Make Do

I’ve not had access to a proper studio since I left TAFE (college) where I abused, I mean used the excellent facilities. Now working from home I have to make do with whatever is around the house and a few well-chosen bits of photo kit. In the above pic I’m doing a product shot of back pack in the sitting room. I don’t have a white infinity curve on a product table so I use a small Ikea coffee table covered in a white shower curtain and a white double sheet as the background. I want the backpack on a white fore ground and against a white background. Experience has taught me that if a light the background with a flash gun (speed light to our American readers) and over expose by 1 stop it will show as pure white. The subject is lit by two flash guns in brolly boxes arranged at 45º to each other. The camera sits on a tripod and the flashes are triggered wirelessly using a Phottix Odin transmitter. Unlike a lot of photographers I shoot using TTL control and use flash exposure compensation on each flash to control the lighting ratio which in this case is 2:1 or the key light (the black brolly) is set to be twice as powerful as the fill light. All very simple really.

The Black Hole Of Babakin

Plus One by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Plus One – a winter spider orchid (Caladenia drummondii) and its visitor. Sorenson’s Reserve, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Canon EF 100mm f2.8 IS L macro lens. Exposure: 1/250 sec, f11, at ISO 400.

 

Yesterday I decided to go on a little road trip to Babakin in search of the winter spider orchid. You’ve got to be mad to do a round trip of 320Km in the hope of finding one very small flower. It was a good day for it, the weather was cloudy and overcast, perfect for this type of photography, and I had nothing else scheduled. So packed my camera gear into the car, made sure the mobile was loaded with music and set off to the teeming Wheatbelt metropolis of Babakin. Now Babakin is in the local government area of Bruce Rock, which according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics covers an area of 2,727 square kilometres (1,053 sq mi) and has a population as of 2015 of 939 people. Babakin itself has a population of 25 – it is safe to assume that the local canine population out numbers the people – so there’s not a lot out there except wheat fields.

 

The drive was great, a lot of it on dirt track so plenty of red dust, and the time and distance just flew by thanks to the music. The shuffle play threw up some golden oldies – the best being Crazy On You by American group Heart. Put that one on full-bore. I wasn’t exactly head banging but lets say that the bouncing around of the car wasn’t entirely due to the road surface.  Oh that took me back to the Chichester RocSoc at the New Park Road Community Centre.

Now these days we rely an awful lot on technology, I’m no exception,  I was using my mobile phone for music and navigation. As I got close to my destination the phone just cut out – no more navigation,  no more music. No mobile network coverage could explain the first but not the later. I switch to my TomTom SatNav and that packed up – couldn’t get a signal. OOOOeeeeeerrrrrr! Luckily I was nearly there. When I got to the nature reserve I did what I normally do and that is switch on my handheld GPS and mark the position of the car. These reserves have no facilities of any kind, not even paths or tracks, so I do this so I can just wander around in the bush and then when I’ve had enough I just follow the GPS to get me back. So off I walk. After an hour and a half I eventually find a single tiny specimen and proceed to photograph it. I use off camera flash fired by radio triggers to light my pictures of orchids. I set everything up as usual took a shot and noticed the flash didn’t go off. Tried again – nothing. Checked everything was firmly in place – nothing. Changed the batteries in the transmitter and receiver – still nothing. Bugger! Had a rummage around in my camera bag and found an old TTL cable so that got me out of the fix. Eventually I packed up and started walking to the car.  I looked at the GPS screen and saw that it was blank. Bugger! I replaced the batteries – nothing. Another set of batteries and still NOTHING!!! Buggeration with bloody great knobs! A rising tide of panic starts to wash over me. Wash? No it was more like a tsunami. After a little pep talk I heard a truck go past. Now remember how I said earlier that this was a sparsely populated area? Yes? Well I can tell you I have never been so glad to hear a truck. I walked off in that direction battling through the scrub and eventually hit the road about 300 metres from the car. Phew!

