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Sachatamia albomaculata

On Tuesday, April 3rd I spent the day testing a new DIY flash diffuser while photographing numerous species of frogs for some of the soon to be announced frog workshops. Most of the species featured in today’s post will be available at the next workshop. I can honestly say that this is the absolute best way to diffuse flash when photographing frogs. I am certain that this method of flash diffusion will also work incredibly well for insects too. Often when using flash to photograph frogs there will be some flash generated spectral highlights. Over the years I have become quite skilled at removing such highlights in Photoshop, but the process is time consuming. In today’s blog post my newly created DIY flash diffuser was used to photograph each of the species that are featured. How much post production did I do to each of these photos? The answer is not much at all. Aside from a few tweaks in Adobe Camera Raw and removing a few dust bunnies in Photoshop these images are essentially as is, straight from the camera. I spent no more than about 5 minutes optimizing each of the images in today’s post. There were no flash generated spectral highlights to be concerned with. I cannot wit to get into the wetlands near my home, with my new DIY flash diffuser, to photograph the frogs and toads during the spring breeding season this year

How much did it cost to make my new DIY flash diffuser? The price of a 1 kilogram plastic jar of Kraft peanut butter! The other items I already had on hand and they included an elastic and polystyrene foam sheeting.

Below are a few photos of my newly created DIY flash diffuser and an explanation of how I constructed it to follow.

DIY Flash Diffuser Set-up

 

Polystyrene Foam Sheeting

 

DIY Flash Diffuser Components

 

Since polystyrene foam sheeting is rather flimsy and you will need the plastic peanut butter jar (or something similar) to support the foam sheets. Polystyrene foam sheeting is typically used as a packaging item to protect various goods from damage during shipping. I cut the bottom off the plastic jar and I also cut the jar lengthwise to spread out the plastic, to form a concave shape. Creating a concave shape will allow the lighting top be equal distance from the subjet providing a more evenly diffused light. I also made one cut to the top of the jar which easily allows me to mount it onto a 77mm lens hood and hold it firmly in place with an elastic. You will also want to have the plastic jar slope upwards away from the lens as it does in the first photo of the DIY flash diffuser. I did this by simply running boiling water over the plastic to soften it and then bend it by hand. I then taped two layers of foam sheeting directly to my old Nikon SB600 and three pieces, cut to shape, onto the main diffuser. I found this quantity of foam sheeting provided me with the perfect amount of diffused light to completely eliminate flash generated spectral highlights. Take a look at the remaining frog images below. I do think the benefit of using such a simple and inexpensive diffuser speaks volumes. Even the catchlight in the frog’s eyes is more pleasing, allowing us to see more of the eye ball details with this DIY flash diffuser. If you have any questions about how to construct your own DIY flash diffuser using the materials mentioned above please do not hesitate to contact me for further assistance.

 

Atelopus sp. Limon

 

Dendrobates auratus “el Cope”

 

Dendrobates auratus “Yellow”

 

Dendrobates tinctorius “Lorenzo”

 

Dendrobates tinctorius “Patricia”

 

Epipedobates anthonyi “Ankas”

 

Megophrys aceras

 

Oophaga sylvatica “Diablo”

 

Phyllobates vittatus

 

Ranitomeya flavovitatta

 

Ranitomeya immitator “Chazuta”

 

Ranitomeya sirensis

 

Ranitomeya ventrimaculata

 

Theloderma asperum

 

Sachatamia albomaculata

 

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On Tuesday November 14 at 7:30 p.m. I will be presenting my Ontario & Beyond: Wild Places Wild Faces program for the Photo Arts Club of Newmarket Camera Club at the Newmarket Communtiy Centre and Lions Hall located at 200 Doug Duncan Drive in Newmarket, Ontario. Non-members are welcome to attend the presentation for an entry fee of $5 per person. The presentation features tons of Ontario related imagery and info for those looking for new places to explore within our province as well as destinations that are further afield such as Cayman Brac and the Amazon Rainforest.

