Category Archives: Flowers

Fun Photos from Fredericksburg


Last Saturday morning, October 19th, the Austin Shutterbug Club had an outing to the lovely little town of Fredericksburg in central Texas, near the Hill Country.


Only 5 people showed up. Not sure why. Don’t really care. Those of us that did make it, had a really fun time!


All of these photos were taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, and the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 “kit lens”.  I also had 4 excellent prime lenses in my camera bag, but I never used any of them.


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I did not take any “street photography” photos of people doing interesting things in their environment.


That morning, I was only interested in taking photos of whatever color, pattern, or object that caught my attention.


Snapshots? Sure. Why not?


There are only a couple of photos that the viewer would recognize as someplace in Fredericksburg. The majority of them could have been taken anywhere.


It is late October, and Halloween is near.


I believe that these two steeples belong to St. Mary’s Catholic Church.


That was as far west as we walked. On the way back, I noticed that there seemed to be lots of places for people to sit along the sidewalk.


Some seating was pretty rustic.


And some was rather unusual.


I wonder how comfortable that seat would have been for the framer sitting on his tractor years ago!

Here’s a photo that even says “Fredericksburg” in the photo. This is the 2nd story of the building. I even used Lightroom 5’s new healing brush feature to remove the power line that crossed in front of it.


The 5 of us had a great German lunch at a place near the west end of town, named Friedhelm’s Bavarian Inn. I had the Jager Schntizel. It was great!

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Austin Shutterbug Club Still-Life Workshop


Last Saturday, August 3, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had a still-life and tabletop photography workshop at the Northwest Austin Recreation Center. This was a welcome outing for the month of August, as it was something that we could do indoors, in an air conditioned room!

The workshop was presented by the club’s president, Brian Loflin. Brian had brought along several interesting items that could be arranged on a tabletop and that we could use to photograph, while observing the effects of different lighting techniques.

Brian set-up 4 different still life sets and he emphasized that he was going to light them with very simple setups. The first scene was a bowl of apples in top of a lacey old tablecloth. The light source was a north-facing window to the right of the camera, and a white foam core board was just to the left of the bowl of apples.


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I was using my Canon 5D Mark II camera and my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens for all of these photos. In the photo above, I had set the aperture to f/5.6 to get a relatively shallow depth of field. Later on, I came back to this bowl of apples and shot it with my aperture set to f/25, and as you can see, the table cloth behind the apples is now in focus, too.


In between the two “bowl of apples” shots, Brian had set up an interesting arrangement of old photography books, a pen, and some reading glasses. He used the light from a window, but used to small foam core boards to block the light into a very pleasing “slit of light” across the objects.


Next, he set up a collection of sewing tools and supplies on a black piece of Plexiglass. He then used one of my Fotodiox 312AS LED lights placed behind the objects (backlight) and used two small white foam core boards on either side to bounce some light back onto the fronts of these objects.


Even though Brian had cleaned that sheet of Plexiglass right before he set this scenario up, when I brought this photo up onto my computer monitor, I was very surprised at all of the dust and scratches that the camera had captured. I spent at least 45 minutes in Photoshop cleaning all of that up….

For the last still life setup, Brian had placed a vase of yellow flowers in front of a dark green velvet backdrop. We all set our cameras to capture some ambient light, while we used a snoot on a speedlite to put a circle of light right onto the flowers themselves.


I was very pleased to get the opportunity to participate in this little workshop. It was a fun thing to do inside, away from the Texas summer heat. I could easily see myself doing much more of this type of photography in the future! Maybe I can convert one of our spare bedrooms (sometimes) into a miniature little product and still life photography studio. Honey?

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Austin Shutterbug Club Picnic at Emma Long Park


Last Saturday, July 13, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had a picnic at the Emma Long Park in west Austin.

