My favorite recipe for a successful nature photograph is to pick a well-known subject and portray it in a different way. Our photographs receive the most attention if the viewer can easily identify the subject and it is our technique that makes him look again and again. Butterflies are some of the most widely known and easily recognizable animals in the world, but few have seen these creatures though a macro lens. Their active behavior, irregular flying pattern and a large circle of safety are just some of the reasons, making them a difficult target. However, if everything goes right, the results can be very rewarding.
Like with most nature subjects, timing is the crucial factor. Some truly wonderful butterfly photographs can be taken before dawn, when their metabolic rate is very low making them practically motionless. At that time most of them are well hidden from their nocturnal predators, so you need to look very carefully as you walk across the meadows of your local park. They can be found anywhere from the ground to the tree branches and trunks. With folded wings their camouflage design makes them quite difficult to find. However, when found, they will reward you with images of beautiful specimens, decorated with morning dew, posing for you patiently during those last windless moments.
Soon after sunrise butterflies spread their wings wide ready to absorb heat and start feeding. During that period your lens will still not disturb them, even within a few inches. Moreover, they will remain still for several minutes giving you enough time to set a tripod and all light reflectors/diffusers that you may need. Just avoid bumping the tripod legs against the twig that the insect is sunbathing on, since this most likely will trigger some desperate escape such as free fall to the ground. A focusing rail is very helpful in repositioning the camera without moving the tripod legs. I find the Novoflex Mini Focusing Rail quite sufficient for a 35mm camera. For more information on focusing rails see Getting Up-Close, Outdoor Photographer August 1995 by Joseph Meehan.
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This is a quick tutorial on using Ed Hamrick’s excellent VueScan with a Nikon Coolscan to scan traditional B&W negatives. While this piece is based on use with a Nikon Coolscan V, other Coolscans should be almost identical in operation. I would imagine other scanners should be similar.
There are many different ways to proceed; I only outline the process that works for me. Some people will recommend using the ‘lock base’ feature of VueScan to fix exposure. Feel free to try it. I personally only scan traditional B&W negatives with VueScan, since after several comparisons, I found it more straightforward for me to scan color negative and slide film with Nikon Scan (with no adjustments while scanning).
The basic philosophy of this scanning procedure is to scan with as few adjustments as possible while scanning and adjust the rest in Photoshop. The corollary to that is if exposures and processing are consistent, one can run actions which require little operator intervention in Photoshop to finish off the processing quickly.
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One of the goals of working under artificial light is to empower ourselves to harness our knowledge and creativity to produce predetermined results. It could be working with one or two small speedlights or a few inexpensive fluorescents. It could also be lighting a complex fashion set with thousands of watt-seconds of strobes, softboxes, reflectors and spots. Once we start to understand that the beauty of artificial light is that it can be carefully controlled, our results will soon match our vision. And a lighting setup can be a simple three light setup or dozens of strobes, with different kinds of light modifiers. The key is learning how to control light—any kind. If some of these terms or concepts are unknown to you at this point, don’t worry. We’ll soon sort them out.
What Are Your Needs and Budget?
In order to begin using controlled lighting, we have to decide what kind of lights we need. The number of photographic lighting choices today is mind-boggling. Tungsten. Small flashes. Big power packs. Monolights. HMI’s. Fluorescent. The number of offerings is enough to confuse even the most levelheaded photographer. So how do we make sense of all this?
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Just as it was 100 years ago and just as it is today, every camera—be it film or digital—is nothing more than a lightproof box with a lens at one end and light sensitive film or a digital sensor at the other end. It is of course light that enters through a ‘hole’ in the lens (the aperture), and after a certain amount of time (determined by shutter speed) an image will be recorded (on film or digital media). This recorded image has been called—since day one—an exposure, and it still is.
Sometimes, the word exposure refers to a finished slide or print: “Wow, that’s a nice exposure!” At other times, it refers to the film or digital card: “I’ve only got a few exposures left.” But more often than not, the word exposure refers to the amount, and act, of light falling on photosensitive material (either the film or digital sensor). And in this context, it comes up most often as part of a question—a question I’ve heard more often than any other: “Hey Bryan, what should my exposure be?” And my answer is always the same: “Your exposure should be correct!”
Although my answer appears to be flippant, it really is the answer. A correct exposure really is what every amateur and professional alike hopes to accomplish with either his or her camera. Up until about 1975, before many auto exposure cameras arrived on the scene, every photographer had to choose both an aperture and shutter speed that, when correct, would record a correct exposure. The choices in aperture and shutter speed were directly influenced by the film’s ISO (speed or sensitivity to light). Most photographers’ exposures would be based on the available natural light. And when the available light wasn’t enough, they’d resort to using flash or a tripod.
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