Why Macro photography interests me.

Recently, while sorting through some boxes of old photo junk (I’ve moved recently), I came across an old Mamiya Sekor macro lens.  I bought this lens at a garage sale probably 20 years ago and had forgotten I even had it.  Recently, I’ve been using a small mirrorless camera (Nex 5n) in my photography that, with adaptors, allow me to use some old m39 screw mount Leica lenses as well as a collection of Pentax m42 mount lenses.  Most of these lenses I inherited from my father years ago but haven’t put to much use until recently.  So, I already had the M42 to NEX adaptor I needed to mount this macro lens and soon I was enjoying the power of a 1:1 macro lens.

This is really my first macro lens.  I’ve been using my 300mm f/4 lens with an extension tube and a 1.4x teleconverter to get images of insects and flowers.  The advantage of this setup is the long camera to subject distance, 3-4 feet, used for these images.  This distance helps when photographing targets that are shy or dangerous!  However, this 300mm setup doesn’t quite have the sharpness and clarity of an excellent macro lens.

What I enjoy about macro work is that it shows detail that is invisible to the naked eye. I take an image at 1:1 on a small camera sensor with lots of pixels (in this case, 16 Mpixels) and blow the resulting image up on a big computer screen.  This is almost like looking through a low power microscope, and it is displayed on a big screen with very high fidelity.

There is a lot of beauty in nature at scales too small for us to see and at scales too large for us to imagine.  I find that the small scale beauty has a special quality not generally found in larger structures.  Of course, there are similar patterns in all of nature but small scales allow certain things to exist that wouldn’t survive being scaled up to human size.

If you are a photographer, and haven’t yet tried macro photography, I recommend trying your hand.  Some of the point-and-shoot cameras have very good macro capabilities, I got some nice shots with my very first digital camera, a Canon Powershot G3.  For the DSLR user, there are various macro lenses available as well as extension tubes and close-up lenses.  I think there is an approach to macro or close-up photography for almost every budget, give it a try!

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Charity Portrait Shoot #1

This last Saturday I did the first in a series (hopefully) of portrait shoots that will raise money for my neighborhood association.  I used a studio backdrop and a couple of radio triggered off-camera flash guns with umbrellas to set up a controlled environment rather than doing the photos by available light, which I also enjoy in many circumstances.  Since this was the first time I used the backdrop and two flashes, I thought I’d document a little about the setup and the results.

The backdrop I have consists of two tripods with tall center poles and a cross pole between the two.  The backdrop itself is basically a 10 foot by 20 foot piece of tie-dyed muslin with a long loop in one short end that goes on the cross-pole.  I ordered the stand and back drop from Amazon, the stand is the Linco Single Crossbar Background Support System and the back drop is the CowboyStudio Hand painted 10ft X 20ft Tie Dye Gray Muslin Photo Backdrop.  This is all fairly easy to set up and take down although it is nice to have helpers to fold the muslin backdrop.  I’d say it works pretty well and for $135, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

One of the flashes I use is a Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash for Canon EOS Digital SLR Cameras, also bought through Amazon.  The second flash is a “Sunpak auto 30 DX” that I bought used for about $40.  This Sunpak has a manual adjustment for light output and a guide number of 100 feet at ISO 100 (pretty bright).  The off camera kit is the ePhoto UB4 Double Off Camera Flash Kit with Carrying Bag with 2 each of 7 Foot Stands with Brackets, 33-Inch Reflector Umbrellas and 32-Inch White Umbrellas from Amazon. The wireless trigger setup is the CowboyStudio NPT-04 4 Channel Wireless Trigger for External Speelights with 1 Trigger and 2 Receivers (NPT-04+extra receiver).

Finally, I used a Canon 5D mark II camera body with a 135mm F/2L lens for all of the images.  This 135mm lens is wonderfully sharp but I do wish it had image stabilization built in.  I can usually get sharp results at 1/200 second and, of course, when using a flash, the movement problems are generally eliminated by the short duration of the flash.  This body syncs at 1/250th of a second although I sometimes get shadows at this speed so I almost always shoot at 1/200th second.  Since I generally like to use a shallow depth of field, I’m shooting anywhere from wide open at f2 down to f5.6 to get multiple people in focus (In some cases, I should have used f8 or so because one of the two people in some of the images is a bit soft).

