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Red Skimmer Dragonfly

As is the norm here in Orange County for May and June, we've had pretty ugly sunsets. The ol' "May Gray" and "June Gloom" marine layer has been suffocating the coast nearly every evening. And with the inland hills dried up from the heat, there just isn't much landscape photography to be had within the county borders. I'd love to travel somewhere to get a taste of new scenery, but my private lessons have been booming and duty calls.

Nevertheless, I still managed to get out and take some shots. But instead of a sweeping vista, I focused my 100mm macro lens on a red skimmer dragonfly that's been hanging out in the backyard.

Red Skimmer Dragonfly

The trick with dragonflies is to not bother trying to sneak up on them - they know you're coming and they will fly off. The way to get close is to first figure out where they like to land. I've found that dragonflies (at least these red skimmer dragonflies) will usually return to the same perch over and over after doing some laps in the air. So once you've figured out where your dragonfly likes to land, get up close to the perch while it takes a lap flying around. They don't seem to mind returning to that same perch with you right next to it, so long as you don't make any quick motions. Apparently they respond to motion more than your proximity.

Then, once your dragonfly returns to its perch and you're nice and close, slowly bring your camera up to your eye and start snapping. It'll pose for you like a supermodel so long as you don't move too quickly. And keep that shutter speed fast if you're going to be handholding your camera.

Red Skimmer Dragonfly

Red Skimmer Dragonfly

Sunflower Details

Macro Photo of a Sunflower

My car had to get some work done on it over the weekend, which left me stranded at home without a vehicle. Since I'm not big on watching TV, especially in the middle of a beautiful day, I decided to spend my newfound downtime out in the backyard enjoying the weather, drinking some tea and admiring nature's beauty on a smaller scale.

So with a relatively fresh bouquet of sunflowers on hand, I broke out my macro lens for a change of pace from the sweeping landscapes I'm used to. I brought the bouquet outside and placed them on a table in the shade. This shady light is primo for close-ups as it doesn't create too much contrast in these delicate subjects.

Using my Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro (the non-L version), I kept my aperture wide so I could get real selective with focus and create some more abstract-like compositions. I find that when shooting flowers, photographing them head-on tends to result in unoriginal pictures, so I usually try and get the most extreme angles I can on them, working to highlight intimate details like the delicate curves, repeating patterns and interesting textures.

Macro Photo of a Sunflower

Macro Photo of a Sunflower

Macro Photo of a Sunflower

Macro Photo of a Sunflower

Macro Photo of a Sunflower

Photographing this close-up world can keep you busy for hours. Examining things so closely with a lens that's capable of capturing it will open up tons of compositions. All you need is a macro lens and a steady tripod.

May 2012 Solar Eclipse

Unless you've been living under a rock the past week, you probably heard about the annular solar eclipse that happened this past Sunday (May 20, 2012). So, like many of the residents in its path, I headed out with my protective glasses and my camera to witness this amazing event.

Annular Solar Eclipse in Irvine, CA on May 20, 2012Click image for larger version

This was the first solar eclipse I'd ever seen, let alone photographed, so I didn't really know what to expect. Photographing it proved to be a bit tough. It was difficult to not get ghost images and reflections of the sun off the filters and elements inside the camera lens. Also, I had to bring the exposure way down since, you know, I'm looking directly into the sun and all. With the exposure way down, the sky turned black, which kind of made it look like a crescent moon. And even with 8 stops of split ND, there was no way to get a correctly exposed foreground element in the shot. So, in order to execute the picture above, I resorted to one of my least-favorite techniques: digital composite (bleh...).

If you're a regular here on my blog, you know how much I hate combining multiple images using Photoshop. I never do it for my more traditional non-eclipse photos - in fact, this was only the second composite image I've ever done - but the above photo was just physically impossible without either digital manipulation or an 11-stop split ND filter. If I'd had that 11-stop split ND filter that doesn't exist, I could have and would have executed this photo in a single frame without any Photoshop.

But, alas, my only option was to photograph the scene at a correct exposure for the foreground, then photograph the eclipse separately at a much darker exposure. I then overlaid the photo of the eclipse on top of the foreground image and faded the transition between the two images from top to bottom much like a split ND would. The sun is still in the correct spot in the frame and is about the correct size, but all-in-all, it took about 15 minutes of work in the computer to create this image.

And as for the close-up shots of the eclipse, I only had 400mm to work with on my lens. 1200mm would have been nice, but whaddya gonna do?

Overall, the eclipse was beautiful, interesting, exciting and fun to see/photograph. I'm already counting down the days to 2017 when we'll get a full solar eclipse!

Annular Solar Eclipse in Irvine, CA on May 20, 2012