A bug’s life captured in Macro

These praying mantis or mantid just emerged moments before from their egg case.   Mantid's or praying mantis are terrific hunters and predators in the insect world.

Just saying HI!

Exploring my garden with my macro lens allows me to capture a world that we rarely notice, until we come face to face with it. (THEN! we run screaming) Most people love to get up and close to butterflies or dragonflies and I’m no different. I also wonder about all the rest of the insects that from day-to-day, visit my garden.

I love getting in close and personal with a macro lens and seeing the details of what the human eye can’t discern. I find their eyes to be incredible with their complexity and beauty.  I also wonder about their life cycle. I mean we generally catch insects in one phase of their life cycle or another by virtue of being in the right place at the right time. (What about the rest of the summer?)

Now I know the praying mantis may not be your favorite subject but if you want you can reproduce what I did by ordering a larva of any species that you find pleasing. This article will be mostly about setting up and capturing a macro image of a Praying Mantis and my results.

Considerations for using a macro lens or substitute

I’m not going to delve into the technical jargon about ratios and resulting images that you can read on Wikipedia if you are so motivated. Simply put, Macro photography produces photographs of small items larger than life-size.

I will simply assume you either have a macro lens or want a macro lens because you want to render small objects large enough to fill the frame. Also, if bugs are not your thing, flowers, toys, flora and fauna can be your subject.

There are three ways to accomplish macro photography:

  • Using a setting on your camera or lens that permits you to focus closer than normal (produces pictures that at best simulate a macro image). It’s not much better than taking your camera in to the minimum focusing distance and then cropping the resulting image.
  • The next better option is an extension tubes. you can get good results with extension tubes which you place between your camera body and the lens. Sometimes you lose auto focusing ability or stabilization (if you had it in the first place), but if you are on a tripod, and able to manually focus, then it’s not an issue.
  • Lastly, you go and plop down the cash for an actual macro lens. I don’t care if the name says Sigma, Nikon or Canon; it’s merely a lens capable of rendering reproduction ratios greater or equal to 1:1.

How I set up to capture the life cycles of the Praying Mantis

The reason I became interested in the praying mantis was I had winter moths eating my maples and oaks around my yard and since I abhor using pesticides; I wanted a more natural method of reducing the winter moth population. So I went to a nearby green house and they suggested taking home a praying mantis ootheca. (egg casing) I bought two ootheca and I placed one on a bush outside and the other was attached to a tall branch in a terrarium I had built.

I desired to capture the mantises from birth until I released them and I found out that there are all sorts of problems in keeping them alive, such as feeding.  They are carnivores, and if you don’t feed them enough they will eat each other. So I released them in batches during the first two weeks. (Here is More info on caring for them)

My macro set-up

These praying mantis or mantid just emerged moments before from their egg case.   Mantid's or praying mantis are terrific hunters and predators in the insect world.

Camera on tripod waiting

Terrarium: I went to Home Depot and bought couple sheets of Lexan sheets and clear flexible caulking to attach the sides and a bottom. I cut three sections with a fourth being translucent. Next I put a layer of dirt on the bottom and planted some weeds from the yard to see if they would grow in the terrarium.

I knew that the nymph’s would leave the ootheca  around July 1st. So my job is to now sit and wait. My camera sat on my tripod and I placed two flash units on each side of the container.

These praying mantis or mantid just emerged moments before from their egg case.   Mantid's or praying mantis are terrific hunters and predators in the insect world.

Translucent panel

Translucent panel: I placed a sheet of plastic that would soften the flash by diffusing the light and would add fill light in the container. You may be wondering about the Captain lying down below the camera… Believe it or not, it was him staring at the terrarium that let me know something was happening.

Camera: My camera is the 50D (nothing fancy) and my lens is the Canon 100mm L 2.8 IS macro lens. To control my lights I use my pocket wizards to fire my tandem flash units. (Let me know if you want an article on using off camera flash controls)

Tripod: absolutely necessary to getting sharp images. Luckily they aren’t speed demons so once you focus in, you are good. Also you will need to up the ISO because to get a better DOF (Depth of Field) you will have to balance the shutter speed, ISO and Aperture.