From above, the setup looks like this:

Image showing my portrait taking setup from above.

Image showing my portrait taking setup from above.

I used a white, pass-through, umbrella on the flash illuminating the subject.  I sometimes used a white pass-through umbrella on the flash illuminating the background and sometimes not.  I moved the position of the camera around a bit and faced my subjects in varied directions.  I also did some available light shots near a window during this shoot but I’ll describe those elsewhere.

During this shoot, I had one dog and two people to shoot.  The dog was a Yorkshire Terrier and stood about 6 inches tall at the shoulder.  The two people were adults, a man and his girlfriend, the man being about 8 inches taller than the woman.  Shooting the Yorkie was interesting because she was so short.  I lowered the flashes as low as they go and shot some images of the dog in her master’s lap.  Later I just got on the floor and shot her as she ran around the room, the light from the flashes illuminating the scene but not really pointing where I would prefer.  In the case of an energetic little dog, you just have to do your best!  Here is an image of Lola (the Yorkie) taken during the “running around on the floor” stage.

Photograph of a Yorkshire Terrier

Lola perks up her ears at a sound.

After having some fun with Lola, the people were next.  I shot the couple together and seperately.  First is a photo of the two together.  Here I made some mistakes because I didn’t have the aperture set small enough to get enough depth of field to get them both in focus for some shots.  Fortunatly, I was moving around, so, in some shots, the plane of focus was close enough to both of their faces to get them both in reasonably good focus although I never got an image where both were tack sharp.  This one is pretty good (they chose the shirts and we didn’t do any makeup).

Portrait of a man and woman

Portrait of the couple in reasonably sharp focus.

Finally, here is a photo of the woman, she has a nicer smile than the man!

Portrait of a woman

Portrait of the woman, with a nice smile.


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Acadia National Park

This past week I visited the state of Maine and Acadia National Park on the Atlantic coast.  We stayed in Bangor, about 50 miles from Bar Harbor and the park.  We made two trips to Acadia, one to Mount Desert Island, and one to the Schoodic peninsula.

On the first visit, we drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain (1500′) for the view (this is the highest mountain within 25 miles of the U. S. Atlantic coast), stopped at Bubble Pond where there is access to a carriage road, and drove the loop road out to Otter Point and Little Hunter’s Beach.

The carriage roads in Acadia National Park were built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. from 1913 to 1940.  Rockefeller apparently was quite a horseman and built the roads to explore the backcountry of the park on horseback away from motorcars.  Two Gate Lodges were built, one at Jordan Pond and the other near Northeast Harbor.  There were still a few fall color leaves clinging to the trees in the area, but most had fallen to the ground.  The image below shows a view along one of these carriage roads, which are 16 feet wide and made of broken-stone in three layers.  This photograph was taken near Bubble Pond:

Carriage Road in Acadia National Park near Bubble Pond.

Carriage Road in Acadia National Park near Bubble Pond.

During the road construction, engineer Paul Simpson and his family lived in the Jordan Pond Gate Lodge shown below.

Jordan Pond Gate Lodge, Acadia National Park

Jordan Pond Gate Lodge, Acadia National Park

On our second visit to Acadia, just before we flew back to Arizona, we drove out to Schoodic Point for sunrise.  We parked at the parking lot an wondered out over the rocks. There is a contrast between some of the older, pink, granite rocks, and the dark intrusive basalts. We enjoyed watching the sun rise out of the Atlantic ocean and I took a number of photographs using my 16mm lens on the little Sony NEX-5n camera.  I’ve always liked the foreground-background sort of images and took quite a few.  The image below shows some foreground granite with dark basalt behind it just at the moment of sunrise over Schoodic Island.

Sunrise, Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine

Sunrise, Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine

I continue to be amazed at the beauty of the natural world and love to try to capture it with my camera!

