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07-20-2020, 01:03 PM   #16
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Thanks! It's those details I can't see normally that I find compelling, which is why I do weird stuff like shoot stacks of butterfly feet. Until a month or so ago I didn't know moths had scales on their antennas. It gets almost hypnotic for me. It's almost like playing an instrument, as I try to keep a steady pace going. It used to take me 1-2 hours to shoot a deep stack, but I got brighter lights and that cut down the needed shutter time a bit, and I stopped using Live View except to compose the subject. With the practice I can blow through a stack in about half an hour now. That's not so bad. It gives me some time to think about stuff without being exhausting.

Lightroom exports take hours... this is the most tedious part of the process. I click export on say 3k files and go to sleep, and it's not always done when I get up.

The few times I've pushed it for 1200 exposures it was a bit much. I don't do that often, but sometimes there's a subject with a lot of depth that only looks good at 40X, and it just takes so many frames to cover it.

Something else to consider is that the fine focus wheel on any decent microscope will be far more comfortable to use than most rails, and certainly the cheaper rails available. Everybody should get a microscope.

07-20-2020, 08:36 PM   #17
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Great photos. Lighting tips? Are these transmission or reflection lit? Any particular lights or issues with color temperature? Thanks.
07-20-2020, 09:04 PM   #18
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Thanks. They're all shot using reflected light, but I'm not the person to talk to about it. That aspect of my setup is primitive. I have a pair of ordinary desk lamps with LED floods in them which I arrange around the microscope stage. They're on the warm side, so I started using the fluorescent warm WB setting in my camera, and this helped a lot. Prior to that I was using ordinary household LEDs and flashlights which tended to be cooler temperature lights, so they didn't need a WB adjustment on the camera for most things. I have to make serious compromises due to my circumstances, but as long as I can keep shooting and gradually progressing, I don't mind.

You can effectively use LED flashlights if you can rig them with clamps or something to direct the light where you want. Some LEDs like this impart a purple or orange colour cast that really shows up in any chromatic aberrations that may occur. It's just trial and error until you find a type you like.

Sometimes I tape a tissue, or a single ply of a tissue over my lights to diffuse them slightly. Some insect eyes just completely blow out with any light at all. They're extremely reflective. The bit of diffusion helps, and moving the lamps a little further can sometimes help, but what helps most is the circular polarizer I added between my microscope adapter and lens. This costs me 2 stops of light, but it cuts a lot of the glare and helps to cut down on the glowy fringing around edges when stacking. It's not a panacea but it helps some.

Tiny correction. There are a couple of shots in that album that do contain backlighting. The bumblebee wing, and a couple of the flower petals. Sometimes I use a combination of transmitted and reflected light on this kind of stuff.
07-20-2020, 09:15 PM   #19
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QuoteOriginally posted by Philoslothical Quote
I hadn't even thought of using an actual macro lens on it. What an idea! It sounds like you could do like I am with just the adapter linked above and a couple of step rings. If you're going to try it though, I'll measure the adapter to be sure it will fit on a 30mm eyepiece for you.

I'm insanely captivated by the cocoons. I must know what made them. I've shown them to a couple each of biologists, lepidopterists and a bunch of bug enthusiasts, and nobody has seen anything like them. Here's a much better shot of them. You can see in this that the colour of each cocoon reflects the colour of the scales used. The bright orange one uses scales from the other side of the wing, so the critters must be quite mobile.



Notice the clear/white "tags" extending from the opening in each cocoon. I think these are dried membranes that held the critter until it eclosed, perhaps being turned inside out in the process. It looks like that to me.

My hunch is that they're some kind of phorid fly, or something along those lines. I don't know enough about them to make anything more than a wild guess. Hell, I don't know enough about anything.

I've found these structures on Question Marks, White Admirals and Monarchs so far, all from the same area in Ontario. Each one looks just a little different because of the differences in the scales of the host species they used. There is a possibility of cross contamination of my specimens, as last year I didn't sort them. I had no reason to. So if this isn't a hitchhiker but rather the cocoon of a scavenger, perhaps they spread in storage before dying off. So I can't say with 100% surety that they're naturally occurring on all three of the species I mentioned.

Edit to add: Thanks, Fred! Maybe I'll try it this winter, if we get a winter. Have you ever tried the cyanoacrylate method?
That's an absolutely stunning image, thanks for posting!

Butterflies carry a wide range of parasites but as to which species made these stunning little cocoons, I have no idea!

07-20-2020, 09:33 PM - 1 Like   #20
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Thanks so much. I can't get over how nobody recognizes them. Usually when I find something new to me it's not too hard to track it down with the help of others, if I run into difficulty. This one has stumped everybody, but I guess not many people study these kinda of critters.

For interest sake, here's an unknown species of mite perched on a bumblebee's eye. It's either holding or sitting on a loose scale, I think it's consuming it. You can see the more opaque organs inside it...



One more tiny mystery here. This thing, I didn't capture it very well unfortunately. It's tough to shoot living creatures in stacks. It kept wiggling its leg, so there is some doubling. I found it inside a little ground ivy flower that I had brought in to shoot. It looked like the tiniest mote of dark dust to my eye.



I think that's all of this year's mysteries so far.
07-20-2020, 09:41 PM   #21
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Brilliant work! I think there are actually not many people studying the many small critters that live on living things. How many images did you need to stack with the bumblebee eye shot?
07-21-2020, 12:49 AM - 1 Like   #22
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Thanks! There are 768 exposures in that one.
07-21-2020, 03:32 AM   #23
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QuoteOriginally posted by Philoslothical Quote
Thanks! There are 768 exposures in that one.
That is seriously impressive work. Well done.