The drive home was quiet – no phone, no SatNav, no music. When I got there after an hour and a half I carried everything into my office and started my usual post shoot ritual of zeroing all the camera settings, downloading the images and checking batteries prior to packing everything away. I almost jumped out of my skin when my phone beeped and started to play music. I checked the SatNav and it was picking up a signal, as was the handheld GPS. I tentatively got the flash triggers out and checked them and they were working just fine. WEIRD! Perhaps there’s just something about Babakin.

I can’t go without putting a YouTube video up for Heart’s Crazy On You. It’s a cracking track and this time I’ll put up a live recording from 1978 and from 2013 so you can see how the band has fared over time. All I can say is that Anne and Nancy Wilson can still strut their stuff in their sixties. Respect!

 

After Midnight

Night time at the old York drive in movie theatre. Canon EOS 5D with Canon EF20mm f/2.8 USM. Exposure 64.0 s at f/4.0 ISO 800.

Apologies to the late, great JJ Cale, who wrote the absolutely sublime song “After Midnight”, but I have been prowling around after dark with my camera and tripod. Every summer I do this because endless blue skies and fields of sun bleached wheat stubble do not make for very interesting photographs. Shooting at night can make the mundane look strangely beautiful and ethereal.

CBH Nocturne, York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 550D & Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 OS EX. Exposure; manual mode 30.0 s at f/4.0 ISO 3200.

Most of the time the images are straight, i.e. I just set the camera up on my tripod and make an exposure, like the two images above. Sometimes I like to play a little with light painting and flash to make something a little more out there.

In the wreckers yard at night. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 5D, Canon EF24mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 550EX Speedlite and Canon 430EX Speedlite . Exposure: manual mode 30.0 s at f/2.8 ISO 400.

This image and the one below used flash with gels attached and fired by a set of el cheap “Poverty Wizards” I bought off of Ebay. I keep meaning to get a couple more old manual speedlites and some more wireless receivers to achieve more complicated lighting effects, but what usually happens is that summer ends and I stop going out at night and I quickly forget about it. Maybe this year.

Toxic Waste. Something’s happening in York’s drains!!! York Western Australia. Canon EOS5d with EF20mm f/2.8 USM lens, 430EX Speedlite, and 550EX Speedlite. Exposure 251.0 s at f/5.6 ISO 400.

What makes this fun is that it is experimental, you’re never completely sure how the image is going to turn out. Also with exposures knocking around 30 to 240 seconds it is a slow process and that makes it a more thoughtful exercise as it is not just a case of blazing away and hoping. I find because it can take up to twenty minutes making test exposures and then the final image I become  thoughtful about composition. It is not unusual to have been out for a couple of hours and only make four or five images.

As always clicking on an image will take you through to my online gallery.

Old Skool

Mary is the tree spirit that lives in the wandoo forest outside of York, Western Australia. Canon EOS300d, Canon EF18-55 lens, 550EX speedlite.

The other day I was rootling around in the darker recesses of my photo files when I came upon this image. I remember taking it very clearly, this painted tree is visible from  the York road and as I set up my camera on its tripod people driving thought I must have been operating a speed camera and slowed down as they passed. The shot was taken on my first dSLR, a Canon EOS300d with its kit lens and a 550EX speedlite. Prehistoric equipment in today’s terms. Only 6Mp, a sensor that should be used above 400 ISO, and features that were serious crippled so as not to steal sales from the Canon EOS10d. Why did I buy the camera? Well it was the first sub $2000 AUD dSLR in Australia. Now you can get so much more for $500. Technology marches on at a relentless pace. Seeing this shot made me get the camera out again, and just for old times sake I shot the photos of the cameras in last weeks blog entry with it. Processing them in Lightroom was a revelation, they came up looking quite good. So I went back to the original RAW file for Mary and processed it Lightroom and finished off in Snapseed. The result was much better than when I first processed it using Canon RAW processor and Photoshop Elements 4. It just goes to show that newer software can breathe new life into older images. I’ve decided to keep the 300d out for a while longer and shoot stuff for the web with it.

As always clicking on the photo will take you through to my gallery.

Equivalence Schmalivance

Comparing the sizes of full frame, APSc and m4/3 cameras and lenses.

