Many of the photographs shown on my website have been made from 2 or more photographs.  There are lots of reasons for doing this,  but for me the two main ones are; to extend the focus in macro shots and to extend the dynamic range in landscape shots and at other times where an image goes from really dark to really bright.  I'll expand a little bit on these ideas.

Macro. With close up photography,  the higher the magnification and the closer you get to the subject the narrower the band of focus ( referred to as depth of field DOF ) becomes. To overcome this and maiintain sharp detail across the subject, multiple imges are carefully taken with a tripod mounted camera at different focus points through the area where you want to show optimal detail.  With something like a single fungi only 2 shots might be required. The 2 shots can be processed manually in software like photoshop where you place the 2 shots into aligned layers ove each other, then use masks to simply reveal the the bits of detail you want. For some insect and other  shots where multiple shots are taken I use 'stacking software'. The one I use is called Zerene Stacker, very clever software with excellent scaling and aligning ability to even align handheld shots. Zerene Stacker can be purchased from the developer - Zerene Systems. There is a free trial period to check it out, there are also tutorials on the web.  I have also used focus stacking with some landscape shots to get sharp focus from the front to the back of the image.  I'll post a few examples of different subjects below taken using focus stacking. 

 

                                                                                                               

This photo of the fungi Entoloma hochsteteri was taken with a 180mm Macro lens. 6 images were 'stacked' to get detail across the parts of the subject where I wanted it.

 

                                                                                          

This is a dead wasp that I photographed with a MPE-65mm Macro lens at around 3X lifesize. Depth of field with this set up is very thin, focus stacking of 35 images has allowed more of the subject to be shown at optimal detail.

                                                                            

This scene is taken in a fairly remote part of Dorrigo National Park - we walked some klms that day. Focus stacking 3 images from memory allows sharp detail from foreground to background.

Extending Dynamic Range.  Even the best camera sensors can't capture detail across a scene as well as our eyes. A good example of a scene that benefits from using this technique would be a shot at sunset where the sky is still relatively bright, but some foreground elements are quite dull. If you were trying to capture the scene in one shot you would have to make a choice whether to keep detail in the shadows or the highlights. The answer is to take 2 or more photos using tripod mounted equipment, expose one shot for the highlights and one for the shadows and then blend them together in photoshop using layers and masks or some special software.

                                                        

                    This photo taken at sunset would have much less foreground detail, or too bright a sky with no detail if the scene had been captured with a single photegraph.

 

                                                        

                                                                    A single exposure would not have shown detail in the darkest parts of this chasm and the sky.

I think the techniques I use give fairly natural looking results. The techniques can be pushed much further utilising techniques known as high dynamic range HDR for short. Some cameras also include the ability to use some of these techniques 'in camera' automatically.  Another area where multiple frames can be used is in night sky photography. I have done this a bit experimenting with minmising digital noise, but now don't use it as I don't find noise too big an issue if photos are taken well.  Full on astro photgraphers take literally hundreds of images and blend them in designated software to get the single frame they are after.

So once again digital photography can allow us to use techniques that would only been dreamed about in the days of film and darkroom processing. I hope I've given you some ideas to have a play with.

I went out around dawn a week or so back to photograph some insects. I found a few obliging dragonflies. As the wind picked up gradually, I needed to start using flash to freeze the movement the breeze created.

I thought it would be interesting to show the way different lighting can effect the look of a subject.  Below are 3 images of the same dragonfly taken over a couple of minutes with a little bit of information below each as to the technique used and my opinion on the result. The shots were all taken with a tripod mounted Canon5D3 with sigma 180mm Macro lens attached and cable release used to avoid camera movement. Where used the flash illumination was provided by a single 430EX flash in the hotshoe with a homemade diffuser attached.

The above photo was taken using just natural  morning light, camera setting 1/20thsec @ f8 ISO500.  Natural soft light images can look really beautiful with minimal shadows. This morning was a bit overcast so the light is a bit cool, ie a bit blue and green. Even though this was taken toward the end of the session at about 0800 the shutter speed is still low, so any wind movement blurrs detail.

In this shot taken at 1/25thsec @ f8 ISO500 I have used flash on lowish power to introduce some fill light to the photo. The colour of the dragonfly has changed a bit due to its partial illumination by the flash. The flash has also partially revealed the presence of a spider web. Fill flash ie using powered down flash is an excellent technique to eliminate or soften harsh shadows. 