A bit more info about why DOF is important. Macro lenses tend to be very shallow on DOF so to make sure you have more of the object in focus you need a greater aperture. I try to get to between F8 to F16 of greater and even at F16 if will be a very shallow DOF but manageable. This is why I have flashes, because of light fall off. So blending all these factors are necessary.

The big day

Macro of mantid nymphs emerging from egg casing

Macro of mantid nymphs emerging from egg casing

Please remember the nymphs are only about 3mm in length so spotting them and keeping them in focus is tough. What you will see, are strands hanging down and this tells you that they are leaving the egg casing.

Now the fun begins because almost all the insects I can capture and bring to them are bigger than them but I found these bright green nymphs on my garage door, so I captured a few of them each morning and I bring the terrarium outside and open the lid to try to quickly get these flying insects into the container without releasing them or the mantids… I assume you can also see why I did this outside. J

food supply

food supply

Also there are about 60 or more of the mantids running around inside so I was a witness to their predatory nature as they will indeed eat one another if they have nothing else. So within a few days, I took the container outside and shook out about half of them onto my flowers and bushes. Within a week and after releasing most of them I was down to a manageable five mantids.

I continued to bring bugs to them and they were getting bigger. One in particular was getting very large and I was able to capture the molt from the 1st instar to the 2nd instar phase. This is where the old skin is shrugged off and they come out a translucent bright green.

Macro of Mantid molting off the old skin

Macro of Mantid molting off the old skin

This may have been a female as she grew even larger at this point. I also noticed that some of the other 4 mantids were disappearing, so I have to assume she didn’t find my food supply sufficient.

Macro of mantid coming home for fall

Macro of mantid coming home for fall

I soon released her also to my garden. You may be wondering if this is the end of the story. Well as you can see here, the autumn had arrived and at our back door my wife had placed a garland of fake fall  foliage and I spotted an unusual object in the bright colors. Yes one of my mantids had come home. If you’re wondering why I didn’t bring this one survivor in and keep her over the winter (it can be done) my wife put her foot down and said no… :-)



Jeff “Foliage” Folger

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Posted in Insects, Lenses, Macro, Scenic New England Tagged , , , , , , , |

Why I Don’t Do Weddings

Do you shoot weddings?

That question is asked to me fairly often, and of most of my fellow landscape photographers. For many of us, myself included, the answer is a respectful no. Sure, I’ve brought my camera to weddings where I’ve been invited as a guest, and I tried to take the best shots I could without interfering with the hired professional. I even give the bride and groom a copy of all my photos, because I’ve been an invited guest. I’ve even had compliments from the bride and groom that they liked some of my images more than the ones from the hired photographer. That still doesn’t make me a wedding photographer. In this article, I will try to go a little further into the reasons why many of us landscapers don’t do weddings. I’ll also share a few images that I took at weddings as an invited guest.

I snuck this photo from my seat in the church.

I snuck this photo from my seat in the church.

But your pictures are…

…so beautiful. Thank you, but there is a huge difference between photographing a landscape and photographing an event. Most folks don’t realize this. The standard assumption is the fancy camera and some gorgeous sunset photos means you can capture that same beauty of people in the most important event of their life. That is an incorrect assumption, sorry to say. I will often make this comparison: If you needed an appendectomy, would you go to a podiatrist for the procedure? I’m certain they could get the job done, but you would be in much better hands going to a doctor who specializes in appendectomies. A doctor who has done the procedure dozens of times and has a reputation for being a consummate professional. The same holds true for photographers. I have never photographed a wedding. I have zero experience posing people of various shapes and sizes to make them look their best. Weddings bring a huge amount of stress, not only for the bride and groom, but for the hired professionals. We’ve all heard the term “Bridezilla.” I cringe when I have to deal with an overbearing person. Photographing a wedding is best left to a professional who has the experience, personality, wits, and knowledge to do the job correctly.

Capturing an image like this without getting the way of the pro can be difficult.

