Tag Archives: Macro


Last week, we stayed overnight at a beach south of Dunure on the west coast of Scotland. At low tide, we were able to walk along the sand to Culzean Castle. If we’d been more ambitious, we could have continued along to the village of Maidens where Donald Trump has lent his name to a luxury resort. If we’d been really ambitious, we would have duffed golf balls through the windows, but why waste perfectly good balls?

Algae & Seaweed

What caught my attention most were the jellyfish washed onto the beach. It gave me the perfect opportunity to play with new gear. I was putting a Sony Alpha A7 II through its paces and brought along a Metabones adapter so I could use my Canon lenses with it. Yeah, whatever. I used a 100mm f/2.8 macro for the jellyfish. The great advantage of the Sony body is that the rear LCD monitor tilts so that you can place the camera on the ground or, in this case, on the wet sand, and shoot low without getting a soaker every time you try to frame a shot.


I took my first shots in the late afternoon. I shot into the light. The translucent jellyfish bodies acted as a natural light filter, adding a tinge of purple to the images. Reflections from the background water produced a nice bokeh effect. As an aside: in some places there were so many jellyfish, we had to watch where we were going. Stepping on a jellyfish is a bit like stepping on a cow platt.


The effects of backlight & bokeh were more pronounced when I went out at 9:30 pm as the sun was setting. That introduced oranges to the purples.


Shooting jellyfish seems a far cry from my street photography but, maybe, from a jellyfish point of view, these are candid portraits capturing life in the raw. I walk along the beach like some gigantic—I don’t know—two-legged oppressor?—and all the jellyfish scream in terror as they catch sight of me. I capture the panic in their, um, eyes, or whatever. Oh the humanity! Oh the snot-like goo!


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Early Morning Frost

Here’s a sampling of early morning shots taken at the Williams Farm after a good frost. These come from either side of the 2015/16 winter season. I shot the first two on boxing day, 2015. I shot the second two on the first day of spring 2016. On both occasions, I was inadequately dressed and inadequately coffee’d. Note that none of the images would have been possible without a tripod, an alarm clock, and a good pair of boots.





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The Military In Its Proper Place

There’s some food photography I want to do, but I’ve decided I should practise my setup before I undertake anything complicated. So, on an overcast day when the light was soft, I put a table by a window and spread some jelly beans across a sheet of foam-board. I stood two more sheets of foam-board on end to act as reflectors to soften the shadows. Then I went to work with my 100mm f2.8L macro lens.


Satisfied with the way my jelly beans were looking, I took things to the next level. I’d picked up a few plastic soldiers when I was at Sugar Mountain. Why, you may ask, does a candy store sell plastic soldiers? Good question. Maybe to indoctrinate children. Kind of fucked up if you ask me.


Happy with my machine gunner doing point in a jelly bean wasteland, I added rice to the mix. You can move rice around to give it shape, geologically speaking. Along with the rice, I added a few more military personnel since my green soldier was all alone and getting anxious. One of the jelly beans could be a mine. Step on a red one and it might blow off the poor guy’s leg.


Things were looking austere, so I added a dark background to give things a sense of foreboding. Because I’m using a fairly tight DOF, the background is blurred, so you can’t see that I’m using a painting – a drizzle experiment in acrylic – by Ethan Hanzel. A couple years ago, he posted a photo of it on his Facebook page and asked for bids; we won the auction, which means we’re the proud owners of a Hanzel original.


It’s a jungle out there, and a couple wild gummy worms took out the orange infantry guy. The other military types look on, helpless. With all the gummy worms lurking under the rice, it looks like jelly bean mines are the least of their worries. BTW – does anybody know what kind of a gun the green guy is carrying? It looks like it could do some serious damage, but still no match for a hungry gummy worm.


