Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A short, breezy session in the garden

Mrs G went out into the garden to do a bit of pruning on Saturday afternoon. I followed her out, on the grounds that it would be good for me to get outside for a little while as we have been spending so much time indoors sitting in front of our PCs. There was no thought in my mind of doing any photography because it was pretty breezy, and a bit cool for invertebrates to be out and about, and there were hardly any flowers to be seen, just the odd one here and there.  It seemed pretty much a continuation of a not very brilliant year for the type of subjects I tend to go for. A bit of a downer really.

But Mrs G didn't have any tasks she wanted me to just then, and so I started to wander around aimlessly. And I saw a bee and a fly.  Well, I think that is what they were - my identification skills are useless, and I do get it wrong sometimes even at the level of "Here's a picture of a bee". Well no," someone will tell me, "actually it's a wasp" (or a "fly" is a bee, and on it goes). Been like it all my life. Slow/mixed up/wrong memory recall, and poor observational skills to boot.

Anyway, there were some things flying around and for want of anything better to do I decided to go and get the camera (and all the rest of the kit that goes with it). It really was very breezy, so nothing much would come of it, but it would be fun trying.

And in fact Mrs G and I did have a good laugh.  The subjects were moving around a lot in the breeze, especially the spiders on their webs - so much so that it seemed rather stupid to be trying to capture close-ups. And the breeze made my nice new (silly size) reflector more like a sail some of the time, making it wobble around like crazy and come bashing down on my head a few times. Well, "bashing" might be over-egging it as it is quite light, but it certainly added an interesting degree of awkwardness and randomness to the proceedings when I was using flash.

Here is a picture of the flash reflector and diffuser arrangement I'm currently using (one in a long line of experiments).

I dismounted the flash paraphenalia several times because it was so awkward to use in the strong breeze, but using available light meant that to get a fast enough shutter speed to try to freeze all the movement I had to use larger apertures, giving me narrower depth of focus than I wanted. Also, fast shutter speeds may freeze the movement, but you only have a narrow plane of focus with close-ups and in a breeze the subject may well have moved between the time you get focus on it and the moment the picture actually gets captured. So the plane of focus is very likely to be in the wrong place, spoiling the picture. The same is true using flash in a breeze.

And even if the subject is in the right place when the picture is actually captured, using flash won't necessarily freeze the action anyway. This depends on the balance between flash and natural light. If natural light makes a significant contribution to the lighting you will get a double image, one part sharp, where the subject was when the flash went off, and the other part fuzzy as the subject was illuminated by the natural light as it moved during the whole duration of the exposure. If the flash dominates then movement will be frozen, and you do get a lot of detail on the subject when using flash. But all the same I'm not too keen on pure flash illumination, partly because the overall visual effect, although strong, is often not entirely to my liking, but especially if there are parts of the background that are far enough away (which is not very far) to go very dark, or fully black, which is an effect I really don't like. (Well, I don't like black backgrounds most of the time. Occasionally though, for some flower pictures, I'm ok with it, but hardly ever for invertebrates.)

So, not being comfortable with how available light shooting was panning out, I remounted the flash.  But it was very awkward to use, so I dismounted it. And remounted it. And ... basically, nothing was working satisfactorily. It was nice to be out in the fresh air though. So I didn't mind. It was a pleasant hour and a half, and we had a good laugh.


Imagine my surprise then when I looked at the images on the PC and discovered that some of them seemed not too bad, considering the circumstances. To be sure the depth of focus (dof) was much too narrow for my taste in some of the natural light shots, like the following one for example. And as well as the overall narrowness of the dof, I really don't like parts of the subject nearest to the camera being so obtrusively out of focus, as the nearer petals are here. That is not so much a problem with narrow depth of focus (although that obviously didn't help), but more a case of operator error - placing the centre of dof in the wrong place, too far away. I think I was concentrating on finding an angle that would give a background that went nicely with the subject. What with that, and the breeze, it was probably luck of the draw how this turned out by way of dof, and I only had one attempt at it for some reason, which was silly. In such highly randomised circumstances taking numerous shots is an obviously good idea, in the hope that for at least one of them the important things will all come together at the right moment.

Click on an image to see a larger version of it. Exif data can be seen by using an Exif viewer on the larger version of an image, such as Exif Viewer in Firefox.

These images are taken from the 33 images in this flickr set. They have been processed for best viewing at their full height of 900 pixels in subdued light on a screen calibrated to gamma 2.2.

The ? bee below was the first potential subject I noticed when I started wandering around. To my surprise it was still there when I got back with the camera and set it up. I didn't notice it move, and I wondered if it was still alive. The flower it was on was moving vigorously, so perhaps it would have fallen off were it not still alive. I don't know.

Although I'm not seeing many insects at the moment, there are loads of spiders all over the place.

Those three all used flash by the way. Unless the air is dead calm, or very nearly so, I find it pretty much essential to use flash for spiders on webs, as the webs move in the slightest puff of air. In the gusty breeze these had continuous, rapid, large, irregular movements.

Mrs G bought several new daisies this year. This is the one that has prospered, and was the only thing in the garden flowering profusely. It is (she tells me) Gaillardia Burgunder.

The first of these used flash. It has quite good detail despite the considerable amount of movement and I could use a small aperture and get a large depth of field, while using base ISO of 160.

The next one used natural light. To get a fast shutter speed I had to use a larger aperture and less depth of field than I would have liked. The nearer petals are not in focus, but that seems less obtrusive than in the previous example. Despite the softness of detail, I much prefer the balance between the subject and the background, and the colours and lack of darkness in the background. On balance, for my taste, I prefer this one.

I had fun trying to follow this cricket around. I had the flash dismounted when I spotted it and it was a case of quickly doing the best I could with the natural light setup before the cricket disappeared. I used a fairly small aperture (f/16) and so got almost as much depth of field as I could. There was less breeze in that particular location and I got away with some rather slower shutter speeds (1/80 sec down to 1/40 sec).

What I only managed once was to get all of the antennae in the picture. I get this a lot with crickets. They have hugely long antennae and especially when the subject is moving around (as well as in this case what it was on moving around too) I find I don't have time to work out exactly where the antennae are (they can be difficult to see, and can move around a lot too) and frame the shot accordingly. [Three star long and ugly sentence award - not bad.]

All of the images used ISO 800 by the way, apart from the first of the daisy images at ISO 160. ISO 800 is the highest ISO I am comfortable using with my Panasonic G3. The reason for using ISO 800 with flash is to get as much (natural) light as possible on to the background to lessen the "dark background" effect that I dislike so much. The reason for using ISO 800 with the available light shots was to help get the shutter speeds fast enough to freeze the motion caused by the breeze.

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