Internet forums are full of self-proclaimed experts spouting absolute crap about things they know nothing about. Unless you were hiding out in a cave with Osama Bin Laden or not visited the home of countless pointless photographic brand based crusades that is otherwise known as dpreview.com you maybe aware of this hot topic that has spawned a thousand fevered posts and countless character assassinations. If not it goes like this: equivalence is the idea that the size of the camera format effects focal length, depth of field, and exposure, and that when talking about equipment one should express this in terms relating to 35mm equivalents. These arguments became particularly prevalent when Olympus and Panasonic started to have some success with their micro four thirds format. The people express this idea most fervently are those who have sold two of their children and a kidney on Ebay to fund the purchase of a so-called full-frame dSLR and they want to let everyone who uses a smaller format that they are using an inferior product. Usually these arguments go like this:

m4/3 user: Hey I’ve just got my self a new lens, it’s the Olympus 45mm f1.9. It’s a lovely lens, wide open it produces very portraits wide open.

Full framer: It’s not a 45mm f1.8 it is a 90mm f3.8. It cannot render out of focus backgrounds and the smaller sensor needs more light and therefore longer exposures or higher ISO. A proper photographer would use an 85mm f1.2 on a full frame camera.

The argument will typically degenerate and lead to insults and other full frame users diving in to bolster the argument with lots of spurious mathematical equations, graphs and claims of mental deficiency on the part of any smaller format user and maybe even casting doubts on the mental faculties of their parents as well. So what is all this about then and why are people getting so hot under the collar?

Equivalence is not a new thing, it didn’t come with digital, it was a known fact back in the dim dark ages of film, and then funnily enough 35mm film was seen as the miniature inferior format. In those far off times a lot of professional work, and when I use the term professional I mean done for money, was shot using large format, the smallest was 5×4 inches and the largest practical was 10×8 inches. The next step down was medium format where a roll of film was used that was nominally 6cm wide, the popular sizes were 6×7, 6×6 and 6×4.5 cm. Small format, or miniature format was 35mm and smaller. It wasn’t until the advent of modern electronics  and a significant breakthrough with tabular grain film  in the 1980’s that 35mm really took off as a format. The ease of use that automation made with sharper finer grained films that made many professional photographers and advanced amateurs take up using 35mm and by the end of the 1990’s the larger formats had become niche products for specialised uses.

Professional photographers were well aware of equivalence.  A 10×8 camera with a 300mm lens has the same angle of view as a 5×4 camera with 150mm, a 6x6cm camera with 80mm and a 35mm camera with a 50mm. As most working photographers ran more than one format and some three or more favourite angles of view would be duplicated across the systems. So for 5×4 a photographer may have a 90mm, a 150, and a 300. His/her 6×6 system would then have a 55, 80 and 150mm lenses, and the 35mm system  35, 50 and 100mm lens all giving roughly the same angles of view.

Factors that influence depth of field are:

  • format size
  • focal length
  • distance to subject
  • magnification
  • lens aperture

From this we can, therefore assume that the larger the format size , the longer the focal length, the closer to the subject, the larger the lens aperture, and the greater the magnification the less the depth of field. So that is clear then. Well no because when we talk about depth of field it is also important to remember that what we are really talking about is acceptable sharpness because a lens can only render one single distance in focus (the plane of critical focus) and objects at other distances to the front and rear will have diminishing sharpness the further they are away from that point. The reality of this is that for most normal usage part of the scene will be acceptably sharp both in front of and behind the point of critical focus, and this zone will be formed that 1/3 of it is in front of the subject and 2/3 behind. This zone can be shallow with only a small part of the scene appearing to be sharp, or it can be deep with the apparent sharpness seemingly covering everything. Seems simple so far, well it gets more complicated because you can break these relationships. As magnification increases the depth of field decreases and the zone of apparent sharpness also shifts from the one-third in front and two-thirds to the rear to an equidistant amount front and rear. Also once you start playing with the plane of the lens in relation to the sensor and subject then everything can go a bit strange. Typically one of the problems that plagued large format shooters was that of getting enough depth of field. Large sensor, small depth of field, not much chop if you’re a landscape shooter. Well using the Scheimpflug rule you can place the plane of focus wherever you want in a scene by positioning the plane of the lens to be parallel with the plane of the subject by tilting the camera front, if that does not completely achieve what you want then you tilt the sensor plane as well  so that the planes of the subject, lens and sensor form an intersecting point and this will mean that the subject plane will then be completely sharp while shooting wide open. Working the other way round you can diminish the zone of sharpness  by swinging and tilting the camera front. This is not the sole prerogative of large format camera, tilt and shift lenses are available in medium format, 35mm, APS and even m4/3 . The other thing that throws a spanner in the works for depth of field is that the size of the output and viewing distance plays a big part. Simply put big print viewed at a distance and apparent sharpness is reduced.

