It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I made a short movie showing the Autumn color in our local park, the Jindai Botanical Park and Gardens here in Tokyo. At the end of our November Question Time event for Patreon supporters last weekend, we talked about sharing our 2022 Top Ten images in the January Question Time, so I’ve been starting to reflect on the year a little mentally, recalling my May trip to Namibia, and feeling thankful that we finally seem to be returning to a semblance of normality as the pandemic gradually becomes more manageable and less of a threat for the majority of the population.
Unfortunately, as I went through my images of this year’s Autumn leaves in the park, I was somewhat saddened that many of the images were just repeats of previous years. The strange weather has made the leaves considerably less attractive than usual, and if it weren’t for a few other photos that I quite like, I probably would have given up on the idea of sharing any photos from this visit to the park altogether.
As it stands, I have nine images from the visit, and a couple of them that I am happy with, so let’s work through my shots anyway, starting with this image of the Crepe-myrtle trees in their Autumn dress and the sun shining through the canopy.
I like the sunburst or starburst effect of the sun shining through the trees. This effect is easily achieved with wide-angle lenses, even without stopping down the aperture very much, but I had stopped down to ƒ/14 for this shot anyway to get the leaves and foreground shadows sharp, although, in this image, that would have been achieved by an aperture of ƒ/8 or even ƒ/5.6.
The second image I shot of these trees, though, benefitted much more from the ƒ/14 aperture as I set my camera down on the ground to capture the grasses and leaves in beautiful detail. The closest leaves to the lens are going slightly out of focus, but everything is sharp from a few centimeters into the frame, so I’m happy with how this turned out.
I folded out the screen and had the digital level visible with the intention of ensuring that the horizon was straight, but as I put my camera down, a few people that I was hoping would walk out of the frame did just that, so I grabbed this shot before a few other people walked into the frame. The result is that I hadn’t leveled the horizon properly yet, but this was my best shot because of the lack of people. I could straighten the horizon in post, but I didn’t want to throw out any pixels, so I’m living with this for now, and I do like the shot, even wonky, so I’m not too concerned.
I did use an adjustment layer in Capture One Pro and brushed in a little bit of lightness in the shadows in the foreground leaves, just to open them up a little and provide a little more balance with the elements in the top of the frame. Another thing I did as I shot was to remove the twigs in the foreground, but again, I preferred this shot and think that the twigs add a little to the feeling of the image, so again, they stayed.
Here also is a shot of the yellow maple leaves, which are generally a lot prettier, but this year they have been eaten a little more than usual by bugs, and there are some red spots in the yellow, probably caused by some chillier than usual nights over the last few weeks. We even had a frost a few times, and that doesn’t usually happen in Tokyo in November.
For these leaves, I opened up the aperture as wide as it will go, which gives me ƒ/7.1 at 500mm with the Canon RF 100-500mm lens. This is because I wanted as shallow a depth of field as I could get for the leaves to keep the viewer’s attention on the foreground leaves and make the background leaves more like supporting actors. The background is very dark, as I aligned with a shadow area in this image, so the shallow depth of field didn’t have much effect on the distant background in this shot.
In the next image, though, I aligned the leaves with an illuminated area of the background to capture the out-of-focus leaves to provide a more colorful backdrop. I actually closed my aperture down to ƒ/8 for this shot to get just a slightly deeper depth of field, as I wanted the foreground leaves, which were all close to the same distance from the camera in this shot, to be in focus, while leaving the background as blurred as possible.
I like the textures in the background color, which were smooth over the red leaves, but some low grasses had an interesting effect on the bokeh in the bottom right corner, which I found somewhat appealing. Again though, the leaves themselves aren’t very attractive, and the bear twigs on the right are just about acceptable because they allow us to see that textured yellow bokeh.
Just one more leaves shot to go as we look at the red leaves a few meters away from the yellow leaves. These red leaves were backlit, so the light was shining through the leaves rather than shining on the leaves, and although these leaves were in slightly better condition, the shot is nothing special. I’ve only really kept it in the set because I kind of like the atmosphere, but I will probably not keep this in my finals if I review it again in a few week’s time, probably as I work on my 2022 Top Ten image selection.
