Category Archives: Macro

Photos of My New Computer Build

It’s been just over 2 weeks since my last post, in which I mentioned that I was waiting for the delivery person to bring my new computer that I had ordered. It arrived very soon after that, and everything seemed to be just what I had ordered. Since I am an Electrical Engineer, with my specialization being in computer systems, I didn’t order just any computer. No, there would be some assembly required…

20130909_New_Computer_Case_001

While I intend to keep this blog as “my adventures in photography”, this particular blog will reveal some of my engineering nerdy-ness. While I put together my new computer, I did take some photos of the process. I used my little Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera on top of my big Gitzo tripod. For the background, I just used some reflectors and diffusion panels that I have. For the lighting, I sometimes used natural light coming through the window, but since I took these photos after work in the evening, I mainly used two Fotodiox LED panels on a couple of small light stands.

I will try to keep the geeky-ness to a minimum. I’m not going to explain why I chose the components that purchased. I’m just going to show them to you, and tell you what they are.

Before I get into the photos showing how I put this computer together, I just want to vent my frustration for a minute about the current state of the personal computer market, and Microsoft Windows in particular.

*** Rant Mode Now Turned On

Computer companies like Dell and HP are selling far fewer desktops and laptop computers than they did last year, and the year before that. All of the analysts say it is because everyone is moving to tablets and high end cell phones.

I think that’s a small part of it, but doesn’t explain the huge reduction in sales (of laptops and desktops). Tablets and high end cell phones are great for checking your email, surfing the web, killing time seeing what your “friends” are up to on Facebook, etc. Companies need real computers for office workers to do real work on. People like me that enjoy photography, might want a tablet to show off a portfolio of photos on, but I need a real computer to process the RAW files that my cameras produce. I damn sure don’t want to do that on a 10″ screen with some cute little apps running on a processor that simply cannot compete with what’s available on a desktop (but maybe a low-end laptop).

Furthermore, the last fricking thing that I am interested in is a touchscreen-based monitor on my desktop (Windows 8). For crying out loud, I’ve got this beautiful EIZO 24″ monitor; and why would I want to replace it with something just so I could smudge it all up with my finger oil? I don’t get it, and I suspect that millions of others do not, and will not get it, either. I think THAT’S why people are not buying Windows-based desktops and laptops. Even though millions of people would like to have a new computer, they are either going to just keep using their same old computer and wait to see if things get better with Windows 9 (Windows 8.1 isn’t gonna do it), or they are switching to Apple computers. In the meantime, they’ll just buy a tablet or a new high-end Android smart phone or a new iPhone.

*** Rant Mode Now Turned Off

I could get along without a new computer, but Barb is still using a 7 1/2 year old Dell XPS-400 running Windows XP. About 2 years ago I replaced the hard drives and the battery on her motherboard, so it could probably go another 3 or 4 years. However, Microsoft will be “end of life”ing Windows XP next April 8th, which is about 6 months from now. So in the end I decided to get myself a new high-end computer and to move her over to my current computer.

I like Windows 7 a lot, especially the 64-bit version. You can still purchase a new computer with Windows 7 installed on it, but most likely it is built with last year’s components. That means that you probably would not get any USB 3.0 ports, and the SATA ports that transfer data to and from your hard drive (or SSD) would be SATA II (3 Gb/s) instead of the new SATA III (6 Gb/s).

I decided to build myself a high-end computer with new, modern components, and put a 4 year old operating system onto it (Windows 7 first came out in October of 2009).

Let me just say that the total cost of all of the components (including a new $100 mechanical keyboard and $80 mouse which I didn’t really have to have) AND the Windows 7 64-bit installation disk set me back right at $2300. That’s about what an entry-level Mac Pro would cost. I have nothing against just buying a Mac Pro but I don’t think you can “hot rod” a Mac Pro like I’ll be doing to this computer. (That $2300 is about what I paid for my original 128kB Macintosh back in 1984.)

