Extreme Macro Photography

House Fly photographed at 5 times life size with the Lawoa 2.5-5x macro lens.

I saw an ad for the Lawoa macro lens that could photograph things up to 5 times life size. The price was only $399 and it came with a mount for my Canon R5 mirrorless camera. In a moment of weakness, I clicked the button and ordered the lens.

I’ve always loved high magnification macro photography but it was expensive. Canon has the MP-E 65mm that photographs 5 times life size but it’s well over $1,000 and I’d need an adapter for my mirrorless.

Here’s a link to my blog article from 2020 about using the Canon MP-E to photograph monarch butterfly eggs.

Laowa 2.5-5x Ultra Macro lens

Once the Lawoa lens arrived, I needed to find a subject. I went on a search around the house and found a tiny moth about 1/3 of an inch long. Perfect subject except it didn’t want to be captured or photographed.

No, I am not going to kill a moth so I can photograph it. Nope! That’s not how I live my life.

So an hour later, the moth was resting on a leaf under a glass jar in my office. Equipment was assembled for the photo session: Tripod, Neewer Pro 4 Way Focusing Rail Slider, camera, Laowa lens attached, flash, Savage LED light on the right, and Lume Cube LED light on the left. (Scroll down to see a photo of the set-up.)

Moth photographed at 5x life size. Actually 1/3 of an inch long.

My time with the moth was highly frustrating — for it and me. The moth wanted to wander off the leaf. When it settled I would move the leaf and get it back in the frame and focused. This is not easy when the subject is magnified 5 times.

The moth twitched its antenna often. This messed up any hopes of focus stacking.

Eventually, the moth was set free. I left the equipment in place until I found a new subject.

The next day a fly got in the house and needed to be swatted. Turns out the little fellow wasn’t totally dead so I had a moving subject once again. Back to putting my subject on a leaf and waiting for it to calm down.

Lesson learned on the moth was that focus stacking would be necessary to get the photos I wanted. I settled in to take 5 to 10 photos for each focus stack.

The Laowa is a manual focus lens so there’s no in-camera focus stacking or focus bracketing as Canon calls it. I needed to move the knob on the focus rail to create each set of focus staked images. (Practice this skill ahead of time.)

The fly was still alive so the number of images I could get depended on its movements. Sometimes it sat still and other times it wiggled or twitched.

House fly with three photos in the focus stack.

In a series of images, maybe only two or three would work. Below is an example of only two photos.

House fly, using only two photos in the focus stack. Notice that the eye is in focus but the rest of the head is out of focus.
House fly, focus stack using 10 images.
House fly, again, but using only 5 images in this session.
House fly using six photo in this session. The fly was moving so I had to wait for it to be still.

Focus Stacking in Photoshop

My software of choice is Photoshop for focus stacking. Open all the photos into a Layer stack. In Bridge, that’s (1) highlight the photos, (2) click on Tools>Photoshop>Load into Photoshop layers. In Lightroom, (1) select the images, (2) click Photo>Edit in>Open as Layers in Photoshop.

In Photoshop, highlight all the photos in the Layers palette. Edit>Auto Align Layers and wait. Then Edit>Auto Blend Layers and choose Stack from the options. Then wait again for Photoshop to do its work.

Most of the time, Photoshop does a pretty good job. A bit more work might be needed to fix tiny details.

Equipment needed for high magnification photograph: tripod, shutter release, focusing rail, flash, continuous LED light(s), camera and lens. The fly is in the center of the flower.

Thanks for reading. Let me know below if you have any questions.

Star Trails: How To

Star Trail captured in Big Bend National Park in July 2022.

Star trails, like the image above, are fairly easy to do.  You’ll need some equipment to capture the images and Photoshop to blend the images.  You’ll also need a dark sky with an unobstructed view.  Ideally, the view should be to the north with Polaris in the middle of the frame.

You’ll need:  Camera with a bulb setting, wide angle lens, sturdy tripod, programmable shutter release like the Vello Shutterboss II, fully charged battery, storage card with lots of room.

Set the programmable shutter release to take an unlimited number of photos at a 4 minute exposure with a 1 second break in-between exposures.  (Suggestion: Do this inside in the light because it’s darn hard to read the instruction book in the dark when you’re trying to shoot.) Here’s my YouTube video tutorial.

Outside under a dark sky, put the camera on the tripod and point it at the northern sky.  Hook up the programmable shutter release.  Compose the photo to include some foreground or an interesting subject in the foreground.  Point the camera at the north star for a star spiral. 

