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Archive for the ‘Macro Photography’ Category

Sigma 180 Macro_4363

In 2012 Sigma released the Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens. In July of this year I had the opportunity to spend about a week with the lens, to give a thorough workout, as it was on loan to me from Gentec International, the Canadian distributor for Sigma lenses. The Sigma 180mm Macro lens is physically a large lens yet does handle very nicely. It is equipped with Sigma’s Optical Stabilization feature, which will compensate for about 4 stops. At the time of this lens’ release it was the only 180mm Macro lens to offer such superb stabilization. It is also a fast lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8 therefore the viewfinder is bright making manual focus easy (should you prefer to manually focus your macro lenses – I generally do). Since my main objective was to use this lens handheld from the canoe for frog photography and wetland details too, I was very eager to put the Optical Stabilizer to the test. Some other features that are noteworthy to mention for this high-performance lens are:

  • Three low dispersion glass elements for excellent correction of both axial chromatic aberration and lateral chromatic aberration.
  • Hyper Sonic Motor delivers auto-focusing that is quiet, fast, and accurate.
  • Multi-layer coatings to minimize flare and ghosting.
  • Accepts 86mm size filters.
  • Tripod collar to easily switch from horizontal to vertical orientations.
  • Minimum focusing distance of 18.5 inches.
  • Magnification ratio of 1:1 at the minimum focusing distance.

Let’s head out into the Horseshoe Lake wetland in the canoe and see what we can find. Do note additional info that is provided in the image captions.

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 800, f11 @ 1/160 sec.

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 800, f11 @ 1/160 sec.

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 800, f11 @ 1/100 sec.

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 800, f11 @ 1/100 sec.

One of the first things that did take some getting used to on my part was working with the greater minimum focusing distance. Since I am most accustomed to using my Nikon 105mm Micro Lens which has a minimum focusing distance of 12 inches I often found that I was getting in too close with the Sigma 180mm Macro lens and would have to adjust my positioning to accommodate for the greater minimum focusing distance. This is by no means a hindrance though, in fact the greater minimum focusing distance has many benefits to it. If you enjoy photographing butterflies, small lizards, snakes or other often difficult to approach subjects, the Sigma lens will permit photographing from a greater distance which in-turn will lessen the chance of entering the animals comfort zone causing them to take flight.

Hand-holding the Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens in the Horseshoe Lake wetland was a very enjoyable experience and allowed me to create numerous images that would have been difficult to do otherwise, as it would have been impossible to set-up a tripod in the soft mucky bottom. Do note that macro lenses as a rule are some of the best optics available and I will often use them for landscape imagery as well, including some of the intimate wetland scenes below.

Fragrant White Water Lily Blossom Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 200, f16 @ 1/80 sec.  Hand-Held

Fragrant White Water Lily Blossom
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 200, f16 @ 1/80 sec.
Hand-Held

 

Spatulate Leaved Sundew Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 800, f11 @ 1/50 sec. Hand-Held

Spatulate Leaved Sundews at the Edge of the Wetland
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 800, f11 @ 1/50 sec.
Hand-Held

 

Wetland Details Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 800, f8 @ 1/250 sec Hand-Held

Wetland Details
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 800, f8 @ 1/250 sec
Hand-Held

 

Arrowheads at Edge of Wetland Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 800, f11 @ 1/80 sec. Hand-Held

Arrowheads at Edge of Wetland
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 800, f11 @ 1/80 sec.
Hand-Held

After photographing several different scenarios in the wetland environment I decided to head into the woods with my tripod and photograph some woodland details. Many years ago I used spend much of my time in woodlands photographing woodland plants, tree bark details and any bugs that I could find. It was a ton of fun to take the Sigma 180mm Macro lens into the woods to re-visit my photographic roots.