The mid-size tower computer case in the photo above is the CoolerMaster RC-692A-KKN5. It comes with 2 USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports on the front, and also comes with 3 fans installed.

That case was the first component to be delivered, which was on a Friday afternoon. You can’t do much computer building with just the case (other than check for shipping damage), so it just sat until I got home from work on Monday.

The first thing that I did was to get the whole “air flow” strategy implemented by moving two of the fans that CoolerMaster installed, and adding a Noctua NF-S12AFLX and three NF-A14 FLX fans.

20130909_New_Computer_Case_008

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

In the photo above, if you look carefully, you should see 5 of the 6 fans that I installed into the case. This is a view looking up from the bottom into the case. The 120mm fan on the back (left side of the photo) and the two 140mm fans in the top are installed so that they blow air out of the case. We all know that hot air rises, and these fans are at the top of the case, so their purpose is to exhaust the hot air out of the case.

At the very bottom, hidden behind the mesh dust filter, is another 140mm fan, which sucks air into the case from underneath, and blows this cool air up to the top.

That compartment in the lower right corner is the “hard drive cage”, which can hold up to 6 disk drives. On the right side of that cage, which is really the lower front of the unit, the clear acrylic 140mm fan that CoolerMaster provided sucks air in from the front and through the hard drive cage, keeping those disk drives cool. On the left side of that hard drive cage is a black colored 120mm fan (with all of the colored wires pass behind) that “pulls” air from the hard drive cage into the middle of the case. (Later on I replaced that black fan with an extra Noctua 120mm fan that I had left over from my last computer build.)

Not shown in this, or any of the photos in this post is a 7th case fan. It is mounted in the left side panel (the large side closest to you), which sucks cool air into the case and blows it right onto the video card.

So the “air flow strategy” is to suck in cooler air from the front, left side, and the bottom, and then blow it out of the top and the back of the case. There is a little arrow on all of these fans indicating which way the air will move through it when it is spinning – double-check to make sure none are in backwards!

Yes, there are 7 fans installed in this case, but you should not think that this computer will sound like a hover craft when it is running! These larger 140mm fans do not spin at high RPMs. They top out at 1200 RPM. Only the two fans pushing and pulling air through the hard drive cage will be spinning at full speed all of the time. The other 5 fans that you see here (plus the two that I will add later to the CPU heatsink) have their speed controlled by the motherboard. They spin about half speed at room temp, and gently ramp up to full speed when the CPU reaches temperatures that should only occur when stress-testing the new computer build. Also, all of the tan and reddish-brown Noctua fans are attached to the case using some very pliable silicon anti-vibration pads, instead of using screws.

Here’s a look at the case standing upright, with the front and side panels removed.

20130909_New_Computer_Case_010

Now that all of the case fans have been installed, it’s time to mount the power supply into the case.

20130909_New_Computer_Case_018

That’s a Corsair HX850 power supply. What’s nice about it is that it is a “modular” power supply. That means that the unused cables can simply be unplugged from the unit. That makes a world of difference when you get to the end of the build and you have to find someplace to put all of those unused cables.

Oh yea, that power supply also has a fan inside of it. It pulls air in from under the computer, and exhausts it out of the back. That fan doesn’t run at all, until the power supply is putting out about 35% of its rated load of 850 Watts (so it may not turn on at all when the computer is sitting around in idle mode). That brings our total “fan count” up to 8.

20130909_New_Computer_Case_030

That’s a look at the right side of the unit, with the power supply cables at the bottom, the colored cables coming from the front control panel, and a couple of the fan cables.  Without a “modular” power supply, there would be more than twice the number of power supply cables that you see here. Of course I later needed to use several power supply cables that are not shown here to provide power to my disk drives, DVD burners, and the two fans that move air though the hard drive cage.

Computer cases are needed to hold everything together, and to provide good air flow. But they certainly are not sexy. Motherboards are sexy!

