Category Archives: Creative

Dandy Dandelion

Every spring we remove those pesky dandelions from our yard. This year, before the weed & feed came out, I picked a dandelion to photograph.

As a child, I enjoyed blowing the dandelion seeds everywhere, not grasping why it upset my parents. As an adult, when I look at a dandelion, I imagine myself wandering through those tiny seed pods; maybe it comes from reading The Borrower’s or Dr. Suess’s, Horton Hears a Who. So, I spent a few days photographing dandelions from my yard and I thought I would share my process with you.

Olympus OMD 1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, with Raynox DCR250 close up lens, 1/200 sec, f/4, ISO 200, two off camera flash, 50 image focus stack.

I started with a perfect, fluffy dandelion. But the image was busy and I struggled seeing into the seed pods, so I removed some of the seeds to gain a better vantage point. Using my macro lens, tripod and a Raynox DCR250 close up lens, I captured the above image at approximately 2.5x magnification. The off camera flash units were at 1/64 power with diffusion (copy paper). At this magnification, I chose to focus stack so that the closest seed pod would be in focus.

Next, I moved in closer keeping my exposure and flash settings the same. By adding extension tubes to the macro and Raynox lenses, I isolated an individual seed pod achieving almost 4x magnification. When using the Raynox, I use a plastic container on the end of my lens to diffuse the flashes. Anyone that has taken our Arizona Highways PhotoScapes Super Macro workshop (ahps.org) has used this diffusion technique. For these next images, I included my super macro setup and the single seed pod image.

Then, I continued to play with the dandelion seeds, pulling some away to reveal less seed pods drawing me to different compositions. The colored paper background added variety and I chose to capture single images with varying depths of field.

No Flash

Dandelion with green background
1/60 sec, f/4, ISO 200

While setting up the next shot, I added a continuous light to the background and loved the silhouetted dandelion. So, I turned off my flashes and captured silhouettes with and without extension tubes. Much to my surprise, I found a bug crawling around in the dandelion. It took a lot of twisting and positioning in front of my lens, but I finally captured the bug in the seeds. The final bug image expressed my original intent – as if I was that bug within the dandelion.

So, if you are looking for a project, find something simple around your house and keep “working the subject” by changing settings, lighting, backgrounds, etc until you achieve what you want. These images were captured over the course of three days. When I take on new projects, I like to review, reflect, and then reshoot several times. Regardless, have fun and I hope you enjoyed reading about my process.

dandelion in grass
iPhone photo.

Abstract Art with Flash

abstract colored paper
Olympus OMD1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, 1/60 sec, F/8, ISO 200, 2 off-camera flash.

Paper – check; off-camera flash – check; flash gels – check; macro lens – check. Grab those supplies and you are ready to capture abstract art. My YouTube video isn’t ready yet, but I couldn’t wait to show you how to capture these images.

Step-by-step

Let me take you step-by-step through capturing these images:

camera setup shooting abstract paper
Notice the two flashes facing each other? Each with a
different colored gel.
  1. Grab white computer paper and roll or curl it to a desired shape, then either staple or paper clip it so the shape holds in place.
  2. Place two off camera flashes facing each other pointing toward the paper (see image). A good starting point to the flash power is 1/32.
  3. Add a gel to each flash. I used a red and a blue.
  4. Set your camera on a tripod and focus on the front edge of the paper. I used Manual exposure, 1/60 sec, f/5.6 to f/10 and ISO 200.
  5. Take a photo.
  6. Review your image checking the histogram and composition. Adjust camera settings as needed.
  7. Now, modify your shape or change gel colors. The images below represent some of these changes.

Example images

Image A: For this image, placed one flash with blue gel on the background (wall) and a green felled flash on the paper. Olympus OMD1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, 1/60 sec, F/10, ISO 200, 2 off-camera flash.

Image B: This image uses an orange gelled flash from the left and a purple gelled flash on the right. I added small curls of paper in my loops to create different shapes. Olympus OMD1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, 1/60 sec, F/10, ISO 200, 2 off-camera flash.

Image C: Here is the looped paper and added curls to create image B.

