Archive for August, 2011

The Legendary Olympus 90mm f2 macro lens

One of the internet search terms that often leads people to my site is for the Olympus 90mm f2 macro lens.  I’m not exactly sure where they end up since I use that lens a lot and post many shots taken with it.  Like this one.

Sweet Hitchhiker

I found this little crawler on my backpack yesterday and so moved it to a more photogenic location.  Given that it was so still when disturbed, I decided to use the 90mm for some close work.  If anyone has stumbled on this blog by searching on OM 90mm macro and are contemplating buying one of these lenses I can enthusiastically say (paraphrasing Ferris Bueller) I highly recommend picking one up, if you have the means.  Of all my 80s vintage 35mm lenses I think this one requires the least amount of correction in post processing.  The contrast is higher than most other of my lenses and it barely needs additional sharpening.  Color accuracy is really up to the camera, but insofar as the lens is concerned there is no visible cast.  There is a slight amount of chromatic aberration under certain conditions; mostly at the edges of certain flower petals against green or yellow backgrounds.  It is slight though.

If you’re looking for info on ways to master this lens, I can help you there.  OVEREXPOSE.  Shoot to the right.  Particularly when you’ve got this at its closest focus distance or when using an extension tube.  The distance the light has to make it to the sensor gets longer the closer you focus and you will need at least a stop extra and even more if you close down to f16 or 22.  Sometimes I forget to do this and end up with underexposures.

Focusing is very, very finicky due to the nature of a macro lens.  Focusing in manual is a foregone conclusion since this is a pre-autofocus lens and you’ll find you get the best results if you use live view and a magnification setting of at least 5x.  I find that 10x is a bit much for most of my work.  Also it is the nature of macro lenses to have very short depths of field under high magnification so be aware and give yourself some time for test shots since it’s so difficult to see what will be in focus with the lens stopped down.  Which by the way is the only way to meter in camera with a legacy lens.  The camera will not engage the aperture ring and close it down for you when you hit the shutter like new, digital lenses will.  If you use it with an Olympus OM 35mm camera, it will close down automatically when the shutter fires.

Seriously, this is one superior piece of glass.  You can put it up with comparable Zeiss and Nikkor lenses no problem.  Image quality is outstanding.  I waited almost 20 years to buy one and thankfully have.  It’s the last lens I’d part with even though giving up the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm would make me cry.  They don’t pop up for sale much and I think prices are still fairly high; around $1000 for a good copy.  If you’re serious about macro or close up work this is an excellent lens to use no matter what digital system you have.  I think adapters from the Olympus mount (OM) to almost any digital body are available.

I used to have a CD with tons of technical detail on everything Olympus made, but I can’t find it.  If you want technical detail on this lens, you’ll have to go here –  and put up with the guy misspelling lens.  Bah.  Makes my eyes hurt.  But the info is accurate as far as I know.

Anyway…that’s it, I hope it was helpful.  If you want more images, check out my flickr tag here and here – I’m afraid I wasn’t very consistent with lens tagging.  And you can hit the lens tag at the bottom of this post.  Oh and you can also drop down the Big Boxes and Little Boxes menu there and choose the Lily of the Valley study since I shot most of it with the 90mm.


Some info has come to light that most Nikon digital bodies won’t meter using AI lenses or any other legacy, manual lenses.  The same goes for some Canons as well.  I have not researched other brands like Pentax.  I guess I’m spoiled by Olympus’s commitment to its lenses and customers by giving us the ability to keep using the things we’ve bought from them in the past.  My apologies if I got anyone excited to use old lenses.  It’s a shame about that lovely Nikkor glass going to waste though.  So check thoroughly to see if your particular camera body can meter with old lenses and proceed accordingly.

When It Becomes Visible

You know, I think I spend more time with my backpack off and it lying on the ground than I do actually wearing it!  Being that I spend so much time way down on the ground, photographing tiny things I think I need a different rig.  Or one that allows me to work differently.  But that’s another post.

Before I get into new stuff, here’s a leftover from May that somehow got stuck.  I love it.  Of course I do, it’s a fern!

And I’ve been using the square crop more and more lately.  So many things just seem to call for it.  I’ve never been a strict aspect ratio sort of person, instead I adapt each crop to fit the subject and mood.