Set the camera to Bulb, f/2.8 or lowest possible, ISO 800 if half moon or ISO 1600 if no moon. Note: f/1.8 might only need ISO 400.

Take a couple of test shots to get the stars in focus.  Then turn off your auto focus and image stabilizer.  (Suggestion: take these images are a really high ISO so the exposure is quicker.  Enlarge these photos on the LCD panel to check focus. Delete them when ready to start shooting.) Here’s a blog posting about focusing on stars at night.

Reset the ISO to 800 or 1600.  Make sure the camera is locked down on the tripod.  Press the “Start” button on the programmable cable release.  Monitor the first couple of shots to make sure the shutter stays open for 4 minutes, closes, and then reopens.  Let the camera keep shooting for at least 30 minutes but hours are better.

I cover the camera with a towel and leave it outside all night. 

To process the images, follow these instructions precisely to create a layer blend in Photoshop. 

(1) Download the images into a folder.

(2) Open Photoshop Bridge and then open the folder.

(3) Highlight all the images. In Lightroom, highlight all the images after importing.

(4) In Bridge, click Tools>Photoshop>Load Files into Photoshop Layers. Photoshop should open with the images in a layer pallet.  In Lightroom, click Photo>Edit In>Open As Layers in Photoshop. (Note: Lightroom, Bridge, and Photoshop should all be the same version. This doesn’t work if one of these is a different version.)

(5) All the images open in Photoshop as a series of Layers. If you don’t see the layers, click on Window>Layers to see the layer pallet. Select all the images in the layer pallet and change the blend mode to Lighten. 

(6) You can apply Layer Masks and other things at this point to the individual layers. Most of the time, though, this is not necessary.

(7)  Flatten the image to see your photo of the star trails. Open the photo in Filter>Camera Raw Filter or import back into Lightroom to do final processing with Textures, Vibrance, Saturation, Exposure, and Contrast.

Here’s a link to an older blog post about Direction Does Matter when making a star trail

Enjoy!! Let me know if there are any questions or comments. Thanks for reading.

Keyword Lists

My question relates to the fact that each folder of pictures has a different set of keywords that shows up in the keywords list. So I have to re-enter keywords. How can I make a list universally available? And how can I make it the only list of keywords? I use Bridge.

Will

Quick answer: Once you’ve entered a word on a keyword list, you shouldn’t have to re-enter that word when you’re working in a different folder of photos.

Long answer: 

The Keyword list in Bridge can be exported/saved as a .txt document.  You can import keyword lists as well.  Then you can “Clear and Import” keyword lists.  That brings a new list in and replaces the old list.

Most people, I suspect, have one list.  That’s what happens in Lightroom.  It’s just one big list.  So that place you visited in Scotland stays on the list even though you’ll never use that keyword again. 

I have Keyword lists.  One for Costa Rican birds, for example.  I have another for North American birds.  I have a list for Italy.  I have a list for Iceland, another for Norway, and another for Thailand.  I import these when needed.

My “everyday” Keyword list is the North American birds.  It has all my North American birds, butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, and plants.  It has the seasons, bahaviors, and other things I might need for everyday processing.  That list has locations I’ve birded and visited in the US since I seem to always photograph birds in addition to other things.  I just went to Santa Fe so that’s now on my North American birds list.

I’ll go to Ireland in September.  Before I leave, I’ll export my North American birds list to a folder on my computer where I keep all my keyword lists.  That North American birds list will replace the one in the file, by the way.  I’ve added things to it over the months so I want to keep the latest version.

 Then I’ll “Clear and Import” with my Ireland keyword list.  While working on photos in Ireland, I’ll add new locations.  Beforehand, you can  add new locations and things to an existing list since it’s just a .txt document.  I could take the itinerary for my Ireland trip and add locations to it while it’s still a .txt document on my computer.  (formatting is important by the way. See below.)

While in Ireland and until I finish processing those photos, the Ireland keyword list will be on my computer.  This can be a pain if I wanted to switch between processing backyard birds and going back to the Ireland photos.  That’s why some people like one big list. 

A screen capture of the Keyword list for Costa Rican birds.

Does this help?

Canon EOS R7 — Autofocus

I was eager to try the autofocus on the R7 with a variety of subjects.

I used the same settings on all the photos: Servo, AF[1], Subject Tracking, Subject to Detect is Animals, Eye detection is Enabled. Servo AF is on Case 2 which is “Continue to track subjects, ignoring possible obstacles.”

For those of you new to AF[1], it is a wide zone where the camera looks for a subject based on face and/or motion. Once the camera has found a subject, the focus point lights up with blue dots. Then we can move the camera around to compose the shot while the camera stays on the subject.