You get to the Emma Long Park by going west on RM 2222, for about a 1/2 of a mile west of Loop 360, and then turning south on City Park Road. Stay on this windy, scenic road for about 7 miles to get to the park, which is on the north shores of Lake Austin. Now Lake Austin isn’t really a lake, it’s really the Colorado River immediately downstream of Mansfield Dam (which creates Lake Travis) and the Tom Miller Dam in west Austin (West Lake Hills) near the Hula Hut restaurant.

This was not an actual club “photography outing”, but rather an actual, old-fashioned picnic, as seen in the opening photo. (Only half of the members even brought a camera with them.)

I got there right at 9:00 AM, and after spending about 45 minutes socializing with the other club members who had also arrived, I grabbed my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with my “usual” Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, headed across the street and over to the water.


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The photo above is the root of a bald cypress tree. They grow right along the shores of the rivers here in central Texas, and extend their roots right into the water at the shore. Here’s a photo of the leaves and branch structure of this tree.


Here’s a photo looking across Lake Austin to the south shore.


With drought-stricken Lake Travis so low, there are no longer any public boat ramps still open (they don’t go down low enough to get to the current water level), many weekend boat owners have taken to using Lake Austin instead.


As this is a dammed-up river, there really aren’t any waves, except for the ones created by the ski boats!


While standing around talking to a few other club members who had brought their cameras and had come down to join me at the water, this tree seemed to catch my attention.


A couple of the ladies in had even waded into the water, looking for interesting and different photographic opportunities.


Linda, the lady on the left, had a Canon 5D Mark II, with the EF 70 – 200mm f/2.8 L II lens on it. She was not happy with the focusing of her camera, even after Canon had examined it.

After less than 10 minutes at the water’s edge, I decided to head back up to the rest of the group under the large oak shade tree. On the way, I passed this unused cooking grill.


It will remain unused for the time being; due to the severe drought, there is a burn ban, even in the parks.

Even at 10:00 AM, in mid-July, the cloudless Texas sky is very hard and contrasty. There isn’t much you can do about it, other than just not take any photos for about 10 hours of the day….


Or you can just try to make the best of it.


Here’s a photo taken from the position of that rusty grill, looking back toward the water, and the other club members under the tree on the left.


Looking for pretty much anything interesting to take a picture of, I spent a minute playing around with the colorful balloons that Brian had tied to the light stand that he had set up to let the arriving members that this was our spot.


Not wanting to immediately sit down, I wandered around the picnic site for a few minutes, while listening in on the various conversations taking place around me. While doing that, I noticed this unusual axe head (someone had brought it to drive the stakes into the ground for the horseshoe game).


And now to the point of being silly, here is the webbing on the back of the lawn chair that I had brought. :-)


About 10:15 AM, I headed off to the restroom, which was a clean, but steaming hot outhouse. The temperature was certainly close to 90 degrees (32 C) by now. On the way back, I noticed this tiny little flower, so even though it was in direct, mid-day Texas summer sun, I put my lens into macro mode, flipped out my rear LCD panel, held my camera about a foot (30 cm) off the ground, and snapped this photo.


Since we weren’t going to eat until about noon, I still had plenty of time to wander around and take some more photos before it really got hot.

I headed back down to the water’s edge and just waited for some “interesting” waves to roll in.


Even in the summer sun, you can still slow down the shutter to 1/80th of a second (f/7.1 and ISO 200) to get some motion blur to make these tiny waves appear to be much more active than they really are….


Even though my “kit lens” only zooms out to 100mm equivalent (on a full frame camera), it still had enough of a reach to get a few photos of the passing boats. This next photo was cropped to show about 2/3 of the original image’s length and height.


It was now close to 10:30 AM, and the temperature was certainly above 90 degrees, so I decided to head back to the picnic area (again) and put away my little camera and be more social than I had been.

And I’ll let this photo be my closing photo (as the boat goes away into the distance).


We had a very, very nice picnic lunch, and I enjoyed the conversations that flowed around the group. There was a gentle breeze blowing under our large shade tree, which made it surprisingly pleasant – as long as you didn’t move around too much. When we packed up the cars to leave at 1:00 PM, the temperature had already risen to 104 degrees (40 C).