Hope to see you there 🙂

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Sunrise at Pollard Bay on Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands, BWI
Nikon D800, Nikon 18-35mm lens @ 18mm
ISO 250
f16 @ 30 seconds
Singh-Ray 3-Stop Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter

I returned from a two week stay on Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands on March 8th and have been busy processing the image files this week. I will share many more images here in the coming days, including a selection of underwater photos captured using my Nikon cameras in an Ewa Marine Housing. First I thought I would share my gear bag for this trip. My go-to pack for traveling light is the Manfrotto Advanced Travel Backpack which is distributed in Canada by Gentec International. I am always amazed at how much gear I can fit into this well designed pack that meets the current carry-on luggage requirements of airlines. Here is what I packed into this gear bag for the trip:

  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon D500
  • Nikkor 18-35mm Lens
  • Nikkor 105mm Micro Lens
  • Nikkor 200-500mm Lens
  • Nikon SB400 Spedlight
  • Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket
  • 77mm Polarizing Filter
  • 95mm Polarizing Filter
  • Singh-Ray 3-Stop Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter
  • Cable Release
  • Gepe Card Holder
  • 2 extra batteries for the camera bodies and lithium AA batteries for for the SB400

Manfrotto Advanced Travel Backpack

The total weight of the gear bag fully packed was 19lbs, which was a tad over the weight requirement for the Twin Otter flight from Grand Cayman to Cayman Brac but the good folks from Cayman Air were fine with me carrying my camera gear with me on the flight. Packed in my checked luggage was my MeFoto Travel Tripod, which was carried in the tripod pocket of the Manfrotto Advanced Travel Backpack once I arrived on Cayman Brac. The water repellent fabric of the pack and the included rain cover came in particularly useful towards the end of my trip as the winds became very strong with 8-10 foot waves crashing into the island’s iron shore causing significant salt spray. It was comforting to know that my gear was safe in the pack when not is use. To read my earlier, in-depth review of this great gear bag please click here.

Stay tuned for much more form this beautiful Caribbean island getaway. To view a larger and sharper version of today’s featured image from Pollard Bay on the island’s south easterly side please do click on the image.

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A male Green Frog in wetland Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 400, f16 @ 1/125 sec

A male Green Frog in wetland
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 400, f16 @ 1/125 sec (Handheld – 1.5 DX CROP)

In June 2015 Venus Optics announced the release of their Laowa 15mm f4 1:1 Macro Lens. I discovered this lens a few months ago and became quite intrigued by it’s specifications, most notably the ability to focus down to 4.7mm from the front element of the lens. There is currently no other lens on the market that is capable of doing what this lens can do. It is a master at wide-angle macro imagery. I had a hunch that this lens would be deadly for creating my frog-scape style imagery even though the lens requires 100% manual operation, including focusing and setting of the diaphragm as there is no coupling to the camera meter. I had hoped to include within this review the results of how the lens performs for landscape photography but unfortunately I suffered a very painful flare-up of my chronic lower back problems. As a result my mobility has been severely limited for the last week or so. I will do an update to this review at a later date to give my impressions of the lens’ performance for landscape use.

A handheld Nikon D800 was used for each of the images in this review and were photographed using the full frame sensor or the 1.5 DX crop. Notations within the image captions will indicate FULL FRAME or 1.5 DX CROP.

Each of the featured images in today’s blog post were created in my favorite wetland on Horseshoe Lake in Muskoka near Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada.

Lens Barrel of the Laowa 15mm f4 Macro Lens The inner ring controls focusing The outer ring controls the diaphram

Lens Barrel of the Laowa 15mm f4 Macro Lens
The inner ring controls focusing
The outer ring controls the diaphragm

The Laowa 15mm f4 1:1 Macro Lens is a well built lens of metal construction. The front lens cap, rear lens cap, and lens hood are of plastic construction. Do note I did not use the lens hood for any of the images within this post as the lens hood would have either shadowed the subject or created unpleasant reflections in the foreground water due to focusing so closely on the subjects. The lens will accept 77mm threaded filters and I was quite pleased to see that my Singh-Ray 77mm Warm-Tone Thin Mount Polarizer did not vignette when used. The lens also incorporates a shift mechanism that allows for 6mm of upward or downward shift, but I did not test this feature as I did not photograph any landscapes as of yet. The focusing and diaphragm rings both have smooth and easy operation. One downfall of the lens is that it does have strong barrel distortion, but since I am primarily using the lens for my frog-scape imagery it is of little concern to me – each of the images featured in today’s post have had no distortion correction applied to them. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled and when present is easily corrected. Center sharpness is excellent but corners do get a little soft, which improves when the lens is stopped down and is seldom worrisome at macro distances such as those in the featured imagery.

In the next series of photos I will illustrate how I go about creating my frog-scape imagery while handholding this set-up.

