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    Hello, and welcome to my website! I'm Derek Gale, photography trainer and Fine Art photographer.

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Take your photographic chances: Warning – spiders!

I have said before that it always pays to carry a camera, or at least be near one.

Recently I came across this ball of baby garden spiders (areaneus diadematus).  They weren’t quite in the garden though, as they were on the drive by the studio.  The tiny spiderlings (nice word), emerge from the egg sac and then stick together until mature enough to go their separate ways.

I quickly got my camera and thought about the the best way to photograph them.  They were quite hard to photograph because they had laid threads all over the area they were in.  One touch on one of the threads and the ball would disperse.  It took about 30 minutes to reassemble.

"Garden Spider ball" by Derek Gale

I used a Sigma EX 50mm macro lens, and 2 flash units.  They were in a bit of a dark area so there wasn’t much light.  The 2 flashes gave enough light to let me use a small lens aperture to give a reasonable depth of field.  There was no chance to use the focus stacking technique from my last post as they were moving around too much.  I did, of course, need to lie on the ground to take the shot.  I wonder what my neighbours thought…

"Garden Spider ball: dispersed" by Derek Gale

Here’s what they looked like after I touched one of the threads; a wriggling mass of cute little spiders.

I said about always carrying a camera, and to take your photographic chances.  They spiders were only there for 2 more days, and now they’ve gone.  If I had waited, or not got rapid access to a camera, I would have missed a great bit of animal behaviour.

Corporate PhotographerJune 11, 2012 - 9:57 am

Amazing spider shots and love the ball image

Stacks of fun!

Close-up (or macro) photography is great fun, but when working very close to your subject it’s often hard to get everything in focus.  You lose what’s called “depth of field”.   You can increase the depth of field by making the lens aperture smaller (stopping down), but that doesn’t always give you enough that’s properly in focus.

"Blue flower: single image at f20" by Derek Gale

Here’s an example of a blue flower taken in the studio.  I used a single electronic flash to light it.  The distance from the front of the flower to the ends of the petals at the back is quite large, so even with the small aperture (f20) that this image was taken at, the petals at the back are not in focus.  I could make the aperture even smaller, but that then needs more flash power, and the image quality can degrade due to diffraction softening.

So how do we get round this?  The solution, for a non-moving subject at least, is to take a series of images where each image is focused on a different part of the subject, and then join them together, throwing away the out of focus bits.  You’re left with a composite image made up of all the in focus bits.  It’s called “focus stacking”.

So what do you need to do this?  The exposure needs to be constant so you need a controllable light source such as an electronic flash, or constant daylight.  It’s best to set your camera on manual exposure.  You also need a tripod to give good camera stability.  That’s needed to make sure the images can be aligned properly.  Finally you need some software to do the hard work for you.  I used Photoshop CS5, but other focus stacking software is available.

"Blue flower: 5 stacked images" by Derek Gale

Here’s the result.  You can see that the rear petals are now nicely in focus, and the focus is all the way through the flower.  There are 5 images, each taken at an aperture of f6.3.  I could have used lots more images with smaller focus differences, but there’s a compromise between sharpness and image processing time.   Lots more images =  lots more processing time.

As the title says, it’s “Stacks of fun”.  Why not give it a go?

Keep on taking the tablets: part 4

The recent heavy rain has made the little stream at the bottom of the garden flow very well.  I’ve been taking some long-exposure images of the flowing water with a 200mm lens and 2x converter on my DSLR, and wondered what I could do with my Galaxy tablet.  The tablet’s camera, which has a wide-angle lens, is somewhat different to a DSLR with the equivalent of a 600mm lens on the front…

“Galaxy stream” by Derek Gale

There’s no manual control on the tablet camera, so setting a slow shutter speed to show the movement in the water needed a bit of cleverness.  There’s a bit of the stream that’s overshadowed by some leylandii trees (they’ve got to be useful for something!), and it’s nice and dark.  I made sure the “flash” was turned off, and hey presto! a long shutter speed.  The great thing about the tablet camera is that the lens is near the edge, and you can get it very close to the water surface.

A quick download on to the PC and a crop in Photoshop, and there you are, a semi-abstract water image.

Keep checking back for more tablet photography.

Softly, softly.

I recently dusted off my soft-focus lens and tried it on my Panasonic GF1.  It’s a simple plastic tube, with a plastic lens element at the end nearer the camera, inside another plastic tube.  You focus by sliding the outer tube relative to the inner tube.  The lens is made so that it produces a lot of spherical aberration.  This appears to blur everything, whilst keeping the edges sharp.  It’s an effect that is very pleasing under the right circumstances.

"Soft focus maple" by Derek Gale

The image, of wet, newly-emerging maple leaves against the blue background, fits into those circumstances.  There’s a sort of dream-like look, a bit like shooting through mist or gauze.

So don’t worry about getting every image super crisp, try being a big softy!

All that glitters…

… is not gold.

This is actually a misquotation, as it’s supposed to be, “All that glisters is not gold”.   Anyway, here’s an image of a candle, covered in gold glitter, stored on a shelf in the understairs cupboard.  I had seen it glinting on several occasions when getting other things out of the cupboard, and thought there was scope for an image.

"Glitter candle bokeh" by Derek Gale

I took the shot with the candle in situ on the shelf.  It would have been much easier to take it out of the cupboard and put it in the studio, but it was more of a challenge where it was.  The light in the cupboard was from a single tungsten bulb, so I set the White Balance to Incandescent so the colours came out right.  There wasn’t much brightness from the bulb, so I had to increase the ISO to get a short(ish) shutter speed.  I used my Lumix GF1 and 20mm lens with the aperture set on f1.7 to give the smallest depth of field.  I manually focused on a distant subject and then framed nice and close to the candle.  The combination of maximum aperture and distant focusing with a very close subject gave the attractive bokeh circles and ellipses.

To use another quotation…

In “Cold Comfort Farm”, Stella Gibbons’ wonderful book, Aunt Ada Doom had seen, “Something nasty in the woodshed”.  Don’t worry about nasty things in the woodshed, there are beautiful things hiding under the stairs!