After spending probably less than half the time I usually spend photographing the maple trees, we had a walk through the park, noticed that the cosmos flowers were already gone, leaving just soil now waiting for the winter to set in, and we made our way through to the corner of the park that has various types of Dahlia flowers at this time of year. They were mostly past their best, with a few blooms still worth shooting.
I noticed this honey bee in the center of a yellow Dahlia, so I hit the Exposure Lock button on the back of my Canon EOS R5, as I’ve customized the camera to remap that button to switch between One Shot and AI Servo focusing, and I used AI Servo to stay with the bee as both the bee and I moved around. This made it pretty easy to get the bee’s eye nice and sharp as it went about its business.
I do enjoy photographing these Dahlia flowers and converting them to black and white in Capture One Pro, then used a few adjustment layers to black out the background. I did take a patch of black velvet to hold up behind the flowers to help reduce the processing time, but my wife had gone to the restroom, and the angle was such that it wouldn’t have been possible to hold the cloth behind this flower anyway, so I did all of the dark backgrounds in post.
I generally start with one adjustment layer and brush over the background with a tone curve that has the highlights intact, but the shadows dropped down as far as I can take them. Then I do at least one more adjustment layer with reduced exposure, and I’m careful not to paint over the flower’s petals around the edges.
The next Dahlia shot received similar processing, but this felt like a firework to me, so I left its stalk more visible so that it looked like the light from the firework as it climbed to the point where it exploded. I also play with the highlights and shadow sliders on the background layer to increase the contrast between the layers of petals.
The final image that I wanted to talk about is this rose photo, which I again gave the black background treatment, but I left the unopened bud visible, as it felt like a thespian waiting in the wings, probably until the main actor here withered, giving way to the supporting actor.
Apart from the slightly unattractive maple leaves this year, I guess I’m relatively pleased with this selection, although often at this time of year, the maple leaves in Autumn dress usually steal the show. With me not being able to run the 2022 Japan winter tours this year, though, I can see probably at least one of these making its way into my 2022 Top Ten selection that I’ll share towards the end of the year or the start of January before I set off for the first of the 2023 Japan Winter Tours.
Share Your Top Ten in January Patrons’ Question Time
As I said, we will review Top Tens from any Patreon supporters of Tier #3 or higher that want to join the January Question Time event, which I’ll schedule for when I’m home between trips. If you’d like to be involved in that, and share your work with the group, ensure that you select your own top ten images from 2022 and support the Podcast for at least $5 per month, even if it’s just for January, and you’ll receive an invite via the Patreon message system and via the private MBP Community Forum, that comes as one of the Patreon supporter benefits. I hope to see you there!
Today I share a conversation with Andrew S. Gibson. who I spoke with for the first time exactly 10 years ago, and then again 8 years ago, as he released a few of his early eBooks alongside mine when we both wrote for Craft & Vision. A lot has changed since then, but Andrew is pretty much the same, so it was nice to talk again. I messed up, recording the first 20 minutes or so of this conversation with my webcam microphone, following a discussion with my accountant, and like a fool, I forgot to switch back to my Podcasting mic. You’ll hear the difference as I switch back, but I hope it doesn’t spoil it too much for you. I’ve also shared some photos that Andrew kindly shared with us to illustrate our conversation.
Andrew S. Gibson is the founder of The Creative Photographer and Mastering Lightroom websites, the editor and publisher of Creative Photographer Magazine and author of more than 40 photography ebooks. He lives in south-west England with his family and likes making portraits and black and white photos.
In preparation for our March Question Time with the MBP Patreon Community, I did a few tests to show something that I knew to be the case but is something that you hear a lot in photography circles, and that is that prime lenses give better image quality than zoom lenses. It turns out that I’d misread the question, but the test and the reason for the test are valid, so I figured I’d share my thoughts with you today. My angle here is not necessarily to prove to you that zoom lenses are always going to be as good as prime lenses, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, there is danger in simply believing what other photographers say, simply because you hear it so often. My point today is more about the importance of questioning what you hear. Not necessarily confronting the person that says it, but think about what you have seen in your own photography, and if necessary, as I often do, run some tests of your own to form a definitive answer to your questions. After all, if you don’t run tests with your own gear you’ll never be able to say for sure one way or the other.
