I hardly ever subject images to the intense photoshopping of High Dynamic Range photography. HDR is just too often overdone. All the same, with half an hour on my hands at Homer Lake yesterday before the firefly show, why not kill some time?
The image is merged from 5 input files taken at different shutter speeds. To get a sense of what the camera records without manipulation, here is one of the component images:
You may have already seen the firefly picture that came later, if you follow me on facebook or G+. If you haven’t, here is about 10 minutes of Photinus pyralis above the restored prairie. Click on it to view large:
This weekend I am holding a day-long photography course for the Evolution & Ecology graduate students here at the University of Illinois. This is mostly an in-house program, but after the registration dust settled we still have five spots available. Thus, we are opening the doors for general enrollment. If you’d like to participate in a hands-on photography crash course with a group of bright young biologists, we’d love to have you!
Here are the details:
Nature & Macrophotography Workshop Instructor: Alex Wild
Saturday, May 18 – 8:50 am until 3:00 pm
University of Illinois Campus – NHB 408 &
Anita Purves Nature Center
Registration: $50 To register, email Rhiannon Peery: peery1 [at] illinois.edu
lunch will be provided
8:50 – Photography basics, presentation (Natural History Building 408 ~ on campus)
10:00 – Studio lighting, practice (NHB 408)
11:00 – travel to Anita Purves Nature Center
11:20 – Nature photography equipment (APNC)
12:00 – Lunch (provided) and discussion (APNC)
1:00 – Macrophotography in the field, practice (APNC)
3:00 – Closing
As if you needed another reason to attend our BugShot photo workshop in Belize, it seems we’ll have a rather interesting bit of equipment on hand:
Cognisys is a Michigan company that makes electronic gadgets for assisting macro and other science photography, and they have a growing reputation for affordable rigs of high build quality. I have yet to use any Cognisys gear, but my co-instructor John Abbott does a great deal with it, loves it, and has arranged a StackShot for our September course.
Let me explain why I’m excited to try it out.
In recent years I’ve watched entomologists gradually realize that high-magnification photography is better with SLR cameras + macro lenses than with traditional video cameras + microscopes. First, SLRs are just better at photography than video cameras. Images are crisper, bigger, brighter, deeper, and simply…better. Second, and this is important, SLRs are far cheaper. The magic combination of way better and way cheaper means we’re seeing fantastic micrography coming from folks who don’t have six-figure research grants and university resources.
Cognisys fits into this imaging revolution by providing, inexpensively, an integral part of the new SLR microscopy kit. Most insect microscopy uses a technique called focus-stacking to overcome limited depth-of-field at high magnifications. Stacking involves a series of exposures taken at slightly different focus points and merged into a single sharp image. Like so:
I don’t focus-stack often. When I do, I manually advance the camera along a rail to capture each image by turning a little focus knob. Turn, click. Turn, click. Manual stacking takes time, and it has the unintended consequence of fussy and uneven focus intervals. If I jump too far, I miss a slice and have to re-do the whole stack. My system is functional for occasional pieces, but people who work in the genre typically need an automated system to standardize intervals and speed the workflow. Automated z-steppers are what the high-budget folks at antweb.org use with their microscope systems, and they are what StackShot can do for the rest of us.
In any case, if you come to Belize with us you’ll be able to see StackShot in action.
Over at CE I mentioned the trouble of useful natural history photographs that are technically mediocre:
…the blurry capture is my only photograph of [an] animal. Do I upload it to my professional galleries anyway? It won’t look great printed, and I’d feel embarrassed to sell it onwards for, say, a display at a natural history museum.
The question isn’t trivial, as it burrows right to the heart of why I photograph insects. Am I making pretty images? Or am I documenting real natural history?
I’ve rustled up another example. In Kansas last week I shot a colony of the common acrobat ant Crematogaster lineolata with several queens in the brood nest:
The photographic documentation of polygyny is a small yet potentially useful tidbit about the biology of a population. Yet, the photo is aesthetically crowded, the lower queen is out of focus, and it is not the quality of image I want included in my professional portfolio. So it goes here instead.
The course is intended for beekeepers and bee enthusiasts with minimal photography experience. Course topics will include:
Photographing bees in the hive
Photographing bees in the field
Telling a story in pictures
Required equipment: (minimum) any camera, SLR or digicam, with a macro function; (recommended) camera with off-camera flash and macro near 1:1.
This workshop is the final day of a week long Beekeeping Institute taught by master beekeeper David Burns. People travel to David’s classes from all over the country. If you are thinking of keeping bees as a hobby, consider signing up for the full week. Otherwise you may elect to take just the photography bit.
The fine folks at UF have planned what looks like the perfect week for me. In addition to the talk above, I will be giving a more technical presentation on wasp systematics to the Entomology Department, taking field excursions with the graduate students to photograph local ants, and catching up with friends. Awesome.
You guys were tremendous during my first-ever insect print sale last December. You ordered several hundred prints, quite literally an order of magnitude more than I’d anticipated.
So I’m doing another one. The spring print sale will go online in mid-April with 30 selected prints discounted severely, starting at $3.99/each for a 5×7. Here’s the new bit: this time I am crowd-sourcing part of the selection.
15 of the 30 images I’m leaving open for you guys to decide. If there’s a particular photograph you’ve been eyeing, let me know via email, facebook, or the comments below.