Staghorn Sumac Leaves Close-up Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 400, f16 @ 0.6 sec Tripod Mounted with OS off

Staghorn Sumac Leaves Close-up
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 400, f16 @ 0.6 sec
Tripod Mounted with OS turned off

 

Silver Birch Tree Bark Detail Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 200, f29 @ 6 seconds Tripod Mounted with OS turned off

Silver Birch Tree Bark Detail
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 200, f29 @ 6 seconds
Tripod Mounted with OS turned off

 

Daddy Long-Legs on White Birch Tree Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 200, f32 @ 8 seconds Tripod Mounted with OS turned off

Daddy Long-Legs on White Birch Tree
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 200, f32 @ 8 seconds
Tripod Mounted with OS turned off

And last but not least, I could not resist the temptation to create a pleasing blur of a lovely cluster of ferns growing alongside of the cottage road. To create the blurred effect I simply stood at the edge of the road, looking down upon the ferns and using an in-camera sideways motion with a shutter speed of 1/15 created an image that revealed the subject matter, yet had a pleasing amount of blur to it as well. This is a technique that I learned from colleague, mentor and friend Denise Ippolito.

Pleasing Fern Blur Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens ISO 800, f8 @ 1/15 sec Hand-Held with a Sideways Movement

Pleasing Fern Blur
Nikon D800, Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens
ISO 800, f8 @ 1/15 sec
Hand-Held In-camera Blur with a Sideways Movement

Conclusion: The Sigma 180mm f2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS Lens was an absolute joy to use. The 18.5 inch minimum working distance took some getting used to on my part, but is very beneficial to photographing subjects that are prone to spook very easily. The Optical Stabilization feature’s performance is superb offering a stable solution to creating hand-held imagery in often difficult situations. While I mainly used the lens hand-held, the tripod collar did make switching from horizontal to vertical orientations effortless when a tripod was in use. Alternately, the tripod collar would offer an excellent and very simple solution to mounting an off-camera flash for night-time macro photography, much like I do for my night-time frog imagery whereby I use flash 100% of the time. I would highly recommend this lens to anyone looking for a macro lens, or looking to upgrade to a longer focal length macro lens. It is a large, sturdy, and well built lens that delivers superb image results. I only wish that I had more time to fully explore the capabilities this lens has to offer.

Please do click on each of the images to see the larger, sharper versions.

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Amazon Milk Frog Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket ISO 100, f16 @ 1/60

Amazon Milk Frog
Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens
Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket
ISO 100, f16 @ 1/60

A few months ago there was a wonderful exhibit of tropical frogs at Ontario’s Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. One day in April I made a trip out to see and photograph some of the species that were on display. Photographing such animals through the glass walls of their enclosures can often be a bit troublesome due to finger prints and scratches on the glass, however, there are few simple techniques that can be employed for success. When I photograph captive subjects through the glass walls of their enclosures I will always get as close to the glass as possible to eliminate / reduce the risk of scratches and fingerprints from showing up in the resulting images. To get as close to the glass as possible I ensure that I am using my rubber lens hood so that I do not become one of those individuals that has left unsightly scratches on the enclosures. A relatively large rubber lens hood aligned flush with the glass wall of the enclosure will often reduce the risk of the flash from reflecting off the glass, ruining the photos when it fires.

Rubber Lens Hood on Nikon 105mm Micro Lens

Rubber Lens Hood on Nikon 105mm Micro Lens

At public exhibits I often find it too difficult to work with a tripod, mostly due to the number of visitors and elementary school class trips that attend. As a result I do much prefer to work with flash and when I photogenic subject and pose is noticed I can then quickly grab a few photos without affecting the other visitors that are also there.

Dendrobates auratus Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60

Dendrobates auratus
Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens
Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60

For the image above of the Dendrobates auratus I was able to get a very low perspective and a pleasing background by placing the lens flush with the glass wall at the moment the dart frog jumped to the front of the enclosure. Dart frogs are often very quick and sometime difficult to photograph, but this image gives the impression that I am lying flat on the ground in their rainforest home, yet I was dry and comfy :)

African Bullfrog Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60

African Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens
Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60

Pictured above is an African Bullfrog. What is not to love about a frog with teeth! These frogs will eat anything they can stuff in their mouths from insects to full grown mice. You will notice that in this image the camera was pointed downwards, with the lens close to the glass and in a downward postion the flash will not reflect back into the resulting images, however, if I tried the same perspective after taking a few steps backwards the flash would be noticeable and the images would be deleted.