Anyway, let’s take a look at what I tested. I took my new Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L lens, a wonderful prime lens, made, of course, for Canon’s mirrorless camera system with the R Mount. To compare this lens to a zoom lens, I grabbed my Canon RF 24-105mm F4 L lens, and to show the difference in quality over the latest prime L lens I also grabbed a thirty-year-old 50mm F/1.4 none-L lens. This lens has been repaired once, as I had some mold form on the inner elements probably around 18 years ago now, and sent it into Canon for repair. It doesn’t get a lot of use these days, but it’s such a good little lens that I’ve never been able to bring myself to sell it. Besides, at under $400 new, the resale value for a used copy isn’t enough to convince me to part with it.
I did my test with a Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera, which in itself brings a certain amount to the table, as it records beautifully sharp images. I simply grabbed a few objects from my studio and added an old Japanese book that I read many years ago, as the text is good for evaluating sharpness, and I shot three images, all at 50mm, including the 24-105mm lens, so that we can compare the three. I set my aperture to ƒ/8, which is considered to be the sharpest aperture, and I had a small light illuminating the objects from above, slightly to the left. I also put an air blower close to the right edge and a steel rule on the left side running down towards the bottom left corner.
Here is a gallery of all three images so that you can click through them to compare them. Of course, as these are the web resized images, this isn’t any use to evaluate sharpness, but we’ll get to that shortly. First of all, note that the 24-105mm lens set at 50mm is actually slightly wider than both of the 50mm primes, although I imagine that falls within the variance standards that Canon set for themselves.
This first set is really just to enable you to literally see the bigger picture. Next, here are three crops of pretty much the same area of the same images at 100%. If you open these up in the lightbox viewer by clicking on them, you will be looking at 100% images assuming that your browser window is wide enough, and should be able to see the detail enough to evaluate the sharpness.
You’ll probably be able to see that although the characters on the page look slightly fainter in the 24-105mm lens, the sharpness, especially on the camera, are very similar with all three lenses. Sure, the 50mm RF lens is probably fractionally sharper than the other two, but is the difference great enough to warrant avoiding using a zoom lens altogether? Let’s keep looking to gain the information needed to really make a decision.
Here is another set of crops, from the same three images, this time from the bottom left corner, where I placed that steel rule. The rule is pretty much out of focus through the shallow-ish depth of field at this shooting distance at ƒ/8, but I wanted to share this to show that although there is really not a lot of distortion there is a little bit of color fringing on either side of the rule in the old 50mm and the 24-105mm lenses, but that is not visible in the RF 50mm prime, so it does have a slight advantage here too. In regular subjects, where you have texture and/or various colors in the frame, the fringing is more difficult to see, but it’s nice to know that it’s happening so that we can check and fix it if necessary when working on important projects.
Now, I haven’t tested the wider focal lengths of my 24-105 in this session. We can, of course, expect image quality to drop slightly close to the extremes of the zoom, although the 24-105 doesn’t suffer much at the wide end, and is a little softer when zoomed all the way into 105mm, but it’s not a huge drop in quality. When I get some time I may well compare my 100mm macro lens, another prime lens, with the 100mm point on my 24-105mm and my 100-500mm lenses, but I already know from testing both of these zoom lenses and the 100mm macro lens for that matter, that they all perform admirably, so there really isn’t much of a need to compare them directly in this context.
And that brings me nicely to my final thoughts on this subject. As I said, I really wanted to gather the information required here to be able to show you that the difference is minor. Although there is a small increase in quality in the prime lens over the zoom lens for the majority of my shooting, I work with zoom lenses, and I’d like to finish with my thoughts on why that is, and why you also need to make your own decisions.
Personally, I am pretty much always going to choose the zoom lens for travel and landscape photography, because it is so much more versatile in the field. Sure, you can zoom with your feet, but there are limitations that we face such as shooting position restrictions, private land etc. that will often make it necessary to shoot from a certain distance. Yes, we can crop our images a little if we need to get closer but couldn’t physically do so, but I have 45 megapixels, and I want to use as many of those pixels as possible. This is my choice, and may not be so important for you. I prefer to be able to get my framing as close to perfect in the camera, to avoid cropping when possible.