20130910_New_MotherBoard_003

The motherboard that I chose for this build is an ASUS Maximus VI Hero board.

Motherboards are where all of the action happens. This is the socket where the CPU (for Central Processor Unit, microprocessor, or just processor) will live.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_006

Let’s open that socket and have a look.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_007

This socket holds what Intel calls an LGA-1150 package. This is the new package that Intel is putting all of its 4th Generation Intel Core Processors (code named “Haswell”) into. Here is the microprocessor that I purchased.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_008

Most people have heard of Intel i3, i5, and i7 processors. They generally know that i5 is better than i3, and that i7 is better than i5. They don’t know why they are better… they just are. (If you are interested to find out, click here.) When someone tells me that they bought a new computer and mention that it has an Intel i7 processor in it, I always reply with “Cool! Which one?”. Of course this just gets a blank stare. They don’t know because the computer manufacturers do not tell them. There are literally dozens of Intel i7 processors out there.

All you really need to know is that the Intel i7-4770K is currently the highest performance Quad-Core processor that you or I can purchase. (There are two Hex-Core processors that are faster, though.) That little “K” on the end of the part number is immensely significant. Intel “unlocked” the clock multipliers on the i5-4670K and the i7-4770K processors. This allows these two models to be operated above the rated speeds of 3.4 GHz and 3.5 GHz, respectively. This is called “overclocking” the processor.

I fully intended to do find out just how far I could overclock my new computer, and then eventually back off a bit for everyday use. Everything that I have read in my research tells me that an air-cooled, really good i7-4770K should be able to run at 4.8 GHz, while the real dogs can only get up to 4.2 or 4.3 GHz. I thought that even if I purchased a real dog, that I would be very happy with 4.2 GHz!

Here’s that shiny new microprocessor in its new home.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_015

If you increase the clock rate of a CPU just a little bit, it will run faster. Turn up the clocks a little bit more and it will probably have insufficient voltage to run at that speed and will crash. Upping the voltage will get you up and running again at this higher speed, but the CPU will also be generating more heat. Your cooling solution must be able to dissipate this heat. Even at the rated speed (3.5GHz for this one), no CPU will run without a heatsink attached to it. Here are the brackets installed that my heatsink will later attach to.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_021

The real art of overclocking is to learn just how little of a voltage increase is needed to allow you to run at the next faster rate. The least amount of voltage provided, without crashing due to voltage starvation, will also generate the least amount of heat. To insure that you are not going to crash due to voltage starvation, you must have your processor running the biggest, baddest programs that you can find. There are lots of stress test programs out there. I am using both AIDA64 and an old version of Prime95 (v25.11).

Even as you continue bumping up the voltage just enough to allow you to run faster, you will eventually come to a point where you can no longer keep the temperature under control. Intel recommends that you keep the internal CPU temperatures below 85 degrees Celsius (185 F), but it will operate without damage up to 100 degrees C (boiling water!). World records are set by overclockers who use liquid nitrogen to keep their CPUs cool enough to operate. Serious overclockers use liquid cooling, much like the radiator in your car keeps the engine cool. I’m in the 3rd class of overclockers… I choose to use a simple heatsink and fan combination. Here’s my heatsink.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_026

That’s the Noctua NH-U14S heatsink, which comes with a NF-A15 fan.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_027

That fan pushes cool air into the heatsink. The NH-U14S also comes with a spare set of fan clips and extra thick anti-vibration pads for mounting a 2nd NF-A15 fan to the heatsink.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_028

That second fan pulls air from the heatsink. This push-pull configuration is just like what I did with the two fans mounted to the hard drive cage. (The fan count is now up to 10.)

Time to add the 16 GB of memory to the motherboard.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_031

Those two red and black memory modules (called DIMMs for Dual In-line Memory Modules) are a Corsair Vengeance Pro 16 GB kit, which consists of two 8 GB DIMMs. They operate a DDR3-1866 speeds, which is really 933 MHz.