Capturing an image like this without getting in the way of the pro can be difficult.

People Persons

A big part of photographing weddings (and other events) is that the photographer needs to be a people person. Your success as a wedding/event photographer relies on this skill as much if not more than abilities behind the camera. You need to be able to interact, sell yourself, be able and comfortable posing people and giving direction. You need to be able to work under stressful situations, such as dealing with Bridezilla or the dreaded Mother of Bridezilla. Many landscape photographers, myself included, prefer solitude and not dealing with any of the aforementioned things. Call me an introvert if you will, but that is generally how I do my best creation. When I am alone with only the sounds of the wind, surf, and birds, in the fresh air in the warm light of the early or setting sun, or under the stars, is when I tend to do my best creation behind the camera.

As a guest at a wedding, it is always best to take candid shots like this, instead of trying to compete with the pro for the formals.

As a guest at a wedding, it is always best to take candid shots like this, instead of trying to compete with the pro for the formals.

We’re Trying to Save Money

This is another one I’ve had mentioned to me. “We’re on a tight budget, the prices some of the photographers are charging that we’ve looked at are outrageous, so we thought we’d ask you.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I beg your pardon if I’m insulted. The implication there is that because I’m “only a landscape” photographer that I’d somehow be more affordable than a “real” wedding photographer. I’ve had this exact conversation with other landscape photographers who’ve been asked the same questions, and every time we’ve been in agreement. If I were to photograph a wedding, I’d charge what a wedding photographer charges. Why, if I’m not a professional at it? See the “People Persons” paragraph for some insight. :) In addition to that, by undercutting the competition, you’re potentially hurting the entire industry. Hurting good people who make their living from wedding photography.

This is what I'd rather shoot anyday over a wedding!

This is what I’d rather shoot any day over a wedding!

I would ask anyone who is looking for a wedding photographer, look carefully at the images of the photographer you are thinking about asking. If you see all landscape, seascape, or milky way type images, chances are they are not the photographer for your wedding. I maintain friendships with several wedding photographers in my area who excel at what they do, so I will always be glad to refer someone to them.

~ Bryan Bzdula




Fine Art America






Posted in Candid Photography, Events Tagged , , , , , , , |

Shoot Like You’re Shooting Film

Is Digital Making Us Careless?              

We live in a world of instant gratification, with the world at our finger tips. Supersized meals, houses called McMansions, cars that park themselves and cameras that are obsolete before we can even fill up the first memory card. From what I’ve observed over the last 15 years, digital has taken photography down the same road — if a little is good then a lot is better.

From The back of The Closet

Unopened box of Kodak Ektachrome color slide film

1982 roll of Ektachrome slide film

The catalyst for this post has been sitting on my closet shelf for over 30 years. Every once in a while, it appears out of the recesses of the closet to remind me of what once had been. It’s an unopened box with a 36-shot roll of Ektachrome color slide film inside. The price tag is still on it, $8.76 in 1982 dollars. That is what got me thinking.

The Cost of Doing Business

If this were still the days of film, you would have to go out and buy a roll of film (memory card for those of you born after the dark ages) before you ventured out. On that roll would be 36 shots. That was a big roll. If you wanted to save money you bought a 20-shot roll. So your allotment for the day was 20 or 36 shots. The price in today’s dollars for the same 36 shot roll… $21.75.

What Have I Got?

Essential tools of the trade in 1982.

My Nikon FG alongside an unopened box of Ektachrome color slide film with its 1982 price tag

Then you would have to get it developed (“Photoshopped” in a lab). This would cost about the same as the roll of film so figure another $20.00. So now you’ve spent $41.75, taken 36 pictures, and you have no clue if anything is any good until they come back from the lab in about a week.

The Gift of Film

This was the environment I spent 30 + years shooting in. When digital came along, it freed us from the creative bonds we were tied to through film. However, shooting film did leave me with one gift I have always been grateful for. I tend to shoot digital like I’m shooting film – like I don’t have a memory card that holds 2000 pictures. I always shoot more like I have a 36-shot roll of film.

