Praying Mantises In The Garden

I was looking in our gardens for Praying Mantises to photograph. I found 2 fairly large ones on two different plants. The featured image is 7 images, focus stacked in Photoshop. I was using a 300mm lens with a 2x teleconverter. When doing focus stacking with live subjects you have to photograph your series of images quickly, because you can touch-up slight movement of your subject, but if there is a lot of movement it makes the blending of images much harder.

Prating Mantis_v2_300mm_2X_1DmkIV_43G0993

Smaller Praying Mantis, 2 Image Focus Stack, 300mm, 2x teleconverter

Blue Dasher – 12 Image Focus Stack

When doing a multi-image focus stack for more depth of field on a dragonfly image, I usually set my f/stop to f/11 or f/16 when using a 300mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. This way I do not need as many shots for the full focus series of images. Many times a dragonfly will fly off or change position before I finish the series for a stack so I cannot use it and have to start over. This dragonfly seemed to be very still & cooperative. So I managed to do a focus stack from head to tail, including wingtip to wingtip. This series was 12 images, shot at f/8 for a smooth clean background. For a focus stack with a large number of images, I also use a tripod. After flattening the layered file, you might have a minor touch up here or there.

Praying Mantis With Prey

I was looking for dragonflies in our gardens when I found this praying mantis with it’s bug meal. I was setup for dragonflies with a Canon 300mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. So I shot a series of images, handheld, to do a stacked multi-row panorama. I ended up with 7 images for my pano. 2 rows of 3 images and an extra shot for the center. The centered shot sometimes helps for a smoother blended area in the center of the composite layered Photoshop file. I loaded all files into 1 layered PSD file and let Photoshop align the files. Then I use auto-blend to blend all the layers and combine elements for the final file which goes to the top layer. I also save the Master Layered file (just in case I need to go back for a tweak here or there). I then flatten the file for the final image. At this point if I wanted, I would run the flattened file through Nik’s Detail Extractor, then use dFine to smooth out any added noise from the Detail Extactor.

Praying Mantis_v3_300mm_1_4X_300mm_7D_MG_1225Praying Mantis_v1_300mm_1_4x_7D_MG_1244

 

 

Blue Dasher Dragonfly Focus Stacks

Here are two different Blue Dasher focus stacks. The featured image is made with 3 images. First image is focused on the head, then fore wings & then front of the hind wings. I was using a 300mm f/4 lens on a Canon 7D with a 1.4x teleconverter. I loaded each image into a layered Photoshop file and let a Photoshop align & blend the sharpest areas. The second image I wanted to mainly focus on the face but the plant was in the same focus plane as the face. I thought that might reinforce the roundness of the dragonfly head because of the roundness of the plant. I was shooting @ f/ 5.6 for a shallow depth of field.  I then focused on the fore wing because I wanted a sharp edge on the fore wing and let the rest go softer into the darker background.

Blue Dasher_v6a_MG_2271_7D_f5_6_300mm_1_4X _7D

Female Lily Pad Forktail Damselfly Focus Stack @ 150mm

This Damselfly image is made from 12 handheld images, focused at 12 different points along the body of a Female Lily Pad Forktail Damselfly. Images shot with a Sigma 150mm macro lens @ f/4 to keep the background smooth and uncluttered looking. I loaded the 12 images into one layered Photoshop and let Photoshop blend the sharpest elements from each layer together for the final image.

 

Damselfly 8 Image Focus Stack

When I was photographing this Damselfly, I decided to shoot with the aperture wide open. I wanted a very smooth background to highlight the Damselfly and the water drops and keep a smooth background. So I shot a series of 8 images focusing on the Damselfly and the water drop covered stem. I shot a series focused on 8 different focus points, going from left to right. I was using a Sigma 150mm Macro with a 2x teleconverter. With the 2x teleconverter on my 150mm f/2.8 lens, my maximum (Aperture) f/stop was f/5.6 wide open.  (With a 2x teleconverter you loose 2 stops). I loaded the 8 images into 1 Photoshop layered file and used Photoshop to automatically align the 8 layers in the file. Next I used Photoshop to automatically pick the the sharpest areas & soft background areas in each layer for the final image. I saved that file in case I need to make minor touch ups here or there. After that I flattened the layers for my final image.

Red-Spotted Purple Butterflies

Since we are following stay at home guidelines these were taken on a photo walk at Plainsboro Preserve last year to look for dragonflies. We only saw a few dragonflies and most were very worn looking. But then we saw quite a few Red-Spotted Purple Butterflies. I was shooting @ 600mm and for closeups I did a series of different focus points and then let Photoshop align and combine the sharpest areas into the final image. The featured image was 3 shots, the one below was only 2 before it flew off.Red_Spotted Purple_Butterfly v1_PP_76A5316

22 Image Damselfly Focus Stack

Another Focus-Stacked Damselfly Image. This time I tried shooting stopped down to f/22. I usually do not stop down that far for stacked images, but I thought I would give it a try just to see what happens. For this image the out of focus background was further away from the subject damselfly which helped because of the f/22 f/stop giving a larger depth of field for that focal length. At f/22 with 22 images, it was probably overkill for this image, but if I needed them, I would have them. Better than needing them and not having them. Again I used a Sigma 150mm macro lens with a Canon 1.4X Teleconverter giving me a focal length of 210mm. This Damselfly and Water Drops did not have as much depth to the leaves & water drops so I did not need as many as my previous post especially with the f/22 f/stop.