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Austin Shutterbug Club at Zilker Botanical Garden


A couple of weeks ago, on Saturday, June 15, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had an outing where we met at 8:30 AM at the entrance to the Zilker Botanical Garden here in Austin. This outing was organized by myself.

I brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Even though I had three other great prime lenses in my camera bag I never used them. I also brought my Olympus FL-600R flash and my little Gitzo GT1542T tripod.

After my last post where I seemed to have more “screen area” occupied by text, rather than photos, I thought I would try something new in how to present my photos – and keep the words to a minimum.


Helpful Hint: If you click on any of the photos in one of these “mini galleries”, you can then see all of the photos in that mini gallery at a much larger size. When you are finished looking at the larger photos, and wish to return to my blog post, click on the little “X” in the upper left corner of the mini gallery.


All of the photos above were taken in the parking lot or in the Rose Garden area.


About 9:45 AM, I decided to head on over towards the Oriental Garden section.




After spending quite some time in the Oriental Garden area, I got off of the main trail and walked westward, parallel to Barton Springs Road, back toward the main entrance. Since it was still only 10:35 AM, and we were not supposed to leave for lunch until about 11:15, I had some time to kill. While enjoying the shade, and since it was one of the rare times that I had my tripod with the little Olympus camera, I played around and took a few “self photos”.


Near the entrance, but still off of the main path, I discovered a very nice little cactus garden.



It was now 11:00 AM, so I headed back toward the entrance, where I found several of the Austin Shutterbug Club resting in the shade of some grand old trees. After 10 minutes or so of socializing, 15 of us went over to Schlotzsky’s near Zach Theater for lunch – where it was air conditioned!


Although I had a fun time walking around with my camera and mingling with fellow photographers, this set of photos didn’t cry out to me that I really wanted to share them. They are pleasing enough, I suppose, but something is lacking. I’m not sure….

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

Experimenting with Outdoor Macro Photography Using Flash

20130510_Flash_Macro_089We haven’t been working very late into the Friday afternoons at the office lately. So, last Friday (May 10, 2013) I headed home about 2:00 PM. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, even though the temperature was above average – it was going approaching 90 degrees (32 C). I didn’t want to just sit around in the house surfing the web… I wanted to go out and make some photos!

The sky was a clear blue, with virtually no clouds. I thought that might help make some great downtown photos, but I didn’t want to deal with the hour long Friday afternoon rush hour traffic to get home. It was fairly breezy, so I didn’t want to try and do some macro photography of flowers wagging madly in that wind. Or did I?

Earlier in the week, I had attended Syl Arena’s Speedliter’s Intensive Workshop that he held here in Austin. Syl is universally recognized as the world’s renown guru on Canon Speedlite flash photography. If you are a Canon shooter, you simply must buy, read, and re-read his Speedliter’s Handbook.

Now I certainly wasn’t in the mood to be walking around my neighborhood with my heavy Canon 5D Mark II camera, the 100mm (non-IS) macro lens, and a 580EX II Speedlite. I was however, willing to try something new with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. I thought I’d go out and try to stop the flowers in their tracks by using flash….

Now the rest of this blog is aimed toward my photography-oriented friends. If that’s not you, then feel free to stop reading right here and just scroll down through the photos. I’m about to describe the gear and the technique that I used to make these photos….

Since it was nearly 2:30 PM, with the sun high in the sky and no clouds in site, I doubted that I would need the f/2.8 aperture of my new Olympus 60mm macro lens. Instead, I decided that I would take my more versatile Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, which also has a macro mode. (When in macro mode, the focal length is fixed at 43mm; 86mm equivalent on a full frame sensor camera.) On top of that, since it was so dang bright, I put a circular polarizer filter onto it.

Using a low ISO of 200, a small aperture opening (higher f-stop number), and a circular polarizer would normally require the shutter to stay open much longer than one would normally want – if their goal was to stop the motion of a flower wagging in the wind.