That’s all of the preparation work needed for the motherboard. Time to sit back and admire our work so far!

20130910_New_MotherBoard_032

Just to put this motherboard in someplace safe, let’s put it into the computer case.

20130910_New_MotherBoard_037

Here you can see the 3 exhaust fans at the top of the case near the CPU heatsink and its two fans.

I prepared the case by mounting all of the fans and power supply on Monday evening (with Monday Night Football) going on. I prepared the motherboard the next evening. I took Wednesday evening off, and came back on Thursday evening to wrap up all of this hardware assembling.

The first item to add was the video card. This one is made by EVGA, and it is the GTX-760 SuperClocked model.

20130913_New_Computer_003

Notice that this video card has two fans of its own, and that brings the total fan count up to 12. (That’s the final fan!) They pull in cool air from the bottom area of the case, and about half of that is exhausted out the back, and the other half just gets blown back out into the case. That doesn’t fit right in with the otherwise pristine “air flow strategy”, but it’s not all that bad.

Next I installed two ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD Burners.

20130913_New_Computer_009

Why two of them? Just habit, I guess. Anyway, they are just $20 each, so why not? (Photo is backlit by natural light coming in from my office window.)

That’s all that I need to do up front, so it’s time to put the front panel onto the case.

20130913_New_Computer_010

Swinging around to the left side, I opened up the latching covers for the hard drive cage. This case will hold 6 disk drive units. The top latching cover is completely removed, but the other 5 are swung open to have a look inside.

20130913_New_Computer_012

The top and bottom drive bays are good place to tuck in the middle portions of cables that are longer than I needed them to be, and you can see that’s what I’ve done. The next to the bottom bay is where I put my SSD (Solid State Drive). It’s a Samsung 840 Pro Series 256 GB drive. Since it generates very little heat, and since hot air rises, that’s why it’s at the bottom.

Above that, in drive bays 3 and 5, I installed two Western Digital Caviar Black 1 TB hard disk drives. I like the Caviar Black series of hard drives, as they come with a 5 year warranty.

I didn’t put these two drives in adjacent bays, simply to help with the air flow between them. You can clearly see how they are positioned relative to the little 120mm pull (exhaust) fan that mounted to the hard drive cage.

The DVD Burners and all three disk need their own SATA data cable, and they all needed to be connected to the power supply. All of those connections have already been made, and if you look closely (and know what you are looking for), you can see small portions of those black cables.

That is a pretty clean, uncluttered interior for a computer case! It needs to be that way to keep the air flow as smooth as possible.

Where are the other portions of these cables? Well they are hidden around back, on the right side of the case.

20130913_New_Computer_014

The loose cables that you see here are all that remain to be connected. These are the front panel items like the power and reset buttons, the 2 USB 3.0 ports, the two USB 2.0 ports, and the headphone and microphone jacks.

Let’s hook all of that stuff up, and here’s the finished wire management behind the right side panel.

20130913_New_Computer_015

At this point, there’s nothing left to do but to put the side panels back on!

20130922_New_Computer_Test_009

Remember that clear acrylic fan that pushed the cool air into the hard drive cage? Well it comes with a blue LED to light it up.

20130922_New_Computer_Test_008

Fortunately, there is also a switch on the front panel that can turn that off…

That’s really all of the photos that I took showing how I built my new computer. For the only remaining hardware to add, I went to our storage closet and got out an old Dell monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. It’s all software after this point. Install the Windows 7 64-bit OS and install all the latest drivers for this motherboard and video card. For anyone not interested in overclocking their CPU, then they are done at this point.

But I am interested in overclocking, so my next steps were to install some specialized programs that allow me to really stress the system, and to monitor its voltages and temperatures while I’m doing it.

20130922_New_Computer_Test_003

This phase of the project can take several hours to get it roughly where you want it. It can also take up to a couple of weeks, if you really want to fine tune everything, and really make sure that it is stable and a computer that you can always trust.  Right now I’m just over a week into it.