Arms extended outwards to pull the camera strap tight around my neck for added stability. Live View  and Virtual Horizon activated Thumb is positioned on Zoom Button Index and Middle Finger are positioned on the Focusing Ring

Arms extended outwards to pull the camera strap tight around my neck for added stability.
Live View and Virtual Horizon activated
Thumb of left hand is positioned on Zoom Button
Index and Middle Finger of left hand are positioned on the Focusing Ring

 

While in Live View my left thumb will zoom into the scene. I would then place the frog's eyeball within the area of the red square and using my index and middle-finger on my left hand, rotate the focusing ring until sharp focus is achieved.

While in Live View my left thumb will zoom into the scene. I would then place the frog’s eyeball within the area of the red square and using my index and middle-finger on my left hand, rotate the focusing ring until sharp focus is achieved.

 

Left index finger and middle-finger positioned on the focusing ring to adjust focus

Left index finger and middle-finger positioned on the focusing ring to adjust focus

The Laowa 15mm f4 1:1 Macro Lens is a versatile lens that is capable of producing dramatic wildlife imagery when focused closely on the subject matter. There are many pros to this lens such as:

  • low chromatic aberration
  • excellent center sharpness
  • 1:1 Macro capability
  • Focuses down to 4.7mm from the front element of the lens
  • smooth focusing
  • smooth aperture control
  • shift mechanism
  • inexpensive at approximately $499 US

The only downfalls I  noticed were the barrel distortion and soft corners. When focusing in at macro distances and stopping down to f16 I found the corners to be more than acceptable for my frog-scape style images. The barrel distortion while more noticeable in some images than others again is of little concern to me. In nature we do not encounter perfectly straight lines that often, therefore, I find the distortion to be not too big a deal and can sometimes be used to one’s advantage for creative effect. I will likely not be using this lens for architectural work or for ocean sunrises where the barrel distortion would become very problematic.

Here are a few additional images that I created using the Laowa 15mm f4 1:1 Macro Lens.

Bullfrog in Wetland Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 800, f16 @ 180 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Bullfrog in Wetland
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 800, f16 @ 180 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 400, f16 @ 1/60 sec Handheld 1.5 DX CROP

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 400, f16 @ 1/60 sec
Handheld
1.5 DX CROP

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 4000, f16 @ 1/20 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 4000, f16 @ 1/20 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 2500, f16 @ 1/80 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 2500, f16 @ 1/80 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15 mm Macro Lens ISO 400, f16 @ 1/125 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15 mm Macro Lens
ISO 400, f16 @ 1/125 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 400, f16 1/80 sec Handheld 1.5 DX CROP

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 400, f16 1/80 sec
Handheld
1.5 DX CROP

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Marco Lens ISO 5000, f16 @ 1/25 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Marco Lens
ISO 5000, f16 @ 1/25 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 500, f16 @ 1/160 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 500, f16 @ 1/160 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 800, f16 @ 180 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 800, f16 @ 180 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

 

Bullfrog Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm macro Lens ISO 4000, f16 @ 1/25 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Bullfrog
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm macro Lens
ISO 4000, f16 @ 1/25 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

And one B-Roll image from the wetland. A very co-operative Northern Watersnake that was found sunning itself on a log within the wetland. The front element of the lens is roughly one inch away from the snake’s head in the photo below. This extreme close focusing capability of the Laowa 15mm f4 1:1 Macro Lens makes it my new go to, never leave home without it lens. It is quite simply to versatile and deadly for creating up-close and personal photos of wildlife subjects within their habitat. Spending my hard-earned money on this amazing lens was a good investment!

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

Northern Watersnake Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens ISO 800, f16 @ 1/160 sec Handheld FULL FRAME

Northern Watersnake
Nikon D800, Laowa 15mm Macro Lens
ISO 800, f16 @ 1/160 sec
Handheld
FULL FRAME

 

 

 

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Wimberley Sidekick_4769

As a landscape photographer I do not really have a need for a full gimbal style tripod head, however, on more than one occasion I do recall wishing for such functionality in a tripod head with some of the wildlife encounters I stumble upon while shooting landscape imagery. Enter the Wimberley Sidekick. The Sidekick is designed to convert any ball head into a gimbal-style tripod head in seconds and is available from Wimberley. The Sidekick is light weight at 1.3 lbs and can easily fit into a gear bag or the large pockets of cargo-style pants (as I do with my Sidekick). I find the Sidekick to be particularly useful when I am using my Nikon 200-500mm lens. It would also be highly useful for other folks that are using other super-zooms such as the Sigma 150-600mm lenses or the Tamron 150-600mm lens. Although super-zooms are designed to be relatively light weight they do still weigh in at 5-7 lbs (when handholding this gets heavy and can cause arm strain after awhile, especially if you suffer from tennis elbow), by adding a Sidekick to a ballhead the strain of supporting the gear is completely eliminated and you can effortlessly track and photograph you wildlife subjects.