I intended to find out if using the very short duration burst of light that a portable flash emits could be used to stop that motion. I grabbed my Olympus FL-600R Wireless Electronic Flash and strapped a Small ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders reflector onto the top of the flash unit.

Since I didn’t want to use the flash while it was mounted in the hot shoe on top of the camera, I also grabbed my Canon OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord. One end of the cord attaches to the hot shoe of the camera, while the other end attaches to the base of the FL-600R flash unit. And yes, the Canon cord works perfectly with the Olympus camera and portable flash.

(I also have a virtually identical cord; the Vello OCS-C6, which is about half the price of the Canon cord. I keep the two cords together in identical zip-lock baggies, and I just happened to pick up the Canon cord.)

I put a spare camera battery into my right pants pocket, and 4 spare AA batteries in a holder into my left pants pocket.

OK, so that was my gear. My camera settings were to operate the camera in manual mode. I wanted the lowest ISO, which is 200 on this camera. I wanted the highest shutter speed, while not exceeding the sync speed of the camera, so I set it to 1/200th of a second. (The sync speed of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is actually 1/250th of a second, but I couldn’t remember that, so I played it safe and set the shutter speed to 1/200th of a second.)

OK, so ISO was 200. Shutter speed was 1/200th of a second. What was my aperture? That was the variable that I played with!  I adjusted the aperture until the meter reading in the electronic viewfinder indicated anything from -1/3 stop down to -2 full stops below a proper exposure. In other words, I was simply underexposing the photo – until I got the flash involved. (Yes, I suppose I could have operated the camera in shutter priority mode and just dialed-in some negative exposure compensation.)


Before heading out into my neighborhood, I went out our back door, onto our deck (patio) and set a custom white balance in the camera. I thought that the direct sunlight would have the same color temperature as the flash, and that they would be about 5500 degrees Kelvin. My WhiBal card indicated differently, and later Lightroom agreed with the camera that there was no color cast with the Temp slider at 5950 and the Tint slider at +3. That’s where I left the white balance on all of the photos that I took later, except for the ones with bright yellow petals. On those, I cooled down the temperature to 5350 degrees Kelvin.


You can see in the photo above how dark (underexposed) the background is. That is what I was trying to do. I was intentionally adjusting the aperture so that the background would be slightly underexposed like that.

The magic happens when I turned on the flash. By putting the flash unit into the automated TTL (Through the Lens metering) mode – instead of manual mode – the flash puts out enough light until the camera thinks it has seen enough light needed for a proper exposure at the current aperture setting. When the camera and flash working together in TTL mode seemed to underexpose or overexpose the object in the foreground, the only control that I had for me to alter the result was by dialing up or down on the Flash Exposure Compensation setting.

I also had to aim the light. In the photo above, it’s pretty easy to see that I was just learning how to deal with this technique. It appears that I was holding the light too low, which resulted in some less than ideal shadows on the petals themselves.

The flash head will automatically widen or narrow the beam of light that it emits in order to cover the field of view that is seem though the lens. The flash was being told by the camera that the focal length of the lens was set to 43mm, so the flash was auto-zooming it’s head to create the relatively narrow beam of light to cover the area that would be seen through a 43mm (86mm equivalent) lens would see. The flash unit had no way of knowing that it was not mounted into the hot shoe on top of the camera, though. I changed the setting on the flash unit to manual zoom and changed it to a much wider beam of light by changing the zoom setting to 25mm (50mm equivalent). That gave a much softer bounced light off of the FlashBender.


This is two-handed photography. I was following a technique where Robin Wong recently described how he does his fabulous macro photography of insects in Malaysia. (Be sure to click that link to see how he does this.) Robin appears to trigger his flash wirelessly, and although the flash that I was using could also be triggered wirelessly, I was using the Canon OC-E3 cord – the camera and flash don’t know that there is a cord between them.