So what are my results so far? Was it worth all of those fans and giant heatsink?  I’m very happy right now! I have kept excellent records as I worked, and I can now pretty accurately determine where my voltage vs. frequency vs. temperature envelopes are. I have created and saved several UEFI (aka BIOS) sets of settings that instantly get me to stable overclocks of 4.5 GHz and 4.4 GHz. I never could get anything stable at 4.6 GHz, without using very high voltages and not running heavy loads. I originally thought that I would be very happy with 4.2 GHz, but I haven’t run this computer that slow in over a week now. I’m sure that I will end up at either 4.4 GHz or 4.3 GHz and then just leave it there for the next 6 or 7 years.

I have no idea if anyone out there enjoyed this blog post or not. It’s not technical enough for an overclockers discussion, and it’s way too geeky for my photography friends. What it is though, is the combination of my two passions!

Thanks for stopping by today!

Austin Shutterbug Club Still-Life Workshop

20130803_ASC_Still_Life_WS_002

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.

20130803_ASC_Still_Life_WS_005

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

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.

20130803_ASC_Still_Life_WS_013

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.

20130803_ASC_Still_Life_WS_008

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.

20130803_ASC_Still_Life_WS_015

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.

20130803_ASC_Still_Life_WS_023

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 at Zilker Botanical Garden

20130615_Zilker_Gardens_001

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.

20130615_Zilker_Gardens_126

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

20130615_Zilker_Gardens_129

 

 

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”.

20130615_Zilker_Gardens_191

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

20130615_Zilker_Gardens_193

20130615_Zilker_Gardens_199

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!

20130615_Zilker_Gardens_201

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.)

20130510_Flash_Macro_004

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_031

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_055

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_122

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_136

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!

20130510_Flash_Macro_069

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_140

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!

20130510_Flash_Macro_164

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_178

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”!

20130510_Flash_Macro_200

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_245

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_254

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_271

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_298

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….

20130510_Flash_Macro_305

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_313

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_316

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.

20130510_Flash_Macro_343

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!

Capturing Spring with the Olympus 60mm Macro Lens

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_005

Less than 48 hours after we went on the tour of Circuit of the Americas race track here in Austin, TX, I went for my second walk around my neighborhood with my new Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 lens. I had it on my trusty little Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. The LH-49 lens hood had finally come in to Precision Camera, and I had it on my lens for this flower hunting excursion.

Spingtime has been in full swing here for over a month now, and I really wanted to get out and photograph some of the beautiful flowers while they were still out in full force.

So, on Saturday April 27, 2013 I went for a 3 and a half hour walk before lunch.

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_013

Single

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_020

Double

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Fortunately, the sunlight was diffused by an overcast sky full of clouds. There was only a mild breeze when I started out, but it did get progressively stronger as I went along. Also, the clouds dissipated over the course of the morning, and by the time I got home, the direct sunlight was really making this type of photography a real challenge.

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_047

View from Above

 20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_068

Same Flower from Below

I was determined to try and do a better job of catching the flowers at a standstill this time out. Even in a mild breeze they seem to wag around continuously, and never come to a complete standstill for more than a fraction of a second. As a result, I always took multiple photos of the same flower.

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_097

About to Bloom

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_158

Honey Bee

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_185

Oleander Blossom

Even though the lens is a macro lens, it can also be used as a standard mild telephoto lens (120mm equivalent on a full frame camera).

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_227

Yard Bunnies

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_240

Purple Iris with Wary Insect

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_257

Wasp

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_265

Busy Bee

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_333

Bee in a Poppy

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_354

Poppy Seeds and Poppy Flower

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_399

Ants on an Orange Lantana Blossom

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_453

The size of this very small Prickly Pear bud is about 1/2 inch (1 cm) across!

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_491

This photo of a Texas Bluebonnet was cropped from a landscape orientation to this portrait orientation.

