tc's attached, but I wanted to test this setup just to satisfy my own curiosity. I thought the resulting photo would look like it was taken through the thick bottom of a glass bottle (after all, the image is going through a lot of glass before it reaches the sensor), but the results are better than I expected. Stopping down once helped increase the sharpness and contrast, but there was still a slight loss. Most of the loss was cleaned up in Photoshop.

Anyway, this was just for fun! :-)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

High Island Beach Scenics

This kicks off a new category, "Photo Diary", where I intend to feature a photo or two from an outing that I've had. I frequently get to shoot just a bit while out and about (that's the great thing about photography - cameras are portable!), but not enough to justify a dozen+ photo "gallery" page on my photo website. So I'm going to feature these one-off* photos on my blog.

* I would have used the term, "one-hit-wonder", but that would imply that these photos are actually good :-)

First up: the beach at High Island, Texas. My family and I watched the sunset and moonrise as we spent an evening on the beach last month. The beach is riddled with shells, rocks, and broken glass, yet I chanced fate and walked around barefoot just because I wanted to feel free. My body got a refreshing shock when the water surged up and blasted around my ankles. Yep, check 1 - I'm alive, and check 2 - the water's damn cold.

After reassuring myself that I had a pulse, two things about the beach really caught my attention (besides everything being bathed in the warm pink-orange light of sunset), 1) the old piers and pelicans, and 2) the moonrise.

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Both were shot on a tripod with a Canon 5D + 17-40mm lens. I chanced fate again with the first shot and put my tripod in the water with the camera set low. I actually had to pick the whole rig up when a big surge came rolling up to prevent salt water splashing up on my gear.

I would loved to have stayed long past sunset. I was itching to get some long exposures of the surf with either the moon in the composition, or perhaps reflections of the moon on the water or wet sand. But, it had been a long day and my family was with me and not as eager to particpate in the joys of near-dark long-exposure landscape photography on a windy and cold public beach :-) (sounds like fun, huh?)

Weeks 13 - 15

Walking Summary:
- Weeks 13 - 15 = 41.5 miles
- Since Jan. 1, 2008 = 235 miles
- Since Nov. 26, 2007 = 335 miles

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mothership Wit

Beer Review: Mothership Wit (New Belgium Brewing Company)

Many thanks to my friend, James S., for bringing my attention to this lovely beer. He recently discovered it while he and his wife honeymooned in California.

I found it at my local Specs (NW Houston - Jones & 290). They seem to have just about everything. (FYI, if a local Specs doesn't have something, then they'll probably have it at their downtown "warehouse", and if they don't have it there, then they'll order it for you).

Yes, that is fruit in my beer (an orange :-) 

Mothership Wit is a light (in color) wheat beer. It is lightly spiced and has hints of orange. This is the best tasting beer I've had in a long time. I could drink this stuff gallons at a time. And it tastes pretty damn good with an orange slice! :-)

It's very similar to Belgian White (Blue Moon Brewing Company) but much better. Mothership Wit is fresher and brighter tasting (the flavors burst through like sharp, vivid colors in a nice photo). It is smooth, too smooth almost :-) because this stuff will easily slide down your throat several ounces at a time. The hints of orange and spices are well done - they are subtle but show up on your taste buds with pleasure. They compliment the beer ever so nicely.

If you like a smooth, full-tasting (yet still light and refreshing) beer, then give this a try. It's a perfect thirst-quenching beer for a hot afternoon. I think I've found my favorite for the upcoming summer.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bryce Canyon, Finally!

My latest photo gallery is from our trip to Bryce Canyon National Park last February. This trip came right after my photo workshop in Death Valley (see my Death Valley photos here).

It's taken me a while to sort through and edit my photos, but I've made it. The process has been slowed by misc. family happenings, computer parts going bad, leaky roofs, and just plain laziness.

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The trip was a blast! Tanya and I were a little apprehensive about driving in snowy/icy conditions (being from the South were such white stuff doesn't exist), but things worked out well for us. And driving in the snow (at least a very thin layer of it) isn't bad at all. Here's a separate gallery with behind-the-scenes photos of us at play:

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We enjoyed the snow. It was deep, dry, and powdery. Thankfully some of the hiking trails were packed hard, and hiking them wasn't too difficult. With the aid of ski poles and slip-on traction devices on our boots, we managed to get around and see the Amphitheater quite well.

Venturing off-trail was a different matter :-) Most of the snow was 2 to 3 feet deep. We rented snow shoes and did a very small amount of off-trail hiking before we realized they didn't help much. It was tough going.

I highly recommend visiting Bryce in the winter to enjoy the snow. Seeing the park can be limited (the lower half of the park, below the major viewpoints, was closed when we were there), but it's incredibly beautiful.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Strawberries and Wildflowers

Last week's adventure was a family outing to pick strawberries and take in some wildflowers. We hit the Kings Orchard north of Magnolia for a bumper crop of strawberries.

Henry did very well this year. He almost picked an entire basket by himself, and he sampled far fewer berries than last year. I only found 3 half-eaten strawberries when I washed them all at home. Or maybe he's just getting better at scarfing down whole berries when we're not looking. His face and pants were awfully stained by the time we left ;-) We joked that they should weigh Henry before and after he picks.

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Little Henry, the Strawberry Connoisseur

The strawberries were awesome. They were all sweet and perfectly ripe. It was difficult to stop eating them and impossible to keep Henry out of them. He is a fruit monster. He's the weirdest 3-year old I've ever known. Give him a choice between a pile of candy and cookies and a handful of cherry tomatoes (or grapes, or berries, etc.), he'll just about knock you over trying to get at the tomatoes.

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After picking berries, we headed to Washington-on-the-Brazos state park for a picnic lunch. We tried for several portraits in the flowers, but Henry wasn't cooperating very well. This is the best we could manage :-)

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High Island Beach

Two weeks ago we drove out to High Island for the birds and the beach. There's a nice bird sanctuary in town containing a rookery for egrets and spoonbills.

Tanya and Henry spent some time at the beach while her mom and I shot the birds. We all ended up at the beach for sunset and watched Henry run around with his usual endless supply of energy, which makes photographing him difficult.

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What would I do without burst mode on my camera? I guess I'd miss more shots than I already do :-)