12mm .v. 24mm

To test the theory I decided to print out an A3 sized lens resolution test chart and this was then set up on an easel in my garden. A tripod was then set up 1.8 metres away from the easel. The cameras tested were the Olympus EP-2 and the Canon EOS5d, both having roughly the same number of megapixels. Choosing lenses was somewhat problematic although I have a set of professional grade fast aperture constant zooms for my 5d I don’t for the EP-2. The lenses used were for the Canon an EF 24mm f2.8, a Sigma 105 f2.8 macro and  an 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. For the Olympus the lenses were a Zuiko 12-50mm f3.5-6.3, a Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro, and a Zuiko 40-150mm f4-5.6. Each camera was mounted on the tripod in turn and set to shoot large quality jpegs in aperture priority, image stabilisation where appropriate was switched off and the self timer was used to prevent any camera shake. The lens was focused on the chart. None of the images have been processed in any way and the full-sized images can be seen by clicking on any of the composite shots below where you’ll be taken to my Flickr account. At the 24mm and equivalent view the DOF was pretty much equal, although I suspect that there maybe more apparent differences at apertures of f2 and wider, but I wasn’t able to test that. The comparison between the two short telephoto macro lenses highlighted the most difference and at wide open at f2.8 the Olympus manages to resolve some background detail while the Canon doesn’t at all. At the equivalent of 300mm at f5.6 there is very little discernible difference, but that changes at f8 and smaller where the m4/3 camera starts to resolve more detail.

Zuiko 60mm .v. Sigma 105mm
150mm .v. 300mm

So what happens to exposure. Doesn’t that change? The short answer is no. When I got my first medium format camera, a secondhand Mamiya C330 Professional , it had no built in metering and the  handheld Weston meter that came with it had obviously been dropped and no longer worked properly so I used my Olympus OM1n  as a meter and guess what? It worked! Much later when working in the studio with studio flash I determined the exposure with my flash meter and would often make exposures with different format cameras but the exposure value remained the same and the images were correctly exposed. Memory is a fine thing, but I wanted to make definitely sure so I decided to run a quick test comparing full frame, to APS-c, m4/3 and compact camera with a sensor measuring 8.07 x 5.56 mm. The test was simple each camera would use a lens of as near as possible field of view equivalent to 105mm on full frame. The ISO was set to 200, and the shutter speed was set to the maximum synch speed so as not to let ambient light interfere with the result. White balance was set to flash, and pictures settings were natural and the images recorded as fine jpegs. A Canon 550EX speedlite was mounted on a light stand, set on manual to 1/2 power and fired at the test scene through an umbrella diffuser and was triggered by a synch cord. The flash output was measured with my Minolta flash meter which is accurate to 1/10 of a stop, the aperture required for correct exposure was f7.7, each cameras lens was set to the nearest corresponding value which was f7.1. All images are straight out of the camera without any processing. Each cameras image was opened up large in Lightroom 3 and screen shot was taken of the image showing the histogram. Looking at the histogram shows that there’s barely any discernible difference between each cameras recording of the scene.

Canon EOS5d
Canon EOS550d
Olympus EP-2
Panasonic Lumix LX5

So what does all this mean? Well the full framer is right in that a 45mm lens on m4/3 does have an angle of view equal to a 90mm on a 35mm sensor. As to the inability to have shallow depth of field that is wrong, it is definitely possible to minimise depth of field but we are talking about subjective differences here as there is that nebulous term “acceptable sharpness” and then it depends on how big you print, and how close you are when you view it. Personally when I take a head and shoulders portrait of someone I like to have from the tip of the nose to the ears in focus as I like to be able to see who I’m looking at. Shooting at 85mm f1.2 the depth of field can be measured in millimetres and so the iris of the eye might be in focus but the rest is just blur. This is just a matter of taste. If you were shooting landscapes using wide-angle lenses then there is little to choose between m4/3s and full frame, and in fact I might go as far to say that the smaller camera has the advantage being smaller and lighter. As to the matter of the smaller format needing more light to form an image that is just plain wrong.