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_515

Multiple colors

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_555

Garden Bunny with Yellow Rose

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_569

This little flower had a bug on it (at the top) and several water droplets still on it from the lawn sprinkler.

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_575

This photo shows just how breezy it had become. Besides, I like our US flag!

At this point I had been gone for just over 2 and a half hours and I noticed that my low battery indicator was starting to flash. That was over 575 photos with a single battery! I didn’t wait for it to die on me, so I changed it out with the spare one I had in my pocket.

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_612

Yellow Flower

 

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_637

With light colored flowers like this, I add from +2/3 to +1 stop of exposure compensation. It is very easy to see that this is needed, due to the excellent electronic viewfinder built into this Olympus OM-D camera.

Now on the very same plant as the flowers in that previous photo, was this tiny little lizard. I don’t know who was more surprised to see the other, but he didn’t move more than 6 inches (15 cm) while he watched me take 15 photos of him!

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_651

Little Lizard

And this next photo seemed to be a fitting analogy to my morning. Just like this busy little bee was covered in pollen, he was still hard at work. Similarly, even though I had several hundred photos already on my memory card, I was still hunting intently for more of God’s beautiful creations to photograph up close!

20130427_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_670

I had a lot of fun walking around with my new macro lens. With the breezy conditions, I was intently focused on trying to capture some sharper photos than I did on my previous outing with this lens. I believe that I accomplished that, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

After reviewing several hundred photos from this outing, one thing that quickly becomes obvious is that I need to get the center of attention away from dead center in the frame.

I hope that you enjoyed seeing this set of macro photos, and I thank you for visiting my blog!

Neighborhood Macro Photo Walk

20130414_New_Macro_Lens_042

For those of you who have been reading my blog for any length of time know that I like to shoot close-up photos, mainly of flowers, but also other things that I find interesting. The “kit” lens that I bought with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera is the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens. This lens has a macro mode, which you get into by pushing a button on the side of the lens, and then sliding the outer barrel of the lens backwards towards the camera. When in the macro mode, the magnification is 0.7 to 1, so it isn’t quite a true macro lens, which is generally defined to have a magnification of 1 to 1. In addition, the lens has its focal length fixed at 43mm (86mm equivalent) when in this macro mode.

Now that spring has fully sprung here in Austin, I really wanted to get out and photograph some of the beautiful flowers that I was seeing from my car as I would drive in and out of my neighborhood.

I remember reading the excellent hands-on review of the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 lens that Robin Wong had put together last September. I decided that it was finally time to open my wallet and make my first purchase of any type of photography equipment in many, many months.

If you are interested in a macro lens for your Micro Four Thirds camera, be sure to visit Robin’s blog to see the fantastic images that he was able to capture with this lens. You can find all three parts by clicking the links that I provide for you here:

Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro Lens Preview

Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro Review: Extreme Close Up Shooting

Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro Review: General Shooting

So, on Saturday, April 13, 2013 I made my first visit to the beautiful new Precision Camera store on Anderson Lane here in Austin. They had only one of the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 lens left, and it looked to be in great shape, so I bought it. They did not have the lens LH-49 lens hood, so I had them order that for me.

When I got home, I only had an hour or so before we had company over for dinner, so I only had time to read through the few pages in the manual, and to re-read Robin Wong’s “Lens Preview” again. I needed to understand the Focus Limiter switch worked (specifically in the “temporary” 1:1 setting).

The next morning, I was anxious to play a bit with my new lens, and that’s when I took the photo above, which is the zipper on the blue pouch that my Lastolite LL LR1250 12-Inch EzyBalance Calibration Card came in.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

It wasn’t until lunch that I had a chance to go walking around my neighborhood with my new lens, but by then, the morning clouds had vanished, and I was faced with direct, hard sunlight.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_001

The first thing that you have to learn to deal with with this lens is the 60mm focal length. That’s a 120mm equivalent on a full-frame camera. That’s good for a macro lens, as you don’t have to be as close to your subject as a shorter focal length lens. That’s a bit much telephoto to be used as a normal “walk around the neighborhood” lens.