Northern mockingbird. The R7 found the bird without hesitation and locked on to the eye.
Great-tailed grackle. I didn’t push the focus button until the bird’s face came into view. Once the eye was clear of the pine needles, then the R7 found the eye and locked on.
Gray Hairstreak. Tiny butterfly. The Flexible Zone AF 1 (AF[1]) was not the best choice for this small butterfly. The R7 found the subject because it was moving. The focus point bounced between the butterfly’s real eye and the fake eye at the base of the tails. I should have changed to 1-point AF and put that point on the butterfly’s eye. Not bad, though.
Gray Hairstreak. Same as above with a slight change in my angle to get a green background.
Clouded Skipper. The R7 found the butterfly’s eye without a problem. It locked on and held focus.
The same clouded skipper perched on a purple passionflower. The R7 stayed on the butterfly but I confused the camera. The R7 tried to focus on the structure on the passionflower. This camera is smart but the photographer has to remember to give clear directions. My error in not changing to the 1-point AF area. Then the camera would have known exactly where to focus.
Honeybee on bee bush. The AF[1] focus area stayed with bee without any effort.

I found the Autofocus on the R7 quick and precise. The R7 is not a mind reader (though it does amazing things) so we have to remember to change AF Areas based on the subject.

The only time the R7 failed to acquire focus was on a tiny subject at the top of a stick. I moved the camera down the stick until it acquired focus. Then I moved the camera back up to the subject and the R7 held. This is not unusual with AF in mirrorless but not as bad as I’ve seen in earlier cameras.

All photos in this post were taken with the 100-500mm RF lens, 1.4x extender. All the insects were at the edge of the minimum focusing distance of 3.94 ft.

All photos are uncropped.

Questions? Post below. I’d love to hear your comments and feedback. Thanks for reading.

Canon EOS R7 vs. R5 and R3

I had a chance this morning to test the Canon EOS R7 against the R5 and R3. All cameras were set to roughly the same menu settings. Each was used in shutter priority (TV), shutter 1250, ISO Auto, and F/11. Each had the same 100-500mm RF lens with a 1.4x converter.

My subject stayed the same as well. Lucky for me, a fledgling eastern bluebird stayed on the same branch during my test.

All images were taken while I was seated in the same chair at the same angle. The sky was partly cloudy with lighting remaining generally the same during the test.

Notice that the bird photographed with the R7 is larger in the frame. The Canon EOS R7 has a cropped sensor so the subject will appear bigger with a telephoto lens. Hence, the reason a lot of bird photographers like photographing with a crop sensor camera.

Here’s the images larger:

Eastern bluebird fledgling with the Canon R7. The bird is larger in the frame due to the cropped sensor.
Eastern bluebird photographed with the Canon R5. Same bird from same vantage-point but notice that I zoomed back a tiny bit by mistake.
Eastern bluebird photographed with the Canon R3.

I was impressed with the auto focus on the Canon R7. The camera was set to Flexible Zone 1, Subject, and Eye Detect. The Canon R7 never failed to acquire focus on the small bird. (Watch for my post on camera set-up.)

I’ll compare ISO in a future post but here’s a look at the Canon R7 image enlarged to 100%.

The same photo from above enlarged to 100% photographed using ISO 6400.

Posts coming up will show my set-up for the R7, file size, ISO, and night photography. Stay tuned!

First impression with the Canon R7 shows that this is going to be a great camera for bird photography.

Subject Not In Focus

If I have it on autofocus and it looks clear in the view but comes out completely blurry, is that the autofocus not working, or is it just me? I have a Canon Rebel T1i.

Alysia
The rufous-tailed hummingbird is in focus but the wings and tail are blurred. The camera was set to 1/300th of a second shutter speed. Focus confirmation on the head. Wings and tail are blurred because the shutter speed was not fast enough.

My Answer: Good question.  When you look through the viewfinder and focus – there’s a green dot in the lower right or left of the viewfinder.  That green dot flickers if you’re on AF-C and it’s solid if you’re on AF-S.  That’s the focus confirmation.  Your camera is focusing on something. 

BUT, if the shutter speed is too slow then you won’t stop the action.  Shutter speed too slow and the subject will be blurry.

Here are some screen grabs from various camera manuals to illustrate:

Reminder that shutter speed stops action. The shutter speed (that’s the 125 above) needs to be fast enough to freeze the action.

