Camellia Petals

My new Nikon D300 showed up today, and of course I had to play. This is an extreme close-up of petals of a camellia blossom fresh from my garden. The flower was wet with rain. To get the effect of light coming through the petals I positioned the flower on some small LED lights, then surrounded it with a black velvet cloth. The point of this style of photography was to emphasize the transparency of the petals.

Related images: Camellia, Camellia Decolletage.

[Nikon D300, 200mm f/4 macro lens (300mm in 35mm terms), 35mm extension tube, 3 seconds at f/45 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Water Drops

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, near Taos New Mexico, is a spectacular place to walk anytime, but particularly at twilight. Five hundred feet long, 650 feet above New Mexico’s Rio Grande river, this delicate steel structure, built in 1966, vibrates with every passing car. Here’s a view looking down the river gorge from one of the “balconies” in the center of the bridge.

After spending some time photographing from the bridge (and many of my photos were spoiled because vibrations rendered my use of a tripod futile), I decided to photograph the bridge itself. I stationed myself on the lookout beside the rest area on the west side of the bridge. It was getting too dark to take a normal photo of the bridge, so I decided to wait for cars so I could capture the headlights and tailights in motion on the bridge. You may have to view the photo larger to really see this.

This kind of exposure is always one part guesstimation, no matter how fancy the equipment one uses. With the camera on tripod, I tried a number of exposures with differing shutter speeds.

I tried to time it so the car would cross a good portion of the bridge during the exposure, but this timing was a bit tricky—because the behavior of the cars on the bridge, pretty naturally, was unpredicatble. Often, they slowed down on the bridge either to take in the view, or to be safe. And there wasn’t much traffic, in any case.

This exposure was at 20 seconds and f/16.

Not seen in the final image, a high fence to protect tourists from themselves and the Rio Grande gorge, covering the lower portion of the photo. I cloned it out in Photoshop, and also double-processed the RAW file to expose for the sky and the bridge.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Water Drop Photograph Techniques

I get asked all the time how I make my water drop photos. For example:

I’ve seen many of your photographs and am really impressed with all the water drops. I’d like to know how you do it, and specifically what lens you use.

There really is no one answer to this question. Water drop photography is macro photography with some subject-matter specific difficulties. Macro photography in and of itself is one of the most technically difficult kinds of photography because once you get really close to a small object inherently shallow depth-of-field, precise focus, and motion—even the slightest motion—are all issues that can defeat a photograph, no matter how beautiful it would be otherwise.

What makes water drop photography a bit more difficult than run-of-the-mill photography of very small subjects is the extreme reflectivity of a water drop and the fact that a water drop is in almost constant motion (read more about these issues here).

In this story, I’ll address the equipment I use—and tackle some of the other technical issues related to water drop photography in future stories.

I use Nikon digital SLR equipment, right now a Nikon D200 body. As far as I am concerned, there’s no saying this is any better than any other brand, it is just what I happen to use. (For example, Canon is probably just as good.)

It’s also worth saying upfront that one can take perfectly good macro photographs with relatively primitive equipment provided the camera has a macro mode. For example, check out this photo of wedding rings that I took with a Canon Powershot G3. To get good results, you do need to be sure you are using a tripod, and know how to get the maximum depth-of-field from the camera.

My macro lens are a Nikon 200mm f/4 (used with the photograph above), a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 (the older, non-VR model), and a Sigma 50mm f/2.8. I often use Kenko extension tubes (I have two sets) with these lenses. I prefer these to the Nikon extension tubes because they retain automatic exposure in Aperture-preferred mode. Besides the extension tubes, I have close-up filters for these lenses, a lens reversal mount for the 105mm lens, and a Nikon PK-6 bellows.

I always focus macro lenses manually, and I use a magnifying eye piece for added precision.

I sometimes handhold macro shots with extension tubes and/or close-up lens and a VR (vibration reduction, also called image stabilization) zoom lens, like my 18-200mm Nikon zoom. (Here’s a photo taken with this technique.)

But most of the time I use one of my macro lenses, and these are invariably tripod shots, most often at the maximum possible depth-of-field, using mirror lock-up and the Nikon MC-36 remote to trigger the shutter.

I think my tripod is probably my most important piece of equipment. It is likely to outlast my D200, and probably most of the lenses I currently use as well. My tripod is a carbon-fiber Gitzo MK-2, which combines light weight with strength and agility.

To strobe or not to strobe, that is the question. Using flash as a light source with water drops replaces the natural light source with that created by the strobe (read more about this). When I do use flash with water drops, I use the Nikon wireless R1 close-up kit, which includes two Nikon wireless remote SB-R200 units. I also sometimes use a SU-800 unit connected via wireless to supply additional ambient light.

Leaving the hardware of photography aside for a second, my title for the photograph that started this story is “The force that through the green fuse,” after the Dylan Thomas poem. Here’s the first stanza of the poem:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

My point being: that at its best, photography of water drops, like all good art, is about the creative life force, the urges that make us live, breath, yearn and die. A powerful force runs through each water drop, but all too soon (from the photographer’s viewpoint) each drop ends in falling or evaporation, with new worlds to live or die wherever one’s lens is pointed next. Water drop photography is about capturing the brief life of an ephemeral and tiny world.

Posted in Photography, Water Drops