In this photo flash illumination is the dominant light. The short duration of the flash freezes motiion in the image. Camera was set at 1/200th @ f11 ISO640. Because the background is further from the flash it is darker. interestingly the spiderweb is more visible in this shot as it is closer to the flash and catching more light.   Flash illumination often doesnt give as nice a 'look' to an image as natural light, but often conditions determine the technique that needs to be applied if you want to capture optimal detail.

The title to this little article is a question that people sometimes ask.  The answer will vary depending on the subject and the situation. You dont want to appear to be a predator, so dont try and sneak directly toward say a stationary bird or anything for that matter.  If trying to approach a subject a zig-zag approach with pauses is far better.

If shorebirds obviously can see me on say a tidal flat, I pick up a little bit of stick ( so my hands dont get sandy to touch my camera gear ) and stop and dig in the sand as I close the distance to the bird. I deliberatly flick sand and water about with the stick so I look like anything but a predator. I look like I'm interested in anything but birds. I've used this technique with a lot of sucess, you can often see the intended subject immeadiately relax and go back to its feeding or preening. With Red-rumped Parrots I modified the technique by pulling our bits of grass and tossong them about. While using these techniques i'm keeping low and squatting.  Often birds will come towards you. There is a limit to how close some birds will allow you to approach, so be observant for signs of nervousness and stop your approach. I know of many bird photographers who slide along on their stomachs in a sort of commando crawl on the tidal flats, often with a bit of cammo fabric on them. This certainly works, but my back ( and motivation ) is not up to it. So play to your individual strengths.

              A Striated Heron hunting small fish.  I approached this bird using my little digging stick technique.

A technique that is easy, is to sit still with a log, rock or something breaking up your outline in a place where wildlife want to come to, ie where they drink or to a food tree. I think most animals are colour blind, but dont wear your brightest or most contrasty colours if you want to be inconspicuous. I have also made a simple cloth hide that goes over me and my gear which I use sometimes.

A really good way to get close to birds is to establish a bird bath of some type. Make sure it is up high enough to discourage cats. I have maintained a bird bath in bush near my home for some years and it has provided lots of good photo opportunities as well as providing safe water for birds.

                                                                Eastern Rosella photographed on birdbath I maintain in bushland  near home.

Some small animals will freeze motionless as a defence. If say a reptile or amphibian chooses to do this, if you make a smooth approach and don't shake or break anything near them you can get very close.

Insect life can be approached fairly easily by using an alarm clock, ie early morning, particularly after dew or rain they can be photographed while still cool and 'sleeping'. Insects are also more photogenic when covered in dew drops. If the sun is up try not to let your shadow come on your subject, often a sure way to scare wary insects.

  Common Grass Blue butterfly, perched on Plantago. Photographed early morning near home.

So there isn't one answer on how to get close, become an observer and think about the situation.  Long lenses are good but there is no substitute for closing the distance as much as possible. This will lessen the effect of camera shake and atmospherics to help you get the highest quality photos possible.

 

 

There is much to be said for creating and preserving some habitat around our homes. Its nice to be able to see birds, predatory insects and the odd lizard eating insects that may otherwise be a problem.   Quite a few of the photographs on this website have been taken in or very near our yard.   We have a very small block, but it is on a corner so I've planted some bird attracting plants on our nature strip areas. There is a series of grafted eucalypt trees that have wonderful colours. They use beautiful West Australian types grafted onto rootstock more tolerant of eastern Australian conditions.  These plants have the additional benefit of not growing very big, so ideal for suburbia. The ones we have are called Summer Red, Summer Orange, and Summer Pink. When these plants are in flower birds and bees take advantage of the abundant nectar and pollen and in the process present as reasonably obliging subjects.

                                                                                                               A Rainbow Lorikeet feeding on Summer Red

 

A Honey Bee ( not an Aussie native insect ) foraging on Summer Orange.