The sunlight was very bright, and not diffused by any clouds. Worse than that, there was a pretty good breeze. That’s bad for someone attempting to do some macro photography of flowers – they seem to wag around continuously, and never come to a complete standstill for more than a fraction of a second.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_009As a result, I always took multiple photos of the same flower. Some varieties of flowers seemed to be less prone to constant “wagging in the wind” than other varieties – so I only photographed some flowers 3 times, but many I photographed 7, 8, 9, or even 10 times. Even then, there were a few flowers that I ended up with none of them being “good enough” to show you here, and I didn’t keep any of them….

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_014

You might think that I’m being a “sharpness snob”, but I don’t think so. The previous photo and the next photo are not really sharp when viewed at 100% on my 24″ monitor.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_021

This macro lens is supposed to be super-sharp, but this will never be a blog post to prove that! About the only way that I could have improved my situation would have been to use an electronic flash to better “freeze” the flowers with the very short duration burst of light.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_035

I didn’t anticipate the “wagging flower” problem to be as bad as it was. Maybe the 60mm focal length exaggerated it more than I was accustomed to with the 43mm focal length of my 12-50mm lens when it is in macro mode. That probably contributed some to my difficulty, but let’s face it, it was just too windy, but I was determined to play with my new toy, so I just did the best that I could…. and I was having a blast doing it!

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_042

Harsh, direct sunlight and a breezy spring day were making my job difficult. The weather was gorgeous, and I was having fun. Those of you who have read this far are having to suffer more than I did. ;-)

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_053

This next photo is a common dandelion seed head. It’s a weed, but I thought it was pretty.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_061

Hey, now here’s something blooming that wasn’t being affected by the wind!

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_079

Those little cacti “spheres” were about the diameter of a baseball. That was small enough to use my body to cast a shadow over it.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_080

Finally, putting that 60mm macro lens to the 1:1 setting, I was able to point it straight into one of the flowers on top of that cactus.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_087

And just so I wouldn’t get run over by a car, I would occasionally watch where I was walking, and then I might see something that a slight telephoto (120mm equivalent) might be handy for.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_119

Palm trees are not common in Austin, but they do exist.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_133

By now it was 2:30 PM, and with the sun directly overhead, I was looking for flowers in the shade, or using my body to create the shade.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_167

By doing so, you sometimes have to put your body into some pretty strange positions, and even then it isn’t possible to always eliminate “hot spots” in the background that you cannot also shade.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_179

I don’t know what this next variety of a flower is, but I like it! I only saw it in one neighbor’s yard.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_197

You’ve seen plenty of this next one, which is a Texas Bluebonnet – our state flower.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_205

Some people plant them in their yard!

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_216

Now that last photo had the aperture set at f/8.0, and I was focused on the flowers in the background. The background isn’t as sharp as the flowers, but it’s good enough for this blog post (look at the street sign).

Here’s a photo where I actually focused the lens on a house in the background. That house isn’t “wagging in the wind”, and the bricks and the mortar between the bricks look damn sharp to me when viewed at 100%.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_219

Finally, I arrive at our house at 3:35 PM, and take a photo of this little plant that Barb has sitting outside of our front door, somewhat sheltered from the wind. My shutter speed was 1/30th of a second, so I was thankful for the image stabilization of the camera, which seemed to do a great job even with a 60mm focal length lens.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_230

This blog isn’t a review of this Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 lens. It is just me playing around with my new toy – even though the conditions were such that any sane photographer would have kept the camera at home and just gone out for a walk on a beautiful spring day.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Searching for Signs of Springtime

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_009

A week ago today, on Saturday February 23, 2013, after what seemed to be several gray and dreary weekends here in Austin, TX, we finally had a nice day on a weekend. I noticed out our back window that our Bradford pear tree was looking kind of fuzzy out on the ends of it limb, so I grabbed my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and headed outside to have a better look.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_010