With my own lenses, I just don’t think the drop in image quality is great enough for me to want to try to work with prime lenses. If you consider the number of lenses I’d need to even start to cover my current kit in primes, it soon becomes obvious that it just isn’t realistic, both financially and in my ability to actually carry the lenses around. I’m currently working with three RF lenses that provide every millimeter from 15 to 500mm. To cover the main focal lengths I’d need 14, 24, 35, 50, 85, and 100mm lenses, so six lenses to replace my first two. Then I’d need a number of really big white lenses to cover key focal lengths that I get with my 100-500mm. I’ve done the 600mm gig, and the 300mm ƒ/2.8. I loved my old 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lenses too, but I am really enjoying being able to work from 15 to 500mm with three great RF lenses. It’s just so much easier to get around with this kit.
So, why do I own the RF 50mm prime? Well, for me, the main reason is the wider aperture and the shallower depth of field that it brings to my photography. If it wasn’t for the widest aperture of ƒ/1.2 I wouldn’t own the 50mm lens. When you see how good the image quality is from the EF 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens, you could also argue that there is very little difference in aperture size between the ƒ/1.4 and the ƒ/1.2, although the prices vary hugely, so saving money on the ƒ/1.4 version is definitely an option too. Every gear decision we make is a trade-off, and it doesn’t always have to be cut and dry, and this brings me to my final point.
Gear is our enabler. It is by no means the be-all and end-all of photography. We are the creativity behind the camera, but photography has and always will have a strong link to the gear that enables us to do it, and at the end of the day, some gear is just so nice to use that it can override the arguments about whether A is better than B, or C. The 50mm ƒ/1.2 L lens falls at least partly into that category. It’s a solid, and yes heavy lens, but it feels great to work with, and the wide aperture with creamy bokeh is an added bonus, as is the ultimately very good image quality.
And ultimately, the decision as to whether or not you shoot mainly with prime lenses or like me, mainly with zoom lenses, is also very much a personal choice. My aim today is not to persuade you in either direction. My main goal, as I said at the start of this post, is to suggest that you question the reasons behind your decisions, and don’t base your decisions on commonly whispered photography mantras. Are prime lenses always better than zooms? In some ways, yes, but the flexibility of zoom lenses is undeniable, and I believe that the zoom lenses we have now are so good that it really isn’t necessary to take a second mortgage to buy an arsenal of prime lenses for the difference in image quality alone.
If you want to shoot with very wide apertures, that’s another story. Typically zoom lenses have relatively small widest apertures, so this should probably be the trade-off that you consider more than anything, and not because of the light-gathering aspect so much now either. ISO performance is also so good now that you can whack your ISO up to get the shot rather than using a wide aperture if exposure is the only consideration. Having said all that though, I still take my 50mm ƒ/1.2 prime lens to Namibia when I go, because I want to use the shallow depth of field in some of the portrait work I do there. I carry that brick of a lens around for almost three weeks, for probably around an hour’s worth of photography, but I don’t mind that at all because the results are beautiful.
You make up your own mind about this, and have fun with your photography. And do some tests for yourself, to see how your lenses fare. If you are happy with the quality you are getting with zooms, you probably don’t need primes just to increase the quality. It’s the other reasons we’ve touched on that should drive your decisions. When people say that primes are better than zooms, they are correct, but if you are lucky enough to be able to buy some quality L lenses or similar in your own system if you don’t use Canon gear, then you’ll probably be just as happy with the results from zoom lenses. And if you are a staunch prime-lenser, you’ve made your decisions too, and I don’t want to try and change that. I would ask though, that when you try to talk zoomers into your world, don’t only talk about image quality. You already know that the decision is about so much more than that.
I’ll add some affiliate links to the gear mentioned today to the show notes. If you buy from our friends at B&H Photo, please use these links to help keep the wheels on the MBP Wagon.
February has flown by so quickly, that I’m left with just a few hours to put down some thoughts to share before we welcome in the third month of the year. Unfortunately, February 2022 is going to remain in the memories of many as the month that Vladimir Putin finally completely lost his marbles, and sent an already insane world into yet another downward spiral. I’m hoping with all my heart that we see an end to the current madness in the early days of March.
I’ve spent 98% of the last month trying to finalize a new iOS app that I’ve been working on since the end of December. I’ll share a few details today as I don’t have time to say anything else that I wanted to say. I’ve backed myself into a corner and my time management skills go completely out of the window when I start coding. This is partly because I really enjoy it, but mostly because it’s not my core-competence, and having loaded a ginormous three-dimensional map of how my app is organized into my gray-matter, there’s either little room for anything else or my fear of the structure shattering to the floor like a house of cards prevents me from walking away for any length of time.