Gels are transparent colored material placed on the flash unit. Purchase them where you purchase lighting equipment. If you find the Rosco Swatchbook in stock – buy it! The swatchbook gels are sized perfectly for flash units and includes a variety of colors.

Valentine’s Composite

The first two images were used to create the composite on the right.

Photoshop is not for every image, but I like to use it for compositing and making an impact. I decided to create a composite to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Using my Cognisys StopShot Water Drip Kit, I captured several drops and drop collisions. After reviewing the images, I noticed two that if combined would make a fun composite. Since, viewers commented that it looks like the character, “Tigger”.

Layers

Setting the camera on a tripod (a must with water drop collisions) gave me several almost identical images, the only difference was in the actual drops. To create the composite, I would need to utilized layers in Photoshop. The “Tigger” image was my base image. Then I selected the “tail” from the second image and brought the tail layer over to my base. Once the “tail” was in place, I added a mask to erase the part I didn’t need to create a believable Tigger tail. The final composite included two images and you may notice that I also erased a few of the extra water drops. The spot healing brush is an easy tool and blended the area nicely. This took me less than thirty minutes and I have fun creating it.

Transform Tool

On the next image, I envisioned a drop in the shape of a heart. Well, that would never happen naturally, so I used Photoshop’s transform Tool to create the heart. First step was to cutout the heart onto its own layer. Then use transform (Ctrl +T, Cmd +T) to select it. With the transform tool active, a right click will offer additional transforming options and I chose warp. After dragging the sizing handles around, I designed a heart. The last step was to blend this with the original drop. Again, I added a mask to erase the top portion of the original drop and positioned the new heart shape to blend properly.

Photoshop isn’t for everyone or every image, but it is fun to use!

Liquid Art

Liquid Art – paint, oil and milk

For the past two months I’ve captured studio images of liquids or liquid art. Instead of water drop collisions (I will do more soon) capturing macro images of paint, oil and milk are my new passion thanks to Jason Cummings. Jason shared his setup with me and I couldn’t wait to make it my own. Changing the liquid quantities and thicknesses create very diverse images. The above image followed the steps in this article and the gear used for this project is in the image to the right: two off-camera flash units with diffusers, shutter release cable, macro lens, extension tubes, plastic table cloth, solo cups, paint and a disposable plate. Not pictured: camera and tripod.

Gear used in liquid art photos
Gear used in liquid art photos

Make your own masterpiece

Step One:  Water down acrylic paint. Using a disposable cup, water down cheap acrylic paint. The thicker the paint, the longer the paint balls stay intact.

Step Two:  Pour milk, half and half, cream, etc into a water resistant or water proof plate/bowl. I prefer using disposable plates or Petri dishes.

Step Three:  Pour oil in a new cup and add drops of paint. Use all the colors you want in your image.

Step Four:  Pour oil and paint into milk substance. Pour fast, pour slow, make circles/squares, etc; these differences in technique add to the individuality of the final image.

Step Five: Capture images. When setting up your gear, be sure that the macro lens is parallel to the plate of liquid. I use a toothpick on the surface of the liquid to pre-focus. After pouring, I manual focus in live view, at 3x enlargement or more, to fine tune focus. Snap the shutter and rotate the plate for different compositions. The liquid will move on its own as the oil, milk and paint interact. If you have paint “balls” they will burst at some point, so shoot fast. Since the liquid mixture is moving, I recommend using a flash or other strong light source to create sharp images at a fast shutter speed. Here are a few examples from different paint colors. Give it a try, it is a lot of fun.

Why Focus Stack

focus stack of fordite

Cropped version of final Focus Stack. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 60mm + 26mm extension tubes, ISO 400, f/4, 1/50 sec.

Not all macro subjects are captured sharp in a single image, that makes a great reason to focus stack. In preparing for a camera club presentation, I decided to focus stack a new object. I chose a piece of fordite from Cadillac Ranch. If you aren’t familiar with fordite, just think – layers of paint. The first image (image A) is a close-up image of the piece of fordite that measures 2” x 1”. I used my 12-100mm lens and got as close as I could to capture the image. Then, with my macro lens and extension tubes, I captured image B. A small sliver of the subject is sharp, but not the whole piece of fordite. In order to have sharpness throughout the entire frame, I would need to focus stack.