Argentine Horned Frog Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Lens Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60

Argentine Horned Frog
Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Lens
Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket
ISO 100, f22 @ 1/60

Warty skinned frogs such as the above Argentine Horned Frog do pose some challenges with flash generated spectral highlights. In Photoshop I will often evict the most noticeably distracting highlights, for many of the smaller ones as seen above I will open Selective Color and add a touch of Black to the White channel which tones them down a bit.

Waxy Monkey Treefrog Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket ISO 100, f16 @ 1/60

Waxy Monkey Treefrog
Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens
Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket
ISO 100, f16 @ 1/60

Treefrog specimens are usually very uncooperative subjects as they are mostly nocturnal so when one is encountered alert and wide-eyed grab as many photos as you can because they will probably go back to sleep very soon.

Below is a Fire-belly Toad which is an Asiatic species and very common in the pet trade. Believe it or not I actually used to keep Fire-belly Toads in a large terrarium many years ago and they lived for roughly 21 years.

Fire-belly Toad Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket ISO 100, f16 @ 1/60

Fire-belly Toad
Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens
Nikon Speedlight SB400 on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket
ISO 100, f16 @ 1/60

After photographing many of these wonderful frog species from around the globe in a single afternoon I thought it would be fun to take one of the images and create a frog fract using the Photoshop plug-in Fractalius. Below is a Goliath Frog skeleton. The Goliath Frog is the largest frog in the world, they live alongside streams and such in Cameron, in Africa.

Please do remember to click on each of the images to see the larger, sharper versions :)

Goliath Frog Skeleton Fractalius Rendering

Goliath Frog Skeleton
Fractalius Rendering

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Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens, Nikon Speedlight SB400                                                   ISO 400, f16 @ 1/100 sec.

Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens, Nikon Speedlight SB400, ISO 400, f16 @ 1/100

Water Tiger is the common name given to the larval stage of the Predacious Diving Beetle. During my forays out to the frog ponds I often encounter bizarre, alien-like waterbugs, so recently I decided to use a small 2.5 gallon aquarium and and photograph a few of these interesting critters. The Water Tiger has a voracious appetite and will often devour tadpoles, salamander larva, other aquatic bugs, and small fish. The large sickle-like jaws allow them to over-power prey larger than themselves. My aquarium set-up was quite productive allowing me to successfully create numerous images of various subjects. I will share in a future post soon exactly what worked best for the set-up and how I processed each of the image files.

Please do click on each of the images to see the larger, sharper versions.

Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens, Nikon Speedlight SB400, ISO 400, f16 @ 1/60

Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm Micro Lens, Nikon Speedlight SB400, ISO 400, f16 @ 1/60

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Cuban Treefrog, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands

Cuban Treefrog (adult), Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands

For those folks who missed the quiz please read the early blog post here. So what lens did I use? Edith Levy was closest with her answer of the 70-200mm lens. I actually used my Nikon 80-400mm VR lens to created all of my Cuban Treefrog photos that were created on the island of Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. Do note that this is the earlier version of the Nikon 80-400mm VR lens (yes the lens that folks like to trash in their on-line reviews). This lens has a minimum focusing distance of roughly 7 feet, so how was I able to create close-up images of adult and juvenile Cuban Treefrogs? To find out how please follow this link to my most recent article inĀ  the Creative Photography e-mini Magazine, which is published and available for free each month by friend, colleague, and highly talented Denise Ippolito. I have learned a ton of creative stuff from Denise, and you can too by simply following along on her blog and the articles that are feature in the eMini Magazine every month by many creative and talented folks.

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Optimized Version of Cuban Treefrog on Cayman Brac

Optimized Version of Cuban Treefrog on Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands

I have just spent the last hour optimizing the above photograph of a juvenile Cuban Treefrog. During my trip to Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. Each night I would leave the villa and go for a night-time stroll in search of some night-life. The Cuban Treefrogs were plentiful and I spent many enjoyable hours creating numerous images of them. In the original RAW capture below you do not need to look too closely to identify many of the issue.

