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Posts Tagged ‘macro’

In an earlier post I listed my favorite insect images of the year taken by other photographers.  Now it’s my turn.  Here is the best of my own work over the last 12 months.

Laccophilus pictus, Arizona

Laccophilus pictus, Arizona

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Rather than blather on about my Easter Sunday, I’ll just share a few images from a morning hike in Tucson’s Rincon mountains. Winter rains have given way to wildflowers, and in particular the Encelia brittlebush was spectacular.

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Hide and Seek?

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 Formica accreta, Northern California

I wish I could say I knew what these ants were doing.  Hiding from the photographer, perhaps?  Formica of the fusca species group are notoriously shy insects, but not all of these ones seemed to be equally spooked.

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x  macro lens on a Canon D60.
f/13, 1/200 sec, ISO 100
Twin flash diffused through tracing paper.
Levels adjusted in Photoshop.

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In 1934, a diminutive book by an unknown author seeded the largest conservation movement in history. The book, Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds, pioneered the modern field guide format with crisp illustrations of diagnostic characters, all in a pocket-sized read. The Guide sold out in a week, but the book’s effects are ongoing.

To understand the magnitude of Peterson’s impact, consider how naturalists traditionally identified birds. They’d take a shotgun into the field, and if they saw something of interest they’d kill it. Birding was necessarily limited to the landed- and armed- gentry. The technique wasn’t so good for the birds either.

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Dineutes sublineatus – whirligig beetle
Arizona, USA

Whirligigs are masters of the thin interface between air and water, predating on animals caught in the surface tension.   In the field it can be hard to appreciate the finely sculptured details of their bodies, the erratic movements that give them their name also make them hard to observe and to catch.

photo details: Canon 100mm f2.8  macro lens on a Canon 20D
f/18, 1/250 sec, ISO 100
Beetles in a 5-gallon  aquarium with a colored posterboard for backdrop.
Off-camera flash bounced off white paper.
Levels adjusted in Photoshop.

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I have thousands of absolutely awful photographs on my hard drive. I normally delete the screw-ups on camera as soon as they happen, but enough seep through that even after the initial cut they outnumber the good photos by at least 3 to 1. Here are a few of my favorite worst shots.

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Thinking that nothing would be cooler than an action shot of a fruit fly in mid-air, I spent an entire evening trying to photograph flies hovering over a rotting banana. This shot is the closest I came to getting anything in focus.

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My early bug photos, the ones I don’t show anyone anymore, are poorly-exposed affairs that now sit hidden in my files. If I had to put my finger on the single biggest problem with these embarrassing first attempts, I’d say that I lacked an eye for composition. I was so intent on getting the bug in focus somewhere in the LCD that I paid no attention to what else ended up sharing the frame. Turns out, all sorts of extraneous crud. Bits of grass. Dust. My finger. Many of these images are so crowded that it just isn’t clear what I ought to be looking at.

Understanding why busy compositions look uglier than life takes a bit of neurology. Our optic nerves impart an incessant stream of information to our brains. An undiscerning brain would quickly be overstimulated, but the brain keeps on top by knowing what to ignore. The effective brain, in fact, spends an impressive amount of time filtering away uninteresting detail. A consequence is that we humans see as much with our brains as with our eyes (if you doubt this observation, consider optical illusions).

Unfortunately for photography, the brain doesn’t process flat, two-dimensional images the same way it processes live 3-D signal. Extraneous clutter swept so effortlessly under the rug in life is not easily ignored in photographs. Intended subjects are lost in peripheral details. Objects in the background assume distracting importance. The result is that photographs often don’t look much like the images we remember seeing. They look busier, messier, less orderly.

It is this difference between life and still imagery that makes photographic composition so important. A photographer has to lead the viewer’s eyes past all manner of distractions to the intended subject. The more clutter there is, the more challenging composition becomes.

An obvious solution is to simplify the photograph, stripping out non-essential elements. Keeping backdrops clean gives the brain less to process, allowing it to naturally settle on the desired subject. Once I figured out this little secret, making pleasing compositions became second nature.

Below, I share ten tricks for keeping the clutter out of photographs.

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