 

At first, I tried a stack of 50 images. My Olympus camera has a focus bracketing mode so all I do is focus on the closest part of the fordite and program the camera for 50 images at a small increment of focus bracketing. The camera then captures 50 raw images changing the focus with small increments from front to back. After looking at image 50, the farthest part of the fordite was still blurry, so I needed more photos in my stack. I tried again, this time with 125 focus bracketing images. When I reviewed the photos, at image 118, I had the sharpness I needed. Next step was to focus stack the 118 images in Helicon Focus. Helicon is amazingly easy to use. After selecting the images in Lightroom, I export to Helicon and press the render button. Helicon does the rest. The last image is the final image of 118 focus stacked images.

A few tips on focus stacking:

  • Mark the start of a focus stack by capturing a single image of your hand, or other random subject otherwise if you capture several stacks, it will be hard to identify the start and stop of the stack otherwise.
  • Use a tripod and shutter release to minimize camera shake. Photoshop CC offers focus stacking but it is more complicated than Helicon Focus.

Benefits of Photographing Alone

Fall Colr
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/14, .5 sec.., Circular Polarizing Filter.

Benefits of Photographing Alone

Dried leaves

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 100, f/4, 1/100., 8 image focus stack in-camera.

Not long ago, I spent a morning in Sedona photographing fall colors. Whenever I travel alone, I do check in with my husband at the start and end of my trip. Checking in with him is more for my benefit; knowing someone is aware of my location makes me feel better. My husband is very optimistic that I will be safe regardless. Photographing alone does require discipline, after all, hitting snooze on the early alarm is tempting, after all, no one is meeting up with me. But I stayed disciplined and left before dark to drive to Westfork in Oak Creek Canyon.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/8 sec.., Circular Polarizing Filter.

When I find a scene that interests me, I love working the scene for a while. Constantly challenging myself and looking for better angles or compositions. If there were people around me, they would hear me talk to myself saying things like, “what if I used that rock as foreground…” And then adjust my composition. Walking along the quiet path was relaxing and I didn’t feel a pressure in the world. I worked each composition for as long as I wanted with no time restrictions of leaving. I hiked up the side of the canyon along a small trail with awesome fall colors and scrambled down low when I found mushrooms. It was a fun and rewarding day. Sometimes, creativity is sparked just by shooting alone.

Water Drop Collisions

Creating water drop collisions keeps me entertained for hours. For the last year, I have been very busy completing and publishing the book, The Art of Macro Photography and my drip kit was neglected. So, I blocked a few hours and went to work in my make shift studio (spare bedroom). I kept the setup simple and started with single drops of water. I didn’t use any additives, just wanted to practice making drops and fine tune the timing of the flashes. After a successful single drop, I added the second drop.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 60mm, ISO 400, f/16, .5 sec.

In all the time I have been shooting water drop collisions, I’ve never seen the second drop hit next to the original drop as you can see in the image to the right. After several minutes problem solving, I tapped the valve and all subsequent drops collided. Why does this entertain me for hours? I love the challenge of focusing sharp and the varied final images. With a small change on timing of the flashes, I can achieve several different looks. The last image is of my setup for this series.

Stay tuned for more images next week!

 

Ocean City

ocean city beach sunset

Cloudless Night. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/20, .8 sec.

My tarp finally got rained on as I packed to leave Cape Disappointment. On the way to Ocean City, I drove through rain, fog and mist. It was beautiful. In Ocean City, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was only 80 miles from Cape Disappointment. What a difference. After setting up camp, I sat in the sun and read for an hour just to soak up some rays. The Ocean City campground was two blocks from the ocean so I shot sunset for two nights here. The first night without clouds and the last night with excellent clouds.

falls creek falls

Fall Creek. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/8, 6 sec., with Bryan Hansel Singh-ray Filter.