For the last few weeks I’ve woken up pretty much every day telling myself that I must create a Podcast, and even today, on the last day of the month, I’ve spent until almost 4:30 pm messing around trying to complete my app. I wanted to finish it, get version 1.0 out of the door, and then spend a few days creating some quality content and a marketing page, etc. but it’s just proving very difficult to finalize a few of those devilish details. The main problem is that I decided to write my latest app using SwiftUI which is Apple’s newer programming language that is incredibly powerful, but almost nothing like the Swift programming that I taught myself a few years ago, and have become pretty proficient with.
Because of this, a good portion of my time was taken up by learning new technology, but the result is that I’ve built a highly responsive very lightweight app that looks great without any graphics other than the app icons embedded in the package. Another major advantage that I’m looking forward to exploring more is that this puts me a lot closer to an Android version than my Photographer’s Friend app which I’m still trying to port. Once I have my second app in the App Store though, I do intend to spend some time working on porting them both to Android, although I’ll start with my latest offering, not Photographer’s Friend, mainly because of the porting benefits that the SwiftUI architecture brings.
I did, of course, spend some quality time with my Patreon community in our monthly Question Time event, and I have done some private mentoring sessions, and I lost a day to an almost 39-degree fever after getting my COVID vaccination booster last week, but I was happy it was only one day. I lost two days to both of my first two jabs. As the month progressed almost every day I’ve felt as though I could push the new app out and see how it flies, but it’s still not quite ready, and I’m now trying really hard to complete a way to save and restore theme settings, but once this is completed, I’m going to release it, and add the other few new features that I have in mind after that. The themes seemed like a good idea and I got really close to getting it working in just a few hours, but that was four days ago now, so I’m regretting not leaving that until the first update as well.
Anyway, I don’t want to give away too many details and to be honest, it’s such a simple idea that you’ll get most of it anyway, I’ve basically created something that I’ve wanted myself for a long time but have never been able to find a good answer to my personal wishlist of features for an iOS-based desk clock. I have a charging stand on my desk that can sit my iPhone on at about a 70° angle in either portrait or landscape mode, and I have a similar stand beside my bed. I did buy a desk clock a few years ago, but it always seems to get in the way and has been pushed way under my iMac screen, almost out of sight, but my iPhone sits on its stand in a prominent position, so it would be perfect to display a nice looking clock. Here is are a few photos of what I’ve created, to give you an idea.
My biggest wish was for the ability to load images that would cycle through in the background, so I’ve designed my app with the ability for the user to load images from Apple Photos. I realize though that although photographers have lots of great photos hanging around, some people are going to want good photos but need an easy way to load them, so I have added the ability to buy additional packs of my images, all theme-based, like Winter Landscapes, Flowers, African Wildlife, etc. and there will be eight packs available at the time of launch, but I’ve designed the app so that I can add new packs by modifying a web page and changing the settings on Apple’s developer’s website, without updating the app itself, so I will add a number of new packs in the weeks after launch.
The clock face is so customizable, that I decided to build an automated demonstration of all the settings. This was another feature that took just a few hours to get completed, but that was actually what led me to start work on the theme presets, which has added this extra four days at this point. You can change the color of the clock face and opacity from 0 to 100% and you can also change the color of the frame, as well as the frame’s thickness, from no frame at all, up to a very thick frame, and as you can see, you can select Arabic or Roman numerals, and show all 12 numbers, just the 12, 3 6 and 9 o’clock numbers, or no numbers at all. You can also remove the second marker for a very minimalistic clock. You can of course change the size and position of the clock as well.
There are a bunch of other features as well, but I’ll save that all for the launch when I’ll create a walk-through video as well. Hopefully, it won’t be many more days or weeks now, but I’ve been saying that since the end of January, so don’t hold your breath. Anyway, I’m out of time. It’s six o’clock on the last day of the month, so I had to get this recorded and posted. We’ll get back to some regular episodes very soon.
This week’s podcast is a collaboration with my friend Don Komarechka, who, among lots of other things, runs the Photo Geek Weekly Podcast. I will be teaching at the Out of Chicago Live event again next month, and in addition to my own session on Microphotography, Don and I are doing a joint session to cover everything Macro, so we decided to do a joint Podcast and mention the event together. We went on to record a podcast in Don’s usual format, so this is really an episode of Photo Geek Weekly, but it was fun to record together, as usual, so we figured we’d just both share this audio.
