Archive for the 'Photography' Category

Focus Stacking: An Introduction

Monday, March 6th, 2017
Belionota sumptuosa (Indonesia)

At left is a photo of a Belionota sumptuosa from Indonesia. Commonly known as a Tricolor Metallic Wood-boring Beetle.

It isn’t a regular photo, though. It is a focus stacked image.

Specifically, it is 276 photos combined to make a single image. When shooting macro, the depth of field — the distance in front of the lens that is in focus — tends to be really narrow. By taking a bunch of photos where each has a different depth in focus and then combining only the in focus areas from each image, one can effectively create a composite image that is entirely in focus.

So, this is really 276 images taken across about 40mm of camera travel; about 0.15mm of travel between each picture taken. I’ll cover that in a later post

Since optics are optics and physics are physics, changing the focal plane by either moving the camera ever so slightly (10 to 20 microns per photo, in this case) or by changing the focus depth via the lens’ focus ring, the scale of the subject changes just slightly and anything in the foreground becomes blurry and obscures the background.

All that has to be compensated for and there are a handful of software stacks that do exactly that. I’ll discuss those in a later post.

Belionota sumptuosa (Indonesia) Source Image

To put it into perspective, this is a single frame in the stack.

Only the tip of the feet and antenna are in focus. The focal plane is so shallow that not even the leg is in focus and the rest of the bug is entirely blurry.

On a lark, I put together a video of all of the frames in the stack followed by the final image. In 4K.

Fungus

There is nothing about focus stacking that requires a bit of computer controlled technology to move the camera multiple microns per image with crazy studio lighting (all of which will be discussed in later posts).

In fact, focus stacking really only relies that you can hold the camera still enough between multiple photos while also changing the focal plane, either by moving the camera or adjusting the focus ring.

For example, the image at left is a bit of gooey fungus growing in a fairly dark part of the forest. Normally, such a shot would require a lot of flash, a really tight aperture (high number– backwards), and as slow of shutter speed as possible. In a single shot, there would likely be some bright flash highlights, too.

In this case, I braced the camera on a log, cranked the aperture to relatively wide open so I could have a reasonably low noise (low ISO) image while still having a handheld compatible shutter speed and then shot 11 frames while varying the focus depth via the lens’ focus ring. I did use a flash, but I was able to turn down the intensity a lot, yielding fewer highlights.

So, yes, handheld focus stacking is possible. But hard. Add a cheap, small, tripod and it is no longer hard. Add a focus rail and the options expand. Etc until your wallet is empty, as usual.

Review; Brinno TLC200 Pro Time Lapse Camera

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

One nice fallout from the smartphone revolution is that cheap embedded controllers, camera sensors, and flash memory has dropped in price while the capabilities have jumped by leaps and bounds.

Unfortunately, the quality of the user experience has not seen the same revolution.


After having played with time-lapse photography on my iPhone, I concluded that there was much more to explore, but I would ideally want a dedicated camera that I could set, forget, and still be able to use my iPhone or iPad for something else.

Searching around revealed that the Brinno TLC 200 Pro is the best timelapse camera currently available.



The Brinno is a small, dedicated, timelapse (or still frame animation with external trigger) 720p camera that supports interchangeable lenses (and there is a microscope attachment. Brinno also makes a waterproof case that both fits perfectly and can be mounted to a tripod.

The camera has a slew of your typical manual controls; white balance, shutter speed, HDR levels, etc… but the adjustments are hidden in a maze of menus and the three buttons used to navigate make for a shoddy user experience. Livable, but shoddy.

Fortunately, once the camera is configured, you can basically bang on the big OK button to start recording. The built in LCD allows you to align the camera, but does not support playing back captured content.


The Brinno writes videos in the AVI format. Makes sense; AVI can be as simple as a file with a sequence of JPG stills. Unfortunately, neither iOS nor OS X will decode AVI directly. I use Smart Converter Pro 2 to convert the videos. The free version works, but doesn’t give you quite as much control over the process and is strictly one video at a time (the Brinno splits movies at 4GB, so there is often multiple movies to convert).

You can control the frame rate of playback. This, combined with the ability to set the duration to wait between shots taken means that, with Brine’s handy calculator, you can easily create a time-lapse for any length of time (and the Brinno has a “timer” feature that will cause the camera to turn on only during preset blocks of time.)