Whale boats, dockside.

Two of the Charles W. Morgan’s whale boats

How Many Clicks?

I began to notice this when I’d be shooting with other photographers. At the end of the day some would mention shooting 1000, 2000, or more frames. I’d look and I’d be lucky if I had shot 200. I get the feeling that some people shoot so many because they subscribe to the theory that “there must be one or two good ones in those 2000 clicks.” I believe this leads to complacency and less time trying to get it right in one or two frames and hoping to get it right in 1000 or 2000 frames.  On a 16-day trip to AZ and UT, encompassing 10 National Parks and Monuments I took 1500 shots. I’m sure there are some people who took that many before lunch on the first day.

One of only about 6 shots I took that day at this location.

Sea Smoke

Less is More

In a look back at some of my award-winning shots I found that they were produced with a minimum of clicks. “Sea Smoke” (3 gallery awards) was part of about 6 or 7 shots I took at that location that morning.  “Cardinal in a Snowstorm”, Yankee Magazine’s 2012 Winter Photography Contest winner, was one of about 30 shots I took that morning. “Longboats” (Best in Show, Warren Summer Art Festival 2014) was one of only 2 shots I took of the longboats. “Sunrise on the Magalloway River” (1st Place Photography – 2010 Warren Summer Art Festival) was one of 5 shots I took that morning when I stopped along the road to shoot the sunrise through the fog over the Magalloway. The same holds true for the rest of my photos that have earned awards.

MAgical moment on the Magalloway River captured in one of 5 frames I took at this location that morning.

Sunrise on the Magalloway

Lesson Learned?

The lesson here is to slow down, take your time to compose and evaluate what you are shooting. Get it right in a few frames instead of a few hundred frames. For one thing, it will get you away from the computer and long hours of reviewing and editing in Photoshop. I think you will also find that your composition and exposure will improve if you are more frugal with your clicks. Your camera will also thank you for only banging the mirror 200 times, instead of 2000. Who knows, you may even come away with an award winner.

~ Butch Lombardi



Posted in Camera Equipment, film, Photo Techniques, Photography Technology, Scenic New England Tagged , , , , , , , |

Dreaming of Spring


Barn Afloat

Barn Afloat


Spring Sheep

Spring Sheep

Early March is traditionally the “Enough is Enough” season in New England, and this year, more than usual, we have enjoyed more than enough of the glories of winter. The photographic opportunities in winter are like no other time of the year with the snow cover and the special light transforming and simplifying the landscape into its essence of line and form. Every year, I become excited about the onset of winter and impatient for the first snows, but now I’m done and it is time for the remarkable explosion of spring to take command. After last year’s depressingly bitterly cold winter, I practiced, early March, “Blog Therapy” by publishing a spring preview with some of my favorite images.  As this winter begins to break, the need for a breath of sweet renewal seems no less imperative. So here, primarily for my own desperate benefit, I have collected a few images from last spring. It IS coming! De-ice your gear and get prepared. It will soon be time to switch from monochromatic black and white to the glory of the infinite variety of shades of green.


The Emergence

Birth Spiral

Birth Spiral

Even before the snow has fully melted away we will see the buds emerging in their desperate attempt to gain a head start on the short growing season. Last year I focused on macro shots of the early sprouts which explode in a remarkable variety of bizarre forms and colors. It lasts only a few days, but it is almost a disappointment when the leaves mature into the comparatively dull flat forms that will dominate the majority of the summer.


Falling Water Season

Pulpit Falls

Pulpit Falls

Early spring is often described as “Mud Season.” Struggle as I may I have found few ways to make muddy roads and pastures appear photographically attractive. It is much like the desolation of late fall “Stick Season,” but the saving factor in the spring is the glory of the falling water. All that melting snow mixes with the spring rain to cause torrential leaks in our roofs, but it also fills the many brooks and streams to reveal our waterfalls to their thunderous best. Many waterfalls that had dwindled to an insignificant trickle in late summer will roar to life in a few weeks.

Last spring I set myself on a quest to highlight many of my favorite waterfalls in the Monadnock Region and to discover others about which I had only heard rumors.

