Mega Macro

On Monday the 9th November Wakefield Camera Club members and guests from Pontefract, Selby and Sheffield camera clubs welcomed Dr Helen Millner, botanist and educationalist to talk to us about Mega Macro.

Dr Millner says “I retired early from teaching and took the opportunity to follow my ambition to return to university to do a PhD in orchid biology.
This led me back into photography as I needed to record some of the flowers and their structures for research.
I have exhibited my photographs all over the country (and abroad come to think of it) at orchid and major RHS shows. I have been fortunate to have been awarded over 20 Gold medals for these displays over the years. I am really looking forward to sharing some of these images with you, talking about how I took them and their use in scientific research into endangered miniature orchid species. I can certainly promise you will see flowers that you never imagined. There will be a few surprises along the way as well with some ¬†some very high magnification pictures – I will explain these on Monday!¬† But more than anything I hope that everyone will be intrigued by this brief glimpse into the very strange and often bizarre orchid world.”

A thoroughly fascinating evening during which we learnt about Orchids and had the opportunity to look at some excellent images.

Dr Millner started by explaining a little of the background, where Orchids can be found in the forests of Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela. These forests are some of the most diverse in the world and unfortunately amongst the most endangered due to ongoing deforestation. The Orchids can only thrive in these tropical forests.

Dr Millner used photographs and diagrams to show the parts of the Orchids and how they are ‘designed’ to attract their very own pollinating insects. With fluorescent headlights that attract the insect into the hooks which hold them in place and force them to move forward so they pollenate the plant on the way through. We were looking at images taken of parts of the Orchid which are only a few mm in size quite literally Mega Macro.

After a short break Dr Millner talked about the equipment used. Photography can be an expensive hobby but we were shown many images taken with a smart phone and for just a few pounds it is worth buying a macro lens attachment, the results can be quite rewarding. Due to the tiny sizes involved the only way to get sharp images of the Orchids is with a technique called Focus Stacking, this is where you capture a series of images at different focus lengths then ‘stack’ them back together with special software. We were shown images of Helen’s DSLR with a macro lens and a microscope attachment mounted on a motorised rail attached to a automated controller all bolted to the desk. The controller moves the camera closer by a fraction of a millimetre, waits for any vibrations to settle, takes the image, then repeats for the programmed number of cycles, this can result in hundreds of images for just the smallest of Orchid plant part. Shooting tethered is a must, Helen uses CameraRC for her Nikon and to focus stack Helen uses Helicon Focus, Zerene Stacker, Bugslabber and Photoshop.

The audience showed a warm appreciation for an entertaining evening which showed just a small macro insight into the mega world of the Orchid.