With the FlashBender mounted onto the flash unit, I was bouncing the flash off of it. Just like bouncing flash off of a ceiling or a wall, which makes the light source (the flash) much larger than when aiming the flash head directly at the subject. While I do have the Large size FlashBenders, I was using the much smaller Small size. Unfolded, the Small unit measures 10” x 7” (254mm x 178mm). I had the ends curled in, but not to the point that I had made a tube, or snoot, out of it.


I mention that for two reasons. First, the size of the white surface that I was bouncing the light off of was still about 6″ x 7″ (152mm x 178mm). When I brought it in close to the flower or bee that I was photographing, the relative size of my light was getting to be huge in comparison to the object that I was photographing. That results in very soft shadows. And remember, these photos were all taken in direct sunlight, in the middle of the day!


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The second reason that I mentioned the shape and the closeness of the FlashBender is this: The shutter speed of 1/200th of a second was not what was responsible for stopping the motion of the very busy honey bee. Instead, it was the much shorter duration of the burst of light emitted by the flash that was freezing his motion. Since I was underexposing the photo between -0.7 and -1.3 stops in most of the photos, the flash only had to add enough light the bring the exposure up by about 1 stop.


Since that flash unit was being held very close to my subject, it didn’t really have to put out much more than just a puff of light. The less light it puts out, the less time the flash tube is emitting light, and therefore the duration of the burst of light was probably only about 1/1000th of a second. That is what was freezing the motion of the very busy bees and the constantly wagging flowers!


Again, the only two adjustments that I was making were the aperture (to get me to an underexposed ambient light exposure) and the Flash Exposure Compensation (to manually influence the automated TTL operation of the flash unit). Sometimes I significantly underexposed the background, and sometimes not so much. Sometimes I wanted the flash to put out more light, and sometimes I didn’t.


In the photo above, I had my flash unit underneath the flower, and was bouncing the light up onto the underside of it. You can see the black Velcro edge of my FlashBender in the lower right corner of the photo. I could have removed that in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but then I wouldn’t be able to show you this “trick”!


In this photo, this blossom was on the end of a very long, spindly stalk, and it was wagging back and forth very wildly. It was coming toward me, and then going away from me. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was having a terrible time of trying to focus on it. I just stood there and ripped off a dozen or so photos of it, and hoped that at least one of them would look sharp on my computer monitor. (Two of them did.) So, even with an electronic flash to help freeze motion, the dang camera has to focus on what you want it to!

I also had another new to me experience with this camera while shooting this way. I could see the results of my underexposure in real time by looking into the electronic viewfinder. Obviously that made everything pretty dark, so at times it was difficult to see what was going to be in focus. But, the instant that I would push the shutter button down halfway, two things would happen. First, the image in the electronic viewfinder would instantly get amplified and lit-up by the electronics to what would appear to be a normal exposure, and then (if you were lucky) you would see the focus lock indicator blink (which I had fixed to the center of the screen).

I don’t normally have the Autofocus Assist Beam turned on, but it was about this time on this walk that I decided to turn it on. It didn’t seem to help much… with my setting the autofocus to Single Shot Autofocus, it just didn’t help much with quickly moving objects – and with a macro lens, everything seems to move rather quickly. I seemed to have the most trouble focusing on red colored flowers.


Just to play around with the flash in a different way, I set it to FP TTL Auto mode, which is what Canon calls High Speed Sync flash. The photo above was taken with a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second, and the next one was taken with a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.


In FP TTL Auto mode, the flash unit turns into a very high frequency strobe light. I don’t know how fast the Olympus FL-600R pulses, but the Canon 580EX II pulses at 30,000 times a second! That effectively turns your little flash unit into a strobe that starts flashing before the first curtain of the shutter opens, and continues flashing until after the second curtain has completely closed. Of course, the flash unit cannot pump out its maximum intensity of light while it is doing that, but like I said before, I had my light so close to my subject that I just needed it to put out a puff of light anyway.

You can tell in the previous photo that my light was just outside of the left side of the photo. The Inverse Square Law is definitely in effect here!