Ultimately, I find it is preferable to leave the Brinno in ASAP mode; it takes a new shot as soon as the current shot is done (i.e. if the shutter speed is 8 seconds, then you get one shot every 8 seconds). I then compress time however much I desire using Final Cut Pro.

Fun device. Beyond clouds and sunrise/sunsets, I will be capturing all kinds of chemical and physical processes that are then brought from a glacial pace to human speed.


TLC200Pro

Conclusion

At left is the Brinno in its waterproof case sitting on a Gorilla Pod to record a timelapse of the reflections on the pond. You can see the all too small display and the rather poor two 3 button UI.

While the UI is bad, the camera’s battery life is good to excellent (it can last many months when shooting a frame every hour or more). The video quality is mostly quite good, but suffers from low light noise and the exposure tends to bump down in lock step as the amount of light increases, leading to sudden changes in light level in videos of sunrises and sunsets.

Even with the criticism, I can still recommend the device if you either need to compress time when recording video or simply want to play with different time scales. It is really a lot of fun to set it up and then see what 5 hours (or days? months? The Brinno can do it) of the world looks like compressed into a couple of minutes!


Alaska

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)

Over the summer, we escaped for a while to Alaska via a trip put together by International Expeditions. This was our second trip with the company — our first being a week on the Amazon River (fun story, photo set on flickr) — and it certainly won’t be our last as International Expeditions does a fantastic job.

For the Alaska trip, we opted for the 11 day grand tour.

Beyond a fantastic tour of glaciers, a backcountry lake lodge, and Denali National Park, highlights included fantastic lodging in the most remote of places, incredible homemade meals, mind blowing scenery, and a wonderfully friendly group of random travel companions that quickly become a temporary family (with whom we wouldn’t mind crossing paths again!).

It was, no surprise, a great place to take photos and I’ve pushed an album to Flickr.

Alaska is both surprisingly diverse and, yet, equally as surprisingly limited in natural diversity.

On our tour, we ranged from a coastal rainforest to arctic tundra and even spent some time in the air flying around Mt. Denali.

And that covered a very tiny part of the state. It is also hard to fathom just how big Alaska truly is. Watching this glacier calve, we were nearly 1 mile away from it and yet it still seems to tower above us and there were still miles of glacier behind and above it! And beyond the top of that glacier? An ice field that is larger than most states in the lower 48.

Alaska is very different than anywhere else we’ve visited. Whereas the Amazon was full of a seeming infinite number of species of plant an animal, there are actually very few species in Alaska; only 150 or so native plants have been cataloged (with many variants within those particular individuals).

While in the rainforests of the equator, things rot with incredible speed, trees may lie on the ground in the Alaska rainforest for years because their simply isn’t the warmth or sunlit energy to support the decomposing agents. Thus, the Alaskan rainforest floor is a thick layer of, well, mulch on top of rock. Springy, almost magical to walk on. But no real dirt.

And some of the seemingly most innocuous and beautiful plants are quite deadly.

Even the mosquitos are different. In Alaska, the mosquitos are the top pollinator. All those incredibly yummy tundra blueberries, cranberries, and crowberries? Pollinated by mosquitos. Still annoying critters. But mosquito defense did lead to some interesting fashion statements.

A fantastic place to visit!

Icy Creek Pt 3: Ice Fractals

Thursday, January 1st, 2015
Ice Patterns on Creek

Ice Patterns on Creek

Suspended Ice

While walking on the creek, Roger and I found lots of different patterns of ice on the creek. There simply wasn’t any smooth ice anywhere.

Fractals, fractals, everywhere.

Some were on the surface of the water. Some floated above. Some were clear, others were not. All were beautiful.

Ice Patterns on Creek


Icy Creek Pt. 2: A Physics Lesson (Newton’s Rings)

Thursday, January 1st, 2015
Ice Rainbow
Ice Rainbow

As Roger and I were walking along the frozen creek we were (duh!) throwing rocks to break ice, stomping on the ice, and generally checking out all the neat patterns that naturally occur (including the ice lens and another post that will highlight the amazing fractals that occur naturally).

When looking closely at some of the cracks, I noticed rainbows. Rainbows everywhere! They were typically formed right along the cracks and I had assumed they were the result of stress in the ice.

Sort of.