We discuss the change in business strategy for Ricoh / Pentax, weird ways to use film cameras, another discussion of NFTs and why the connection to Facebook is even worse, and what you give away when you enter a photo contest. Here are links to the stories we covered and embellished for your reference and further reading.
2021 is drawing to an end, and to be honest, in many ways I’m pleased to see this year fall into the past, and looking forward to a brighter 2022, although with my winter tours not possible, we aren’t going to get off to a great start. Still, my yearly top ten selection of my own images is an important part of my year, and I know that some of you listeners and readers enjoy this, so I’m sitting down on December 30 to go through my yearly ritual. Before we jump in on the top ten, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the year.
I can’t complain. I’m still alive, which isn’t something that 5.4 million others can say. I’m kind of amazed that the world has been in the grip of this virus for two years now, although experts did warn that it would probably take up to three years to get through this. I think my general optimistic tendencies just hoped we’d handle this better. The governments around the world seem to be handling things with varying degrees of incompetence. The Japanese government has actually done a reasonable job of getting more than 80% of the population vaccinated, although they are dragging their feet with the third vaccination. Luckily the people of Japan are far more intelligent than the leaders of the country, and our collective efforts have kept casualties relatively low, although again, people have lost their lives here too. My heart goes out to anyone that has fallen to the pandemic and to their loved ones left behind.
Apart from gaining even more unnecessary pounds through increased lack of exercise, I’ve gotten through the year healthy, considering I have a hole in my sphenoid bone that leaks cerebrospinal fluid if I take enough medication to shrink the remains of my brain tumor to the point that it no longer completely plugs up the hole. I did have a slight dance with the C-word this summer too. I had a hard growth on the side of my nose, near where my glasses perch themselves, and it grew pretty quickly, so I went to the hospital and they quickly whipped it off, then tests showed that there were cancerous cells in the tissue. The dermatologist told me it was what they call pre-cancerous solar keratosis, which would probably become a form of skin cancer if left to its own devices. I’m told that although I may get more, there isn’t really anything to worry about, and that suits me fine. There’s plenty of other stuff to worry about, and as a terminal optimist, I’m pretty good at not worrying too much about things that I have little control over.
I haven’t done so well not getting concerned about my lack of ability to travel and pursue my passion for landscape and wildlife photography. Apart from the much-needed visit to the Tatsusawa Falls in October, it seems that almost every time I try to plan something, the pandemic tightens its grip on us again, putting the mockers on my plans. I’d dearly love to go up to Hokkaido over the next month or two, and am still hoping it can happen, but watching the daily cases of the new omicron strain of COVID increase, I’m not sure it will be possible. Fingers crossed on that one.
Anyway, let’s have a look at my 2021 photographs. This is something that I’ve done each year since 2007, and you can actually see all of my posts on this with this link. I’m running a little short on time as I’ve had a few reports of issues with the software I’ve developed that have taken a bunch of the time I put aside to do this, so I’m not going to go into quite as much detail as I usually do. It’s also a pretty light year anyway, with my new passion of microscope photography somewhat dominating my selection, so we’ll whiz through this relatively quickly.
As usual, I started by creating a folder to drop my first pass of images into. As I work through the year I drop all of the images that I am happy with into a year folder in my Finals catalog, which I keep on a separate SSD to my main shoot drive which contains everything for the year. So far my most productive year was 2018 with 1452 images that I was happy with. For 2021 I have 333 images. The last time I had less than that was 2010 at 230 images, and all years from 2005 and earlier.
After my first pass through my images, I had 66 shots in my selection, and as you can see in this screenshot, it was a pretty colorful crop of images. I’m grateful that I was able to stay somewhat productive with microphotography. I honestly think I’d have gone insane this year if it wasn’t for the joy I found in the microscopic world. It actually reminded me of when I had a somewhat stressful day job and would find it relaxing to simply have the camera in my hand. I wasn’t always shooting the greatest images, but just the act of doing photography was stress-relief in itself.