Crown Jewels

I have been out and about, focusing on my major; woodland photography.  The bugs have calmed down and are manageable with an appropriate layer of anti-bug goo on.  Today I noticed a ton of the tiniest toads I’ve ever seen, but I was too pooped and the light was too dark for me to photograph them.  I did wish each one luck on his or her way; they seem so vulnerable at this stage.  Another creature that’s out and about are newts.  Oh how I love these teeny dudes.

This is their only terrestrial phase; they’re still juveniles and as adults will return to the water and live for up to 15 years.  So long for such a small creature.

I’ve also been chasing light and some tiny moss spore things…I don’t know what they’re called…pods?  Anyway, I think I’m getting closer to the shot I want.

Odd Fellows Local

It’s mushroom season and they’re literally popping up everywhere, in some surprising colors –


cortinarius violaceus mushrooms

Aside from new and interesting mushrooms, I also found this pink lady slipper flower –

By Any Other Name

I’ve never seen one like this before.  I always thought the flower and stem died back completely, but I guess sometimes they don’t.  I love finding new stuff in the woods.

And just so you don’t think I’m always looking down, here’s some water hemlock (yeah, the poison stuff a la Socrates).

Between Earth and Sky

But sometimes I’m lazy and stay close to the house.  I’ve always got company.

The Nanny

What’s Your Major?

Recently I participated in a discussion that stemmed from a person wondering about the composition of a very famous photo by a very famous photographer; Henri Cartier-Bresson.  Specifically the person wanted to understand why this image is composed so amazingly well.

It got me to thinking about photography and the importance of concentration in the sense of a Major in College.  Cartier-Bresson had a very specific concentration and didn’t experiment wildly with either his subject matter or his equipment.  Instead he applied his passion to what amounts to one genre and that, combined with his instinctive artistic sensibility, makes his work compelling, cohesive and unique.

Often when I look at someone’s photo stream or gallery, I don’t see much cohesion. Mostly this applies to amateurs, not people making a living with this.  Many photo-enthusiasts seem to sprawl all over the place, never picking a major.  They spend a lot of time experimenting not only with subject matter, but equipment as well.  They might get a really good photo now and again, but not many.  That’s especially sad if the person has been at it for years. To me, as someone looking at what they’ve produced, it is obvious they haven’t mastered anything and don’t look as if they intend to.

That’s one thing I also look for; intent, craft, vision – progress.  A specialized style and body of work that shows me they can direct their passion into one channel and really develop expertise.  Speaking for myself, I think I’ve improved.  My focus lately is woodlands and attempting to capture intimate portraits of the forest and what I find so magical about being in one. Does that make my photos repetitive and boring?  I hope not, but then again, I don’t really care.  I value my concentration not only for what it produces for images, but for the process itself – it builds muscle memory and good instincts.

By instinct in this case, I mean an instant sense of what will make a good photograph.  I don’t claim to know the circumstances under which Mr. Cartier-Bresson made the image above, but I bet he didn’t overthink it.  I bet he didn’t stop forever at the top of those stairs and manipulate the camera in every conceivable way before deciding on this composition.  I bet it was instinctive.  Even if he asked a bicyclist to work with him to make the shot, it was Cartier-Bresson’s knowledge that if he put such a person in that spot it would be amazing.  He knew it would be especially good if the rider were blurred.  The sense of motion we already get from the swirling steps is almost enough to make the image outstanding, but that bit of activity, of life, really makes it amazing and irreplaceable.  Even if this shot wasn’t especially difficult, planned or set up, Cartier-Bresson never-the-less worked on it.  His photography career and the hours he put in at his Major produced it.  That was the work.  And it paid off every time he picked up a camera.

Experimenting and practicing within a specific sphere of photography allows you to build a library of facts, techniques, outcomes and lessons that help you make better decisions in the field.  By making better decisions you get better results.  By developing good habits you save time and have less frustrating experiences.  Eventually habits become instinct.  For me, having a foundation of good habits and instinct leaves me more brain power to devote to the finer points of composition, light, perspective, depth-of-field and other technical choices.  More keepers is what it comes down to.  Expertise is a nice thing to have.

