Tiny obsession

Tiny obsession

My ongoing quest to get closer and closer continues and I recently added more gadgets that have really proved themselves, a pair of focus rails and a magic arm.

The focus rails took me back to when I owned a set of macro bellows and let me move the camera forward or back and side to side very precisely. Getting the magic arm was inspired by this video and lets me place a flash exactly where I need it to be.

Here it is all setup.

IMG_1855Looks extremely complex and there is a bit more weight but that is offset by increased control of focus and light. Using a tripod makes it easier to manage but I will try this handheld outside and see what happens.

This setup gets me close but I can get even closer. that involves a step down ring to connect an old 50mm to the front of the 90mm macro shown in use. Here is an example with me just holding this all together by hand.

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This image provides an idea of just how close I’m getting.

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A tiny studio

A tiny studio

– doesn’t require a lot of gear or effort to set up. Here’s what I use for photographing most small objects, including the pocket knife image used for this post.

  • A window with diffuse light, in my case I built a shelf under this one, as it has a day night blind.
  • Timber offcuts  assembled into a upside down “T” with a small bulldog clip to hold the background paper.
  • Some plain A3 paper for the background
  • A small reflector to get some detail back in the shadows
  • A camera and for me that will usually be a digital SLR on a tripod but this setup should work with a phone or compact camera.

Here is a hasty image of it in action. It’s a great way way to work when the outside is uninviting and takes up very little space so you can leave it up.

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Something found

Something found

It’s just seed cone I picked up walking the dog but it became an exercise in creativity and problem solving.

The details;

To start with I just wanted a clean simple image with limited sharpness, I used an A4 sketchpad as a background and an improvised light source using a big window with a diffuser blind plus an iPhone box that was laying around as a reflector to fill the shadows. My 30 year old Calcuflash incident meter read f4 at 1/60, 400 ISO so I went with that. It’s not too shabby.

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All up that was ten minutes effort but then I reworked the setup to get a sharper image. I could have gone with a longer exposure and smaller aperture but did not want to dig the tripod out so instead I went for flash. Using a ring flash diffuser I was able to use f11 at 1/160 sec, 400 ISO to get this;

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The sharpness is there but working so closely (within a hand width of the subject) the light is not getting to the top of the subject and a lot of detail is getting lost. The paper is also over exposed in the top left corner.

The ring flash diffuser is a recent eBay purchase best described as a cross between a donut, a folding soft-box light modifier and a small drum. It cost somewhere between 20-30 dollars and for that you get a small soft-box that is really portable.

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Solving this required a simple compromise using both the daylight and flash. Here is the result using f11 1/125 sec, 400 ISO. I also got a little further back to allow the ring flash to do it’s job better. The result is sharper and more evenly exposed. The only catch is the colour balance, which will always be an issue as the colour temp of daylight changes through the day.

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Finally, for completeness I got the tripod out of hiding and did this at f20 1/4 sec, 400 ISO

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Here is the set used.

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Two out of three

Two out of three

Important tips when photographing flowers if there is the slightest breeze…

Don’t do it!

Okay, sometimes that isn’t a choice so you can improve your chances with this advice.

  1. Try and secure the stem to save reframing the image every few seconds.
  2. Assume your depth of field is insufficient and increase it by at least two stops, especially as you get within an arm’s length of your subject. f5.6 won’t deliver the sharpness that f16 will at that distance.
  3. Keep your shutter speed high to avoid blur. More wind equals higher shutter speed.
  4. Assuming you do steps 2 and 3, raising the ISO on your camera is the only way to have both.
  5. Never assume the focal point you chose will be what you end up with. Try and wait for the breeze to back off then press the shutter button.

Here is the same plant on a calmer day…

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Phoneography

A lot of the images on this blog are from my phone. While it has not replaced my DSLR it has become my everyday carry but it does have limitations when it comes to lenses. When I saw this article on Boing Boing for a cheap set of clip on lenses it got me thinking about whether or not it was worth the trouble. Looking over to my left I noticed a similar but larger set of accessory lenses from one of my oldest digital cameras a Kodak DX3900 that I no longer use but have held onto since 2003.

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I figured these lenses were probably slightly better quality but I lacked a way to attach them. That said, I figured I could try freelensing using my phone instead of risking getting the sensor on my DSLR covered in dust. This way I could have some fun until I worked out how to attach them or gave in and a bought a cheap clip on set.

Enter my trusty studio assistant Edwood. A simple two light setup on my desk resulted in these images.

This was a quick and dirty test of different combinations. I tried stacking the macro lenses onto the wide and tele but had difficulty focussing. The macro was probably the standout for me but overall the lenses are too big to freehold and really impractical for use outdoors. The results are also a little soft but I could probably improve on that if had more control over aperture.

I’m now sold on the idea of getting some add-on lenses though and having something universal rather than for a specific phone makes sense.  I would also like to see if there are telephoto options so I think I will see what else is out there.

The 60 minute challenge – Old boots

The 60 minute challenge – Old boots

This weekend the light is weak and dull. I’m still recovering mentally from the paper I just submitted, so there is no energy to get out of the house. To stay motivated, I set myself a 60 minute time challenge to photograph something in my study.

It is good to occasionally give yourself restrictions and deadlines. They force you to make decisions under some pressure and strip out the unnecessary. For me, that equals simple subjects, plain backgrounds and compositional elements and basic lighting.

The subject is my favourite old pair of Blundstone boots placed on a card table and lit by a large window on the right and reflector on the left. Since the day was overcast, the window light is already diffused, otherwise I would have stuck a diffuser panel on the right or just hung a white sheet over the window. A harder light source could work if you wanted deeper shadow or wanted to emphasise textures.

These images were actually 40 minutes start to finish, including post process in Lightroom. I tried to show the age and distress in the leather by altering the orange, yellow and blue levels to increase the contrast.

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