SciBlogs

Archive August 2009

Zoo tigers and the illegal trade in tiger parts Brendan Moyle Aug 31

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The recent killing of a Sumatran tiger in Jambi’s Rimbo zoo in Indonesia, can be added to a number of similar abductions (and illegal sales) of captive tigers into the black market. China has reported similar thefts out of zoos within China. Vietnam has reported illegal sales of tigers out of zoos into the black market. (I reported all of this last year in my illegal tiger part trade- it’s not new).

Given the low enforcement and reporting rates for this sort of crime there’s likely to be a lot more of this. The reality of course, is that getting hold of captive tigers is actually a lot easier than trying to hunt them in the wild. You need local contacts and a bigger conspiracy (hence face increased detection risks).

One of the peculiar aspects to this trade however, is that it should (according to many conservationists) not be happening at all. Consumers of tiger parts are often asserted to have a preference for wild tiger parts. This is employed as an argument as to why tiger farms will not work. People won’t want captive-tiger parts because of the assumed superiority of wild. Clearly there are people in the black market who do not share this belief. Captive tiger is a good, practical substitute (in the illegal trade sense) to wild tigers.

The reality is that the preference for wild parts is probably a very weak preference. It’s kind of similar to someone preferring a red car to a blue car. But if the blue car wins in other features (better price) then the preference for red disappears from the comparison.

NZ PM John Key to be on Letterman Brendan Moyle Aug 28

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Okay, it is reported that Letterman has a top 10 list he describes on air- and the blogosphere has been active, trying to come up with an appropriate list of why being PM of NZ is a good thing.

This is my favourite from Danyl Mclauchlan, originally posted on Kiwiblog:

1. You can pay off the national debt by telling everyone to look under their couch covers for loose change.
2. Knowing that your armed forces can kick Antartica’s ass any time they step out of line.
3. You get to use the national cell phone five times a week at no charge.
4. You are protected by highly trained bodyguards who are willing to throw themselves in front of a glacier to save you.
5. Swear to protect and defend the people of New Zealand against all penguins, both domestic and foreign.
6. Only person in country with high enough security clearance to follow William Shatner on Twitter.
7. Prime Ministers private chef has the finest recipe in the world for roast hobbit.
8. Can silence every journalist across the entire country by confiscating her laptop battery.
9. Head of Government is excused from nightly border patrol guarding against Australian sheep rustlers and fur seals entering the country illegally.
10. You learn the horrible truth about what happened to Old Zealand.

Wednesday Weirdness- more harvestmen photos Brendan Moyle Aug 26

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This is a long-legged (rather than stout-legged) Opilionid. It’s also near microscopic- the body length is about 3mm from the edge of the carapace to the edge of the opithosoma.

I ramped the magnification up with a 12x adapter. Shots below are handheld- I didn’t get many keepers.

This is the strangest morphology I have ever seen on an arthropod. The pedipalps have a long elongated thumb. In fact, chances are that this is the first time anyone has ever seen this species before. So today you (probably) get to see something very unique.

On the Bark-

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Grooming

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Just Odd

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Remember folks, this guy has an actual body-length of 3mm :)

Please stop by the main album and leave some comments. I’d like to know which are your favourites.

Monday Strangeness- NZ Stout-legged Opilionid Brendan Moyle Aug 24

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Some of the strangest Arachnids of the NZ bush are the Opilionids. The males can have enormous pedipalps, adorned with spikes.

I find this lad on Sunday and tried to take some photos.

I think this is the best shot

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This gives a closeup look of the eyes and spikes on the edge of the carapace and pedipalps

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The actual body-length (without pedipals) are 7-8mm long.

Macro Photo of Orbweb Spider (Nocturnal Shot) Brendan Moyle Aug 23

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Male Orb-web Spider

This is another nocturnal photo (yes, sometimes I do take photosn of spiders in daylight, but night time is better for variety). I’m hoping however, you will not see any obvious signs that it is a nocturnal shot.


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The male-ness is obvious from the pedipalps at the front [:)] This shot also had the spinnerets in fine detail.

Additional magnification came from the Raynox 6x adapter. I used the Sigma EM-140 ringlight flash for light. Given the Raynox messes up with the TTL metering of the flash, I was firing the flash on manual settings.

The green background comes from a sheet of card I’d positioned behind the web.

A rumination on macro photography Brendan Moyle Aug 21

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Some not particularly brilliant thoughts on macro-photography for the SLR photographer (aimed at live subjects for the most part).

Q1: What is the best macro lens to buy?

