Saturday, December 31, 2016

Stacking Photos

Got a Stackshot and have been trying to focus stack more seriously. Even with the Stackshot it is extremely tedious but I am starting to get it down.

First I take a stack of photos every 0.1mm. Right now I am using my FE 90 mm macro lens and a  Raynox 250 diopter. However it is not quite enough magnification so I will probably figure out a way to get to at least 4X, any maybe go all the way to 10X with a microscope objective.

The photos all look like this photo of the head of a fruit fly with just a tiny depth of field:

With a bunch of photos, 34 in this case, I can use Zerene stacker to make a composite image. It takes a bit of retouching, but so far it seems a lot more user friendly than Photoshop for stacking.

That gives me an image like this:

When I get a reasonable photo, I sometimes take a few more minutes to remove the point in Photoshop. This is enough trouble I usually don't bother but it is necessary for a photo that is not ugly:

The largest disadvantage I have found of this method is the time involved. Even with the Stackshot automating the photography process it takes quite a while to stack and retouch. Also, it is very difficult on living insects. That adds a lot of prep time for trying to put the insect on a pin or point. That is not something I have experience with so I have turned more than a few into a mess.

Sometimes I have got it to work with live insects. It requires a lot of patience though as you must wait until it stays still for 20 seconds or so to get a decent stack. The results are usually much more interesting with living insects though:

Here is a ~2mm minute pirate bug. It is a shot that I really would have not been able to get with any other method:

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Next Three Years of Photography Gear

Now that I have a Sony a6300, Sony FE 90mm Macro Lens, and Sony Twin Flash I have about the best walk-around setup available to take photos of insects. Unfortunately hobbies never stop finding ways to keep me poor. Here is a list of what I expect to piece together over the next couple years:

A setup to take microscopic images. The macro setup I have is really intended for dandelions not leafhoppers. To get identifiable images of small insects often takes something more. At first I thought a microscope was the way to go, but it seems like a 10X microscope objective can simply be mounted on the camera. To make this a reasonable option it is best to get a macro tray like the StackShot automated macro rail.

An underwater setup. It seems like the Ikelite system is the best compromise of price and applicability. This would consist of a Ikelite housing for an A6300, a flat port, a pair of flashes. I will probably get a FE 50mm macro lens rather than my 90mm to reduce the value of equipment at risk in the water.

A telephoto lens. Probably the Sony FE 70-300 since it has image stabilization and is native to Sony E mount. If by some miracle they come out with a FE version of the A Mount 70-400 that might be better. This was high on the list when I first got the camera, but as I have learned to use the macro lens bird photography has started to seem less interesting compared to macro and underwater.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Houston Parks

Got to spend a little time in parks near Houston. The most memorable part of it was the reptiles. When I went to Big Bend State Park I thought I might see an Alligator. I didn't expect the hard thing to not be finding them, but avoiding them. Was walking along the trail, when all of a sudden one appeared about twenty feet in front of me.

It was quite a shock to me that I didn't notice him until I was so close despite his being in an obvious location. Decided not to try and sneak past him since it was water on each side of the trail. So I took another trail for a half hour or so and came back.

When I got back, I didn't see him. Since he wasn't there I proceeded to continue on the trail This time I was paying attention though since he snuck up on me before. All of a sudden, I realized that he was right next to the trail only about six feet away from me:

He never moved, but I sure jumped!

Went on to see a total of around ten alligators. None were larger than perhaps six feet, but they were still pretty intimidating.

Other than that I ran into two species of water snake and managed to get really close to a green anole:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Parks North of Pittsburgh

Managed to get some time to explore parks north of Pittsburgh. This area seemed to be only lightly explored by iNaturalist users so I got a bit carried away and ended up with 332 iNaturalist observations. While I haven't added it up, when all is said and done it should work out to at least fifty species I had never seen.

Right before the trip, I found a good deal for a Sony Macro Twin Flash. This made a big difference for taking photos of insects, although for plants the results were more mixed. The diffuser it comes with will need to be replaced since it still leaves lots of bright spots on reflective insects but other than that it seems to greatly improve images over the Sigma Ring Flash I was using before.

The lady beetle in the web particularly surprised me. Apparently that is not a lady beetle, but a handsome fungus beetle which tries to look like a lady beetle as a way to make predators believe it is poisonous.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Interesting Insects

 Had good luck finding interesting insects this weekend. The first one made observation of the day on iNaturalist. It is a robberfly eating a bee which I found about six feet from my back door:

 The second observation is even more interesting if it is what I think it is. As far as I can tell, this is a party of slave raiding ants stealing larva from a neighboring ant colony! These are odd species of ants which steal larva from a different species of ant, then make them act as workers for the colony.

According to AntWiki:
Only a few raids have been observed, but from unpublished observations by Les Greenberg (U. C. Riverside, pers. comm.) and Geoff Trager (then a student at UC Santa Barbara, pers. comm.), we know that the raids take place in early to mid summer, in the latter half of the afternoon.
 Which exactly matches the timing I found these.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Focus Stacking

The Sony HX400V I have takes remarkable macro pictures when pared up with a macro filter. The small depth of field gets frustrating though for insect pictures. So, I recently started using photo shop to stack images.

The workflow is simple, take a burst of photos while slowly moving the camera closer and farther from the subject. It produces a bunch of photos like these:

On their own none of these are particularly impressive, but the batch of photos stack together well into the following photo:

This should work much better when my Sony a6300 comes in the mail, since it has a much larger buffer and with a macro lens better sharpness. Still, the amount photos are improved is quite impressive.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Maui Snorkeling

I spend a few days in Maui. In that time there I made 551 iNaturalist submissions, 21 photo spheres,and the following video:

Thursday, March 3, 2016

iNaturalist at the Fullerton Arboretum.

The Fullerton Arboretum was looking for someone to run an iNaturalist workshop. Since I am the most active contributor within about twenty miles I volunteered.

The workshop will be at the Fullerton Arboretum on Saturday March 5th. Should make for an interesting experience as I have no idea what I am walking into.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mapping Relations

I decided to try and make a video showing my ancestry slowly moving towards California. Rather than showing the armies of cousins I have, this map just shows direct ancestors.

So far I haven't managed to finish making it into a video, but I did get pretty close. Here are maps showing the locations of all the ancestors I could locate from 1850 to 1940. Some of it is inferred, but most comes from census data.

The easiest way I found to map the points is To get it into a video, I will probably need something more powerful though.










To be really interesting, it would need to go back to 1700 or so, but that data starts to get pretty speculative. I would be building the map based on two or three data points in a person's life. I also need a lot more information for the late 1800s to clearly show the westward migration in that era. I included almost all my second great grandparents in that list, but to adequately cover the late 1800s I need a lot more third and fourth great grandparents.

One thing this does show well is just how much the dust bowl impacted the family. In 1920 no ancestors were in California, in 1930, four ere in California, and in 1940 eight were in California. The only ones remaining outside the state were a few stragglers in Ohio and Missouri.

The last two Europeans also left the continent in the 1900-1920 era. This corresponds quite well to an era of mass immigration