For the final shot, I added a glass insulator from a high-voltage transmission line. It’s the blurred thing behind the green soldier. I swapped out the red/orange gummy worm for a green/yellow worm; it was harder to see the downed soldier in the previous image. I gave the red/orange worm to the blue soldier. I also gave the image some “atmosphere” by shooting jets of steam into the scene from a little steam cleaner we use for our floors. I had thought I’d be able to recover all the rice and cook it for dinner. Unfortunately, the steam melted the jelly beans and their colour bled into the rice and made it sticky. I like sticky rice, but not when it’s dyed red and green.


The whole set up, including foam boards, foodstuffs and plastic soldiers, cost me about $25. In my view, that’s all any military budget deserves.

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Canon 5DS Sample Images

It seems everyone who has their hands on a 5DS has been posting samples so people can download giant image files (50 megapixels) to see how giant an image file can get. I’ll offer a couple images here (just to get it out of my system), then side step the whole giant image thing which, after all, is nothing more than a photographic pissing contest.

Here you go. Image #1 is an early morning shot of Toronto’s skyline as viewed from Governor’s Hill overlooking the Evergreen Brickworks. I used a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens. ISO 100, f 8.0, 1/60.


I’ve also attached a 564 x 846 pixel swatch from the above image so you can see the level of detail possible when an image is viewed at %100 resolution on a monitor.


A few things are immediately apparent. First, if you inspect photos at %100 on a computer monitor, you’ll end up thinking most of your images are garbage. Even the slightest shake produces blurred pixels. The old rule about minimum shutter speed (i.e. for hand-held shooting, your minimum shutter speed should be the inverse of your focal length) gets tossed out the window. With a 50 megapixel sensor, clarity on a pixel by pixel basis is impossible without a good tripod. That said, when you DO achieve that level of clarity, the result is amazingly crisp. After my first day out with the 5DS, I was getting images that pop in a way I’ve never been able to achieve with my Mark III. Download a full size (8688 x 5792) jpg here.

Image #2 is a graffiti-covered trestle that crosses the Don River. I used the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM at 70mm. ISO 100, f/11, 1/50. Download a full size jpg here.


The second thing that is immediately apparent is that images become grainier at lower ISO settings than with the Mark III. Maximum ISO on the 5DS is 12800 whereas on the Mark III it’s 102400. Simply put: the 5DS doesn’t perform well in low light. That’s another argument for using a tripod. For best results, shoot in the ISO 100-400 range and slow everything down.

Now let’s side step that pissing contest. One of the great advantages of the 5DS is NOT the size of the image it produces, but the huge amount of play it offers in terms of cropability (is that even a word?). If you’re a purist who believes everything should happen in camera, then you may want to ignore everything else in this post. But if you believe it’s okay sometimes to reserve framing and composition considerations until post production, then read on. The 5DS is your friend.

Take my 3rd image as an example:


I shot this hand held with Canon’s EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/80. Because damselflies are easily spooked, I stood back a discreet distance & subsequently cropped the image to 5760 x 3840. The reason for those dimensions is that they are identical to the Mark III’s maximum image size. I simply wanted to demonstrate that I can sacrifice nearly 60% of the image and still end up with something printable to the size of a large painting.

Here’s a more extreme example:


Also shot hand held with the Macro lens, I’ve cropped this fly to 3093 x 2062. While the resulting image can’t fill a wall (& who would want it to?) nevertheless, I could print it at a high quality resolution on a letter-sized sheet of paper.

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Pointlessly Abstract

The title of this post should include a question mark. Is abstract photography pointless? If so, does that matter? Personally, I feel some ambivalence around the production of abstract photographs. Images that we describe as abstract can be pleasing to the eye. They can entertain, provoke, excite curiosity, pose questions.

Steps - Mount Pleasant Cemetery

One of the most common questions, at least for abstraction produced by photographs, is: what is it? We want the photograph to be OF something. We want to readily identify the thing which is the subject of the photograph. We resist the call to simply allow the photograph to BE in its own right, freed from its dependency upon the thingness in the photograph. So, for example, we look at the photograph above and prefer a description of steps in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. I suspect we’re less receptive to a description of grey linear patterns.