This is kind of the wrong question. Having the best macro lens is only part of a system and body of experience that lets you take good photos. It’s in my view, over-rated. For the record, all main manufacturers (Sony, Canon, Nikon, Pentax etc) make macro lenses that have the ‘best’ overall performance (that’s build quality, colours, bokeh, sharpness as a package). But both Tamron and Sigma make macro-lenses that are often ‘better value for money’. The difference in the sharpness of the images between different lenses is often imperceptible. There will be more variation from shooting conditions- light, camera shake- than between macro-lenses.

In short, getting experience is the best thing you can do to advance your macro-photography.

Q2: Can I do macro without a macro lens?

Yes, but it is harder work. There are a number of tricks- like reversing a lens onto a camera, reversing a lens onto another lens, using diopters (magnifying filters) or extension tubes. Most macro photographers end up with a macro lens however. It makes macro photography much easier. Also, a macro photograph is only as good as the weakest link. Putting a poor piece of glass onto a sharp lens, just means you’ll lose detail.

Q3: I’m shooting at ISO 800 and my photos are dire- why?

Macro photography is done at very low ISOs. When you shot at high ISOs, the amplification of the electrical signal received by your sensor, combined with intrinsic noise reduction algorithims, removes detail from your photo.

Q4: But if I shoot at low ISOs my shutter speed is too low?

Get a flash. I’d suggest shooting at f13-f16 at a shutter speed of 1/125 to 1/200, and at an ISO of 100-200 to begin with. A good external flash is almost always used in macro photography of (live) subjects.

Q5: I’m shooting using the auto-setting ‘macro’ on my camera. Why are my photos dire?

The macro setting doesn’t make any of your lenses into a proper macro lens. It’s just a way of making the camera decide what exposure setting to use. Often that’s too timid, as the f-stop won’t be high enough (aperture too wide) to get a good depth-of-field. Use either the Aperture priority or Manual priority settings.

Q5: Why can’t I use my on-board camera flash?

You can, it’s just not quite high enough or powerful enough and you risk only part of the scene being lit (the lens barrel may cast a shadow on the lower edge of the picture).

Q6: How do I get rid of dark shadows and blown highlights?

Use a diffuser on your flash, or even better, a macro-ringlight or twin-light system.

Q7: I’ve taken some photos and they still look dire. Why is macro photography hard?

Get used to it, there is actually a high failure rate with macro-photographs. Most photos won’t be usable. The good thing is that with practice the keeper rate improves. When I started, I planned on needing 20 shots to get something I liked (often several, the 20 was insurance). Now I’m pretty confident I can get shots right about 1 in 5.

So, live-view must be very important to macro-photography

No

What- all the reviews say that macro-photographers are gagging for live view on their cameras!!

LV is a useful tool, but not essential. Mostly it just means not having to get your knees dirty in low-angle shots. It’s not that useful in nocturnal shots (I turn the screen off to avoid night-blindness) and in bright sunlight, you have reflection off the screen.

What is more useful (in my mind) is a bright, large optical viewfinder, camera-stabilisation (like the alpha SSS) and an exceptionally good low ISO performance. Also, a very good flash system.

How many macro gadgets do you have?

A macro-rail for tripod shots, plus a macro-tripod (goes very low), shutter cable-releases, a ringlight flash, ordinary flash, cables to connect all the flashes together, a macro bracket, diopters, reversing rings, coupling rings, an eye-piece magnifier and lots of batteries.

Ruminations about Wildlife Photography Brendan Moyle Aug 18

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In a similar vein to the
macro post, here’s some thoughts on wildlife photography.

Q1: What lenses do I need?

This is a tricky issue. If you are just going to have one lens, then a good telephoto zoom is probably ideal. If you’re prepared to have several lenses, than a mix of good telephoto zooms and primes makes more sense. The merit of a long telephoto prime is that it delivers optimal sharpness at the long end. Zooms have more compromises. Something has to give somewhere.

In the days of film, a lot of wildlife photographers had a 70-200/2.8 zoom and a 300mm or 400mm prime. Teleconverters were included as another way to increase focal length.

Surely having the longest telephoto I can get makes the most sense?

No, not always. The wildlife photographer Cal Singletary for instance, recommended "Buy the sharpest lens you can, that’s what makes your picture". His longest lens was a 400mm prime (on APS format, that gives the same angle-of-view as a 267mm lens).

This is roughly where I sit. The lens you get has to deliver images that are sharp at least at a 300mm focal length. More is better, but for wildlife shots, 300mm should be regarded as the minimum. If you’ve got the reach all the way to 500mm or more, but your images aren’t sharp enough, that extra reach isn’t worth it.

One of the issues you have to grapple with is that wildlife photography isn’t just about taking photos on safari. There can be a lot of instances where the line-of-sight is obstructed or shorter than African savannah. Photographing tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea doesn’t need a 600mm lens.