Fay Falls

Fay Falls

I published several articles about the falling waters including one covering many of my favorite waterfalls in Cheshire County. My most challenging quest was to find the elusive Pulpit Falls in Winchester  New Hampshire. It took three trips, bushwhacking through the deep snow and following a number of false leads, but I was finally led by the thunder into the small valley which hides this beautiful falls. It was worth the struggle and as a bonus, while Nellie and I were exploring the cascades, we met Kris Smith, of Wicked Dark Photography. It was Kris’ blog article that initially triggered my obsession to find the falls. Where else but in New England could you stumble across your goal and the muse who led you to it at the same time. On other explorations I was able to find Fay Falls in Walpole, NH and the waterfall at Ashuelot Gorge in Gilsum, New Hampshire.


Spring Leafscapes, The Second Autumn



Every spring I am freshly entranced by the infinitely varied palate of greens which burst across our forests. The colors are as exciting in their soft and delicate tones as are the garishly brilliant colors of our New England autumn. Last spring I took the time to truly notice the early colors and I posted some of my favorites in an article which zoomed in on the “Spring Leafscapes.” Of course the advantage of the spring colors is that, after they fade, we don’t find ourselves immediately saddled with the chore of raking them up.



May Hillside

May Hillside


Spring Wildflowers

White Trillium

White Trillium

What can I say about the spring explosion of wildflowers. Only that their shamelessly profligate display of color is the perfect antidote to the dull monotones of the long winter. Last spring I discovered the Fox Forest in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. On a couple of early spring hikes through this varied and lovely forest I was able to sample a number of the areas wildflowers including a few varieties of Trillium and the tiny White Star. Along the trail, I was helped in identifying the lavish flora by Kris Smith who has a remarkable depth of knowledge about the plants of the New England forests. Every spring I also accompany my wife to Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont where I practice flower photography larceny  by capturing the beautifully prepared flowers in the soft light and calm winds found in the farm’s green house. Forgive me.


Spring Cluster

Spring Cluster at Walker Farm, Brattleboro, VT


Emerging Wildlife

Dancing Lady

Dancing Lady

Spring is also a time to celebrate new and refreshed animal life, both wild and domestic. It is inspiring to share in the excitement of the horses, cattle and sheep as they frolic in the sweat new grass of their pastures, and there is no more dramatic example of this enthusiasm than the “Annual Dancing of the Ladies” at the Stonewall Farm in Keene, New Hampshire. Every spring, on a day set by the greening of the pastures, the public is invited to witness the crazy antics of the cows as they are released from the barn for the first time to graze on the fresh grass. It has become a community rite of spring to watch these normally placid animals jump and prance through the field. The running, leaping and head bumping last only a few minutes before the cows return to their normal semi-comatose status, but as compensation for the briefness of the entertainment, the farm provides a delicious pancake breakfast. Sadly, last year, I missed the dancing ladies, but I’ll be watching for the announcement of the date of this year’s festivities.


One of my favorite local farms is Roads End in Chesterfield, New Hampshire. The farm keeps over 60 horses for their summer riding camp and it is a pleasure to see the animals gleefully reclaim their rolling pastures.

Pasture Slope

Pasture Slope, Roads End farm


Eagle Descending

Eagle Descending


The non-domesticated New England wildlife is more difficult to capture but no less enthusiastic about surviving another bitter winter. Each spring I watch for the foxes, deer, turkeys and the Bald Eagles, who become more active along the lakes and the Connecticut River as the ice begins to open.



Black Fly

Black Fly




Of course the most prevalent and annoying of our spring visitors are the Black Flies. They are New Hampshire’s unofficial state “bird,” far too easy to find but difficult to photograph, except in the, much preferred, squashed mode.




I hope this glimpse of last year’s spring will be a welcomed escape from our “Enough is Enough” season and that it will prepare you to fully appreciate the glories that are to come.

For more images of the coming awakening, check out my Spring Album on my Getting it Right in the Digital Camera Blog.