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I had the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens on, and since it was a cloudless sky, I put on a circular polarizer, just to cut down the glare of the mid-day sun. That lens is considered a “kit lens”, but even so I still use it more than all three of my prime lenses combined. And since it also has a macro mode, and I went in for a closer look.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_013

Yes, even though it was still in late February, our Bradford pear tree was starting to produce buds that will soon turn into leaves and brilliant white blossoms!  That might be a little early, but since our average last frost in Austin is before mid-March, it’s not that unusual.

This was exciting to me, and even though it was just after 1:00 PM on a basically cloudless day (supposedly the worst possible time to be outdoors to make pleasing photographs), I decided right then and there that I was going to walk around my neighborhood with my camera, on a mission to be “Searching for Signs of Springtime”.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_020

I saw these cat tails, and thought it might be fun to capture them with the sun coming from behind them.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_023

I was looking to see if ANY flowers were out yet, and yes there were a few small ones that people had planted in various locations of their yard.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_024

The flowers that I did find were all pretty small in size. This reminded me that the last flowers that I saw in the late fall were also all small in size. Maybe the small flowers are the ones that can tolerate the dozen or so freezes that we get here during the winter.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_036

I stumbled across this pink dogwood tree, which was just starting to blossom.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_044

I was glad that I could tilt the rear LCD on the camera down, as I was holding the camera well above my head as I took this next photo of the dogwood tree.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_045

By now it was 1:30 PM, and the sun was directly above, and I was wondering if any of the photos that I was taking would be “good enough” to put on my blog.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_051

Well, they will not win any awards in a competition, as the sunlight was very harsh and direct. But hey, I was having a great time just being outside and playing with my camera! Robin Wong calls this sort of activity “Shutter Therapy”. I decided to keep going…

Pretty soon, I stumbled upon this strange little flying insect. I assume it is a bee, but I have never seen a bee that looks like this before.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_060

And just a couple of blocks later, I spotted this spotted butterfly!

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_071

There were flowers out, but they were few and far between. They were rarely in the shade, and I didn’t have my portable diffuser, so I just photographed them in the direct sunlight.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_077

The variety of flowers was good, and I wasn’t just finding the same type of flower everywhere.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_101

This was the ONLY garden that I came across that looked like it had been freshly planted with new plants. That’s the same bunny that was in the overgrown garden last summer that I photographed just for Libby of ohnostudio. (Libby often photographs the little yard and garden ornaments at her house in New York.)

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_106

I walked another half mile and didn’t see any flowers or other signs of springtime worth photographing, so I turned to doing some “Street Photography”. :-)

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_113

I spotted another butterfly, but it would not stay still. It took me six tries before I caught it with its wings spread open.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_118

This photo shows the relative scale of the size of the flowers that I was seeing.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_121

In the same place as the photo above, I used my own shadow to block the sun, and got in close to snap this photo.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_126

I was getting close to home now. I spotted this unusual little flower wagging wildly in the breeze. I took 9 photos of this little red-violet flower, and ended up deleting all but this one – it was just moving too quickly to not be blurry.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_129

OK, so I live just around the corner to the left in this next photo. You can see that even though I was able to find some early signs of springtime, the general vegetation in northwest Austin is still very much in its dormant winter state. The greenery that you do see is green year round.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_138

This is the same street sign that was in the center of the previous photo. Even though the circular polarizer has darkened the sky pretty dramatically, I like the way that it contrasts with the yellow portion of this sign.

20130223_Neighborhood_Walk_139

In the week since I took these photos and today, the Arizona ash trees have fully put out their vibrant light green leaves. Our Bradford pear tree is just about to “pop”, but the buds are still brown in color. That should change dramatically in the next few days, and I’ll try to capture a “nice” photo of it when it is full of its brilliant white blossoms.

Thank you for visiting my blog!