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.


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


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.


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;


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.


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.

DSC_0058 (2)

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

DSC_0058 (3)

Here is the set used.


Looking and listening this week

Looking and listening this week

The diversity of approaches to portraiture fascinates me, not just from a technical perspective but the personal interaction between photographer and subject, the negotiation that leads to an image both are satisfied with. Mastery of both technique and interpersonal skills is essential to success.

Looking at work by Bryn DC and Joseph Degbadjo

Listening to and watching  Mark SeligerGarry Fong and COOPH


Working out

Working out

My portable studio lighting kit is coming together nicely and I’m working through some approaches that allow me to get setup quickly. This is something I want to keep simple but there is always the temptation to add when less is probably more. For the moment I plan to stick to one light, one modifier like a soft-box and two folding reflectors, a larger one for background and smaller for fill light.  Repeated exercises around packing, unpacking, setup and working build knowledge and experience over time, freeing the mind to focus on the subject, mindful those soft skills around working with people need exercise too…

Look harder

Look harder

Things you pass every day, regardless of how mundane they appear…


Are worthy of and deserve your attention, if only because one day, they will be special.

Makes note of these ordinary things and think about the changes different time and light will make. Then be ready to act when the time and light are right.

Afternoon light

Afternoon light

A lot of the photographic literature suggests the best times of day are the golden hours around sunrise and sunset and while there is certainly some truth in that, life happens 24 hours a day, regardless of how good the light is and limiting yourself to just a few of those hours seems wasteful. Making hard overhead light work requires some different thinking but there is a lot of open shade available so you have options.

With that in mind. I set out yesterday afternoon to explore some of the lanes on Melbourne’s edges. Primarily, a section between Chinatown and Little Bourke Street to Latrobe Street, Between Swanston and Spring Streets. These tend to be less crowded but no less interesting than the more popular, graffiti adorned ones closer in to the city centre like Hosier or AC/DC lanes.  Here are some of the results , a mix of details like old signage and small artworks and scenes.

Oh, to make make things more interesting, these are all done with one 40mm lens

Looking and listening this week

Looking and listening this week

So I was lazy and felt too overfed to do much, so I caught up on my YouTube watch later list, between family commitments. That said,  I have started culling images made over the last year, something I plan to do on a quarterly basis from now on. The Summer is a good time to work on tasks like this in air-conditioned comfort.I’m also looking into my workflow and hoping to finally reduce the number of applications I use. Jan

There is still some beautiful light to be had but that involves getting up even earlier than I do now to be in the right place or working later in the day when the temperatures are still near peak. I tend to hold off until after the Summer solstice but occasionally there are parts of Melbourne that only get good light this time of year and only when the sun is high. The town has these narrow lanes full of original buildings and details but the light is often blocked by office buildings


This is Hardware lane around mid afternoon. The opposite side of the lane is in complete shadow. There is a brief period when both sides of the lane are lit and you get light grazing across the bricks and features, usually between 12 and 2. In winter, the Sun is lower so neighbouring office blocks and weather combine to prevent that light from happening.

That just means I can’t get that grazing sidelight that brings out the texture and contrast. You have to work with what you have.





Listening to Lake Street Dive





You can’t cross the same river twice

You can’t cross the same river twice

The title for this post came from the book Equal rites, by the late, great author Terry Pratchett. Think about it, a river is not the same, even though it is in the same location to the last time you crossed it. The water has continued to flow, the process of erosion has acted on the banks and so on.

In fact, nothing is static, though it may appear to be at times and there is nothing we can do to change that, we can only take advantage of the opportunities that change presents us when we can. We also need to understand that change or difference isn’t necessarily wrong.

Light illustrates what I’m trying to say far better than I can say it. Here is the title image from my last post. It was an overcast day, shortly after rain had come though.


It is the same object featured in the title for this post. Two distinctly different images of the same object taken within a week of one another. The light is not the only difference though. All the decisions made up to and after I pressed the shutter are different. In effect the images show that I changed.

It may not always feel like we are making the progress we want but little by little, through each image we make and each little piece of experience we absorb, changes are taking place. I’m not the same photographer I was 30 years ago, ten years or even three when I first started this blog. I’m really looking forward to being a different photographer this time next year.

It is my fervent wish for all my subscribers and readers that you embrace change like an old friend with both arms open and make the most of what it offers you in the new year.