Q2: So how the heck did film wildlife-photographers get those excellent images?

By getting closer.

They understood the behaviour of the animals they were targeting. And they used tricks like blinds, lures and calls to get up close. Sadly, such techniques seem to be ebbing in popularity.

Now it’s not always possible to get up close. I don’t recommend getting up close to large carnivores. There a super telephoto makes a lot more sense.

Q3: Teleconverters- yes or no?

Yes, a good teleconverter is a light and compact way to add focal length. For that reason, wildlife photographers hauling gear around like to have them.

But, they should be the best teleconverters you can get. And note that the sharpness of the image will take a hit. As a rule of thumb, a 1.4x TC won’t have a serious impact on photos. But a 2x TC will start to noticeably degrade the image. So you will need the sharpest possible lens to begin with and the best TC you can get. Going above 2x isn’t a prudent way to capture sharp images…

Q4: I’ve got myself a super-telephoto (500/4 say) and I’m disappointed, is something wrong with the lens?

Probably not. The technique to get a good super-telephoto shot is different to other telephoto shots.
You’ve got a much narrower angle of view. That’s okay for large animals but makes searching for smaller animals trickier.

Also, that extra focal length will exacerbate any motion in the camera or lens. So plan on using a tripod. That means a good tripod and a good tripod-head.

And this means building up experience with this combination is important. Techniques that worked okay with a 200mm lens don’t extrapolate seamlessly to a 500mm lens.

Q5: Do you use super-telephotos?

No, not anymore. Having lighter gear means I can go deeper into wilderness areas and I usually work on ways to get closer. This is probably aided by the fact that my usual habitats have short lines-of-sight and lots of cover.

It also makes travel more convenient. By sticking to (sharp) long telephotos I escape the need for tripods and heavy lenses. It’s kind of funny going to spots in Asia and realising that everybody with the super-telephotos and tripods, aren’t found more than 100m away from the car-park.

I am however, waiting on Sony to see whether the new 500mm super telephoto will suit me.

So does that mean I shouldn’t get a super-telephoto?

Depends on you. There are some kinds of shots that you can only get with a super-telephoto. In which case, it will be the appropriate solution. But having a lot of gear (heavy lenses, tripods etc) to carry around may hinder you get other types of wildlife shots.

So if you understand the pros and cons, that the subjects you want to photograph do not suit a ‘blind’ technique or similar, then don’t let me stop you.

OTOH, if you think wildlife photography is just a matter of slapping on the longest lens you can find and wandering aimlessly in a wilderness area, then maybe it’s time to think about the issue a bit more.

Q6: What should I get for the Sony Alpha system?

Okay, if I was starting from scratch here would be my preferred kits.

First, for the single lens solution I would get the Sony 70-400 G SSM lens. Now, it is going to be a bit too slow for some action-type shots but you get the combination of IQ and focal length you need. You could dabble with the 70-300 G but it’s not going to be as versatile as you would need.

Second, for a mobile kit I’d get a 70-200/2.8 with an older Minolta 300/4 G and a 1.4x TC.

Third, my portable kit would be the 70-200/2.8 G with the 300/2.8 G and the 1.4x and 2x TC. This has a good combination of IQ, speed and reach.

Fourth- my heavy kit would be the 70-200/2.8 G with the 300/2.8 and ‘promised’ 500 G Sony super-telephoto. The 500 could be replaced with the older Minolta 600/4, but I think the SSM function of the 500 will provide a better tracking function. I’d keep the 1.4x TC with this also.

I’d only get the 500/8 reflex lens if I already had a G telephoto.

Q7: Any other tips?

First, be safe. Big carnivores may regard you as a soft, pink tasty-snack. And just because you don’t intend to harm a venomous snake or doe with her fawns, doesn’t mean they will leave you alone. If they see you as a threat, then you may be attacked. Don’t take your inspiration for wildlife interaction from the Disney channel.

Second, know when not to take a shot. Ideally, your behaviour should not disturb or threaten wildlife. Case in point, I avoided taking a shot of an endangered loris in Yunnan because I didn’t want to blast the nocturnal primate with my flash.

Third, try to get something interesting. I get totally uninspired by seeing ‘the crocodile on the riverbank’ shot. Often the best wildlife shots are those where the animal is exhibiting behaviour that is rarely captured by others.

A Tauhou for Tuesday :) Brendan Moyle Aug 18

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“Mine! Mine!”


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A Pukeko for Tuesday Brendan Moyle Aug 11

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Alas, I had forgotten to turn the stabilisation back on the camera after a tripod-session, so got a lot less keepers than I expected.

A bird for Monday- Tauhou Brendan Moyle Aug 10

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As you might be able to divine, I was trying to use the fork in the branches to frame the bird.

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