So is the 35mm dSLR superior to m4/3? Yes and no. Infuriating aren’t I! It all depends upon your photographic priorities. If you want to squeeze every last ounce of image quality out of a scene then 10×8 or whole plate large format film cameras either contact printed or drum scanned cannot be beat. Hopeless though for getting shots of the rug rats playing at the park, expensive to run, not very portable and definitely not conducive to spontaneity. Want something you take anywhere and be able to upload images to the web, well your phone cam is your best bet. My Olympus EP-2  is my favourite go anywhere camera. I can rig it up to be like a dSLR by adding its optional electronic viewfinder when I want to use a long lens, put on the 17mm f2.8 pancake lens and it fits in my jacket pocket, put on a mic,  a loupe, put it in its cage or rig and its a great little video camera. It perfect for lightweight travel. Out walking the dog or shopping then chances are I’ve got my Panasonic LX-5. My Canon EOS5d  is the original 13Mp version and I still keep for certain things and for certain lenses that I just don’t want to give up. There are no absolutes, pick your camera for what you need not what other people think that you should use.

Bee-utiful!

Apian Activity. Canon EOS 550d, Sigma 105 f2.8 macro, Canon 430EX Speedlite with Stofen Omni-bounce off camera. Exposure 1/200 s at f/8.0 ISO

This year has been a very busy one for the bees. Despite what the calendars say is the official start of spring in reality here in the Avon Valley it arrived four weeks early this year with everything kicking off. I said in a previous post that most of the orchids were out early, well where there are flowers there are bees and the early start has kept them very busy. Not only have they been very busy feeding and pollinating flowers they have been busy swarming. I’ve never seen so many swarms. In one week I saw four flying around as I took the dog out on her morning walks. One particularly memorable formed in Avon Terrace, which is Yorks main drag, and made its way up the street causing chaos as people tried to avoid it before it settled on a TV aerial on the back of a caravan.

Bee Swarm

The swarm in the picture above was on a blind corner on the river walk trail and I nearly walked into it. As it was I got stung several times on the face. Despite the drama of the swarms I’ve had a lot of fun this spring just photographing the bees in my garden and here are some of the shots that I’ve taken.

Bee gathering pollen on an apricot blossom. Canon EOS 550d Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro with Canon 430EX speedlite fitted with a Stofen Omni-bounce on a flash bracket. Exposure 1/50 s at f/5.6 ISO 200.
Pure Nectar. A bee feeding on the nectar from a bottle brush tree. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS5d, Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens, Canon Speedlite 550EX with Stofen Omnibounce on a flash bracket.
Cleared For Landing. Canon EOS5d Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens and Canon 550EX speedlite fitted with a Stofen Omni-bounce on a flash bracket. Exposure 1/125 s at f/11.0 ISO 200.

As far as photographic technique goes it is fairly simple. I shot these using a Canon EOS550d or an EOS5d with a Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens. I mounted my flash on Custom Brackets Mini-RC with a Stofen Omni-Bounce  as diffuser, and  I connected the flash to the camera via a TTL cable and shot in aperture priority setting -1 stop exposure compensation so that the flash light is the main source as light (or key) and the ambient is the fill.  The High Speed Sync function is also selected. I then select an aperture to give me sufficient depth of field – around f8 or f11. The ISO is set to give me a shutter speed of above 1/100th sec. I don’t worry about the speed of the bees when they move as the flash  freezes the motion with its very short duration. Easy peasy. At this point I should point out that when doing this you should keep your mouth shut as you don’t want to be stung on the tongue and if the bees start getting upset you should back off a bit to allow them to settle. Also if you are allergic to bee stings might I suggest butterflies it may be safer.