After my first selection, I went through and removed all of the obvious offenders. I was never going to have four yellow flower shots, for example, but wanted to have another look at all four before picking one or throwing them all out. This was more difficult than I thought it would be, and that is why this is such a valuable exercise. Editing skills are important and although I do this regularly as part of my job, selecting your favorites from a year’s work is never easy, even when the year was as crazy as this one was.
I ended up with 32 images after my second pass. I’d just over halved my selection, but I was stuck to a degree on what to remove next. I was actually not looking forward to this process this year because it’s been such a dry year, but looking at this screenshot, I’m feeling a lot better. Despite the work lacking the grand landscapes and majestic wildlife that I hang my hat on, it’s still quality work in the most part. The difficulty now is in removing some of the images that I know are simply left in the selection for variety.
I kept the more abstract yellow flower shot but the cherry blossom photo really does nothing for me. I can’t justify keeping it in the selection simply to show that I did more than the microscopy work. How I feel about an image as it comes onto the screen is an important indicator, and I feel a slight dip in my mood as that comes on screen, so out it goes. And, as bad as I feel removing it, the woodpecker shot doesn’t really cut the mustard either, so out that goes as well. I also removed the Shinjuku Eye photo from a few weeks ago. I like it, but it doesn’t do that much for me.
From an artistic perspective, as I got down to thirteen images, I decided that the plankton shot had to go too, and the black and white flowerhead shot seemed out of place at this point too. Compared to what’s left, I might as well remove the final abstract yellow flower shot, after all, leaving me with my final ten. That leaves me with just two real-world photos, and the other eight are microscope shots. Of those eight, only the scarab beetle is still something that could just about be seen with the naked eye. I’ll quickly walk you through the final selection before we wrap up for this episode.
We’ll look through these in chronological order rather than a ranking. This first image from the beginning of May was one of the first shots that started to really draw me into the microphotography world. These are citric acid crystals sandwiched between two polarizer filters, which causes these beautiful colors, and the rainbow colors that we’ll see in some of the following images as well. The flower of crystals here grew around a spec of fiber that had gotten onto the microscope slide, and kind of seeded the growth into this particular pattern.
The next image is one of my favorite sodium sulfite crystal shots. The colors are really appealing to me. This was also one of the first shots to show me the potential of these microscopic crystal formations. We’re looking at less than half a millimeter of the world here.
The next image is another sodium sulfite crystal shot, looking like an explosion in space to me. The fact that we can imagine these forms to be pretty much anything is probably part of the attraction for me.
Here’s the scarab beetle I mentioned, which was shot with my stereo microscope as opposed to my compound microscope. I found this beetle dead at the bottom of my apartment steps, which ultimately became my preferred way to shoot insects, as I thought it probably would.
Here is the third and final sodium sulfite crystal shot, which I have actually minted on Foundation, so if you collect NFTs you can check that out on my Foundation page at https://foundation.app/@MBP/~/114844 If this sells for more than 1 Ethereum I’ll send you a large format print as a thank you!
This next shot is one of my wife’s kindly donated gray hairs, which I also sandwiched between two polarizers to create these wacky colors. This was a massive 206 frame focus stack to get the entire knot in focus.
The next image was another eye-opener for me, as I looked at thinly sliced cross-sections of the stem or peduncle of a cucumber to find these vascular bundles. They were stained with light green, as they are almost completely transparent without a bit of stain to help us see them. You can also see the tiny chloroplasts in the cells, which I also got a great higher magnification shot of, but resisted included it in my final selection.
Back to the real-world, here is one of my shots of the Tatsusawa Falls from my October trip that also contributed to keeping me sane this year. These really are beautiful falls and I’m so pleased that I was able to get out there this year.
Here is another real-world shot, which is one of my favorites from a visit to our local park while the autumnal color was gracing us with its presence.
And finally, we travel down into The Abyss, which is actually the microscopic gap between two citric acid crystal formations.
OK, so that’s my top ten for 2021. A very different year from previous years, but as my selection shows, microscope photography is probably here to stay as one of my chosen photographic genres. That’s not to say that I’m not chomping at the bit to get back out into the field, but under the circumstances, I’m relatively happy with the year.
As usual, I invite anyone who has selected your own top ten to leave a comment and share your work with me and the rest of the audience. And finally, a huge thank you to our new Patreon supporters Larry, Char, and Paul, who, along with the rest of the patrons are awesome supporters of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast!