Thursday, 24 April 2008

Using Flash for Digital Macro Photography

Ring Flash – Is it the Answer to all Macro Photography Problems?
Welcome to my Macro Photography for Beginners website. In my last post I documented the way in which I successfully cleaned my Camera Sensor. This was much easier than I had anticipated and has given my camera a new lease of life. I am now enjoying using my camera again and making full use of small aperture values. In the UK the weather has been quite cold this week which does not bother me at all but it is not the best conditions for macro photography. Despite this I hope you enjoy this post and pick up some useful macro photography tips along the way. If you are a regular reader of my website you will already know that I use a Sigma EM 140 DG Ring-flash. I chose to use this equipment because my main interest is flower photography. If your main interest is bugs, spiders, insects, butterflies, moths or similar creatures you may prefer to use a standard flash unit on a bracket (or arm) and fitted with a diffuser. This is possibly the most versatile use of off-camera flash for macro photography. Using an ordinary flash gun has quite a few advantages as it can be used as an ordinary flash gun as well. A ring flash or twin flash is only really going to be useful for macro, although some people have been known to use them for portrait photography. Photographers argue and debate these topics day in day out all over the internet on forums, blogs and social network communities. It’s a matter of finding the set-up that suits your photographic requirements. Ring-flash always gets a bad press for giving flat results with no shadows. I believe that some of this criticism is unjustified and often propagated by photographers who have never used ring-flash themselves. There are a lot of nature photographers who use and recommend ring-flash for macro photography. The fact remains that macro photography is a tremendous challenge whether you use a ring flash, twin flash or a diffused flash gun attached to a bracket.

Figure 1. Bob-the-Builder taken using Sigma EM-140 DG Ring Flash (Click to enlarge)

How to Solve Lighting Problems?
It would be reasonable to assume that by adding a ring flash to your existing equipment all your lighting problems would be solved. If only macro photography was that simple. Adding an expensive flash unit will only give you more options of how to solve lighting problems. The problems still exist and in many cases the flash may cause some new ones. It certainly adds more weight to your camera! This will add more stress to the ball head of your tripod. Be prepared for this by using a suitable and high quality ball-head on your tripod.

The flash will usually do a reasonable job of illuminating the subject but in some situations will make the background dark. This is generally the argument against using this type of flash. However this is the consequence of using a ring-flash as the primary light source. Sometimes this effect can be beneficial depending on the subject. I have seen comments on photography forums and websites about black or dark backgrounds in macro looking amateurish. This is nonsense if you fill the frame with an interesting subject the background will become less significant. When your subject fills the frame there will be very little area of background. The problem can be rectified by adding more lighting or using additional (slave) flash units. Too much is made of dark backgrounds in macro photographs in my opinion. There are lots of ways to avoid dark backgrounds. Make as much use of ambient (natural) light as possible and use the flash to fill-in. . Image editing software can be used to alter the backgrounds appearance afterwards. This type of creative image manipulation is frowned upon by many photographers. In my opinion all is fair in love and war and we should do everything possible to improve the images.

The Power of the Sandwich!
Batteries – flash units need power. This means you now have to keep the camera and your flash unit fully charged. If one of them loses all their power during a session and you have no spare batteries your session will be short lived. This can cause missed opportunities and in some cases hair loss. This is not the fault of the flash unit it is a consequence of poor planning. It’s an obvious and slightly expensive solution to have a set of fully charged spare batteries for your camera and flash unit. It can be difficult managing all the separate equipment required for macro photography. It is a good idea to write a check list and refer to it before setting out. Tick everything you need to take with you off the list. Make sure you put a flask of tea on the list and a sandwich to eat. Macro Photography can get very physical and you will need plenty of energy. (read my post on the perils of macro)

The Sigma ring-flash is not waterproof, are any other ring or twin flashes waterproof? This is a major concern when faced with a British summer. However you can make a cover and use waterproofing solution to make it waterproof. I have not investigated whether a commercially made cover exists for this product. I really enjoy a day out in the rain with my camera, and I have learnt how to keep my camera and equipment dry. Water and complex electronics generally do not tend to like each other! I think that it is important not to be dictated to by the weather. If you do not go fishing you will never catch any fish!

Bumhole Syndrome
Remember that all photography forums and clubs have a resident “bumhole” who knows everything there is to know about photography but oddly never produce any photographs of any worth back up their wealth of knowledge. A “bumhole” is the type of person who reads an article or forum post about ring-flash and then copies the sentiments of the writer to lots of other blogs. forums and social networking communities. This means that one photographer who has used a product and found it unsatisfactory for his purposes suddenly becomes 10,000 people. I would guess that 90% of comments made about camera equipment are by people who have never used it. This means you have to read very carefully and eliminate any information that has been added by “bumholes”. In the words of the legendary singer, Morrissey:-

“There is always someone somewhere with a big nose who knows and he will trip you up and laugh when you fall”

The moral of course is to find someone you trust and find out what they think of the particular piece of equipment. The fact is no matter how you choose to do your macro photography there will always be problems to overcome. This is all part of the challenge and should be met with great enthusiasm by the macro photographer. Two of the most difficult obstacles you need to overcome with macro photography are motivation and dedication. How motivated are you to succeed and what is the consequence of failing? Are you dedicated to Macro Photography or just taking a few pictures to pass the time? The more determined you are to succeed can make a lot of difference to your results.

Lets face it there are thousands of different ways to take macro photographs and we are all trying to apply macro to different subjects. I like to take insects and wild flowers but also will attempt a shot at anything else. I recently spent an entire weekend trying to photograph water droplets. I suspended a bag of water over a bowl and punctured it. I then pressed the shutter release every time a drop of water fell. I managed to get a few good shots but also splashed my camera and lens. Not a good idea really but after two days and 500 shots later I had about 3 decent water droplet shots (see figure 2). I really enjoyed it, if only I had done this after cleaning dust from the sensor they would not have all been covered in dirty sensor marks. This makes it difficult to generalize a subject as diverse as macro photography and flash. Many people fail to realise the complexity of adding flash to the equation. Suddenly there are sudden bursts of light that have to be understood, initiated and understood to reap any benefits.

Figure 2. Water Droplet Macro (click to enlarge) - you can see that this was taken before I cleaned the camera sensor.

I very nearly bought a twin flash set-up for my camera. It was at the last minute that I opted for the Sigma EM 140 DG Ring-flash. Why I hear you ask? Well I realised that the sigma does everything that I need at the moment. It cost half as much and is compatible with my camera and my lens (albeit with a 72mm adaptor ring. BTW this does not cause any problems with the 150mm lens to my knowledge). I have certainly not detected any degradation in any of my photographs taken with this set up. The sigma ring flash works very much the same as a twin flash. It does not fire as a ring of light but as two bursts at either side of the lens. The flash assembly connects to an adapter ring that fits into the threads of the lens. The ring flash assembly can be rotated around the circle to any position you find productive. I have been very impressed with it and never regretted my decision to by the sigma. I am sure that Canon, Nikon and Sony twin flashes are also versatile and would do as a good a job, if not better but at such high prices this has to be expected.

To summarise this post a ring flash is only useful when working in macro or at least very close-up. If you are not close enough then you are simply re-creating the pop-up built in flash scenario. The anti-ring flash photographers may have never considered that the device can be operated off the camera. I often disconnect the ring flash assembly and hold it at an angle (between 35 – 45 degrees) towards the subject. This is a inconvenient and I have begun investigating ways to attach the ring-flash in this position permanently. I have designed a bracket but have not built a prototype yet. If anyone has found a way to do this easily already please let me know. It is also possible to diffuse the flash for softer lighting increasing the ratio of ambient light in the exposure. This should help with the black or dark background situation. There are lots of subjects that do not require any flash. I have taken a photograph of a coin with and without flash in figure3. Which photograph do you like best?

Figure 3. Which of these coins is taken using flash? (click to enlarge)

I have no other news or information to divulge this week. Except that I bought a new battery for my Canon 300D (Rebel or Kiss Digital). This is quite a useful tip for any users of this camera. Instead of buying the original battery as a replacement (BP-511) you should try to get the longer lasting BP-511A. It is a much better battery for this camera because it keeps it charge for a very long time. Remember that generic batteries are not a good idea and should be avoided. I have had them fail completely in the past and this could have damaged my camera. Keep away from the “bumholes” of this world and enjoy your macro photography.

Marvin Africa

N.B. the first reader to call me a "bumhole" in the comments gets to keep the coin!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Cleaning the Camera Sensor | CCD | CMOS | Sensor Swabs | Eclipse Fluid

A Strange Man on the Internet Says That it is Safe!
Welcome to Macro Photography for Beginners. Although this post may initially appear to have little to do with macro photography. In fact it could prove to be quite useful even if you have a point and shoot, compact or bridge camera. All optical and electronic equipment needs to be maintained and cleaned for best performance at some point. Neglect your expensive camera and lenses and you may as well set your money alight and make a conical hat with the letter D printed on the front (a dunce’s hat). There is no doubt that photography is an expensive past-time. I accept that there are lots of websites, blogs and books that tell us all how to make camera equipment from cardboard boxes, old toilet rolls and bits of tin foil. I have made plenty of home-made gadgetry in my time and will continue to do so. I regard making camera equipment as an education and recommend such projects to my readers. However, the fact remains that for the fundamental gear you have to spend some money. To protect your financial investment you will have to spend more money on cleaning and maintenance. Keeping the camera and photography equipment clean will ensure that it works at its optimum. I would like to point out that cleaning the camera sensor is not part of routine maintenance. Only clean the camera sensor when it requires cleaning, not when you feel like it Cleaning and maintenance must be done properly to prevent expensive and potentially fatal damage to the sensitive areas of your camera or optical equipment. There are companies that will service your camera for you but it often means sending your camera away or leaving it behind while you wait for it to be serviced. I've heard lots of horror stories of cameras getting lost, damaged and coming back dirtier than when they went in for service. I do not know whether these stories are true or not but I took the decision to clean my camera sensor myself. To find out if this went to plan or ended in tragedy you will have to read the rest of this post!

Figure 1. Using Adobe Photoshop to highlight the dust on the camera sensor (click to enlarge if you dare) Note: Most of this sensor dust would not be visible under normal photographic circumstances.

Sensor Cleaning Products
Sensor cleaning products are not cheap. I would be worried if they were cheap because they have to be of the highest quality. I have just had to spend a large amount of cash on a pack of 12 sensor swabs and a small bottle of Eclipse cleaning fluid. I did a lot of research before purchasing the appropriate sensor cleaning products. There are such a lot products available it is enough to boggle the sanest of minds. In the end it was possible to narrow it down to the essentials, these being the most reliable from the myriad of products available. The sensor cleaning swabs that I decided to use are manufactured by Photographic Solutions and are very highly recommended by photographers. The makers are confident enough to guarantee that their pec-pad product will not damage the camera sensor when used correctly. I can confirm that they are of a very high quality and each pad arrives individually vacuum packed. I also bought a Giotto Rocket-Air blower for getting rid of all the surface dust in those impossible to reach areas. My plan is to attempt to clear all the loose surface dust with the Giotto Rocket-Air blower. The main reason for this protracted cause of action is to avoid dragging any grit over the sensor with the pec-pad when wet cleaning the sensor. To remove the more stubborn sensor dirt such as pollen grains or grease I will use Eclipse Sensor Cleaning Fluid and a sterile Pec Pad.

I also used the Giotto Rocket-Air blower to remove all the dust from the chamber (sounds a bit strange that!). Talking of strange things…using analytic tools to check how visitors found my macro photography for beginners website I found the words “Granny Flasher” in the list of keywords. I confess to using the word Granny in one of my earlier posts. It was used in relevant context in a statement about photographic composition. I am not sure what this term refers too exactly (However, I am quite reluctant to use it too often in case lots of people arrive here under false pretences, after all I do not want to be prosecuted under the trade descriptions act. I wonder if this is a consequence of making a joke about indecent exposure in one of my earlier posts. I might have to be more careful how I word my posts in future. There is no chance whatsoever of me telling the hilarious story about my neighbours gardener and his pet cockerel.

Figure 2. Giotto Rocket-Air. If you do not have one of these blowers go out and buy one right away!

Before you clean the sensor in your camera you ought to find out exactly what it is you are cleaning. Not all sensors are the same and most people incorrectly call their sensor a CCD. Not all Digital Cameras have sensors that use a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD). This component is not strictly the sensor itself anyway but part of the processing system. The Canon 300D (Rebel or Kiss to some people) has a Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor image sensor (CMOS). It is important to understand which type of sensor your camera uses because some of them have different coatings. Make sure that you buy the correct size and type of sensor swabs for your make and model of camera. Damage the delicate coating on the sensor by using the wrong sort of cleaning product and you will be left looking at an expensive paperweight. To make certain that the sensor on my camera requires cleaning I have examined it carefully and found several large specks of dust. I have already cleaned all my lenses very thoroughly and will take several test images before attacking the actual sensor with the Eclipse fluid and pec-pad. Technically it is not the actual sensor that need to be cleaned, but a coated filter that sits above it. Although my digital camera is getting old and I am thinking about upgrading to a more advanced model, I still want to preserve this iconic device for future generations to admire. This is a camera that introduced digital single reflex lens photography to the consumer and ignited the touchpaper for the digital camera explosion.

Cleaning the Viewfinder
Dust in the view finder obviously does not affect the outcome of the image, however it can be quite annoying and is a cause of distraction, particularly on older models that do not have a live view option. To clean the view finder of my camera I used the Giotto Rocket-Air to remove surface dust. Giotto makes a cleaning kit that includes Cleaning Solution, Micro-fibre cloth (magic cloth), a retractable brush and Cotton Swabs (with paper shaft). The kit comes with the excellent Rocket-Air blower and is relatively cheap to buy. The cleaning solution is environmentally friendly and if the information on the packaging is to be believed, innocuous as fresh air. I suffer with mild asthma and it did not trigger any symptoms. The kit is not specifically for cleaning cameras, it can be used for all kinds of devices. It is a really useful item to have around the home. The Giotto Rocket-Air blower comes in handy for getting dust from awkward places. I use mine to clean around dashboard switches in the car and to remove dust from the heat grills in my LCD televisions. It is great for cleaning dust, hair and crumbs from computer/laptop keyboards. The reason I mentioned this kit is that it comes with the cotton swabs. DO NOT use the Giotto fluid or cotton swabs to clean the camera sensor. I only use the Giotto cleaning kit to clean the outside of my camera, lenses, other optical equipment (i.e. Binoculars) and household items (i.e DVD's, CD's, telephones etc). The Giotto cotton swabs have a blunt end and a pointed end and are great for cleaning the outer glass of the cameras viewfinder. I used the Giotto Rocket-Air blower to remove dust from the interior of the view finder. This has to be done very carefully to avoid touching the mirror. The mirror is accurately aligned and any contact could move it out of position. The viewfinder has always been a very difficult area to clean on my camera. I was obviously pleased to finally discover a method that actually works. Now when I look through the view finder I am no longer confronted with hair, dust and pollen grains.

Cleaning the Camera Sensor!
Sensor dust is a major concern for photographers using Digital SLR cameras. Modern SLR cameras have self-cleaning sensors that vibrate when the camera is turned on to shake off surface dust particles. Although these systems work quite well some substances are more difficult to shake off than others. Pollen grains for example may stick to the sensor surface or small amounts of oil and grease used to lubricate the cameras mirror mechanism. These more stubborn substances will not be removed with a blower and therefore have to be removed by wet cleaning. Wet cleaning the sensor means using a special formula cleaning fluid and a swab tool called a pec-pad.

I was determined to continue with the more risky process of wet cleaning the camera sensor. I would like to stress the point that I am a very competent person with regard to machines, devices and tools. If you are not confident about your ability to clean the sensor in your own camera then please do not attempt to clean your sensor. There are plenty of camera repair and maintenance companies who can service your camera for you. Anyway…I like to take the occasional gamble and ploughed on with the sensor cleaning process. I have to say, it was much easier than I ever expected. I made sure the camera had a fully charged battery (it will not let you clean the sensor without a full battery). Removed the lens and used the menu to put the camera into sensor cleaning mode. This lifts the mirror up giving you clear access to the sensor below. I placed the camera on its back facing upwards on a sturdy surface, took the pec pad from the sterile packet and added some Eclipse cleaning fluid (2-3 drops). I then swiftly and firmly moved the pec pad from left to right, turned it over and ran it right to left. On the first run the pec pad juddered a little in the middle section of the sensor and I was concerned that I had pressed a little bit too hard. The process is quite like pressing down on a pocket calculator screen with your finger. The sensor changes colour as you progress along it in the same way. I was slightly anxious and wanted to test the camera as soon as the cleaning process was completed. Cleaning the sensor had only taken approximately 2 minutes from beginning to end. I was pleased to discover that my camera worked perfectly and the sensor was notably cleaner, but not perfect as there are still one or two small marks on the sensor. It is nothing that I can not live with, and hopefully I will get those pesky particles next time! Overall, I am happy with the results and would not feel concerned about repeating the process.

Figure 3. This image of a white sheet of paper has had the levels changed in Adobe Photoshop to highlight any dust remaining on the sensor (the same technique as Figure 1). There are a few specks of dust in the upper left corner of the picture but they do not appear under normal photographic circumstances even at small aperture values. They may have survived this first onslaught but I will try and get them next time!

I hope that you have found this article useful and thank you for visiting my macro photography for beginners website. Now that I have got my camera sensor clean I can get back to taking macro photographs!

Marvin Africa

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Macro Photography Tips for Beginners

Welcome to my macro photography for beginners website. The title of this post is self explanatory. I am aiming to address some of the problems that lead to poor results in macro photography. In my last post I showed you my apple experiment and wrote about the virtues of manual focus. In this post I will give you some tips on finding the right camera equipment for your budget. I also want to spend a little bit of time on using TTL ring flash for macro photography. In previous posts I have mentioned ways to harness ambient light (available natural light) which makes it possible to avoid using flash photography or a high ISO setting. To get as much natural light you can use reflective material called deflectors to direct more light at your subject. The position of the camera will make quite a lot of difference to the amount of light available. It is best not to point the camera into direct sun light as this will cause the dreaded silhouette effect that we all aim to avoid. A lens hood can be used to minimise the amount of direct sunlight entering the camera. The main problem with macro photography is gathering enough light to get a good exposure with your desired settings. As a photographer you have to choose how to overcome these problems. I will tell you all about how I tackle some of the problems that I have encountered. In doing so, I am not saying that it is the best way to do it or the least expensive. It is merely the path I have chosen and is based on my own personal experiences. A good way to learn about macro photography is to read other photographers websites (like this one!) I often look at how other photographers capture subjects that I am interested in. Most photographers are keen to inform others how they achieved their best work. I’m not saying that photographers like to boast… actually that is exactly what I’m saying. Most photographers are keen to talk about their achievements and the equipment that they are using. You can find some good information on file sharing websites and photography forums (please finish reading my article first!) Sadly many of the best photographers are using equipment outside of my financial budget. However, I strive to get the best results from the equipment that I have acquired. It has taken me several years to collect, build and bodge together the items that I use for my macro photography.

Macro Photography Gear

Figure 1. Some of the Macro Photography Equipment That I am Currently Using.

There is no doubt that your personal budget will dictate what type of macro photography equipment you can use. This certainly applies to my own set-up and most photographers that I have come into contact with over the years. How you distribute your budget is entirely up to you but I will offer you some suggestions. Most compact cameras have a macro mode and are capable of taking close-up photographs. It is possible to get some very good close up pictures with some of the better cameras in this category. I find this type of camera a little bit difficult to use but they have some good qualities too. I envy the fact that you can fit the camera in your pocket. Most very small cameras are not great for macro because they have poor aperture control. They are really designed for day-to-day photography. The aperture on most compacts makes them more suitable for home and leisure photography. Bridge cameras are a different kettle of fish altogether. These cameras resemble the SLR but have fixed lenses. With the addition of a close-up filter it is possible to get some exceptional macro photography with these cameras when fitted with a close up filter. The added bonus is that you never have to change lenses or worry about cleaning the sensor. (I am about to embark on cleaning the sensor in my own camera very soon. When my cleaning kit arrives I will write a detailed post about my experience of cleaning the sensor…oh dear!) I have seen some stunning macro photography taken with bridge cameras recently. If you have a low financial budget I would recommend that you consider a bridge camera. A bridge camera has some limitations but is better than the very compact cameras for macro photography. If you are really serious about macro photography you need to think about getting a digital single reflex camera (DSLR).

How to Divide your Macro Photography Budget
Most photographers buy a Canon or a Nikon camera. The reason most people buy Canon or Nikon brands is that they are better than the rest and have a better range of lenses. [Yes they do…] I don’t want to argue about which is best between the two brands! They both have their admirers and considering all pros and cons they always come out fairly even. It usually turns out that once you buy one brand you are stuck with your choice. This is because your accessories are not usually interchangeable between brands. A canon mount lens will not fit a Nikon camera and vice versa. Sony, Olympus and Pentax all make quality cameras and are a suitable choice if you are determined to be different. Entry level cameras upwards are great for beginners to learn their respective arts. The current crop of Canon digital EOS cameras and Nikon D-series are all perfect for macro photography. Choose any of these cameras and get a decent lens and you will not be disappointed (with the camera, the photography is another matter…read my website regularly and you might not be disappointed with that either!)

So my overall advice is to buy a good SLR camera and put a highly rated macro lens on it. This will give better results than an expensive top of the range camera with a poor quality macro lens combination. Divide your budget in a way that will produce good results out of the box. Photography is not about showing off or having more expensive camera equipment than someone else. In saying that buy the best equipment you can reasonably afford and avoid buying items or products that you can make for free, pick up second hand or do without. If you do not need the lens that comes with your SLR package buy the body only and get a quality macro lens separately. Most of all do some research and read as many camera review websites and camera magazines as possible before making your final choice. It is a very difficult decision and a very expensive mistake if you get it all wrong. I recommend buying a camera from a well know retailer in your own locality rather than taking a gamble on internet auctions and “moon-on-a-stick” websites.

Buy a Dedicated Macro Lens
I bought the Sigma 150mm APO Macro DG HSM because it suited my budget. If I had a larger a budget I would have probably bought the equivalent Canon, although the longer working distance of the Sigma is a real benefit for insect photography. As it turns out the Sigma is an excellent lens and from what I read on photography forums on the internet so is the Sigma 105mm. One of the advantages of macro equipment is that manufacturers rarely produce poor quality macro lenses. Most of the lenses you can buy today are built for digital photography and are of excellent build quality. Always read reviews before paying for an expensive lens.

Flash Photography |Twin Flash or Ring Flash?
Most beginners are reluctant to spend a lot of money on a flash system. This is until they realise how much they need one to get good results. Ring flashes are the most popular choice for macro photographers. Twin Flash is a more expensive option. A twin flash is two small flash units mounted on a ring fitting, the same as a ring flash. If they are used properly these types of flash can give excellent results. In addition they can be used in conjunction with a flash gun for even more lighting control. Usually the ring flash is set up as the master unit and the flash gun as the slave unit. This can be done as a wireless configuration when compatible flash units are used together. I have read a few reviews that condemn twin flashes for being two harsh. Ring-flash also gets a bad press for giving flat results and adding weird lighting effects to the images. In most cases the equipment is set up incorrectly or may even be damaged. As for giving flat lighting that is what it was it was designed to do!

Still life Photography Lighting | Buy of Build a Light-box
If you are only interested in still life photography such as products for internet auction sites you only need good lighting. This can be achieved by building a small studio and placing adequate lighting for your products. This can be done for relatively low cost and will give very good results. There are lots of books and websites that will tell you how to build a studio or light box for free. I have built many structures of this type and it really does give superb results. Building a light-box is an education in itself about lighting and macro photography. I would recommend that you try building a light-box and take photographs of products as if you wanted to sell them on a website. I am going to build a new light-box this year and may well document it all for this website. I have not decided on this yet but it will probably be at the end of the summer. (A sad time for macro photographers)

Please note:
To use the Sigma EM-140 DG Ring-Flash with the Sigma 150mm 1:2:8: APO Macro DG HSM you need to purchase a 72mm adaptor ring separately. The adapter ring screws into the threads at the end of the lens and connects to the ring-flash assembly unit. I bought the sigma lens due to its reputation as an excellent wildlife macro lens. Let me assure you that I was not disappointed. Since acquiring this lens it has been almost permanently attached to the camera. I bought the Sigma Ring-flash for similar reasons and for compatibility with the lens. In addition I prefer to take scientific photographs of plants for identification and the "flat" even lighting is required for this type of work.

A high quality sturdy tripod is essential kit for a dedicated macro photographer. Consider the top tripod brands such as Gitzo, Manfrotto etc. I use a Benbo because it is a flexible piece of kit. Some photographers dislike Benbo tripods because they can be a bit of a handful. I recommend that you borrow one or try one in store before spending your money. I think they are better when used with a decent ball head. A focussing rail is another way to improve the flexibility of the tripod allowing the camera to slide in small increments backwards and forwards. Remember that at high magnification moving the camera is the best way to focus on your subject. It is possible to get a fairly decent tripod for quite reasonable money. Avoid the really cheap trashy tripods with the all in pan-tilt heads. These are designed for camcorders and have a tendency to break when used with heavy equipment. If a tripod is outside of your budget you might want to consider getting a mono-pod. A good mono-pod is a cost effective way to steady the camera. There are plenty of macro photographers who prefer to operate the camera hand-held.

Additional Equipment and Accessories
There are plenty of ways to keep the camera steady without using a tripod. A couple of popular options are to place the camera on a beanbag or use a Gorilla Pod. It is quite easy to make your own bean bag if you know how to sow. A beanbag is a small soft pillow with a pliable filling (usually small plastic balls). It can be placed on a post or on the ground and the camera can be nestled into it. They are brilliant for low to the ground photography. A beanbag can save you a huge amount of set-up time. It is simply a matter of throwing it down and putting the camera on top of it. They come in all shapes and sizes and are available from all good camera shops and retailers (and probably some rubbish ones as well). Gorilla Pods (also known as Gorilla Grips) are a relatively new invention. They are miniature tripod like structures made with pliable (bendable) wire legs. The legs can wrap around other structures such as branches or sign posts. The camera attaches to the Gorilla Pod with a traditional quick release plate mechanism. I have never tried using a Gorilla Pod but they do look like a useful piece of gear. I am sure that there are plenty of similar products with equally imaginative names. If a product has the word Gorilla in it you know its going to be a winner! I am thinking of changing the name of my website to Macro Photography for Gorillas! That might increase the traffic. Another useful item is the "Plamp" (I think that is what it is called). This device is a bendable or pliable structure with crocodile clamp on either end. It can be used to grip and hold objects. A bit like having an extra arm to hold items in place for you. The name is not quite as good but these are very useful items put them on your shopping list.

A remote switch makes life much easier so opt for the one that suits you best. My preference is for the cable type because it can be operated from behind the camera. The infared switches have to be operated from in front of the camera. (this may be different for your camera, I recommend that you check the manual) This would obviously cause a few problems for macro photography. The reason of course is that you spend most of your time behind the camera making fine adjustments to your camera set-up and settings. If you find that you are spending a lot of time on your knees you can make life a little bit more comfortable by wearing a pair of knee-pads. You can even try wearing them whilst doing some macro photography! (LOL) Knee-pads are usually available from merchants that sell health and safety equipment.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my macro photography for beginners website. If you have any suggestions, questions or comments please feel free to contact me by email or via the comments box. Cheers and happy shooting.

Marvin Africa

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Composition using Manual Focus

Welcome to my Macro Photography for Beginners website!

Composition continued…
In my lost post I wrote about composition and how it can be used to improve your macro photography. In fact a good composition can be used to improve any type of photography. I know several photographers who get rather annoyed if I call their photographs “snaps”. Snaps is obviously a derivative of snapshot which implies that they are taken with no thought, effort or planning. In the same way I often refer to photographs as shots, which is the other half of snapshots. In reality I would not usually call a photograph a shot, snap or snapshot. I am a bit old fashioned and still generally call them photographs although technically they are now digital images. Now, this could turn into an argument because although they are digital images they are still written with light. The photographic medium is no longer film but a digital sensor. I suppose at the end of the day we must call them what we like and allow others to do the same. If we are to stop calling them photographs would that herald the end of photography? If the end product is a digital image then the practice of capturing them would be digital-imagery! Not forgetting that many people are still using film cameras and equipment. *Enter joke about dinosaurs of your own choice here*

My Apple Experiment
This post is in fact a supplementary addition to my previous post on composition. I made this image of two apples and asked several people which one of the two apples they preferred. Everyone that I have asked so far has gone for the fruit on the right with the red background. I then asked them them why they had chosen the apple with the red background? Everyone responded with similar answers which lead to a general consensus that the apple on the right looks more interesting than the one on the left. It is of course the exact same apple sprayed with a fine mist of water and lit with a small bright lamp from the left. The images originally had the same background as well but this has been changed in Adobe Photoshop CS2. This experiment is quite interesting and you will find your eyes drawn more and more to the image on the right because of the fine mist of water. Water droplets give a composition a much more natural look and makes fruit, flowers and plants (particularly foliage) look more inviting.

Figure 1. Apple Experiment - Which apple would you select as the most interesting?

Water/Mist Sprayers
Another point I wanted to bring to your attention is that you can find fine water sprayers for almost no cost. A quick blast of water onto your subject will add a lot more interest. I have always avoided old perfume bottles and similar used vessels for this because they always retain the perfumes fragrance. I like taking pictures of fruit and vegetables but spraying fruit with perfume might impair the taste. I know what you’re thinking…and yes I will take a photograph of just about anything! Just use a small amount of fill flash to avoid distracting catchlights in the water droplets. (Unless you are aiming for reflections in the water droplets then increase the amount of flash until you get the desired effect) I am hoping to write a more detailed post about using ring flash next time. Spraying subjects with water is how the professionals add interest to fairly mundane itemss such as foliage, glass bottles, flowers and fruit. It is obviously not a technique to use on bugs or small animals! (although I have tried it on a few people and dogs with mixed results!). It works best with fruit, plants and particularly flowers. Make sure you use a fine spray of water and not a garden hosepipe! Some photographers have been known to add a few drops of glycerol to the water to alter the properties of the drops. This is more relevant when working with water droplets, but that is another story.

Manual Focus versus Auto Focus
Macro Lenses specifically built for digital macro photography are usually very expensive. A large proportion of the cost of the lens is the electric motors that control the auto-focus feature. The motors are very small and technically advanced to provide the photographer with smooth, accurate and fast auto-focussing. Although the motors are quite small they do add some weight to the lens. The lens that I use is quite heavy but I have a genuine affection for this piece of equipment. The weight can actually be beneficial when hand holding as it is easier to hold a heavy lens steadyl. Camera lenses are quite often reviewed on internet websites and in magazines. Auto-focus is always one of the main factors taken into consideration in reviews. The strange thing is that macro photography is easier, more effective and quicker when you use manual focus. This may seem a little bit baffling for a novice after paying for an expensive top of the range macro lens. The lens is highly recommended on several internet review sites and comes top in your favourite photography magazine review section. A strange man on the internet is now suggesting that you turn off the auto focus and do the job by hand.

The Benefits of Manual Focus
The reason for turning off auto focus becomes self evident once you begin using your macro lens. At high levels of magnification auto-focussing system becomes unreliable. This is because the auto-focus system is trying to find (straight) edges to calculate the distance. If there is not any easily definable straight edges in the frame the camera will begin to “hunt”. This means that the lens will continue to move through the focal range without focussing on the subject. Another problem can arise when the auto-focus picks out an object in the foreground or background and focuses on this instead of the subject. It can all get very frustrating and often results in lost opportunities when working with insects. To avoid the lens hunting you need to switch to manual focus. This means that you have to turn the focus ring yourself to focus on your subject. It is surprisingly easy to do and has several advantages over auto-focusing.

  1. Manual focus uses less battery power
  2. Manual focus is quicker than using auto-focus
  3. Manual focus is quieter than auto-focus reducing the chance of disturbing your subjects during wildlife photography.
  4. You are in full control of the camera when focussing manually.
  5. Reduces wear and tear of your lens motors.

I would recommend that you practice using manual focus for all your macro photography. It is easy to enough to do but I will tell you how to do it anyway just in case you’re not sure. There should be a switch on the lens itself that can be moved between auto-focus (AF) and manual focus (M). Slide the switch to the M. Look through the view finder and find your subject. Turn the focussing ring until the subject looks sharp in the frame. Press the shutter button. That’s all there is to using manual focus, it is simple, fast and will speed up the process of taking photographs. This is important when trying to capture subjects that do not hang around and pose for the camera.

Thank you for visiting my Macro Photography for Beginners website. I hope you found the information informative and useful. If you have any comments or suggestion please use the comments box.

Marvin Africa

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

How to get the Right Composition for Your Photographs

The Basics of a Good Photographic Composition
I want to discuss the merits of getting a photograph with good composition.. My motivation for writing this website is to help beginners to macro photography learn the basics and start getting impressive photographs for their portfolios. It is easy to become disillusioned and feel dejected when you have spent a lot of money on (digital) camera equipment and the results are poor with no sign of improvement. The main point to remember is that it is all part and parcel of the process. You must stay focussed and keep trying new and interesting methods of photography. In a strange way those early images that are a bit fuzzy, badly composed and under or over exposed are quite valuable. It is these first attempts that provide the inspiration to improve and evolve our skills and techniques to get better photographs of our subjects. Looks like I have gone off at a tangent again…perhaps I should compose myself before writing the rest of this post on photographic composition!

Make your Average Macro Photograph into a Masterpiece
So you’ve figured out the right aperture value to get your desired depth of field. The shutter speed has been calculated and you are using a sturdy tripod and a remote switch. Exposure problems are a thing of the past now that you understand how to use a bit of fill-in flash (actually I might not have covered that one yet but I will do soon). The photograph is taken with no movement and all the details are pin sharp and in focus. Is there anything more that you could have done to improve the outcome of this photograph? The answer to this question is YES. Composition is essentially the component of photography that can make what would be a rather average image into a photographic masterpiece. First of all we need to establish exactly what composition means. In photography the composition is really the bringing together of several elements that collectively make the photograph better. The brilliant photographs that you admire are not created by chance. Professional photographs are usually inspired by an imaginative person expressing their creative ability.

Have you ever watched one of those really badly written television drama programmes? Where an “artist” (of some description) comes to town and tries to gain the affections (or finances) of a young and impresionable girl. The stereotypical “artist” is shown framing objects by using his fingers to make a rectangle. I want you to do this before you continue reading the rest of this page. I find that after a while that it makes the fingers hurt? Although the writing and acting is usually terrible this stereotypical artist is actually looking at the composition. An easier way to do this is to cut a rectangle (6 x 4) from a sheet of cardboard. This is a very useful technique for finding a good composition in landscape photography. Macro Photography is much different and these techniques are much less useful here. The only realistic way to compose your images in macro photography is through the viewfinder. Still life objects are much easier to photograph than living organisms. Setting up the camera on a tripod and moving the still life objects (such as coins, stamps etc) into position is not too difficult. It gets much more difficult when working outdoors with wild flowers or insects. Sometimes you can move material that you do not want in the frame of the photographic composition. There are times when you have to move the whole set-up to eliminate a particular eyesore. At least if you are thinking about the final results by looking at the frame as a whole, you are on the right track. This is really what you need to think about when composing during macro photography.

Here is my list of things to check when composing a macro photograph. If you’re not doing most of these already you have not been reading my website.

  1. Magnification – how big do you want your subject in the frame
  2. Distance – how close do you want to be to your subject
  3. Depth of Field – do you want to blur the background or make it sharp
  4. Plane of Focus – align the camera parallel to the subject
  5. Aperture – set the aperture to control the depth of field
  6. Shutter Speed – use the appropriate shutter speed. If there is any movement do you want to freeze it or add motion blur.
  7. Exposure – Ensure that your settings give you a good exposure. Take a test shot to test the settings with the histogram feature. Do you need to use flash or increase the ISO setting?
  8. Subject – Chose a good angle for your subject. Focus on the portion you want to be sharpest in the frame. When photographing a living creature it is popular to go for the eyes (if possible).
  9. Background – Check that your background and subject are suited. Look for anything that might spoil the photograph in the background.
  10. Take the photograph. Check the histogram and LCD screen to make sure you got the best possible result. If not, recompose and take the image again until you get the image your want or your battery runs out!

The composition of a photograph is simply what you see in the frame. This is inclusive of the subject and the background. It is everything that goes into the photograph. To make the composition stronger you have to consider which side of the subject to photograph. It is important in macro photography to consider the depth of field. To improve the depth of field align the camera sensor with the subject, this is the plane of focus. Eliminate any objects that distract the eye from the subject. In general day to day photography composition is often overlooked. If you take a snap shot of Granny sitting on bench at the zoo you might not think about the trees in the background. Later you may discover that by chance Granny has a large branch sprouting from her head. With a little bit more thought about composition this scenario would have been avoided. Although this site is solely about macro photography composition applies to all photography.

Lead-in lines
The human brain is a funny thing! Trust me I’ve got one. When you look at a picture that has lines in it the eye follows the line to see where they go. In photography this behaviour can be exploited when creating the composition. In landscape photograph of a farm-house you could use the farm track (dirt road) up to the farm-house as a lead-in line. This would lead the observer to the point of focus. In macro photography you can use the same principle to improve your composition. In botanical photography some species of flowers have “honey guides” leading into the flower itself. These are often brightly coloured strips of colour to attract bees and other insects to the pollen. Honey guides make great lead-in lines for some species of flowers. The main point I want to make is that you should think about lead-in lines when setting up your composition. If the subject or background has lines that the eye will follow you must decide to use them to your advantage, or discard them if they will lead the eye away from the subject. It all comes down to what you are trying to achieve with your photography. A medical student would probably not look for lead-in lines when photographing abdominal ulcers. A lot of my early plant photography was taken for identification and I did not require good backgrounds or composition. I still tried to get the best composition because I would often have to show my pictures to ecologists and botanists. (Experts in their fields!)

The Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds was first discovered 2500 years ago by the ancient Greeks. It is wildly accepted as the Rule of Composition in all forms of photography. The rule is simple and easy to follow. Divide the image by 3 equal lines horizontally and vertically. This makes a grid containing 9 boxes over the image. In a landscape photograph you would place the horizon on one of the horizontal lines. The rule should be used in macro photography whenever the subject allows it. The rule of thirds is not really a rule but more of a composition guideline. Sometimes you have to ignore the rule of thirds and just capture the image. Later you can crop the image using the rule of thirds, provided that you left some room in the frame. If you capture is full frame the rule of thirds has to be applied at the time of taking the photograph.

Rule of the Nonchalant Artist
There are times when your macro subject will not work with the rule of thirds. When this happens you have to use my own rule called “the Rule of the Nonchalant Artist”. This rule means ignore all other rules and conventions in the name of art. The rule of the nonchalant artist can be used for all subjects where the rule of thirds doesn’t work. The big difference between the two rules is that the rule of thirds actually works. Make sure you use it whenever the subject allows it.

Manipulate the Background
Manipulation does not just take place in badly written television programmes. It is easy to add your own background to many of your macro photographs. The easiest and least expensive way to do this is to use a sheet of coloured card. Place the sheet of coloured card underneath or behind (or both) of your subject. The card should ideally be at least 10cm further away than your subject. It does not have to be card you could use something else, but make sure your background material is made from a non-reflective surface (matt finish). A pack of coloured card can be found at all good stationers and possibly at some rubbish ones as well. This effect is obviously easier to implement with static subjects. It can be used outdoor with insects as well but you need a degree of luck and a compliant creature as a model.

Figure 1. Manipulated Background Using Coloured Cards (Click Image to Enlarge)

Macro Photography for Beginners
I hope that this has been a useful post and helps you to improve the composition of your photographs. I hope that you understand the rules of thirds because it really does make a huge amount of difference to the results. If you have any questions, suggestions, queries or comments please use the comment box or send me an email. I will either answer you directly or cover your question in a subsequent post. Thank you for reading my macro photography for beginners website. Cheers...

My next post follows on from this about Composition and Manual Focus and have a look at my apple experiment.

Marvin Africa

Thursday, 3 April 2008

How to get the Correct Exposure

Avoid Under and Over Exposure
Welcome back to Macro Photography for Beginners. I have decided to write a post about exposure. Getting the correct exposure for your photography is vital if you want to capture stunning images. The problem that occurs most often in photography is that the exposure will be too dark (under exposed) or too bright (over exposed). Unfortunately there is no magic cure for exposure problems, getting the exposure right is your primary job as a photographer. A digital camera can suggest the settings by measuring the amount of available light. This is not a guarantee for a good exposure because the automatic light metering system can be a little bit hit and miss. This becomes more evident when photographing reflective surfaces.

There are several ways to overcome your photographic exposure problems. Firstly I would recommend that you read my previous posts on aperture, depth of field and shutter speed. Exposure is much more difficult to get right when working in close up or macro photography. This is mainly due to the low levels of available light caused by the magnification and working distance. In general photography you can simply adjust the shutter speed, ISO or aperture to overcome exposure problems. When you are working with macro photography setting changes can have a negative effect on your composition. If you are attempting outdoor macro you may only get one attempt at the shot. Most mobile subjects do not hang around and pose for the camera!

So problems have to be eliminated before you get to the subject and set up the camera. I will tell you a great way to this later in this post. It does not matter how you intend to set the camera up. The easiest option is to use your camera in Aperture Priority mode (marked Av or A). In this mode the camera will adjust the shutter speed to match any aperture setting that you have entered. This eliminates studious guess work and means you only have to concentrate on setting the aperture with your depth of field in mind. A common problem with photography is that the actual end result will not resemble the image on your LCD screen. The camera uses a back-light to make the image display on the camera as a rough guide. Often the reality is that the image is much darker or much lighter. In bright sunlight it is very difficult to gauge the exposure of a shot using the LCD screen. The best way to check the exposure is to us the cameras histogram feature.

What is a histogram?
The histogram is a very useful pixel based graph of a captured image. The actual histogram displayed will vary according to what type of picture you have taken. In general a high amount of pixel activity to the left of the histogram will mean the image is under exposed. A high amount of pixel activity in the centre of the histogram means the image may be correctly exposed. A high amount of activity to the right of the histogram means that the image may be over exposed. The results depend on the image taken and this has to be considered when viewing the histogram. A properly exposed night scene will have a lot of pixels to the right. A picture of a white building will have a lot of pixels to the left but could be perfectly exposed. The histogram feature has its limitations but can be a very useful guide to how well your settings have worked. If you camera has a histogram feature, find it and figure out to use it and you will soon get the hang of getting better exposures for your photographs. Some of the new cameras on the market have much better (and larger) LCD screens than the older models. There are some ways to get around the LCD and bright sunlight problems. My advice is to forget about flip out screens and those angled optical extensions, and just learn to use the histogram. Remember that this applies to all digital photography and not just macro. Once you have established that there is some kind of problem with the exposure you will have to recompose the shot and take the picture again.

