Flower Fireworks – Happy New Year!

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Most people can look back over the years and identify a time and place at which their lives changed significantly. Whether by accident or design, these are the moments when, because of a readiness within us and collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives.   – Frederick F. Flack

Thank you all who have visited my blog this past year. Especially, I wish to thank those people who are following this blog and who have provided comments on my posts. I wish for you all, health and happiness. Happy New Year! I have found inspiration in the posts of many of you. 

I cannot remember the last year that I made resolutions. This year, for whatever reason, I have decided that resolutions are appropriate.

Here are my (daily) resolutions:

Learn five things that are totally new to me:

  • a fact or piece of information (ie the pygmy right whale belongs to a species that was thought to have been extinct for millions of years. Not very practical info, but I enjoy being amazed. Science has not even figured out all the data about the animals that are here.)
  • a picture of something that I have never before seen, or at least that I have never seen depicted in that style (Yesterday’s find was Guy Tal’s marvelous landscapes that he has processed as paintings (http://guytal.com/gtp/gallery/index.jsp).
  • listen to a song that I have not heard before (thank you Pandora)
  • do something that extends an ability that I already have (like learning a new technique of photo processing)
  • do something in a way that is not my usual way (such as… I don’t know. This category is going to take some effort)

Give an unexpected gift to someone

Show, through my actions, that I love someone.

Become conscious of at least 20 things for which I am thankful.

Recommit, through actions, to my values and priorities.

Post more often on my blog, not worrying about proper grammar or punctuation.

The photo at the top of this page is a large chrysanthemum, each bloom of which is at least 4-6 inches in diameter. Usually close up photographs have a shallow depth of focus, that is, only a portion of the subject is in focus. This photo is almost entirely in sharp focus, because of using a technique called focus stacking. Multiple images are captured that are exactly the same except for the area in sharp focus. In this case, 41 separate photos were taken, beginning at the closest point of the flowers to the lens and working toward the back of the flowers with the focal plane of each photo being 2 mm deeper than the last. Then all the images were processed with Helicon Focus software (from http://www.heliconsoft.com/heliconfocus.html), which does an unbelievable job. (I highly recommend it both for close up/macro work, and for landscapes.) If you are interested in more information on focus stacking, please check out my first two posts of this blog.

Again, I wish you all a Happy New Year!

I welcome comments and criticisms (mostly comments).

My website for photo enhancing, processing and saving seemingly useless images is NaturePhotoRehab.com

J. Michael Harroun©2013

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Expanded depth of focus: Philosophy

dahl red c stamens cropped shp copyrt“Keep close to Nature’s heart. Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ” John Muir

One limitation of film photography is that only a portion of the subject or scene is precisely in focus. One of the marvels of digital photography is its ability to allow portions of multiple images to composite into a final image that is more fully in focus and more life-like. Expanded depth of focus is such a technique. After taking multiple similar images with the depth of focus being the only variable, only the precisely focused portions of each photo are combined into a final image in which everything, or at least as much as is wanted, is crisply in focus.

My blog post from July 16 is an introduction to this technique. Here, I describe the some of the attitudes and states of mind that I have found highly effective for happiness and success with this type of photography. I welcome others comments, suggestions and additional thoughts.

Appreciating the moment is, for me, the key to happiness with all of my photography. I usually hurry around oblivious to the details of the miraculous nature around me. Photography not only allows, but requires, me to slow down and pay attention to the details of my surroundings. The more aware I am of the sun, breeze, colors, textures, shapes, sounds and smells around me, the more I feel  alive and connected  to  the magic that is nature.  Having achieved that feeling of fulfillment, getting usable results from my shoot is just like the sprinkles on the frosting of the cake. I’m serious about this. One day I spent 2 ½ hours shooting multiple series of freshly cut hibiscus. I realized that I may not have waited long enough for the pistils and stamens to have fully regained their original shape. I knew that any further change of shape during the shooting of each series would produce enough change of position on the sensor to render it unusable for a composite. However, I was feeling alive and connected to my surroundings. I ended up throwing out 150 frames, having only the last series usable. But I truly felt only happiness and satisfaction regarding my morning’s shooting experience.

 The two goals: When I begin each shoot, I have only two goals in mind. The first is not to damage any of my equipment. The second is to be alert and aware of the incredible intricacy that is nature. 