As a novice it’s natural to try lots of things. The world of photography is new and exciting and when I look at my pictures from that time, I smile indulgently at myself.  It’s an important time though.  We learn the rules and try to play by them, hopefully realizing in the process why they are rules and why they work.  I’m talking the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, leading lines and ideas like that.  Once understood and applied, they help whatever artistic sensibility you have become more substantive and less theoretical.  After looking at shots you’ve taken where you forgot the rules and have crappy photos, it doesn’t take long for the rules to become habit and hopefully instinct.

That said, I don’t think you can really excel unless you pick a major.  Ok, I’ll let you have a minor, too, but diluting the craft over lots and lots of genres won’t help you become an expert in any.  If you want to be a landscape photographer, do it.  Do it more often than you take pictures of your kids.  If you want to be a macro photographer, do it more than you take pictures of buildings.  If you want to be a street photographer, do it more than you take pictures of your vegetable garden.  At first quantity matters more than quality and it’s the application of the former that will build the latter.

Like that old Carnegie Hall joke, the secret is practice, practice, practice.  But not just snapping away at anything that moves, you have to devote yourself to what you love and be faithful.  The rules of photography always apply, but they apply differently depending on the subject and the particular way you want to show it.  The end result, if you have any talent, is that you’ll build a body of work that shows you are a subject matter expert.

I know it’s hard to stop taking pictures of all and sundry, but you really have to.  Especially if you’ve got a life, too, and can’t spend 10 hours a day taking photos.  If you’re stuck on picking your major, here are a few ideas on how to decide.  Go through your photos and rate them.  If you’ve already rated them, look at what rated highest and lowest.  Did you have fun taking those?  Did you love the process?  Another way is to look on sharing sites and see which of your photos are most favorited or commented on.  Which ones made Explore?  Again, did they move you?  Was making them a good time?  Are they a cohesive group?  Another way is to look at your worst pictures.  Are those the ones you were really excited about?  Why did they fail?  Do you want to get better at taking those kinds of pictures?

There are lots of ways to choose your major and once you have it’s vital not only to practice, but to look at the work of the experts.  There is no shortage of photo web sites, fora, blogs and sharing communities.  Find some photographers who take the kinds of pictures you want to take and follow them. Study their work.  Study their processes.  Pick apart their EXIF data and equipment lists.  Read their articles.  Comment on their work and see if you can get a dialog going.  Attend one of their workshops if they offer them.  Podcasts, webinars, tutorials – it’s amazing what’s available now.  Just don’t go overboard.  Too much information and too many conflicting approaches will only muddy the waters.  Instead, pick a point or two and take them into the field, specifically applying them during your session.  See if the ideas work for you.  Did you get more keepers from that session or not?  Lather, rinse, repeat.

And I do mean repeat.  Develop that muscle memory.  Develop good habits and instincts.  Find your passion.  Declare your Major.

Learning to Share

Just though I’d update you on where else you can find me on the web.  No I’m not trying to be a wicked media whore, but I am experimenting with a couple new venues that might work if I can get my act together.

One is 500px a photo sharing and commenting site.  If you’ve been active in the twittersphere or photo community you’ve probably heard it.  I haven’t become fully “awesome” yet (their term for a paid member), but I have uploaded some photos to it.  The idea as I understand it is that the site founders want  photographers to only upload their best work for display.  No snaps of the dog and what you had for breakfast unless your business is pet or food photography (pet food photography?) I think the premise is nice, but they have no way to control what people post, so it will probably become diluted and flickrish over time.  I’ve even noticed it already.  The blog there is interesting, but I can’t see it becoming anything close to what I do here.  Anyway here I am – WickedDarkPhotography

Another thing I’m playing with is Google +.  Technically it’s still in sleep mode, but more and more people are signing up and so it’s beginning to take off.  As a person who has precious little to do with Facebook I’m going to reserve judgment.  It hasn’t nearly the breadth or density of fb yet, but yet is the term to watch.  So far I have a small photography circle and one for another interest.  My frustration is finding like minds.  Oh and finding what my actual address is over there.  Seems you have to use some 3rd party hack to get a normal url and I’m not giving them that, so I’ll wait until it matures.  One thing I do like is that on Google’s pages there’s a little icon that changes if you’ve got something in your stream you should look at and so you don’t have to have the page open all the time.  Nice.