Spring Links 2014

Partridge Brook Reflections Spring Gallery

~ Jeffrey Newcomer


Posted in Birds, Chesterfield, farms, Flowers, Forest, Gardens, Insects, Landscape, Macro, Monadnock, Nature, New Hampshire, Scenic New England, Spring, Stick Season, Vermont, Water falls, Wildflowers, Wildlife Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Simple RAW Processing in ACR and Photoshop

There are as many ways to process RAW landscape files as there are photographers. For my first several years’ shooting I watched 100s of YouTube videos, read printed tutorials, and basically stumbled my way into processing. There are no right or wrong ways to process landscape files. But there are some tips and tricks that can be helpful to all.

One Man’s Process

In this article I will walk through my basic RAW processing of an uncomplicated exposure. These are the initial steps I use when processing 90% of my images. Things get more complicated with multiple-image blends, true night shooting, and other unusual situations.

Although I will use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and Photoshop, Lightroom has virtually the same utility – only the interface is different. I will put in my 2 cents here for investing in Photoshop and Lightroom. They are simply the standard for both professional and high-end amateur photo work. I put off investing in PS for my first three years’ shooting digital. Now I regret it. At $10 a month for PS and LR via Adobe Cloud it is something I cannot work without.

I shoot all my landscape images in RAW. The latitude I gain shooting RAW for further processing makes it a no-brainer. But RAW files must be processed. Straight out of camera they lack color, contrast, sharpening, and a host of other processing choices.

I chose this image because it is for me a ‘normal’ exposure. I do not need to blend in another exposure to complete it.

RAW image not processed

Untouched RAW image


Let’s Get Started!

  1. Open the file in Adobe Camera Raw. Navigate to Lens Corrections and select the profile for your lens. Also navigate to the Color tab and select Remove Chromatic Aberrations. These easy operations correct lens errors and check for chromatic aberrations. The manual tab also now contains selections to correct for perspective and tombstoning problems. I use these very often to correct problems in architectural images.

    Lens Correction Applied in ACR

    Lens Correction Profile Applied

  2. Return to the opening screen. Level the horizon using the Straighten Tool if needed.
  3. Set the White Point and Black Point for the image. While holding down the option key, move the white and black sliders. Holding the option key down activates the shadow and highlight clipping warnings. Set your W & B points inside these warnings.

    Setting Black and White Points

    Black and White Points set in ACR

  4. Adjust Highlight and Shadow sliders to taste. (I often “shoot to the right” overexposing my image, with the intention of fixing it in post processing. Shooting to the right (of the histogram) helps to minimize shadow noise. It is at this point where the image starts to come together. I may also add a bit of clarity and vibrance at this point.

    Highlights and Shadows in ACR

    Adjusting Highlights and Shadows in ACR

  5. This completes my standard set of initial processing in ACR. Some images may also get tone curves adjusted, color luminance and saturation tweaked, noise reduced, or post crop vignetting set.
  6. Open in Photoshop. My first adjustment in Photoshop is to clone out any dust spots or distracting elements. In this image I cloned out some of the pine needles in the foreground.

    Cloning in PS

    Cloning out unwanted items in PS

  7. In this image the sky is overexposed. I used the Quick Selection tool to select the sky, then a Levels adjustment to visually correct the sky.
  8. At this point I used the Shadows/Highlights command (found under Image > Adjustments) to subtly manipulate highlight, shadow, and midtone dynamic range. Sean Bagshaw has a great video details how to work with this tool here: http://youtu.be/IiodpzTLzlI.

    Shadows and Highlights in PS

    The PS Shadows and Highlights Command

That completes my basic menu of RAW processing for an image. Further processing is image dependent and may include working with Luminosity Masks (highly, highly recommended!), dodging and burning, further trips into ACR to tweak basic exposure settings, and finally output sharpening.

Here is the final image.

RAW processing - final image

Final Processed Image

I hope you found this peek into my post-processing helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to ask and I will respond ASAP.

All the best,

Scott Snyder



Posted in Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, Post Production, RAW File Processing Tagged , , , , , , , |