07-21-2020, 06:47 AM - 1 Like   #24
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QuoteOriginally posted by Philoslothical Quote
but what helps most is the circular polarizer I added between my microscope adapter and lens. This costs me 2 stops of light, but it cuts a lot of the glare and helps to cut down on the glowy fringing around edges when stacking.
Have you tried also putting polarizing screens on your lights as well? (They have to go after any diffusers; i.e. between the diffuser and subject). With polarized light and polarizer on the camera, you can really cut down on reflected glare (the reflections tend to be polarized, and a crossed polarizer will reject that light).

You can buy polarizing sheets of plastic on Ebay, although for your small subjects, you might get away with a lens polarizer up close to them. If using circular polarizers, note that their proper functioning depends on which side the light goes through!
07-21-2020, 07:18 AM   #25
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I have not but I am very thankful for the suggestion. I will try that, and I'll research it more, too. Interesting idea!

Would it help in the same way or produce a different effect? I'm trying to visualize it, and the polarizer on the light would "straighten" the light hitting the subject and stage, but from there it would scatter. I'm not sure how this would look in the picture but you've piqued my curiousity!
07-21-2020, 10:20 AM - 1 Like   #26
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QuoteOriginally posted by Philoslothical Quote
I'm trying to visualize it, and the polarizer on the light would "straighten" the light hitting the subject and stage, but from there it would scatter.
More-or-less

Light from your LED flashlights or whatever is generally "unpolarized" meaning the electric field of the light (light is an electromagnetic wave, same as radio waves, comprised of rapidly varying electric and magnetic fields) has no particular alignment. The light creation process results in random orientation/polarization of the individual photons.

You can think of the polarizer as sort of a picket fence that lets only the up-down portion of the electric field (i.e. aligned with the slots in the fence) through. Sort of "straightened" out as you call it.

The initial polarizer (between the light source and your bug) does this alignment. When the light scatters from the bug back into your camera, the poalrization generally becomes rather random again when it scatters from something that is rough - there are lots of little surfaces all of which together rescatter the photons. Light that scatters from something smooth, like a mirror or mirror-like bug scale, tends to stay in the same orientation as it came in - the polarization is preserved.

Now, when the polarized portion of light returns to your camera, you can block it out - basically by turning the polarizer until it is cross-ways against the polarized light (you've got that picket fence now arranged to block the undesired light). That, in turn, lets you see what ever light has scattered off whatever was underneath the shiny surface.

Of course, there is much, much more on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polarization_(waves)

and from our friends at Nikon: Introduction to Polarized Light | Nikon?s MicroscopyU

as well as more from Nikon on polarized microscopy: Polarized Light Microscopy | Nikon?s MicroscopyU
07-21-2020, 10:37 AM   #27
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QuoteOriginally posted by AstroDave Quote
Light that scatters from something smooth, like a mirror or mirror-like bug scale, tends to stay in the same orientation as it came in - the polarization is preserved.

Now, when the polarized portion of light returns to your camera, you can block it out - basically by turning the polarizer until it is cross-ways against the polarized light (you've got that picket fence now arranged to block the undesired light). That, in turn, lets you see what ever light has scattered off whatever was underneath the shiny surface.
This is the piece I needed. Thank you so much, that's so well explained. I understood a little about polarizers but not much, clearly. When I said "straightened" I did know that it was only permitting light through on the correct axis. I expressed it lazily. I'm in zombie mode with my insomnia.
08-05-2020, 05:32 PM - 2 Likes   #28
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With new (used) cameras in hand I'm back at it, and I've made something I'm hoping might spark more interest in this aspect of photography, so I'm adding it here.

I've found that I could quite easily make small videos of my stacks by batch resizing the intermediary images after I'm done with them. Then it's just a matter of loading the images to a stack in PS, dumping the layers to animation frames, with the final step being to export the video. Following is an example of my most ambitious stack yet, from a couple of nights ago. This is a mourning cloak butterfly's eye. The species has long been one of my favourites, so the chance to shoot them on this scale is a real win for me. I went all out, and it ended up being 1529 exposures deep. I sped this up to 60 fps for the video, so it takes less than a minute to play, but the actual shooting time was more than an hour.




Above, the finished shot, and below, a selection of others from this shoot. They're such beautiful butterflies.




This is one of the butterfly's knees, showing the joint. It's my favourite of the set, oddly enough.





These stacks range widely in depth, with a couple of them only using around 200 exposures, and a couple more around 800. They're all taken the same way with the same LED lighting.

Another fun thing that happened with the video aspect occurred to me while shooting a horse fly eye. These flies make great subjects because their eyes are huge with a kind of technicolor iridescence to them. It's the perfect time of year to collect them along roadsides and highways, as many get killed by cars. The stack looked so psychedelic while I was processing it that I dumped it to a brief video. Below that is the finished shot. It looks much nicer to me as a looping gif but I couldn't find a way to embed it in the thread, so here's the direct url. Trippy colours in this focus stack of a horse fly's eye.




I'm pleased to entertain any questions about process. I'm no expert but I sure am enjoying the process. This is a wonderful niche of photography, the barrier for entry is lower than one would expect (my microscope was a whopping $80 CAD), and it's a great way to pass some hours at a time.
08-05-2020, 05:41 PM   #29
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Once again, I must congratulate you with your fantastic work! I am yet again convinced I need to find a cheap microscope.
08-05-2020, 06:46 PM   #30
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Fascinating images, and incredible work! Thank you for sharing, I really enjoyed these.
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