 Mountain climber’s deliberateness:  When moving around the camera, tripod, focusing rail and lens, it is easy to bump one of these. This is particularly likely when unlocking, adjusting and relocking the focusing rail or when leaning forward-looking for small movement of the subject due to wind. It is easy to bump some part of the equipment. A light bump may move the tripod imperceptibly, but enough to change the position of your subject on the sensor, making the remainder of the series unusable. Also, when manipulating the focusing rail, I often simultaneously support the camera with my other hand, particularly when the focusing rail is extended or when the camera is in a vertical position. If I touch the lens’s focusing ring/collar even lightly, the focus of the remainder of the series is likely to be way off. To avoid trouble, movements must be thoughtful and deliberate. I have a picture in my mind of a mountain or rock climber, half way up a steep granite cliff. On a single outing, the climber makes thousands of decisions regarding hand or foot placement or weight shifts.  It takes only one mistake out of the thousands of decisions to produce a slip, a slide or even a serious fall. The climber must be continually alert, thoughtful and deliberate in order to succeed. Similarly, it takes only one large mistake out of hundreds of decisions to render a set of images unusable for a successful composite. (Luckily, however, few people have sustained serious injury as a result of a mistake while shooting images for expanded depth of focus.)  I call this mountain climbers deliberateness. It has decreased my errors greatly.

 Patience is crucial, particularly for outdoor shooting. It’s possible for the smallest movement of air to move some part of a. This can also occur indoors due to air circulation and ventilation ducts. If I’m impatient and accept frames that might have movement, I usually end up without enough good frames for a good composite. I must be willing to wait until I’m certain that there is no movement of the subject or anything touching any portion of the support of the subject. Here I am referring to movement of a nearby flower, leaf or stem which is in contact with my flower, its leaf or stem. This can mean, at times, taking 35 min to shoot 45 frames. If I take of shot that I think might have had movement, I delete that frame and . It’s not worth the risk of sacrificing the whole series.   

Hurrying usually wastes my time. Although I get quicker results, often these results are unusable for successful composites.  

 Start small and gradually enlarge your subject.  I started with and recommend using smallish subjects initially. For instance, a pansy, rose bud or small geranium is going to be less complicated and, initially, more likely to succeed than a large iris or rhododendron.

 Start too close and end to deep. In order not to accidentally miss the point of closest focus, I recommend starting with an initial frame which has its focus 1-3 focal increments closer to you than the subject.Although not as important to the success of the composite, I also recommend going deeper than the deepest area of focus that you want. It’s always better to take some unnecessary shots, than to come away with 90% of a great series. Since you are there and all set up, this takes only a little time. I consider it cheap insurance.   

  My website for nature image retouching, processing, enlargements and framing is NaturePhotoRehab.com. I specialize in transforming people’s dull and listless images into dramatic works of art that a person is proud to hang on their wall or give as a gift.

 I hope that some of this has been useful to someone. I welcome individual comments and questions.

Expanded depth of focus: Trouble Shooting

sml purp pr c grn (c)“Let the beauty we love become the good we do.”  -Rumi

This is the second in a series of blogs about the photographic technique called expanded depth of focus. For this, multiple digital photos are  taken of the same subject, all identical expect for the area of sharp focus. Then, by computer processing,all the different areas of crisp focus are combined into a single image which is entirely in focus. This allows images to appear more life-like. It is one of the marvals of digital photography that cannot be duplicated with film images.

If you are unfamiliar with this photographic technique, but somewhat interested, please check out my blog post from July 16, which is an introduction to the topic. If you are knowledgeable about this topic, but have no interest in trouble shooting yet, please go to my next post entitled “Philosophy”.

Now I will address the individual who has tried this photographic technique  unsuccessfully. I am referring to those who are saying, “I did everything right, so what went wrong?”  

Being aware: Fully 95% of my unusable series are due to an error of mine that I did not recognize at the time. I overlooked a problem that, if recognized, could have been corrected at the time it occurred. I know this, because as I get more experience and become more aware, I get a much greater percentage of excellent results.