Ocean City is a short drive to Lake Quinault, part of the Olympic National Forest and there are many waterfalls. I was so excited to photograph there, I woke up very early and was on a trail by 7:30am after the 1-hour drive. My first location was Falls Creek which is on the edge of a tent campground and I was very quiet to not wake up any campers. It was a pretty fall, but I struggled getting a composition I liked. So, I hiked to Gatton Creek Falls. It was a mile to the falls and a bridge crossed over the top. The only problem with this tiered fall was access to it. I could not find a trail I was willing to walk down without going swimming so I headed back a little discouraged.

Even though I wanted to photograph waterfalls, I reminded myself how beautiful the trail was and tried to find other things to photograph. I came across chicken mushroom and moss growing on the side of a tree stump and pulled out the macro lens.

chicken mushroom and moss

Chicken Mushroom and moss. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 60 mm, ISO 200, f/9, 2.5 sec.

Mosquitos were buzzy around, but my deet must have worked as I survived without a bite. Capturing the macro shots reinforced my thoughts of the beautiful trail and improved my mood. I took off in search of more falls.

Waterfalls

willaby creek falls

Willaby Creek Falls Final Photo. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/8, 5 sec., with Bryan Hansel Singh-ray Filter.

The trail to Willaby Falls was non-technical and I didn’t feel that I was going to fall in. I stepped off the trail slightly to get a better angle and had fun capturing images here. In the photog section below, I discuss the first photo upon arriving at the scene to my final photo. When I am photographing beautiful falls like this, I try to remind myself to look not only through the camera but with my eyes as well. So, often I will pause and just admire without looking for a composition or changing an aperture. I just take in the beauty.

merriman falls

Merriman Falls Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/10, 8 sec., with Bryan Hansel Singh-ray Filter.

Lastly, I drove to Merriman Falls. The 40-foot drop contrasted with Willaby Creek Falls and required a different approach to capture an image. Next to the side of the road with only a pullout (no sign) this waterfall was magnificent. The entire falls were hard to photograph because by this time, other people were around. Another photog was there capturing couple’s photos as well, so I worked around them and captured small scenes of the falls.

Comforts of Home

Amy selfie

I’m waving hello! iPhone photo.

I watched Neflix! This campground had free wifi and I enjoyed it thoroughly: backed up photos, caught up on email and watched a few movies on Netflix. This was my first TV for almost 6 weeks. After six weeks, my car and trailer are dirty. Even though I was rained on, the dirt roads and sea spray have done a number on my car. It still surprised me when a total stranger said, “That is a dirty car,” to me at the gas station. Peer pressure worked and I drove through a self-serve car wash 15 minutes later. Of course, the sea spray hit again that night shooting sunset. After 4500 miles, what do you expect?

car on sand

Car on beach, iPhone photo.

Oregon’s beaches are public property and the state owns them. In Washington, it seems similar and they let you drive on the beach! So, I had get my Renegade on the sand. When I sent the photo home to Rod he was concerned that I would get stuck. But, I didn’t.

I spent an afternoon in Ocean Shores a few miles away and walked several miles along Damon Point. Damon Point has spectacular crashing waves, agates, shells and driftwood. I even found a marble that I’m taking home for our cats. I grabbed fried oysters in town to complete my west coast seafood checklist and headed back to camp to prepare for sunset.

For the Photogs!

willaby creek falls

Willaby Creek Falls First Photo. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/10, .8 sec.

When I photograph waterfalls, I like to start with a sample image once I am setup. I often use aperture priority mode and take a sample shot to help me view the scene. Once I take a shot, I am more successful on composing by analyzing if that is the story I want to capture. I say to myself, “what can I do to make this better.” With the image on the right, there is a lot to do to make it better. At first, I shot from the trail with the tripod above a bush. Then I noticed a dirt path off the trail and I examined what would be the best location to capture the photo. If your tripod isn’t as tall as you, make sure you view the scene the same as your camera. I often pull out my iPhone to “view” the scene at different heights to determine where to setup the tripod. Once I was away from the bush, I put on my Bryan Hansel filter from Singh-ray. Yes, I love this filter! I played with horizontal and vertical orientations until I found just the right composition. I knew before I captured the photo I would crop a small portion from the foreground because there was a distracting reflection that I could not avoid otherwise. View the final Willaby Creek Falls photo above in this post.

Ocean city beach at sunset

Ocean City Beach. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/10, 1/80 sec.