They are actually, as @maclemon kindly shared on Twitter, examples of Newton’s Rings.

I’m not smart enough to grok the Wikipedia entry entirely, but armed with that, I was able to search for other discussions.

Here is someone who ran across them in their backyard and did a bit of research.

And here is a whole discussion of the phenomena with lots of studio photos.

The photos at the left are two photos of the same spot. The top photo is focused on the surface and the bottom is focused on the plane of the rainbow.

I may add some more photos if I happen to see some neat patterns. Because, clearly, more ice shall be broken.


Icy Creek Pt 1; Natural Lenses

Thursday, January 1st, 2015
Frozen Ice Lens on Leaf

Roger and I went for a long walk near my parent’s house in Columbia, MO. Being the end of the year, it is freezing cold and still. Ideal weather to produce ice on the ponds and creeks of the area.

While walking on the creek, we noticed that a couple of leaves had formed little balls of ice on the end of them. The ice was perfectly clear and the shape was quite regular.

Almost lens like, really.

Roger Through an Ice Lens
Through an Ice Lens

Sure enough. It did act as a lens!

These were shot with a 100mm macro lens on a Canon 7d Mk II (my christmas present).


Walker’s Cicada: A Photo Study

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
Walker's cicada (Tibicen pronotalis)

“Hey, Dad! There’s a cicada emerging over there.”, Roger said.

Watching the emergence of any critter that goes through a metamorphic stage is always fascinating. While Roger (and I) have raised many butterflies (and Roger has raised quite a number of other critters), we’ve never watched the emergence of one of the annual cicadas common to the Midwest.

When an insect emerges from its metamorphic container — be it a cocoon or, in this case, the harden shell of the larval stage — it is typically quite vulnerable.

If winged, there is a long period of pumping fluids into the wings and then letting them effectively cure in the open air.

It is a particularly vulnerable time exactly because the animal is in between forms and simply can’t move.

So! Photo study time!

Some of the original images at full resolution are really stunning. This is a beautiful creature.

In this first image, the critter has just emerged. The wings are just starting to unfurl.

Walker's cicada (Tibicen pronotalis)

At this point, the cicada has fully emerged, but the wings are only partially expanded.

I was very surprised at how stunningly neon green the wings are!


Walker's cicada (Tibicen pronotalis)

This is a closeup (rotated) of the expanding wing. Note that those wings will be largely transparent once they are fully expanded and cured. At this point, though, it almost looks like frost.

Walker's cicada (Tibicen pronotalis)

This just seemed like an obvious picture to take. 🙂 From this angle you can’t see all the facial hair!

That picture will be at the end.


Walker's cicada (Tibicen pronotalis)

At this point, the wings are fully expanded, but not yet cured.

The neon is just stunning. Surprisingly so. Gorgeous.

Walker's cicada (Tibicen pronotalis)

One final shot. The cicada flew away shortly hereafter (or crawled).

I was stunned by the golden highlights on the “shoulder” and the hairs around the eyes!

What a beautiful creature!


Wet Electronics

Monday, September 5th, 2011
Photo taken about 30 seconds after the camera had been under water for ~5 seconds.


An unremarkable, though rather pleasant, picture of the creek near my parent’s house in Missouri.

What is remarkable or, at least, exceptional about this photo is that it was taken about 30 seconds after I fell in the creek (slick rock) and dunked both my iPhone and my Canon DSLR (t1i) underwater for a good 5 to 10 seconds. While bummed that it happened, I wasn’t really angry — it was inevitable and, given how much joy the various photos have brought the family and how much educational value they have had for Roger, the risk has been worth it.

This was the last photo the camera took for quite some time and, at the time, the last photo I expected it to ever take. My iPhone was in similar dire straits. Upon removal from my pocket, it had flipped out; cycling between screens, waking sleeping, etc.. Water drained out of the headphone port.

OOops.

Same with the camera; had to dump water out through the lens mount, through the battery compartment and out the SD card slot.

Leaving them in a sunny spot in an air conditioned, and thus relatively dry, house, the iPhone started working just fine, though the camera lens had a bunch of moisture on the inside. That dissipated within a few days and, save for the occasional mysterious “GPS on all the time” mode, the iPhone seems completely normal now.

