2016 Maple Sugar Fest photos

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I volunteered for a few hours of photography and also videography yesterday with the Morris County Park Commission at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham New Jersey.  The event, 2016 Maple Sugar Fest, drew out hundreds of local families and got them involved in fun stories, hikes, and even tastings of local Maple products.  Maple Syrup use dates back to at least the Lenape natives and is an important part of our local heritage.

 

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My favorite part of the event?  Seeing so many happy faces of all ages and colors involved in high quality outdoor education.  I could see the faces of future conservationists and environmentalists in the children that attended.

 

 

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The best tripod head for waterfall photography is….

…not a fluid video head.  I found that out the hard way.  They work great for static HORIZONTAL shots, but they lack the slot on ballheads that rotates the camera to a vertical orientation.  My Manfrotto 055x ProB does provide a workaround, because the extending center column can tilt the mounted camera by 90 degrees.  Next time I’m going to just bring the correct ballhead with me.

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Waterfall photo taken in Morris County New Jersey. The equipment utilized was the Tamron 14-150mm Di II all-in-one lens and the Olympus PEN E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds Camera.

Above photo taken with the Tamron 14-150mm Di III Lens, the Olympus PEN E-PL3 M4/3 Camera, and a Manfrotto tripod.  A 52mm circular polarized was mounted onto the lens to lower reflections and increase exposure time.  Camera settings: 14mm (28mm full frame equivalent), 0.6s F/10 ISO 200 in Manual Exposure Mode.  Auto White Balance, Stabilization off, 2-second Delay, and Single Point focus near the Maple leaf.

Rethink the most obvious shooting angle: Green-striped Darners

Photos taken yesterday in Sussex County, New Jersey.  I was actually trying to take a macro shot of a caterpillar in the shade (quite frustrating) when I saw these two large dragonflies in the mating wheel position fly near me and land.  I approached slowly with macro lens in hand and got very lucky that they were not startled off.  Haven photographed insects quite a bit the past few years, it’s only natural to look to capture them both together in the same frame without having any of their appendages extend beyond the frame.

Shot #1:

macro odonata photo

A few of a male and female darner in a typical reproductive pose. Photo taken in Sussex County, New Jersey with the Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 Macro Lens and the Canon EOS 60D DSLR.

Metadata: 90mm, 1/640th F/3.2 ISO 100, handheld with VC.  Manual Exposure.

I NEARLY walked away haven taken a pretty sharp frame, but I thought “what the heck” why not try a true macro photo with high magnification on one dragon’s face.  It took 1 or dozen frames to get a handheld shot in focus at that magnification, but to me it created a photo with a much higher “wow” factor.

Photo #2:

macro odonata face photo

An intimate view of a Green-striped Darner showcasing vivid lateral coloration. Photographed with the Tamron SP 90mm VC Macro Lens + Canon EOS 60D in NJ.

Metadata: 90mm, 1/100 F/5.0 ISO 100, handheld with VC.  Manual Exposure.

It is certainly subjective to which shot is “better”, but the 2nd is more to my liking.  By rethinking about possible compositions I have 2 drastically different photos of the same subject taken a minute or two apart.  Quality nature photography is seldom performed in a hurry.  I have always been an advocate of the phrase “haste makes waste”.

Exposing for backlit photography subjects: Orange Sulphur

I am generally a fan of semi-automatic exposure systems when looking to photograph wildlife.  Specifically, I begin most outings with the camera in Aperture Priority Mode, and having an extra 2/3 stops of lights dialed seems to work pretty often.  However, as soon as I see a tricky lighting situation through my viewfinder I will try to get into Manual Exposure Mode as quickly as possible.

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A macro photograph of an Orange Sulphur butterfly in New Jersey. This backlit capture was made using the Tamron SP 90mm VC 1:1 macro lens and the Canon EOS 60D DSLR.

Camera settings: 1/200th F/5.6 ISO 200

Above photo is a handheld capture with one of my typical rigs for closeup photography, the Tamron SP 90mm VC lens and the Canon EOS 60D.  The goal with this backlit photo was to get a good amount of illumination showing on the butterfly itself.  To achieve this, some of the brightest parts of the scene are pushed out of gamut because of the dynamic range restrictions of DSLRs.  As cameras are programmed to expose for the median tonal range of an image, it would require a significant increase in exposure compensation to get what I was after.  Turning the knob to Manual Mode and dialing in my desired settings was a much more succinct process.

“Blowing out the highlights” is not always a sin in my book, as I’ve learned to “see how a camera sees” and envision the end product.  Indeed there is some detail loss on the fringes of the butterfly and also on the petals of the flower, but in this case I think that adds to the “warm” feel of the image.

DSLR Nature Cinematography: Snowy Egret

I recently shot a few very short HD DSLR Video clips of one of the more common and easily recognizable wading birds in New Jersey, a Snowy Egret.  My personal goal for wildlife still photography had as been 2 archival quality captures of any subject that I found interesting.  Archival quality captures to me means focus is spot-on, exposure will not require significant post-processing, and the composition is pleasing to my eyes.  I also try to avoid repetition in my photos.  I’ve “upped the ante” on my nature shooting goals, and will now also try to film 1 or 2 quick sequences when I am in the outdoors.

Back to the point, I had been shooting all of my recent photos with a ballhead on my tripod.  Having no experience with fluid tripod heads, but realizing their importance in the video industry I started doing some research.  I already have Manfrotto RC2 quick release plates attached to most of my cameras and lenses so I wanted a fluid head that was designed for the RC2 plate.  I wound up purchasing a Manfrotto 128RC Micro Fluid Head and it has remained atop my 055x ProB tripod ever since.  This allows me to perform the steady panning motions needed for dynamic video work.

The above video was filmed using the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC Lens and the Canon EOS 7D.  Manual video mode settings include: ISO 100 F/14 and the Shutter Speed set to 1/80th.  I muted original audio from the clips in post-processing because of the loud hissing of the wind.  Guitar playing is me strumming my Washburn D10 Guitar, and I ended up recording this with my Samsung cellular phone.  Audio post-processing involved noise reduction, addition of a Phaser Effect, and overall Volume Reduction.  Video post-processing included trimming video segments, cross-fade transitions between shots, contrast enhancements, and split-tone color processing.

Poplar Leaf on Log

I get very caught up in trying to photograph the wildlife of New Jersey during our summer months.  However, now that the songbirds begin their southern migration out of the Mid-Atlantic and as many insects end their terrestrial lifecycles it is once again time to notice the various and vivid foliage colors brought about by the change of the season.

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An early Autumn nature photograph from New Jersey using Tamron’s all-in-one lens and an Olympus PEN compact camera.

Above photo was taken with Tamron’s first lens offering for compact Micro Four Thirds digital cameras.  The 14-150mm Di III provides a 28-300mm equivalency (35mm terms).  On the wide end, 28mm is great for drawing in scenery and the telephoto end with a short minimum focusing distance is very useful for honing in on details like individual leaves.  This photo of a Poplar Leaf in New Jersey was taken at focal length of 132mm in Aperture Priority Mode.  -1 stops of light was dialed in, with an aperture of F/9 and the ISO at 200.  My tripod-mounted Olympus PEN E-PL3 was triggered by a 2 second timer to allow for a 1/2 second exposure in this low-light situation.

Expressing motion in photography: Beach Grass and Crescent Moon

When I first began doing photography, I thought that the prime objective was to freeze all action to record a moment in time.  Getting a sharp capture of a fleeting moment can indeed be difficult, whether it is a closeup view of the supermoon rising on the horizon, a sports photograph like a MLB baseball player nailing a fastball, or a bird photo like trying to shoot a tiny Tree Swallow mid-air.  There is also great validity to having motion within your frame.  In some cases, this can evoke moods like quickly fleeting action or on the other hand, serenity.

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DSLR Nature Photograph from New Jersey showcasing how motion caused by wind can express time and add further dynamics to an image.

The above image was taken recently at the New Jersey Shore using a tripod-mounted Canon EOS 60D camera and the Tamron SP 90mm VC 1:1 F/2.8 Macro Lens.  Camera settings in manual exposure: 2.5 seconds F/7.1 ISO 100.  VC off (lens stabilization motor), Mirror Lock-up, 2 Second Timer, One Shot Autofocus (near the middle of the grass), and Auto White Balance.

I think the crescent moon has a really great distinctive shape, a shape I generally associate with a peaceful sky.  The grass that I have included within the frame is typical vegetation of the mid-Atlantic shoreline, so this gives a nice sense of orientation for the viewer.  For others, the grass may be reminiscent of a prairie or meadow.  The back and forth motion of the blades of grass tell us that time is passing, and also gives the photo a much softer edged appearance than a motionless capture.  I did shoot several similar frames, but in the other images I actually felt there was too much motion and not enough definition on the grass.

Butterfly Photography: An American Copper

Several of our local species of butterflies like to rest on whatever flat surface they can find.  I often see butterflies in the middle of dirt trails, dirt roads, and gravel roads.  Probably a nice place to bask for a cold-blooded life form, but not necessarily the ideal scene for a photograph.

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A closeup view of a small and interestingly marked native butterfly of New Jersey.

DSLR photo of an American Copper butterfly using the Tamron SP 90mm VC 1:1 F/2.8 Macro Lens and the Canon EOS 50 DSLR.  Camera settings in Manual Exposure Mode: Shutter at 1/50th Aperture at F/5.6 and ISO 200.  Autowhite Balance is selected (my typical default), RAW file size, One Shot focusing in Continuous Drive Mode.  VC (in-lens stabilization) On.

This dainty insect is actually sitting on an unattractive dirt trail here, but the camera’s angle of view disguises the surroundings.  To get this view I am lying prone on the ground (a very common posture for good wildlife photographs) and the camera is pressed to my face.  I will often fill the frame as much as possible while trying not to have the subject looked too cramped within the image frame.  I did have to angle the Canon 50D slightly downward to keep the butterfly’s legs in the photo.

Using the “focus and recompose” technique, I pressed the shutter halfway down after initiating autofocus directly on the butterfly’s eye, and then I angled the camera until the lens hood of my macro lens was touching the ground, but the camera body was not.  This low and close-focused perspective has disguised the fact that myself and the butterfly are surrounded by a trail of non-photogenic packed dirt.

What kind of fly are you?

I won’t try to take any credit for getting a fly to land next to this Gray Treefrog metamorph.  I will take credit for being in the right place at the right time and shooting a lot more frames than your average photographer.

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Chance encounters of the macro type

Photography equipment: Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens + Canon EOS 50D, handheld.  Shutter speed 1/250 Aperture at F/5.6 ISO 200.  One shot focusing with continuous motor drive active.

Luck was on my side, because the fly got so close to the frog that both of their eyes are in focus.  I actually have a frame where the fly puts one if its feet on the frog’s face, but the whole frame is blurred so that won’t be seeing the light of day.  ….Unless you want to PayPal me $200 🙂

One can never expect unlikely interactions like this to occur, but as Arthur Morris has stated “When unexpected action happens, press the shutter and hope for the best”.  Good advice if you ask me.

American Rubyspot damsefly in NJ

This a recent macro insect photo I took in the region of New Jersey known as the Pinelands National Reserve, home to ecosystems and wildlife not often seen in other parts of our state.  Photography equipment utilized: Tamron SP 90mm VC F/2.8 1:1 Macro Lens and the Canon EOS 7D DSLR.  Damselflies are generally smaller than dragonflies, but fall under the same order known as odonata.  Pictured below is a male American Rubyspot damselfly, its Latin name is Hetaerina americana.

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One of New Jersey’s most vivid damselflies.

I actually ended up wading in standing water that was thigh high to take this photograph.  I saw several Rubyspots perched on vegetation in this pond.  I wasn’t thrilled to get to my cargo shorts soaking wet, but I had to decide to either walk away from a photo opportunity or “dive right into the scene”.

The sunlight was fairly overcast when I snapped this shot so a fast shutter speed was not possible.  Dragging a good tripod into a pond didn’t seem like a good idea, and a tripod is not really an asset when making a still capture of an insect perched on a piece of grass with forces like water ripples and a breeze causing motion.  Handheld and fairly large aperture was the only way this shot was going to happen.

I’ve had a few people tell me that they find a 300mm lens sufficient for shooting small insects, but the reality is you are not going to get this type of highly magnified photo without a 1:1 macro lens.  In this case the fast autofocus and Vibration Compensation were also needed.  Camera settings:  1/125 F/5.0 ISO 400, VC on, Auto White Balance, RAW file format, One Shot focus in continuous drive mode.