 

Image Stacking For Detail With Soft Backgrounds

Quite often I use Image Stacking techniques for my macro images. This works best if you are using a longer macro lens for shallower depth of field & softer cleaner backgrounds. I shot with the lens wide open and take images starting from the closest area I want in focus & ending where I want the background to go softer. The image I chose for this blog is one I photographed years ago. It was photographed using a tripod with a Sigma 150mm Macro lens & 1.4x Canon Teleconverter.  I also went a little overboard on layers, but because I was using a 150mm lens with a 1.4x Teleconverter I shot more focus points than usual. I ended up with 44 images in this stack. But shooting @ f/2.8 & adding the 1.4x teleconverter it was actually f/4 (Wide Open). I started from the bottom of the image & worked my way up to the top. You can also not use all the layers if you want to select where the softness ends or begins. Here I purposely ended where I wanted it to end. You can also use a smaller aperture / larger f/stop number to use less images for the stack but I like the smoother background.

I then load all the images into one Photoshop layered file and select all layers.

A) Under Edit – chose Auto Align Layers

Screen Shot aaa

Screen Shot bb

(B) then select Edit – Auto-Blend Layers – for final blending.

Below is Final Blended file on the top layer in Photoshop with all the sharpest sections of each Layer (masked) below the final layer.

 

Screen Shot b

I use this technique with my macro images mainly to get the greatest detail on my main subject and the softest backgrounds behind them. You can also control how much sharpness you have on your subject and where the softness starts. With practice the results get more reliable for what you are envisioning when you are photographing them. Also you can change your mind after you captured the series and have the detail or less detail where you want it while you are adjusting your files.

image 1

First Image in Series

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Close To Your Macro Subjects With Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens

MPE-65_v1_76A1536Over my Commercial career, I often had to get very close to some of my photo subjects. Some of the smallest were photographing a machined part on the head of a pin or extremely small products for nerve and other surgeries. So I had a wide assortment of macro lenses to use depending on the subjects, client’s needs, camera formats and magnification I needed to fulfill my client’s needs. Now that I am semi-retired I have more opportunities for my personal photography to use them for fun and to experiment. One of the most interesting is the Canon MP-E 65mm 1X – 5X macro zoom. It is an interesting lens for extreme closeup photography. Somewhat difficult to get used to but once you use it a while it is an extremely useful piece of equipment. You can also get even closer if you use extension tubes, cropped sensor camera or a teleconverter. It is a very manual lens, you focus by moving the camera & lens back & forth so a focusing rail on a tripod also comes in handy. I usually just use a tripod and get close then fine tune focus by loosening the camera and sliding it somewhat on the rail on the tripod. Minimum f/stop is f/16. But when the lens is fully racked out at 5X you use a lot of light on the sensor, I usually check the exposure on the preview after a shot.

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Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens – 1X – 5X   f:2.8 to f/16 manual focus lens. (@ 1X setting, zoom)

MPE-65 -5X_76A1520

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8  1-5X macro lens @ 5X setting

The featured image and the two below are closeups of a butterfly wing.

It is definitely a lens you have to get used to. Manual focus  by moving the camera, usually using a focusing rail on a tripod or moving the camera & tripod. “Zooming” the lens changes the magnification from 1 to 5X.

But the more you zoom, the darker your image is in the viewfinder because of the loss of light racking the lens out. So when using studio strobes you have to adjust your f/ stop or increase power on the strobes. Also checking your preview helps when getting used to using this lens.

Macro test leaf_v1_76A1506

Studio Test Subject for image series – the leaf from top tip to bottom before stem is 2 inches. Image shot with 100mm macro. Could not get the whole leaf in with the MP-E 65mm. Images below are shot in the reddish- yellow section of leaf.

Images below are from 1X to 5X. Some are multi-image stacked images because of the very limited depth of field with this lens. Even when you think you are shooting straight in, parallel to your subject, it does not take much for an out of focus or soft area. So with this lens I always focus stack images for a series to combine in Photoshop.

Focusing with this lens can be a challenge. Even with stopping down to the minimum f/16 you usually tend to get a soft area. Using a ring light or macro flash setups also adds to the awkwardness of lighting your subjects. I usually use studio strobes instead of ring lights or other macro flash on the front of the lens which tend to get in the way. You definitely have to get used to using this lens and when you get comfortable with it you can get some amazing images and details. Once you are getting results you like, then try the challenge of using it out in the field, that is another learning experience! But once you get used to it, it is a fun piece of equipment to use and gives nice results. The only other lens sort of like this is Venus Optics Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5 to 5x Ultra Macro Lens at about 1/3rd the price and is available for quite a few camera brands.MP-E 65_f11_76A1461MP_65_2img_f16_76A14715x_MPE_f11_65mm_MP-E_76A1455MP-E 65_f11_leaf_4X_76A1448MP-65_1img_5X_f1676A1470MP-E 1X_MP-E65_f11_76A1446MP-E 3img stk f11_76A1451 5xMP_E_65 v1 1491.MP_E65_leafV1f 16_76A1481

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