I will be assuming that you used the proper equipment and technique as briefly noted in my post of July 19 (Table of Contents). Some, not all, of my assumptions are that you:

  • used a camera with enough megapixels and file size and file format to give sharp focus for the amount of enlargement required for your computer screen and your planned print size.
  • utilized a lossless file format. Raw images are best.
  • used a focusing rail
  • used mirror lock-up mode for DSLR’s
  • used a shutter release cord or remote control if mirror lock-up is needed
  • used small enough increments between focal planes that the areas of sharp focus overlap. This is critically important, because areas of focus must overlap. Thus the increment of advancement of the focusing rail between frames would be, at most, 1/3 of the lens’s depth for that distance from the subject. Specificly, if a  macro lens is 10 inches from the subject, the depth of sharp focus may be only 3 millimeters (about 1/8 inch) deep. Therefore the increment of advancement of the focusing rail will need to be no greater than 1 millimeter (1/24 inch). However when 3 feet from the subject, this same lens may exhibit a depth of field of 48 mm (2 inches). In this case the correct increment would be, at most, 16mm (0.7 in). To determine your lens’s characterist, take an image of a ruler end on. Take images at the lens’s closest focal distance, then double the distance and double it again. The measurements do not need to be precise. On your computer, evaluate how many sixteenths of an inch are in crisp focus. one third of that distance is the largerst increment between frames that will give good results.
  • been meticulous to avoid any movement of the subject by air movement or change in the shape of the flower due to heat change.
  • used editing software that allowed you to compare and confirm focus and location precisely among frames
  • used sophisticated software for generating your composite
  • were knowledgeable and adept in the use of your software

  Trouble shooting is an expansive topic. Here I will cover only some of the more sneaky problems.

 Tripod

  • Tripod feet can settle into soft ground or leaves, changing the camera position.
  • If tripod was bumped, it may not have returned exactly to its original position.
  • If all of the tripod leg locks/collars was not fully tightened. A leg can shorten, changing the camera position.
  • If the tripod legs were not splayed all the way to their stop, they can spread causing a change in camera position. This is most often a problem when shooting from a low enough angle that the legs needed to be spread wider than usual.If your camera position is low enough to the ground, the center post can touch the ground, allowing the tripod to  rock.

 Camera

If the camera is not fully tightened to the focusing rail, it can slightly twist/torque. This is most likely when shooting in a vertical orientation. That happened to me this morning. I noticed & corrected before any harm had occurred.

Tripod head and focusing rail.

Similarly, if either of these is not firmly secured, they can twist/torque, shifting the position of the camera

Aperture

If the aperture was more than 1 stop away from f/8, the sharpness will be less than the camera /lens is capable of producing. For most lenses, f/8 usually provides the best combination of sharpness & depth of focus. I know that landscape depth of field is considered best at f/16 or a smaller diameter. This does not apply here. I will go into detail about this in 2-3 more blogs from now entitled “Aperture”.

Exposure problems

1) Viewfinder of a DSLR camera, if not covered/capped, will let in light that changes the exposure. This is particularly a problem when direct sunlight falls on the viewfinder.

2) Focusing rail, if not locked with fine/precise lock at each incremental focal distance will change subject location too much. Additionally, if focusing rail was not firmly tightened onto the tripod head, it can twist causing movement of the subject

3)Soft, unsharp images

  • File size too small. In the shooting menu, set file size to the biggest numbers that is offered.
  • Too little data or date loss. This is a problem with jpg images. Shooting in RAW format is recommended for many reasons.
  • Stray light: There may have been bright light impinging upon the lens at a sharp angle.  A lens hood prevents most of this. Check with the company that made your lens for the specific one to use. Some cannot be used for macro work because they cast a shadow upon your subject. A polarizing filter is highly recommended when shooting outdoors and when shooting shiny, wet or alive objects indoors. Besides enhancing colors and decreasing reflections, it usually blocks stray light and can take the place of a lens hood. However, I shoot outdoors with reflectors producing very bright light impinging upon the surface of the polarizing filter from multiple directions. For these conditions, I think that a lens hood and a polarizing filter give the best results. Besides enhancing colors and decreasing reflections, it often can take the place of a lens hood. However, I shoot outdoors with reflectors producing  bright light coming from many directions. I find that a lens hood and a polarizing filter seem to give the best results.

