Stacking the grasshopper

If you are hoping for some obscure Japanese game show then I am sorry but you have come to the wrong place. There are indeed some decidedly odd games shows in Japan but I think they are not suitable for the audience I try to reach. Stacking the grasshopper is a rather weak follow-on from yesterday’s tale of the gropper’s outing to Shatin. I was checking the plants on the balcony this morning to see if there were any nice lepidoptera larvae to photograph but all I could find was a grasshopper. I wish I could assert that it was the same adventurous explorer, who hitched a ride on the Audi but even the most basic of ID skills tells me it is not.

Be that as it may I wanted to try to get a decent shot and I decided to try out my stacking software again. So all the images were shot at F3.5, etc. etc.  You know the routine by now. Here is my final output courtesy of those awfully nice people at Helicon Focus.

Xenocatantops brachycerus

Not too bad. I didn’t get the right hand antenna despite thinking that I had. None of the source images gave me anything good enough to copy in. Other than that though it has succeeded reasonably well. Maybe 7/10 for technical expertise and about 5/10 for interest and aesthetic appeal. I am a very generous marker when assessing my own work. Did I ever mention that I was offered fried grasshoppers in Buenos Aires once? It was over ten years ago so I honestly don’t remember whether I ate them. I suspect I opted for half a hundredweight of prime beef. I have eaten snails though.

Now this is the Photoshop CS4 effort.

Look carefully at Mr. Gropper’s rear end. See the ghosting? Yup. So do I and I don’t like it. And PS has “image align”. Now in fairness my first effort with HF also had similar ghosting:

This could of course be down to bad technique on my part but as I looked very carefully through Live View I realized that the grasshopper was breathing in and out quite visibly. This is barely visible to the naked eye. Bit when magnified by 5x or 10x it looks like an earthquake. And it manifested itself in the rear section of the abdomen. Shocking…… breathing grasshopper. Or something like that.

So I redid the HF version and retouched it by using a ‘clean’ image to sharpen up both this aspect and the near antenna, which also moved slightly. The HF effort took about 3 or 4 minutes to run the original stack and then maybe 5 minutes of fiddling to do the touch up. PS CS4 on the other hand took about half an hour to process the 14 images and still failed. The recommendation is to ‘clone out any ghosting’. Well I’m sorry but I just don’t have the time to spare. Maybe CS5 or 6 has a very quick way of doing this. Conceivably CS4 has too but if so, this user isn’t sufficiently advanced to do that and I can do without spending half an evening agonizing over the final image. I’ll take the HF 5 minute job. As John Cleese asked of Michael Palin, “is this a 5 minute argument or the full half hour?”

So there we are. HF wins again on time and faithfulness. And after going through this exercise I think I shall try to sell this to a Japanese TV channel as a game show. I think it may catch on.

Damselfly Macro

I thought I would report on a single image today. This is it.

Balancing Act

I took this at the Lion’s Nature Education Centre near Sai Kung.  The EXIF tells me it was 10.26am.

I went out with my wife and the dog and I didn’t really know what to expect. A mid-morning start is rarely productive and it is always a worry to me when I have company. Whilst I am fully occupied it can get pretty boring for the   entourage. However I do find the extra pair of eyes useful at keeping track if the subject moves suddenly. These damselflies were on the small frog pond. As I approached I heard a rapid succession of plops. The frogs saw me coming. So I was left with a pair of Copera ciliata.

The pond has both good and bad aspects. It is difficult to get good access all the way around but it is slightly elevated so it is possible to get the tripod almost down to damselfly level if they are in the right position. A further challenge is getting a decent background. Many of the shots I declined because they simply looked too messy. Finally, these are dark subjects against white lotus flowers. I get confused between water-lilies and lotus plants so do correct me if I am wrong.

Over a 30 minute session I took about 10 frames and this was the one I finally chose. In some instances the damselflies are not parallel to the camera so depth of field was a problem and I wanted the entire insect to be sharp. If the plant was out of focus so much the better. However even here the upper damselfly created a problem because the background is dark whereas the lower one has a white background. The reason I took relatively few frames was because the damselflies were very skittish. As the temperature warms up they become more mobile. I waited for them to settle each time but even slight adjustments to my position or the tripod seemed to spook them. Lengthy disturbance is clearly not good so I left feeling I had not really managed a decent shot. I am always conscious of walking a fine line between getting a good shot and not disturbing the subject unnecessarily.

Composition was helped by a little cropping but not too much. I processed the shot without too much messing around but I did use selective exposure adjustment on the upper damselfly to increase the visibility of the wings. I also made the background slightly darker to help the contrast and desaturated the whites slightly. I ran a sharpening macro and that was about it.

When I posted this image it received more favourable reactions than I had expected. Sometimes you go out and feel the morning has not been very productive. That was my sense when we headed home. However I had two or three other reasonable shots. Strangely, the image above was not my favourite but as soon as I put this image and indeed my preferred picture into the public domain others passed their own verdicts. So be it.

For the techies, this was the Canon 5D mk III with a 180mm F3.5 macro lens on a tripod, ISO 200, 1/250s at F5.0. No flash was used although I did use the flash with a diffuser on later images that morning. My learning journey continues.

More macros with the 5D mk III

I was in the park this morning as soon as the gate opened. My trusty 180mm F3.5 macro lens attached to the 5D mk III. I was a little concerned as there were a few spots of drizzle and I am not clear how water-resistant the body is. I had a cover to hand but luckily the drizzle came to nothing. Light was poor and humidity was high. The mosquitoes were out and about but I had long sleeves and long trousers to protect me. They still managed to get my neck though and to add major insult to injury a bird pooped on my head. Just a small parting gift. If you want to get a head get a hat.

There were plenty of frogs around today but the big pond is useless for decent shots as it is surrounded by a pathway that allows you to photograph only over or through a fence. There is no way to get down to frog’s eye-level. One of the small ponds does allow this. The flip side of this is that the frogs see you coming a mile off and normally plop into the water PDQ. Today one rather helpful frog decided to carry on with his morning float. apparently unconcerned by me wielding a lens in his face. Not really but he did not seem perturbed as I went within a few feet.

The Floater

This was my approach shot from the left – note if you will the rather snazzy red knees. And then from the right hand side:

Right profile

On the big pond and therefore suitable only for a plan shot rather than a side elevation was this rather ugly bullfrog:

Hoplobatrachus sinensis

But the prize for the day went to another Rana guentheri, displaying a remarkable resemblance to George Chisholm (for the elderly amongst us)

The trombone frog

Now I am pretty impressed with the 5D but someone said my recent larvae shot was out of focus AND over-exposed. My dudgeon was pretty high over this but sadly it was right. After watching the group again I worked out that although they appear to be static the individuals are in fact moving and my shot was a 2sec exposure. Enough to ruin it. So today I went armed with a flash. I did not however go with any working batteries. Note to self, remember to check the batteries before you go out not when you are in the field. My other flash is powered by rechargeables and I must get a second set to be greener. But wait, I now have a camera with decent high ISO so I just whacked it up to ISO 6400  and that gave me the lightning fast shutter speed of 1/13s. Oh well, it was enough to catch a caterpillar in motion.

Metanastria gemella

Cute aren’t they in a larval sort of way. I found a much bigger congregation later on but the loud humming noise suggested I was either very close to a high tension power cable or a wasp/bee nest.Discretion was indeed the better part of valour.

Two final shots:

A rather dainty damselfly

Copera ciliata

And the piece de resistance, a robber fly.

Robber fly - Asilidae sp.

This was my favourite shot of the day and I hope you like it too.