Pink Umbrella at Sugar Beach

There are many ways to produce abstract photographs. One could move the camera or zoom during a long exposure, do multiple exposures, post-processing experimentation, makeshift filters with bubble wrap or cellophane, reflections in puddles or mirrors. I’ve even considered doing a series about Sunday morning puke on the sidewalks (there’s a lot of it in the city). But by far the most common method is to frame the subject matter so tightly that it becomes difficult to identify. This is where my ambivalence arises.

Sap from strelitzia plant

What makes most modern photographs abstract is the fact that the subject matter is decontextualized. We produce something aesthetically pleasing by trashing the subject matter’s narrative, its history, particularity, locale. It becomes globally accessible, culturally universal. At the same time, it becomes pointless, maybe even flat or bland. Our curiosity might drive us to ask what it is, but not what it means. We see nothing in it of political moment. There is nothing in it that speaks to the burden of our times. But maybe that’s all we want from our photographs.

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Washing The Stemware

Last night at TCC (Toronto Camera Club) I got Best In Show in the pictorial competition for the “Altered Reality” category. I call my image “Washing The Stemware.”

Washing The Stemware

It began as a photo I took a couple years ago of a window washer working on the building across from mine. I used a 70-200 mm lens with a 2x extension tube for an effective 400mm.

window washer

At the time, I didn’t have any use for the image, so, like most everything else I shoot, I let it simmer. Then, last month, as I was drinking a glass of wine and moaning about the growing stack of dirty dishes, I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be great if we could have tiny men to clean all the dishes for us! Cue the light bulb. I cleared off the table, arranged some lights, and created a background by draping a sheet of tin foil over an upended wooden box. I shot a wine glass against the tin foil background with my 100mm macro lens.

wine glass

Finally, because it’s almost impossible to drape a sheet of tin foil over anything without producing crinkles, I shot the background alone and out-of-focus to blur away all the crinkles.


When I composited the images in Photoshop, I made a few touchups:

• flipped the blurred background upside down so that the hotspot would be immediately behind the glass

• gave the window washer a new foot which was missing in the original image

• darkened some of the window washer’s skin tones to make the lighting more consistent with the backlit glass

Now all I need is a small army of these guys and my dish-washing woes will be over.


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Tommy Thompson Park

One place I like to go when I need to scratch my photographic itch is Tommy Thompson Park on the Leslie Street Spit. It meshes nicely with my personal mandate to document “this made-up world of ours.” It illustrates how our world is flipping upside down. Typically, we think of ourselves as occupying the natural world. We live on top of it. It supports us. But the longer we live in this world, the more we lay down an unnatural foundation which supports an occupying natural world. The Leslie Street Spit is a breakwater more than 5 kilometres long composed entirely of material dredged from the Toronto harbour and from surplus fill. Some of its shoreline has been exposed for nearly 60 years, now, worn smooth by the waves of Lake Ontario. Ecosystems have risen up from rubble. We tend to take it for granted, but it really is a bizarre landscape.

Tommy Thompson Park

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Toronto’s First Frost

Toronto had its first frost on October 12th. But it wasn’t a killing frost and it didn’t happen much of anywhere. In fact, because it was Thanksgiving holiday, most people missed it. All the little ice crystals had turned into water droplets while people were still dreaming of leftover turkey. Insomnia got the better of me so there I was before sunrise, down in the Weston Quarry behind the Evergreen Brickworks, plastic spread on the grass and me lying on my stomach. Here’s what I saw:

Borwn-eyed susan





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Macro Shots of Bugs in Dew

I picked up a new macro lens, a 100mm Canon f2.8 whatever, and spent each sunrise last week on the paths behind the Toronto Evergreen Brickworks. It was ideal for catching small creatures. No wind. Lots of dew. And a beautiful light rising over the hill and dispersing the mist. Technically, the first photo isn’t of a bug, but close enough …

Snail on Queen Anne's lace.

Snail on Queen Anne’s lace.

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