That last photo, the flower of the plumbago plant was just 6 inches (15cm) off of the ground. This is when I was really glad that I didn’t have to get down on my knees, bend over and look through the viewfinder while holding the camera in my right hand and the flash in my left hand. Instead, I tilted the rear LCD (it’s really an OLED panel) up, let the camera strap around my neck hold the camera at the desired height, and used my right thumb on the shutter button.


OK, so the FP TTL Auto works just fine, but I didn’t really need to use it, so I set the shutter speed back down to 1/200th of a second. As the photo above shows, even at f/11, and on a Four-Thirds sensor, you just don’t get a lot of Depth of Field when using a macro lens at close range.

The one thing that I really need to improve upon is my composition. Almost all of these photos have the subject in the center of the frame. In self-defense, there are two factors that also lead me down this monotonous path…. First, I set my autofocus point to be the one in the center of the  frame. If I didn’t do that, the camera would tend to focus on the part of the flower that was closest to the camera. In general that would be OK, but that makes it virtually impossible to focus on a bee, or other object that is not the front object. The second factor is that these flowers, and bees, were almost in constant motion. It doesn’t take much movement, when shooting at these close distances, to have 1/3 or more of the flower end up being cut-off as the wind quickly accelerates the flower from where it just was. There were several flowers that I tried to photograph that afternoon, where I was not successful in getting the entire flower into the picture – so centered in the frame is what I usually walked away with.

Now this next photo is unusual to me. A cloud came over us, dimming amount of sunlight. To get my ambient exposure down to about -1 stop, the aperture was f/10 and the shutter was a relatively long 1/50th of a second.


As soon as I took the photo, the review image that shows up in the electronic viewfinder showed violet flower in an electric, iridescent color. I don’t know if the slower shutter speed had any effect on that or not. It seems that the white balance contribution between the ambient and the flash was the same as all of the other photos, but something was making the flash turn these flowers into something psychedelic. Maybe I had spent too much time photographing the poppies down the street….


This is the yellow flower of the prickly pear cactus, and they look like they are going to put on a spectacular showing this year. Cactus flowers are easy to photograph, simply because they don’t move very much when the wind blows!

Not knowing what the heck was going on with the colors (all of a sudden), I bounced the shutter speed back up to 1/250th of a second to capture this trio of lantanas.


I was almost home, so just to get familiar with the modes of the flash, I set the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second (aperture f/6.3), and had the flash in FP Auto TTL mode for this single lantana bloom.


It is worth repeating this: these photos were taken in the middle of the day, under what is considered to be extremely hard lighting conditions. Look again at the photo directly above, and see if you can spot the hard edge of the shadows. I can’t.

I was pleased to see that I had found a way to freeze the motion of the wagging flowers, without having to take a dozen photos and the toss out the blurry ones later. As long as the camera would achieve focus and then snap the shutter before the flower (or bee) had moved out of the range of focus (depth of field), the flash would freeze them in place for me.

I would like to mention that this was the very first time that I have ever wished that I had a more substantial grip area on the camera. I’m sure it was because I had been shooting for nearly two hours by holding the camera in only my right hand. My hand was beginning to get stiff and somewhat sore. I had been holding the camera with two fingers and a thumb – while my third finger was on the shutter button and my pinky finger was curled into my palm underneath the camera body.

Next time I will attach my Really Right Stuff BOEM5 base plate for the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Maybe it will be enough extra area to hold on to.

Just three houses from my home, I spotted this “camo lizard” on my neighbor’s driveway. I popped my lens out of its macro mode zoomed it all the way out to 50mm and walked as close as I thought I could get to this little guy and snapped this photo. Even the soft sound of the shutter on this mirrorless camera was all that it took to have him scurry off to safety under their car.


The last thing that I would like to mention here is about my batteries. I took over 340 photos in under 2 hours. All but about 5 of those photos were flash photos. I never had to change the battery in my camera, or the AA batteries in the FL-600R flash unit. I never would have predicted that! It just goes to prove that you can overpower the mid-day sun with little puffs of light.

Thank you for visiting my blog!