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08.15.2012

You never know where your next picture is going to come from. Whether it’s travel photography, weddings, portraiture, or whatever, the next project, the next client, the next subject is often a surprise. Such is the case with my ongoing CURIOUS CRITTERS series.

Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea; education specimen at Back to the Wild, Castalia, Ohio. Sigma SD1; Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro lens; f/16, 1/160 sec., ISO 100. two Dynalite strobes; Lastolite Cubelite light tent. Processed in Sigma Photo Pro 5.1 and Photoshop CS5. Photo copyright David FitzSimmons 2012. All rights reserved.

On a recent trip to Lake Erie, my family and I visited an extraordinary wildlife rehabilitation center in Castalia, Ohio. Back to the Wild cares for injured and orphaned birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and more. Immediately we fell in love with the place, its staff, and, of course, its convalescing critters.

I loved it so much that two weeks later I returned, my Sigma SD1 and macro lenses in hand, also toting a Cubelite light tent and a two-strobe Dynalite kit. I had a blast taking picture after picture of a variety of animals, from a California king snake to a cutely posing ground hog, from beautiful bunny rabbits to an iridescent indigo bunting.

Pages 20 & 21 of CURIOUS CRITTERS, nonfiction picturebook that introduces children to common animals across North America. All of the images in CURIOUS CRITTERS were photographed with Sigma lenses, mostly macro lenses. See more about the book at www.curious-critters.com. Photos copyright David FitzSimmons 2012. All rights reserved.

When I released my first children’s picture book, CURIOUS CRITTERS (Wild Iris, Nov. 2011), it sold out in four months. So it became clear that another book was in order. I am at work on CURIOUS CRITTERS 2, photographing a gamut of new animals. Of course, where I find them is often hard to predict.

In June I led a photo workshop at Maritime Gloucester (Gloucester, MA) in conjunction with Hunt’s Photo & Video. I arrived a day early to scout out the location. I knew they had some educations specimens in various display and handling tanks, but I didn’t realize the extent of their aquatic collection. My photography that day included a some cool critters, including a sea star, lobster, sea anemone, black sea bass, and sea raven. Using a variety of Sigma macro lenses, I placed a saltwater-filled aquarium right inside the light tent.

Black Sea Bass, Centropristis striata; education specimen at Gloucester Maritime Center, Gloucester, MA. Nikon D800E; Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro; two Dynalite strobes, Lastolite Cubelite light tent, wireless trigger. Processed in Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. Photo copyright David FitzSimmons 2012. All rights reserved.

Of course, many of the animals that I photograph come from near my home studio. My father, Mick, a retired outdoor educator, rustles up all kinds of specimens for me. His latest include a colorful Eastern milk snake and a grapevine beetle. These were slithering and crawling, respectively, around my parent’s nearby farm. After a couple portrait sessions, these specimens were returned to their original homes.

Grapevine Beetle, Pelidnota punctata, a scarab beetle also known as spotted June beetle or the spotted pelidnota. Richland County, Ohio. Sigma SD1; Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro lens; 2 Dynalite strobes; Lastolite Cubelite light tent. Processed in Sigma Photo Pro 5.1 and Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza and Sharpener Pro plug-ins applied. Photo copyright David FitzSimmons 2012. All rights reserved.

The whole CURIOUS CRITTERS series began with images produced at Gorman Nature Center, Mansfield, Ohio. A couple weeks ago I called up my friend Jan Ferrell at Gorman and told her I was looking to photograph a bluebird egg. “It’s your lucky day!” she said. Four recently-laid eggs were in a box right near the parking lot.

While some of my CURIOUS CRITTERS photography is done in my north-central Ohio studio, I often produce images on the road, sometimes right in the back of my Subaru Outback. Here I placed an egg of Eastern bluebird on a white box (to give a bit of elevation above the front lip of the Cubelite tent). In post-production I wanted to use Helicon Focus to combine multiple images focused on different planes, so I mounted my Sigma SD1 with a Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro lens attached on a Gitzo GT2541EX tripod with a Gitzo ball head. This assures the images are lined up for focus stacking. Portable illumination came from two Sigma EF530 flashes, one functioning as a slave and triggered optically. Photo copyright David FitzSimmons 2012. All rights reserved.

I carefully placed one egg on a platform inside my light tent, which was wedged in the back end of my Subaru Outback. Using two Sigma flashes for illumination–one placed atop by Sigma SD1 with a 105mm f/2.8 macro lens attached, the other positioned on the bottom of the light tent (behind the platform with the head facing up and with its optical slave sensor turned on), I took multiple RAW images, each focused on different planes. After processing the images in Sigma Photo Pro, I stacked the resulting TIFFs into on super-sharp image using Helicon Focus.

Egg of Eastern bluebird, Sialia sialis. Gorman Nature Center, Mansfield, Ohio. Sigma SD1; Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro lens; 2 Sigma EF530 flashes; Lastolite Cubelite light tent; Gitzo GT2541EX tripod. Processed in Sigma Photo Pro 5.1 and Photoshop CS5, images stacked in Helicon Focus 5.3. Photo copyright David FitzSimmons 2012. All rights reserved.

While I always have shot list, my CURIOUS CRITTERS series is often driven by serendipitous discoveries. It’s great fun when the next cool critter shows up on my door step or is introduced to me by another of my many scientific and education partners.


David FitzSimmons is Sigma Pro photographer, a free lance writer, and a professor at Ashland University. See David’s macro techniques in his new, five-time award-winning picture book CURIOUS CRITTERS…and soon to come, CURIOUS CRITTERS 2 and a new iPad app, both in 2013. David’s web site is www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com.

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  1. Great shots. Has anyone mentioned the Cubelite is upside down:)