Shutter speeds to keep in mind when shooting:

  • 1/8th of a second blurs water (that’s 8 in the view finder) if camera is on a tripd
  • 1/15th of a second is needed if camera’s on a tripod but the subject is gently moving
  • 1/60th of a second is needed for living subjects standing still
  • 1/250th of a second is needed to stop fast walking or slow running
  • 1/500th of a second is needed to stop running
  • 1/4000th of a second is needed to stop a duck in flight

This is the type of thing we cover in my Basic Photography class. Join me for a class in the future. See all my online classes on my website. www.kathyadamsclark.com

#photonotinfocus

Canon R7 and R10 Announced

Canon has finally announced their less expensive line of R mirrorless cameras. Both the R7 and the R10 look like great cameras to me. Each is smaller, lighter and less expensive than the R3, R5 or R6. Yet, each is loaded with a ton of features that will make any photographer happy.

Both come with a cropped sensor and their own line of lenses.

I haven’t had a chance to touch or feel the R7 or R10 yet. The folks at B&H Camera, though, have put together a nice comparison chart.

Have a look:

Copied from B&H Photo Video

Here’s a link to B&H’s full analysis.

Sanderlings with the Canon R3

Galveston Featherfest 2022 began for me with a Birds in Flight workshop on East Beach. We found these little sanderlings feeding along the shore. Sanderlings are only 7-inches long and they are in constant motion. You can imagine the fun we had photographing them. Canon R3, 100-500mm RF lens, 1.4x extender, shutter speed in the 1/4000th to 1/8000th range.

Sanderling; Calidris alba; Galveston; Texas; East Beach; Spring
Sanderling; Calidris alba; Galveston; Texas; East Beach; Spring
Sanderling; Calidris alba; Galveston; Texas; East Beach; Spring
Sanderling; Calidris alba; Galveston; Texas; East Beach; Spring

Have you photographed Sanderlings? Are they a challenge?

Canon R3 — Hummingbird Photography

Rufous hummingbird with a damaged beak.

Continuing my test of the Canon R3, I turned to small birds in flight. There are two rufous hummingbirds in my yard so I figured they would be a good test.

FYI — below is an analysis of 516 pictures taken over 4-minutes with the camera on electronic shutter. The hummingbird left and I had more than enough photos to analyze.

There were bees around the feeder. In only one instance did the auto focus leave the bird and hook on to a bee.

The Whole Area Auto Focus left the hummer and locked on the feeder for five frames out of the 516.

Analysis of minute one: I captured 129 images during the first minute of shooting using the electronic shutter. Two or three images were out of focus when the hummer buzzed backwards but the rest were in tight focus. 1/3200th shutter speed with auto ISO. ISO was usually in the 5000 range.

Rufous hummingbird photographed with the Canon R3, Auto ISO, 1/3200th shutter, and whole area auto focus.
Image above cropped to 100%

Analysis of minute two: I captured 141 images with the electronic shutter. Shutter speed is 1/6400th with auto ISO in the 8000 range.

The autofocus lost the hummer for four frames as the bird hovered. Then the auto focus reaquired the hummer and locked on. The hummer was in motion as it flew in and out to feed at the feeder.

The hummer took a drink of sugar water from the feeder and then hovered to swallow for 21 frames. There’s tight focus on 16 of the hovering frames. The camera got a bit confused as it changed focus to the feeder and then back to the hummer.

In this instance, the R3 lost focus on the hummer when the bird was mostly obscured by the feeder. Focus locked back on the bird when the hummer moved more of its body toward the camera.

During this same minute, the hummer drank from the feeder again and the R3 never lost focus on the bird. There are 16 frames where the hummer is behind the feeder and the R3 is locked on the hummer. The hummer hovers for 11 frames with no loss of focus.

A GIF of some of the 141 images mentioned above.

Three to four frames per wing flap, if you’re curious.

An example where the Canon R3 auto focus attached to the wing and not the body of the hummingbird.

When birds are in flight, my Canon R5 and R6 would auto focus on bird-wing-bird-wing-bird-wing. I didn’t see the R3 get distracted by the wing more than once or twice in 141 frames.

What Happened During Minutes Three and Four? More of the same. Sharp, tight focus on a hummingbird in flight. I am so impressed with the auto focus on the Canon R3.

Rufous hummingbird photographed with the Canon R3, 1/6400th shutter, ISO 8000, Canon 100-500mm RF lens.
The second Rufous Hummingbird in my yard during this test. Photographed at 1/3200th shutter and ISO 25,600. Almost full frame. Slight crop to balance the frame.

Questions or comment? Please feel free to post below. Thanks for reading.

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