Figure 1. Example of Histogram Screen (Auto Exposure Bracketing +2 Compensation)

Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB)
Auto Exposure Bracketing is a feature that allows the photographer to take the same photograph with multiple exposures. Most digital cameras that are capable of macro offer some type of exposure bracketing. This means that you can set an equal amount of negative and positive compensation. The camera produces 3 images of the same frame (or more depending on the exact settings of your particular camera). In this example I will set my camera to take a picture with 2 stops of compensation. This means that the camera will take the first image -2 stops, the second image at 0 stops and the third image +2 stops (see figure 1). This image had the best exposure out of the 3 images. Now before you start jumping up and down yelling “hallelujah” thinking you have solved all your exposure problems, Auto Exposure Bracketing does have a few drawbacks. The main one is that is does not work on my camera at all! I think this is a bug (or a glitch) with my camera. I have a friend called Jim who used a hacked version of firmware on his canon 300D and this is said to have caused his Auto Exposure Bracketing to stop working. Please keep this in mind if you want to follow Jim’s example and use the firmware hack on your camera. If you do use the hacked firmware then your camera warranty will no longer be valid. If you have a second hand Canon 300D (Rebel XT in the US) you should check that you have the correct firmware installed. To do this select the “Menu” button and navigate to the second tools and settings tab (orange). The firmware version will be displayed here (example 1.1.0). It is fairly old news about the firmware hack so I will leave it at that for now. I just wanted to make the point that if you have hacked the firmware your auto bracketing might not work, which brings me to my last point. Auto Bracketing Exposure does not work in any of the auto modes, only Manual. It may be different on some cameras but Auto Bracketing Exposure does not work with any type of flash photography. In macro photography Auto Bracketing Exposure is as much use as a pair of chocolate underpants. It is more useful to dial in your own compensation value using Aperture Priority or Manual mode and using your off-camera flash at the same time when/if required.

Do You Need to use Flash Photography?
I think we have established that Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) is not the answer to our ongoing exposure problems. If you are serious about getting professional looking macro photographs you need to invest in a decent flash system. I chose to use a Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Ring-light Flash for my own purposes - which are mostly botanical. This is a great piece of kit for any beginner in macro photography. Having said that, it is important to find the equipment that suits your needs rather than just buying the most expensive or aesthetic gear. Learn how to get the most out of the camera and equipment you already use. The ringflash enables good exposure in all situations and with faster shutter speeds with varying aperture values. This usually results in sharp correctly exposed images which is what all photographers crave!

It is important not to become too reliant on flash photography as you can get some very good photographs without using the flash. It is always better to capture an image that looks as natural as possible. To simulate natural light with a flash gun can be a difficult task. In many cases the flash will be too powerful and result in unwanted bright spots or catchlights. Catchlights (also known as catch lights, eye lights or Obies) are often used in portrait photography to show light reflection in the subjects eyes. It is a useful creative effect when purposely employed. In macro photography the aim is generally to capture and retain as much detail as possible. A small amount of catchlight in the eye is acceptable. Additional bright spots (often caused by a ringflash, twin flash and flash guns) are considered to be exposure defects under most circumstances. Try To avoid unwanted bright spots when photographing reflective surfaces by making the flash less powerful and/or altering the angle of the shot. To diffuse the flash you can cover it with anything that will make the lighting softer. The plastic from a supermarket milk bottle or a sheet of tissue or tracing paper are quite good material to use. I recommend taking shots of highly reflective objects using different settings and techniques. Diffuse the flash and see the effect it has on the image. This will give you confidence for the next time you discover a very shiny beetle or fly. There are several other options to consider such as light tents, light boxes and polarizing filters. I plan to investigate all these options (and more) in subsequent posts. Lighting is a huge topic in relation to macro photography and deserving of a full post of it's own. In the end it comes down to using just enough fill-in flash to pick out the fine detail of the subject without washing out the exposure. Try taking some macro (or close-up) photographs of reflective objects. Stuck for ideas look around your home for anything metallic or made from glass such cutlery, jewellery, bottles and mirrors.

Figure 2. Close-up of a vegetable stock cube.

Taking Macro Shots without using Flash
If you have not got around to buying a dedicated flash unit yet here are some methods for you to try. Place a tube the length of your camera lens over the pop-up or built in flash. Seal any gaps with an appropraite adhesive tape. This slight modification will cause a burst of light when the flash fires close to your subject. It is not a perfect solution by any means but it can be effective for some still-life subjects. Another option for still-life indoor macro photography is the use of continuous lighting. This can be achieved without the use of expensive studio equipment. If you want to avoid shadows you will have to use more than one light source or use a large amount of diffused light from a solitory source. Experiment with lighting effects and see what happens to your photographs. I often use this type of lighting to illuminate still life subjects such as coins or stamps during indoor photography sessions.

Try lighting your subject with an LED torch (or flash-light) or any type of lamp or light. Please take care when using home made continuous lighting equipment and/or diffusers. Make sure that any lighting that you use is wired correctly and is safe to use without causing a fire risk.

Macro Photography for Beginners
I hope you have found this article useful and informative, hopefully it will be help toimprove your own digital macro photography. My own achievement has been writing this entire article without adding any jokes about indecent exposure. Another challenge I am facing is going to be finding time to carry on writing articles for this web-blog. I like to write big useful articles that give readers something to take away and think about. A large amount of macro photography websites are written as an after thought as part of general photography website. I am striving to make this a worthwhile resource based on my own knowledge and experience as a photographer. It is my hope that this comes across in my macro photography articles. In my next post I am going to write about the importance of composition.

If you have any questions, comments, queries or suggestions please send me a quick email or write in the comments box.

Marvin Africa
Freelance Writer and Macro Photographer

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Macro Photography for Beginners Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy
The following discloses the information gathering and dissemination practices for this internet website:-

Log Files
Like most standard Website servers we use log files. This includes Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, browser type, internet service provider (ISP), referring/exit pages, platform type, date/time stamp, and number of clicks to analyse trends, administer the site, track user's movement in the aggregate, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

A cookie is a piece of data stored on the user's computer and is linked to information about the user. This website does not use cookies. Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example advertisers or affiliates). The author of this website does not have access to or control over these cookies.

We use third-party advertising companies to serve advertising when you visit our website. These companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address or telephone number) about your visits to this and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you.

If you would like more information about this practice and would like to know your options in relation to not having this information used by these companies, click here.

We use outside advertising companies to display advertising on our site. These ads may contain cookies and are collected by the advertising companies. We do not have access to this information.

Additional Information
This website is hosted by Blogger which is owned by Google.

Contact Details
If you have any concerns about the use of personal information by this website please contact the webmaster:

Updated 03/04/2009