Not a Fight! (and a note about tripod heads)

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Ants are my nemesis. They are extremely hard to photograph because of their speed and dull color; and do not count on the camera monitor telling you if anything is sharp (DSLR monitor resolution definitely needs improvement). Ants are not the prettiest of the insect world but the challenge of shooting them is worth it. I have found a spot I often go by where there is ant activity just below eye level. This lucky photograph shows some interaction between two ants but there was no fight involved and afterwards they both kept going in different directions. I suspect it was some sort of exchange or means of recognition. It’s a dramatic photograph and ants fighting would not surprise me. Some of the largest and longest wars on the planet are between colonies of ants. Some have evolved the special physical characteristics to carry on the battle. The second photo illustrates the narrow depth of field we often work in when shooting insects like this.

If ever you find yourself shooting an all black subject you will want some shadow, so that the contours of your subject, including its eyes, stand out. Spot metering may help but the background could blow out. The tip: the more directional the light the better for shadows.

Not a fight 2

Tripod Heads for Macro

Once you have good tripod legs the next choice is the type of head. There are three types: pistol grip, geared head and ball head. Each is a matter of taste. A pistol grip has the camera on top and as you squeeze the trigger you can move the camera; I am not a fan – I find them difficult to use. Geared heads have separate controls for all axes, this enables very precise placement of the camera on the head. You can adjust by fractions of a centimeter on the very best models. Geared heads are great for studio work and macro. Ball heads are probably the most popular for all photography; they allow the greatest movement. Be sure, however, to buy those with three controls –  loosen/tighten, friction control and panorama. The friction control allows the ball head to hold the camera steady while still allowing movement with a finger on the lens or body without the camera falling over . Ball heads, however, have one universal failing, they slump. As you choose where you want your camera and depending on the quality and cost of the ball head it will slump marginally or a lot. You get used to it and account for it. For me and many other photographers it’s not a game stopper. The most important thing to think about is how the head will connect with the camera. Most heads come with plates that allow the camera to attach to the head; the most universal type of plate is the arca-swiss system. Many people make accessories and attachments that use this system and it’s very secure. Choose another quick release and it may be proprietary and not work with everything you may buy later (e.g macro flash brackets). All of these heads are precision instruments and the costs reflect that (Markin and Really Right Stuff, are among the manufacturers of great ball heads).

Laying Eggs (two photographs)

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In general snapping turtles close up are very daunting creatures, their physique little changed over the millennia; they have surprisingly long necks and great speed in elongating them and biting their prey. The females are more easily approached when laying eggs. The odds of any of the eggs surviving are minimal given that they are delicacies for birds, foxes, etc. We were on a nature walk with others when we found this turtle. Two of us chose to shoot portraits and the others the egg laying.

Laying Eggs2

Farmland in Black and White (three photographs)

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Last year I posted a lot of farm photographs from day trips around the region. I am hoping to do more and work on more of them in Black and White. Getting the tonality right to emphasize areas is not as easy as I thought it would be. Some of the techniques I tried added halos to the trees in the barn shots. I am still working on getting smoother transitions between tones.

Farmland in Black and White 3

Farmland in Blackand White

The little flower that could (three photographs)

The Little Flower that couldTo view more of my photography please click on

This plant is growing on a rescued dune in the middle of a forest not far from downtown Ottawa, Canada. Strange, but true.

The theme here is light and shadow. Very early on when I was thinking about photography and not just taking pictures and learning technical things, I was told that photography is all about light and shadow. It is an interesting exercise to use shadow to make your photograph. In black and white the photograph lacks depth, so I prefer the color version.

The Little Flowerthat Could B&W

The third photograph explains why I was at the dunes (Tiger Beetles).

Liitle Flowe tha cou;-Tiger Beetle

Any Lens… (and a word about macro and tripod legs)

Any LensTo view more of my photography please click on

I did a post on Leanne Cole’s website a few weeks ago and I have written at length about Macrophotography on this blog. I hope it is clear that close-up photography can be done with most lenses and a camera with sufficient megapixels to permit cropping. This picture was taken with a D7000 (14 megapixels) with 70-200 VrII Nikon lens 1/250th at f 5.6 and 100 ISO. I had to take several shots and only on getting home and behind my computer did I find a shot that worked. This is very similar to what happens when I use a 105mm and extension tubes. The resolution of the back screen does not always help in determining if things are sharp when one has to magnify 100% to determine sharpness. With some work I could do this photograph with a wide-angle lens. So why buy a macro lens and extension tubes, if this can be done with so many other lenses? The reason is working distance. With a wide-angle lens I could be within a few inches of my subject and with a telephoto, five feet away. Neither is ideal and those distances add to the already bad odds in doing good close up photography (wind, light loss, shallow depth of field, etc.).

As promised more on Macro and Tripods: Legs

Good tripod legs are steady, sturdy and light and the cheapest tripods tend to lack these key elements. Cheap tripods are often movie/still hybrids with long adjustment arms, cross beams to steady the legs and are either too heavy or too light. Better tripods are dedicated instruments that use light vibration-reducing materials like carbon fiber. You do not need to get legs that allow for eye level shooting, you want a shorter set of legs for macro. I use a traveling tripod with four section legs. Three would be better, but with travel tripods the object is the ability to fold them into a bag. For the purposes of macro, we do not need a center column and its great to get legs where that column can be removed (as the more the center columns rise the more unstable the tripod gets). The final thing to look for is the ability to splay the legs to enable ground level shooting. These specifications narrow things down. I use a Gitzo Traveller I bought on sale as they phased out a model. One alternative I’ve heard of and is used by some entomologists and other specialists are wooden tripods built for macro (Stabil and Berlaback brands), cheaper than carbon fiber tripods but with more solidity and less weight – but I have not had any experience with them.

The first installment of this series on tripods and macro can be found at:…pods-for-macro/

Green Heron (and a word about backgrounds)

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I do not usually put up so many photographs at once but I think you will find it interesting that this is the same bird on the same day, on two different branches. The backgrounds change as I contort myself and my tripod to capture the bird in different perspectives. It’s also interesting that the bird took similar stances against the different backgrounds. Two conclusions are possible, when you find a bird stick with it until you can get the bird in front of a good background, or contortion in the name of a better background is an important element of bird photography :)

Green Heron3


Green Heron7

Green Heron1

Green Heron4

Green Heron5

Green Heron6

Ninja Wasp (and a quote from Darwin)

Ninja (Ichneumon Wasp Magchyssa MacumusTo view more of my photography please click on

This, I believe, is an Ichneumon Wasp (Magchyssa Macumus). I took the picture because it looked like a cartoon Ninja. It was climbing very slowly up a tree as if creeping up on something. If I am correct in its name, then it is one of many insects that lay their eggs as parasites inside other insects, which then eat the host. In reference to these wasps Darwin wrote to an American naturalist:

“I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”

From seeing an interesting insect and thinking imaginatively about its intentions, to learning about Darwin considering the limits of his own imagination and wonder, this insect has led me along a more interesting path than I would have expected.


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