Original RAW Capture - Cuban Treefrog

Original RAW Capture – Cuban Treefrog

First and foremost I was not holding the camera square with the world, there are two unsightly, tiny stones on the frog’s lip and if you click on the images to see the larger, sharper version you will see a lot of flash generated spectral highlights. To optimize this image I first rotated until I felt that froggie was square with the world and then using both a series of quick masks and clone stamp tool I painstakingly worked on the image at 400% to effectively evict each of the spectral highlights. The nice thing about the massive image files created by the Nikon D800 is that you can afford to lose a few pixels when rotating and cropping such as this with no degradation to the image quality.

Now for the quiz: to photograph the Cuban Treefrog I used a Nikon D800 and what lens? The frog measured about an inch in length. I will reveal the answer in 2-3 days.

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Gray Treefrog_7662Gray Treefrog and Caddisfly

Early last week I could here a couple of Gray Treefrogs chorusing near my home, so I decided to try to locate them and I did. It was most difficult to photograph these frogs as the ponds substrate was very mucky. Often with each step my feet would sink about 12 inches into the mud. Once I was able to position myself close enough to the frogs I would kneel down in the mud to allow myself to be able to photograph from a low perspective. As I worked my way into position for the above image I was initially bugged by the bug resting on the frog’s head and then I thought that this may just make a fun image, so I happily captured numerous frames of this male Gray Treefrog chorusing with the Caddisfly atop its head.

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Spring Peeper_7343Spring Peeper with Vocal Sac Inflated

With the frog ponds behind my home destroyed, I traveled north to the Parry Sound region to first open the cottage up for another season and to visit one of my favorite temporary ponds that is usually highly productive for American Toads, Spring Peepers, and Gray Treefrogs. The first night was very cool and only the Spring Peepers were out chorusing. Finding Spring Peepers requires a boat load of patience due to there tiny size, but they usually co-operative once you do locate them. The above little fella was found in perfect position on a small silver birch sapling and his placement on the branch would allow for a beautiful poster-like background.

The main problem encountered with photographing frogs at night with flash is spectral highlights. These are blown-out highlights caused when the light from the flash hits the frog’s glossy skin and surrounding wet vegetation. Often I will spend a lengthy amount of time cleaning up these undesirable and unnatural highlights. On occasion, as you can see in the before and after versions below, there will be extensive blown-out highlights. For this particular image there was little good skin left, on the frog’s nose, to work with to evict the highlights so I looked back through the series of images I photographed of this frog on the branch. Sure enough I was able to find another photo where the flash hit the frog’s skin at a slightly different angle resulting in fewer blown-out highlights. I now had my solution. I opened both images into Photoshop and rather than use the ‘Tile’ viewing, I opened them into ‘windows.’ I then made a quick mask of the nose in the image with fewer highlights and moved it into position on the optimized image. The remainder of the flash generated highlights were evicted using the clone stamp tool whereby I would vary the hardness depending on where in the image I was cloning.

This Spring Peeper image was created using a Nikon D800 with a Nikon 105mm Micro lens attached. The flash was a Nikon SB400 Speedlight on a Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket (the best flash bracket I have ever used for frog photography). A small mini-mag flashlight is affixed to the SB400 with two elastics. The small flashlight makes focusing on these critters at night a breeze.

Do remember to click on the images to see the larger, sharper versions of each. The image below shows the original RAW capture straight out of the camera with no adjustments made to it, and the optimized image.

A quick reminder to folks about Denise Ippolito’s presentation for GRIPS Camera Club in Kitchener, Ontario on Monday June 3rd at 7:30 pm. Denise is a very talented and highly creative photographer with imagery bound to fill you with inspiration. If you are in the vicinity do make plans to attend.Hope to see you there :)

Spring Peeper Before & AfterBefore and After Versions of Spring Peeper

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