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Sony 16mm f2.8 E-mount lens

I’ve been using only legacy lenses with my NEX-5n so far, in fact that was my purpose in buying it, to use lenses I inherited from my father. I’ve been generally pleased with the lenses from his old Leica kit (1948-1951) and his Pentax kit (1972-1975) but I didn’t have a wide angle lens, at least not one that gave me the field of view I was looking for on a 1.5x crop sensor camera. I thought about adapting my Sigma 10-20mm that I use on my Canon 40D or the 17-40mm that I use on my 5DmkII but these both seemed very large and clumsy on the small NEX body and the lack of an aperture ring would make their use problematic.

I read the reviews of the Sony e-mount 16mm f2.8 pancake lens and wasn’t impressed. Not only did it sound like there was a lot of variation copy-to-copy but also the edges and corners were said to be soft at wide apertures. In spite of this, and since I also wanted to try out the auto-focus on my camera, I bought one at Best Buy last week.

My impressions are, first, that it is light-weight, even lighter than my 1948 50mm f3.5 elmar, the lightest lens in my collection thus far. Second, it is quite compact and will fit nicely in my little camera kit for travel, hiking, and backpacking. After some tests, I think this lens will work well for me. I plan to use it mostly for landscape shooting and perhaps some streetscape work. At small apertures, f11 and f16, I find the lens acceptably sharp. Even at f2.8 it is pretty sharp in the center which can work for street photography. The distortions are well corrected in LightRoom 3.5 and I haven’t run up against the chromatic aberrations yet but hope to be able to correct these in post processing as well. The ability to focus quite closely is also an advantage over some of the older lenses in my collection.

I haven’t become entirely confident in my use of the auto-focus yet, the little auto-focus box seems to jump around quite a bit and doesn’t stay where I put it by touching the screen, but, well, I need to read the manual in more detail.

Anyway, for $249, I am well pleased with this lens, here is a photograph I took last evening in the desert near my town.

 image of a saguaro in black and white
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Progress toward photographic image gallery

I’ve put together a small photo image gallery as a test on the “Photography” page.  I’m using the NextGEN gallery plugin and it works nicely, at least on Safari.  I guess it uses the evil Adobe Flash which I would like to avoid, but I’m not quite knowledgeable enough to solve that problem yet.  The main things I wanted to accomplish were to have the page not reload every time the image changed and also to have the image display in the full browser window (well, up to the max size of the image).

I’ll need to add some sub-pages to the photography page to include various classifications of images.  “desaturation”, “landscape”, “people”, “wildlife”, etc. could be some of the galleries.  I’ll have to think about logical ways to group things.

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A New Beginning

I’ve been meaning to get my LytleDrive website running for a while now and yesterday, I decided to try using WordPress for the basic structure.  This first post serves two purposes, first, to welcome people to my site and second, to try things out, see what works, and what doesn’t, to experiment.

This site will be about photography, science, and software.  These are things I’m passionate about, love to share with people, and will be deeply involved with for the foreseeable future.  I want to show examples of my photography, talk about photographic technique and equipment, share scientific news and thoughts, and describe some of my process as I design and build software.

I want to post a photograph here to see how it looks in the current blog setup.  This setup will almost surely change as I work through the design of this website.  The following photograph was taken last week on a little hike along Sabino Creek, which is on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, where I currently live.  I went late in the day and hiked to an area I’ve been before where there is often water in the stream.  This is the desert and the streams don’t always run but this day I was greeted by some pools and a trickle of water.

The subject I was interested in photographing were the rocks and boulders in the stream-bed.  I enjoy the variety of stones, their shapes and textures, and the way they pile up into random combinations.  I often convert photographs taken in this environment to black and white since the qualities I’m after are textures and shapes, not colors.  In this case however, not only were there some interesting colors in the boulders, but the setting sun was illuminating the canyon walls with a yellow-orange glow that was reflected in the pools of the stream.

Please click on the image to see the full sized version!  I’ve added my own mat to the image as well as a caption and my logo.  There is an option in this blog software to add a caption and I’ll have to try that too but I like the idea of laying out the image, caption, and logo myself before I upload the photograph.  Soon, I’ll add some image portfolios here.

OK, back to work improving this website!

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