 Lens

  •  Lens distortion is particularly a problem when your subject enlarged or “bloomed” out near the edge of the frame.  That presents bizarre data from this area to your stacking software. However, the central portion of the frames will probably give good results. Some editing software can remove lens distortion. I have experience only with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software. It will remove the distortion of some Canon lenses, but it’s time consuming and this does not guarantee that it will give good stacking results.
  • Focusing ring/collar was touched when reaching for the camera or focusing rail. This can happen even when there’s no noticeable movement of the focusing collar. I have to be careful about this because I steady the camera with my left hand while changing the position of the focusing rail with my right hand.

Subject moved

  • Change of support structure: If a flower is getting even the slightest support from one of its petals or leaves (or a petal, leaf or stem of an adjacent flower) any subtle change of its shape can allow a shift in your subject’s position.  This is more likely if there is an intermittent breeze or if I potted plant has recently been moved.
  • Similarly, if a petal, leaf or stem of your subject flower is in contact with petal, leaf or stem of an adjacent flower, then any movement from a breeze can move your subject flower. If there are lots of leaves touching, movement of any portion of the plant can move your subject. To prevent this, wait until there is no movement of any part of the entire plant before shooting. The more complex the interactions among the plant parts and the stronger the wind, the more likely it is that your subject will not return fully to its original position. Although this is true, I shoot outdoors all the time and find this problem to be rare unless the intermittent wind is quite strong.
  • Flowers frequently change shape during a shoot if they were freshly cut or if they were recently moved from shade to direct sun or vice versa. I find this less of a problem if a cut flower has only the bottom ½ inch of the stem in the water.

Because there are so many possible problems, I recommend shooting two series of everything when beginning to get experience with this technique. Start the set up for the second series of images from the very beginning, just as though it was the first series.

I hope this has been useful information for someone. You are welcome to ask me about particular issues that you would like help with.

If anyone would like assistance with processing of their photos, please check out my web site at NaturePhotoRehab.com

Expanded Depth of Field Photography: Introduction

“The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises.” -Leo Buscaglia

The technique of expanded depth of field, also called focus stacking, produces objects and scenes  that are totally in focus from front to back. Generally in photography, single images of close objects render only a portion of the subject in focus. Sometimes this is exactly what is needed. It draws a person’s attention to that limited area. At other times, this limited depth of field of a single image is distracting and  limits the amount of visual information available, compared to what is actually seen by a person at that time.

Our eyes scan objects and scenes, focusing very quickly on many different areas. This gives us a perception that everything is in focus simultaneously. The technique of expanded depth of field also produces an image with the object or scene totally in focus. For this reason, the resultant composite image appears more realistic than any single image can. This also allows people to connect more fully with the subjects, to feel an emotional connection. In this way, the expanded depth of field technique can become a valuable element of photographic art. Effective photography obviously requires more than just technique. However, this  is an aspect of digital photography that is superior to film, in fact , impossible with film.

This is the first of a series  of blog post on this expanded depth of field photography, also called focus image stacking or simply image stacking. This is a technique with which multiple, nearly identical, images are taken of the same subject. The only variable between frames is the depth of field/focus. Importantly, the depth of field must overlap between images for successful results. Then via software, the sharply focused areas of each frame are incorporated into a composite image which is entirely in focus.

Although initially intimidating, this technique can be enjoyed by anyone with the proper equipment and the willingness to take their images with great care.

I plan a series of blogs regarding this technique. My target audience is amateur and professional photographers who are just beginning to use this technique or who have had difficulty getting consistently good results.

I am not an expert; however I have had good success producing dramatic images with this technique. On a typical day I shoot 2-4 sets of images of close up or macro subjects, usually with 35 – 45 images per set. Most of my work, and knowledge about this is close up subjects, although I do some macro work.  To be exact, macro technique requires that the image on the sensor or film be at least as large as the subject itself. For example, a 1/2 inch bee would need to make an image on the sensor or film of at least ½ inch in length. If its image is smaller on the sensor, it is technically a close up image, rather than a true macro image. However, for the subjects that I will be covering, the techniques are essentially the same.

My next post will be an overview/outline of this technique. It will be a “Table of Contents” for my remaining posts in this series. Hopefully I can help other people to get more satisfying results and improve my own technique simultaneously. I invite comments & suggestions.

If you would like assistance with the processing of your images, please check out my website for processing, retouching, enlargements, prints and framing at NaturePhotoRehab.com