I’ve always liked abstract, graphic images. Several years ago I did some studio studies of bent and folded paper. While they were OK, the lights I had available to me at the time we simply too large to accomplish the vision I had for the images. The other problem I faced back then was the smallest lights I had were Nikon macro flash units. With any flash units in the studio, you have to position them and select the power levels based on your best guess. Then you fire the flashes and see what you got. That allows you to make any corrections and take another shot. This process can take quite a while to get the image dialed in where you want it.

Fast forward more than ten years to now and I have very small LED continuous lights made by LumiCube. These allow the position of the power level to be adjusted in real time. You can see what you are going to get without having to go through a lot of rounds of adjustments. This is a huge advantage in the studio. With these lights in hand, I decided to have another go at paper studies. This time I was able to get the images I had envisioned years ago.

I still have some additional ideas for arrangements of paper and lights that I will try in the future but for now I am very happy with the images I got.

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Dark Eyed Junco in the snow on a Juniper

One of my goals for the winter of 2020-2021 was to get some good winter shots of birds. I was hoping for some snow on the trees and as a background. We got two nice snowfalls in early December when the wind wasn’t blowing hard. I went out with my camera and my 150-600mm Sigma zoom lens and shot for a couple hours each time. I didn’t see a large range of species coming to the feeders but they did seem to be less shy than they normally are so I was able to get some pretty nice shots of several sparrow-sized species.

Female House Finch in the snow on a Juniper
White-crowned Sparrow in the snow on a Juniper

I also went out a few times around sunrise or sunset on calm days and got some nice high contrast shots of some of the birds that frequent our feeders.

Pine Siskin at sunrise

Next winter I am going to try heading up into the mountains with my camera looking for some different species to shoot.

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As a kid when I first saw some photographs taken by Harold “Doc” Edgerton and stop motion shots by other photographers I was blown away. I first did some similar photography using a high-powered strobe when I was shooting an article on a world record setting model airplane developed by my older brother and me. Those shots were taken on film and although I got the images we needed the success rate as low and we used up a lot of film. Because of that I never did any more stop motion shots with film cameras.

Fast forward thirty years to 2010 and I now had a decent DSLR. Since the “film” was now free I decided to try some stop motion water drop shots similar to what Doc Edgerton had done. There are two big problems I had to deal with: getting enough light so the shutter speed would be high enough to stop the drops in motion and timing the shutter release to capture the drop at a good location. Edgerton and others who are really serious about this kind of photography use high powered flash to solve the first problem and some kind of electronic detector/trigger to solve the second. At the time, in 2010, there were a few photographers who had developed kits specifically to trigger the flash and shutter on digital cameras for water drop shots. There are actually several enthusiast groups who are really serious about water drop art. I didn’t want to spend several hundred dollars on the gear so I decided to use the brightest continuous lights I had and try to time the shutter. Unfortunately, my lights weren’t bright enough to get shots that weren’t grainy. Timing the shutter worked but the success rate was really low. I did manage to get a few shots that I kept however.

Fast forward another ten years to now and I have recently purchased some nice LED lights for studio use. I decided to give the water dop shots another try with those new lights. I was still using eyeball timing to decide when to trip the shutter so the success rate is still low. However, the amount of light (and a newer, better Nikon D850 DSLR) was now sufficient to get some really nice shots.

 I have always liked subjects that have something of an unpredictable nature to them and water drop shots certainly qualify on that count. Perhaps some day I will spend a couple hundred dollars and buy a water drop kit to do some really spectacular water drop art but for now I am happy with the shots I got.

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I belong to a large photography club in Albuquerque called the Enchanted Lens Camera Club. The club has several hundred people and has a lot of speakers, trips and other activities. One of the things the club does is encourage individual members to form smaller groups for the purpose of developing individual portfolios each year. The portfolio groups meet from the fall until the following spring. Members work on their individual portfolios with input and suggestions from the rest of their group. Portfolios are twelve or fewer images with an accompanying artist statement. At the end of the club year (usually in June) all of the individual groups get together and each participating photographer shows their portfolio to the entire club membership.

 

This year was the first time I participated in a portfolio group. The experience was a lot more fun than I originally thought it would be. I wanted to do a portfolio on something that would stretch my normal artistic range. I chose to do my portfolio on Ethereal Flowers. I have on occasion done high key and soft focus flowers but that is not my normal style. Usually I rely on full dynamic range and rich, saturated colors. For this portfolio I used a mix of older images that I completely reworked with different post processing techniques and new images taken specifically with the portfolio project in mind.

 

The images in the final portfolio is are shown below. I hope you enjoy them. I am already thinking about possible subjects for next year’s portfolio.

 

Cheers,

 

Mike

 

 

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Soap Bubbles

I have been photographing soap bubbles in my studio on many occasions for more than ten years now.  Like some other types of photography, such as refractographs and wave reflections, there is a bit of a treasure hunt quality to photographing them. Their geometry is continually changing as they mature and finally pop. The interference patterns on their surface change even more quickly. With the COVID restrictions this year I have done some more soap bubble shots in the last couple of months.