That being said, I find myself twittering less and less.  With so many social media sites it’s hard to keep up and to keep anything distinct.  Why should you follow me there and on Google +, the blog and everywhere else if it’s all the same?  Like I said, I haven’t gotten my act together.  I’m still fooling with it.  Twitter is here = WickedDarkPhoto

Oh and one last plug, I have a new article on as of today.  Another that focuses on close-up photography and how important the background and other elements are as they relate to your subject.  Check it – Watch Your Backgrounds.  I really needed to edit it one last time, but oh well.

So that’s a wrap.  I leave you with a shot from the sunrise shoot at Lubberland Creek that I didn’t have processed before.  You would have laughed to see the contortions I had to go through to catch this lovely lady.  I’m pretty sure it’s an immature garden orb weaver and boy was she shy.

Angel of the Morning

The Power of Scouting

Up until recently, I’ve been a catch-as-catch-can type of photographer.  If I was going somewhere, I took my camera and tried for photos as I went.  Rarely did I return to a location to do better or capture a different aspect of the place.  Now though, I understand what scouting a location can do.  Remember that old slogan the Boy Scouts used, be prepared?  Or maybe it was Outward Bound.  Whatever it was, scouting helps me do that really well; be prepared.  I have no idea why I didn’t do it before.  Just lazy I suppose.  Now though, even if I don’t come away with the best portfolio-making shot on earth, I find just being in a location valuable enough to make it worth my effort.

The more familiar you are with locations near you, the more confident you’ll be going into the field.  I’ve got shot list in my head and a ton of trail maps in my glove compartment so I’m never short of ideas.  In New England we’re lucky to have distinct seasons and the changes that come are big ones.  Locations look completely different and it’s an adventure to capture all aspects of them.  And don’t forget local meet-ups.  I love both being introduced to a new location by someone, and sharing one that might be new to others.  We always have fun and it’s great to see how differently we view the same place at the same time.

Sunday for example, I met up with a photographer friend to take advantage of sunrise side-light at another Nature Conservancy Preserve – Lubberland Creek in Durham, NH.  It’s part of the Great Bay estuary and is mostly a tidal wetland full of grasses, reeds, flowers, birds and oh yeah, poison ivy.  That evil vine aside, the place is lovely and has potential for future sunrises when the sun is in a better position and when there are clouds in the sky.  I think it would even work well for sunsets.  There’s a beautiful island in the mouth of the creek’s delta and boy won’t that be great at high tide.  I’ve really got to get some waders or at least knee-height rubber boots so I can go in the really squishy parts.  As it was today I got my shoes pretty soaked, but that was probably more because of the dew than anything.

Watching the light on the grasses was pretty wonderful even it it wasn’t dramatic –

Transitions - before the sun crested the trees

Old Wonders in the New World - after the sun crested the trees

I was fascinated by how the light transformed the scene and of course I got down for some bokeh action –

Somnambulist's Dilemma

Dreaming with One Eye Open

If you’ve got your Sherlock Holmes hat on, you’ll notice the difference in the bokeh between those two shots.  It’s part of what fascinates me about using extreme bokeh and pinpoints of light, like these dewdrops.  The shapes of the aperture blades in the lenses is different and gives you different looks.  The blades in my Olympus Zuiko Digital 12-60mm are round and the blades in my 80s vintage Olympus Zuiko 65-200mm are octagonal.  Oh and I used the close focus feature of that old lens, something I don’t do very often, and I think it came out really well.  After playing with the depth of focus for a few frames, I decided this mid-point approach was best.  It was tough finding a section of grasses that went all the same way.  Reaching in and even delicately removing a blade going the wrong way would make all the dew fall off and ruin the shot.  I think my shooting buddy Jeff found out the same thing and if anyone was watching us we must have been pretty comical.

It was all about texture, light and patterns and I think even monochrome works well –

May Today Become the Day

So now that I’ve scouted it, I’ve got ideas brewing for other shots I’d like to get.  Frost and snow in winter.  A dreamy sunrise with fog.  Now I just need to spend a little time with The Photographer’s Ephemeris…