The camera took longer to return to normalcy. For the first few days, it would power on to a “set the time” screen and I would then turn it off, remove the battery, open every door/compartment/etc, and let it dry some more. After the first week, it mostly just worked, but the flash stopped popping up for a while. Now even that seems to work.

It seems I got lucky. This time.

Death on the Coast; Nature at its Stinkiest

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010
Dead Blue Whale & Fetus

What is often lost in all the nature documentaries is that every critter must die eventually. More often than not, said deaths are generally brutal.

One of our favorite beaches is Bean Hollow State Beach south of Half Moon Bay along the northern coast of California. Dog friendly and abundant with wildly different environment ranging from sandy beaches to monumental rocks, to flats full of tide pools with the occasional freshwater pool.

While visiting, it was mentioned that the southern entrance to the state park — we have always stuck to the northern (but will head south because of the awesome beach) — led to an alcove where a dead whale had washed ashore.

This was, of course, far too tempting of a site for Roger to resist, so down the road we headed.

What we found, though, was absolutely monumental. And stinky. Very, very, stinky.

Dead Blue Whale

The creature that had washed up was huge. Hundred+ feet long and 80 feet long, 75 tons, and clearly dead for a while as there were bits and pieces here and there.

And the smell. We made the mistake of parking down wind. Doh!

Roger made it just about 2/3rds of the way to the carcass before heading back to the car.

After we hit the road, we drove upwind and found a path that we could walk upon to overlook the scene without having to smell it.

Regardless, the stench stuck with us on the drive home. Or not. It may have largely been Ruby’s (the Dog’s) wet doggy stench from having waded in a couple of swampy puddles.

Dead Blue Whale Fetus
Blue Whale Guts & Fetus

Sadly, it wasn’t just the one adult whale. On the shore was a whale fetus — I hesitate to say baby since it was so relatively small and pale — that was also dead.

Clearly, this was a mother whale and baby. Given the presence of the floating mass of intestines and the general destruction of the carcass, the whale likely didn’t die naturally. My completely uneducated guess is that it was hit by a cargo ship, an all too common death amongst these magnificent creatures.

I’m pretty sure this is a blue whale.

Sad though such a death is, I can’t help but consider — and explained to Roger — the unbelievable energy source such a carcass is to that particular coastal area. If the carcass were left to decay in that location, it would both take years prior to being fully decayed and those many tons of flesh and bone would likely grossly increase the population of crabs, birds, and other critters.

I’m going to try to contact the park services to find out what they might do– if anything. If the carcass is left to lie (or blown up to accelerate the process), we will revisit the site in the near future to see what the critter density looks like.


Apparently, this is the first blue whale to wash ashore in Northern California in more than 30 years. The Santa Cruz Sentinel has an article about the event.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens

Sunday, August 29th, 2010
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) Study: Portrait
Pelican (170mm, f/5.6, 1/1250th, ISO: 160)

Earlier this year, we went on a trip to the Galapagos with Linblad (National Geographic) with a goal of immersing our 9 year old son, Roger, in the natural laboratory that is the Galapagos Archipelago.

And, no surprise, one goal was to bring back tons of pictures as it is exceedingly unlikely that we will ever re-visit the Galapagos.

I don’t remotely pretend to be a competent photographer, but I do OK and I have dedicated some time to understanding the science of photography and learning the limits of my equipment. One limit, in particular, was no really long lenses of great quality. The 55-250 is a great lens for the price, but isn’t that long, nor of the world class quality that a world class trip demands.

Thus, I picked up the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens
. That is, a zoom telephoto L-series lens with a minimum zoom of 100mm @ f/4.5, a maximum of 400mm @ f/5.6 that features image stabilization.

I.e. one serious piece of glass.

All images taken with a Canon T1i
and, obviously, the aforementioned lens.




Juvenile Greater Flamingo  (Phoenicopterus ruber) Feeding
Juvenile Flamingo (400mm, f/14, 1/500th, ISO: 500)

Of course, with such a long lens, the first question is “How well did it perform in capturing images of things really far away?!?”

In short, the lens performed very well in this regard. The flamingo at left was, maybe, 80 meters away; 200+ feet.

The lens focuses quickly at that distance and the camera + lens generally do a good job of selecting an appropriate aperture and ISO to achieve a pleasant picture (I generally use a fast shutter speed when shooting wildlife that is moving about).

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