 

So I've been taking photos of living things fairly regularly for about 10 years now at Port Stephens.  While doing this ( unless you are completely unobservant ) you see the patterns of life that present as the seasons change. Its no good looking for some insects and most migratory shorebirds in winter because they just aren't there. Reptiles are more active in the warmer months, though I did see 2 snakes a few years back on the shortest day of the year. That day was particularly wet with lots of frogs about, so maybe food had brought the snakes out. So a local event can over-ride the normal.  Winter and spring are the times for our native orchids to bloom. Winter can often be when the best sunsets occurr.   As I type this in mid November I can hear a Dollarbird outside - another summer fly in visitor

I consider myself to be a bit of an opportunistic photographer and look foward to the opportunities that come with each season. One of the spring events I look foward to is the flowering of Coral Trees. These are not native and dangerously brittle. Some of the larger Honeyeaters particularly enjoy feeding on the Coral Tree flowers. When they do some nice photos can be had particularly of Blue-faced Honeyeaters.

Blue-faced Honeyeater feeding on Coral Tree flower - a 2015 non event locally.

As I mentioned earlier local conditions can overide normal seasonal events.  This year for whatever reason the local Coral trees did not bloom. Oh well, maybe next year God willing.

It is so nice to take macro photographs using natural light, particularly early in the morning at first light. Unfortunately this requires near windless conditions, a bit of a rare commodity when you live near the coast.  The alternative is to use flash as the main light source. The short duration of the burst of flash illumination freezes motion. Using my Canon 430EX flash in manual mode on 1/16th power gives a burst of light that lasts about 1/8000th of a second, fast enough to freeze most action. The flash is set in manual mode, because if ETTL mode is used this fires a short preflash to calculate the main burst required.  Human eyes dont see this brief preflash but many insects and some birds have no trouble reacting to it in a millisecond.

Today I went out to some beachside weeds that have yellow flowers and are insect magnets. A very strong wind was blowing, but using flash and the very short working distance of my MP-E65mm lens I was able to take sharp photos with ease. The technique used is to hold the plant stem with your left hand and then rest the lens on that hand also. Subject and lens are thus 'locked together' and maintain sharp focus.

When you look through the insect galleries most of the higher magnification photos have been taken using this technique. The method is also quicker than setting up a tripod and suprisingly when approached smoothly a lens and flash a few cms away scares less subjects than setting up a tripod up at a much greater distance.  

The Blue-banded Bee shown above was photographed using the technique described in this little article.  On a thin springy little perch like this there would always be movement so no chance of sharp images without flash. The background to this photo is a leaf I'm holding between my middle and ring finger while holding the stem the bee is on with thumb and index finger. The dew drops reveal the time of day and show why this insect hasn't flown off.                                      

 

 

So yeh, one goes in the bush or long grass and occasionally you find a tick or 2 on you afterwards. No big deal, pull it out, maybe a bit red and itchy for a few days.

About a year ago all this changed for me. I had a tick attach to my inner forearm, it hurt, I was able to pull it out immediately  with my fingers. Pain continued at the location and a warm pinkness quickly  developed around the area.  The pain and redness continued to develop over the day and I eventually presented to our local Polyclinic where competent staff diagnosed cellulitis ( infection ) at the site. I was put on oral antibiotics and sent home. The condition worsened by morning and so I spent 3 days in hospital on IV antibiotics followed by ongoing oral treatment post discharge.  My doctor later confirmed what I already knew that untreated the infection would have turned to septicaemia with fatal results.  From talking with hospital staff infection post tick ‘bite’ is quite common.

        

A tick that I found on my clothing,  posing ready to grab again. 

 

I have a bit of a medical background so after this event did a fair bit of reading regarding ticks and tick-borne disease.

Here is a link to the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators page where there is all sorts of  information, and lots of useful links within    http://www.aabr.org.au/learn/publications-presentations/ticks-and-tick-borne-diseases-protecting-yourself-2/

Here is a link to an ABC  Catalyst episode on ticks and tick allergy, you can watch the video or read the transcript. http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4177191.htm

So what do I do differently after my bad episode.  I don’t go into dense bush, you can see and photograph plenty from tracks and firetrails.  When I get home I strip off and check myself and my clothes for ticks. I wear gumboots quite a bit, long sleeves, hat and I spray insect repellant on as well.  I’ve only had one tick in me since the hospitalization ( I was lazy and didn’t do a strip search that day ) I used ‘Wartner’ freezing spray to kill the tick and had an uneventful recovery. I also keep antiseptic cream in my little bush pack and some fine tweezers.

So still enjoy the Aussie bush but be aware of the serious problems that ticks sometimes cause.  Have a look at the links above, be alert to the issues and have a plan of management worked out before you find the next tick in you.