Our activities during lockdown

Anne & Chris Algar

The restrictions on movement imposed by Covid-19 have shown us how important it is to have hobbies that can be carried out at home. We take an active interest in ornamental gardening and always grow flowering plants that attract insects such as bees for us to photograph. We have some model engineering facilities with which we make items such as pens from wood and coloured resin, and model cannons.

Wood and resin pens – Pen holderWood and resin pens – Pen holder

Over the years, we have used model engineering tools to make and repair equipment for our hobbies such as photography and gemstone faceting.

This summer started off well for insect photography when we were able to photograph bee flies flying around honesty plants.

Bee fliesBee flies

Since then, however, there have been hardly any hoverflies about (one of our favourite macro subjects), even though we have planted flowers that normally attract them. The main beneficiaries of the nectar have been honey bees and bumblebees.

Recent macro imagesA few of our recent macro images

In April, we both sorted out some photos and entered them in the Nikon Small World Competition – our results remain to be seen.

As we have been restricted to ‘home base’ this year, our aquatic invertebrate subjects for the microscope have been coming from a couple of buckets of water that we keep in the shade, and our garden ponds. We are basically photographers and not microscopists and so we are mainly interested in subjects from which we can make good images – usually at either 4× or 10× magnification.

Recent photos taken with a microscopeSome of our recent photos taken with a microscope

We almost always use dark field illumination. One of the problems we had was scratches on the upper surface of our BHB condenser which caused bright patches in lighting when using dark field and a 4× lens. As our BHB microscope is not exactly new and is given plenty of further use by us, we took the opportunity to buy another BHB in really good condition at a good price on eBay. We have carried on using our original microscope but will swap over the accessories we have made to the ‘new’ machine if the former fails. The new BHB has a different condenser system which can be used on our older machine without showing scratches in dark field. As the new condenser is of simple construction, we bought a matching lens (30 mm diameter, 30 mm focal length, double convex), made a spider and fitted them in a suitable case. Our BHB is now more pleasant to use at 4× with dark field.

Home-built condenserOur home built condenser

Although making up and photographing microscope slides takes up a reasonable amount of time, editing the resulting stacks of images takes longer. In order to cover the full extent of a subject and to get a high resolution image, we often take a ‘panorama’ of adjacent images. We always shoot RAW images and edit them with Capture One software. Highlight recovery in both global and local areas is usually desirable. We also adjust colour temperature, brightness and contrast if necessary. Once we have one image edited to our satisfaction, we copy the adjustments to the rest of the stack. If we have an adjacent stack, we copy across the colour temperature. Our next step is to export the images as 16 bit TIFFs and load them into Zerene Stacker where each stack is turned into one sharp-all-over image. A certain amount of editing within this program is usually necessary to make the best of the images.

Finally, we use Photoshop to join the ‘panoramas’, apply sharpening, fine tune colour and brightness, and do any retouching that is necessary. We save the images as PSDs and JPGs for future use and delete the TIFFs.

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