It is the geometry and the interference patterns that make bubbles so interesting.  Soap bubbles always assume the shape with the smallest possible surface area for a given volume. This means single bubbles form spheres. In a plane two bubbles meet as circles intersecting at a line. For more than two bubbles in a plane the bubbles will meet in groups of three with all angles at the intersections being  120 degrees. This means they form hexagons (just like honey combs).

In three dimensions the same principle of minimum surface area for a given volume applies. Two bubbles will meet at a common circle with the angle being 120 degrees. As with the planer case we can see from experiment that bubbles always meet as triples of lines with all angles being 120 degrees. Interestingly, while the geometry has been know for thousands of years, even the simplest planer case was not proved mathematically until 1993 and the proof for three or more bubbles in space is still open.

Thin-film interference is a natural phenomenon in which light waves reflected by the upper and lower surfaces of a thin transparent film will interfere with each other. Certain wavelengths (colors) are intensified while others are reduced depending on the thickness and index of refraction of the film. This constructive or destructive interference produces narrow reflection or transmission bandwidths. The observed colors are rarely separate wavelengths but a mixture of various wavelengths. Thus, the colors observed are rarely those of the rainbow, but rather browns, golds, turquoises, teals, bright blues, purples, and magentas.

I have shot bubbles using many different  set-ups in the studio. My favorite set-up uses four sheets of translucent Plexiglas about 2 ft. x 2 ft. to form a shooting tunnel. The rear of the tunnel was closed off with a sheet of black mat board. A spray can lid is placed in the tunnel and filled with bubble solution. The camera with a macro lens was placed in front of the tunnel and focused on the front edge of the spray can top. I have used various combinations of flash units underneath, above and to the sides of the tunnel along with gels and colored mat board to get different effects. This type of set-up gives the largest possible range of results.

I have tried many other set-ups shooting either a single bubble, multiple bubbles or a bubble film. The images created can be very striking. The whole process is fascinating to me since you never can tell what kind of pattern you will get or how it will change with time.

Cheers,

Mike Stoy

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Silverleaf Nightshade

We live in the village of Placitas, New Mexico which is about twenty minutes north of Albuquerque. Our house is on the north side of the Sandia Mountains at 5,400 ft. in the upper Sonoran ecosystem. Although most people think of the desert as being sand dunes and cactus very few of the desert regions of the world are actually like that. The area we live in has lots of low Juniper, and Pinion trees along with many other desert plants including some cactus and yucca species and quite a few wildflowers.

Palmer Penstemon

Tulip Prickly Pear Cactus

Trumpet Gilia

Desert Willow

 

 

 

 

 

 

The development our house is in has a nice walking path along side the roads and in the springtime, if there is some rainfall, there are an amazing number of wildflowers that bloom here. I always like taking wildflower photos but this year with the COVID-19 stay-at-home order here in New Mexico I have spent a lot more time around the neighborhood and taking flower photos than in most years.

Broom Dalea

Red-whisker Clammyweed

Yellowspine Thistle

Devil’s Club Cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of the flowers around here are particularly large. Certainly nothing like the Rhododenrons that we had in Seattle. The largest ones are some of the cactus flowers which can be several inches across. A lot of the photos I take of flowers here end up being pretty tight macro shots. I have a 150mm Sigma macro lens that I really love. It has a larger stand-off distance than the more common 90mm or 105mm macro lenses. That doesn’t make any particular difference with wildflower photos but it is really helpful when taking photos of butterflies, lizards ad the like. I use extension tubes on the lens a lot for the wildflowers around here to get enough magnification to fill the frame on the smaller ones.

Common Beehive Cactus

Wooly Prairie Clover

Threadleaf Groundsel

Tamarisk

Spider on James’ Holdback

Blanket Flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately the most of the wildflowers are fading now that the warmer and drier weather of June is here so I’ll have to find other things to take photos of.

Mike

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A type of photography that I have become fond of in the last few years is refractographs. These images are created using a camera without a lens on the front of it. First you need a really dark room since any stray light can muddy up the image. Next you need a piece of glass or some other transparent material. In my experience thin, high quality glass works best. I have been using the bottom of crystal wine glasses. The glass is fixed in place with a light stand and clamp or something similar. Then a small bright point of light is set up about  ten feet away from the glass with the light shining on the glass at about a forty five degree angle. I am using a bright LED flashlight with a piece of aluminum foil over the front of the light. I poke a very small hole in the foil with a needle. Do not use a laser since it could damage the camera sensor.  Finally the camera is placed on a tripod very close to the glass.

 

If you turn off all the lights except the flashlight and turn on live view on the camera you will see a pattern of light appear on the image sensor. The light from the flashlight is refracted through the front of the glass, part of the light is then reflected off the rear surface of the glass then refracted again as it bounces toward the camera. It takes a lot of experimentation with position of the glass and the camera to find interesting patterns. Since there is not very much light the exposure will typically be fairly long. Most of the time I end up between two and six seconds. These patterns will initially be white. In order to get color into the images I take small pieces of colored plastic, called gel filters, from my macro flash heads and hold them in front of the camera between the glass and the sensor.

The images created can be very striking. There is also a bit of a treasure hunt quality to the process since you never can tell what kind of pattern any given piece of glass will create.

Cheers,

 

Mike Stoy

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