Wimberley Sidekick attached to ballhead with Nikon 200-500mm lens mounted on a Nikon D800

Wimberley Sidekick attached to ballhead with Nikon 200-500mm lens mounted on a Nikon D800

When fitting a super-zoom set-up to the Wimberley Sidekick you will need to slide the lens’ tripod foot in the Sidekick’s quick release mechanism to find the optimum balance for the gear depending on what focal length you have the lens zoomed too. To effectively balance your rig you may need to purchase a long lens plate such as those available from Wimberley here. I am typically using the lens at it’s 500mm focal length for the wildlife subjects I am photographing, so balancing the set-up is usually required once and then I am good to go. To use this set-up you must flop the ballhead into the vertical position and then insert the Sidekick and lock the ballhead’s quick release mechanism. Position the lens and camera in the Sidekick’s quick release mechanism, balance the set-up and lock down the quick release mechanism. Once proper balance is set you can loosen the ballhead’s panning knob and the Sidekick’s five-lobed soft touch knob. You should now be able to freely and effortlessly move the gear around, in all directions, without fear of the lens flopping up or down because it is perfectly balance within the gimbal style set-up.

The convenience of this small, light weight accessory to convert my ballhead into a gimbal type tripod head is a huge advantage for me in the field. I never leave home or head down a trail without it. I can make the switch from photographing landscapes to wildlife in seconds, which can often translate into getting the shot or missing the shot.

Below are a few images that I have created over the last several months of using the Wimberley Sidekick with my Nikon 200-500mm lens:

Do click on each image to view the sharper, larger versions.

My dog Koko.  She is often my guinea pig for new photo gear when the need arises.

My dog Koko.
She is often my guinea pig for new photo gear when the need arises.

 

Common Loons at Tiny Marsh Elmvale, Ontario, Canada

Common Loons at Tiny Marsh
Elmvale, Ontario, Canada

 

Blue Jay Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, CAnada.

Blue Jay
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.

 

Gray Jay Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Gray Jay
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

 

Pine Marten Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Pine Marten
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

 

Female Northern Cardinal in Winter Thornton, Ontario, Canada

Female Northern Cardinal in Winter
Thornton, Ontario, Canada

 

Red Squirrel Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Red Squirrel
Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

 

Common Loon Horseshoe Lake, Ontario, Canada

Common Loon
Horseshoe Lake, Ontario, Canada

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Bullfrog in Wetland on Horseshoe Lake, Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada Nikon D800, Nikon 18-35mm lens @ 31mm ISO 800, f18 @ 1/100 second Nikon Polarizing Filter

Bullfrog in Wetland, Horseshoe Lake, Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada
Nikon D800, Nikon 18-35mm lens @ 31mm
ISO 800, f18 @ 1/100 second
Nikon Polarizing Filter

The recent warm weather that we have been experiencing this week has already got me dreaming of the new Bullfrog images that I will be creating in the wetland on Hosreshoe Lake, near Parry Sound, Ontario. While there are numerous locations throughout the province of Ontario that could easily be named as my favorite places, I do feel most at home on Horseshoe Lake. Of all the Bullfrog images that I create each year in the wetland on the lake, this image that was created last summer is by far my personal favorite. This coming year I am looking forward to trying new things with my frog work, which will include video clips. I am all set with LED lighting and microphones for night-time forays into wetlands. I am also intrigued by a new camera concept / design by LIGHT and hope to be able to give this new camera technology a whirl with the Bullfrogs of Horseshoe Lake.

To create the frog-scape image above I simply positioned my canoe alongside of this large male Bullfrog, sat in the bottom of the canoe for greater stability, and using the Live View feature on my Nikon D800, I reached out over the side of the canoe, placing the camera low to the surface of the water to create an image whereby the frog dominates the foreground yet the habitat in which the frog lives is quite apparent.

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