Mini Still Life

Side-lit, the decoration on a bobby pin takes on lots of shine

Side-lit, the decoration on a bobby pin takes on lots of shine

Here I am on a Tuesday night.  It’s Chinese take out night.  We’ve gotten our food, returned home, eaten (sans fortune cookies because I forgot to grab some on the way out and they never put them in the bag at this place), and it’s theoretically time to unwind and relax for the rest of the evening.

This, of course, translates to “time to write my blog” for me.  And, the realization that I have no pictures from the weekend causes me to scratch my head.  I ponder what I can possibly do for a photographic experiment tonight.  I decide to try something I’ve never tried before:  macro with flash.

But now, I need something to shoot.  Something small.  Really small.

The snoot produces less sparkle

The snoot produces less sparkle

My eyes fall on the fluffy area rug in the living room.  It has lots of great texture, but I want something shiny with the flash.

I end up digging a couple of bobby pins out of my jewelry box and positioning them with some black glass beads on the carpet.  I find a hand-shaped hair-dryer diffuser and decide it will add some background color.

Laid back view of the flower--not as sharp at this angle

Laid back view of the flower–not as sharp at this angle

I start with a snoot on the flash to see what happens when I use it to direct the light onto the subject (a snoot is like a narrow tube around the flash).  After shooting with a snoot for a while, I decide the light looks flat and I should try bouncing the flash off of something instead. The trouble is, what to bounce it off of?  I’m in the middle of a large room shooting something that’s about a half an inch wide.

Straight on with the snoot has the least sparkle

Straight on with the snoot has the least sparkle

I pull out my mini reflector and position my tripod in such a way that I can get it to stand up.  I’m so proud of myself, I have to take a picture of my setup.  This gives me the opportunity to practice iPhone photography in the same shoot!

I’m over-the-top-excited now.  I use the new app I downloaded yesterday, Camera+, and try to make use of the levels on the screen to get something reasonably straight.  I don’t know how to tell if I succeeded or not from all the angles in the image, however.

My setup for the side-lit image at the top

My setup for the side-lit image at the top

As you may be able to tell, my DSLR has 3 extension tubes on it in addition to the 100mm macro lens.  I’ve got the flash swiveled to the right to bounce off the reflector hanging on the tripod.  For those of you who don’t care about the setup, can you find the subject of the other images? Pretty small, huh?

I had a lot of fun with this.  I don’t know exactly why I find this fun, but I do.  However, Tisen wasn’t so amused by my shenanigans.  At one point, I had my tripod with the legs stretched out flat on the floor, he came over and laid on top of one of the legs.  Maybe he was just trying to help?

A blurry Tisen with a stuck lip--a sure sign he jerked his head up from a cat nap

A blurry Tisen with a stuck lip–a sure sign he jerked his head up from a cat nap


Uphill Battle

After a day of shooting on Saturday, one might think I am all shot out for the weekend.  However, upon rising Easter morning, I look out upon that early morning light and think “I should go shoot the flowers on the bank!”

Pat decides he will come with us.  This is awesome because it’s hard to do a lot of macro shooting with Tisen trampling over everything.

Deciding to travel light, I put my 100mm macro lens on my camera and attach my camera to the tripod.  I grab my 5-in-one reflector and my extension tubes and that’s all I’m taking with me.  Pat takes Tisen and the three of us cross the street.

I suppose we might look a little odd to the families arriving in droves at the park parking lot.  There is apparently some live music event for Easter at Coolidge park and many folks are parking here at Renaissance park and walking the short distance on the riverwalk to get to Coolidge.  There are all kinds of children in their Sunday best carrying Easter baskets.  I am wearing a pair of cropped hiking pants and a black pullover also made for hiking accessorized with my five finger shoes.  Plus, I am carrying my reflector fully open, although it’s only 22” in diameter, I’m sure it looks odd.  The tripod over my shoulder might help explain some of this to those who are curious, but I’m sure it seems strange to be focusing (pun!) on flowers when there’s an Easter event going on next door.  I guess we all celebrate in our own way.

But this morning, the light is indirect, glowing like only morning light can, and it’s dry.  I manage to make my way down the steep hillside without trampling anything that won’t recover.  I try to fluff up the grass where I’ve stepped in the hope of not leaving any trail of where I’ve walked.  I work around the outskirts of the flowers, looking for a few isolated blooms that I can get to without crushing anything.  It’s a struggle to stand up the tripod and get really close to the bloom on the steep hill without either falling or smashing other flowers.  I manage to arrange things carefully so that when I’m done, there won’t be any permanent damage, but standing with my feet carefully placed in areas that were recently cleared of weeds causes me to bend over at a weird angle, straining my back.  I am getting quite a workout bending over the camera while balancing myself and trying to support my back with my stomach muscles.  Who knew photography was really a sport?

In the end, I’m reasonably happy with the shots I got.  A little more physical comfort might have led to some better shots, but to have had more physical comfortable, I would have done damage to the plants on the hillside, so I’ve decided less than perfect photos are better than damaged plants.

Up Tight and Extended

Tonight, I get out a new toy I’ve been dying to play with.  Extension tubes.  For my non-photographer readers, these make it possible to focus with the lens much closer to the subject, resulting in really up-close photos.

As I start to set up to see what kind of macro shots I can get with a 36mm extension tube on my 100mm macro lens, my favorite model strikes a pose on the couch, cuddling Mr. Beaver.  I decide to see if I can grab a couple shots of Tisen before I switch lenses.

Of course, when I position a light and line up the camera, he jumps up and joins me on my side of the camera.  I coax him back to the couch by sitting down.  However, I cleverly brought the remote with me (mainly because I’d forgotten it was in my pocket) and confuse the heck out of Tisen (and probably Mr. Beaver, too) when the camera clicks but I haven’t moved.

Surprisingly, a bunch of things align that don’t usually work out–the camera is focused on the correct part of the couch, the depth of field is decent, and I am cut out of the frame.  All the things I look for in a picture of my dog.  🙂

Of course, I don’t know if the pictures are in focus or if Tisen is even in the frame because I’m sitting on the couch.  So, I sneak away to see if I can get Tisen to stay on the couch while I check the settings.  Mr. Beaver doesn’t seem to notice I’ve gotten up, but Tisen watches intently to make sure I’m not going far without him.

Eventually, my husband complains I’m blinding him with the light and I return to setting up for macro shooting.  About the time I get the extension tube on, the lens attached, the tripod readjusted to floor height, and the light angled to light the area of the floor under the lens, I realize I don’t have a subject.

I look around the room in desperation.  I remember some really cool shots I saw at a macro workshop I went to last month.  The instructor had set up a clear glass pan suspended above colored wrapping paper and mixed oil and water in the pan.

Since I can’t find a glass dish, don’t have anything to suspend a dish, and don’t have any wrapping paper, I opt for a small, fake crystal dish with a tiny bit of water and a drop of sesame oil set on top of an area rug.

I learn several things from this experiment.  First, in spite of having vacuumed only an hour earlier, there is a lot of dog hair in the rug!  Second, the shots with the oil layer in focus are the least interesting.  In spite of the dog hair, I like being able to see all the way through the glass.  Perhaps I should have tried on a different background.