User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Macrophotographer Thomas Shahan

<p>Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do.</p>

Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same, the answers, not so much. This week: Thomas Shahan. Click here for more User Preferences Tech Q&As.

The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Thomas Shahan:
I’m Thomas Shahan and I specialize in high-magnification arthropod portraiture, illustration, and printmaking.

What kind of hardware do you use?
For most of my macrophotography, I’m currently using a Pentax K-x with a variety of oddball vintage lenses reversed on a set of extension tubes. To diffuse my lighting, I’m shooting through a homemade softbox mounted to an off-camera flash.

What kind of software do you use?
A combination of Adobe Camera Raw (for importing DNGs and basic processing), Zerene Stacker (for deeper, more advanced focus stacking), and Photoshop (for more in-depth processing and exporting).

Blue-faced Meadowhawk


What piece of equipment can you simply not live without?
My cheap set of modified extension tubes. It’s nice to be able to quickly change the magnification of any lens I may have with the tubes and a reversing ring.

If money were no object, how would you change your current setup?
I’d get the Pentax K-5—a faster flash, a better flash bracket that allows for easier positioning, and maybe add some sort of LED light to my rig as a focus assistant. All these things I will probably end up adding relatively soon.

Female Striped Horse Fly

Striped Horse Fly

Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
The discovery of macro reversing rings. I had experimented around with simply holding lenses backwards—and then upon discovering reversing rings, I just kept with them as it allowed me to use a variety of cheap old lenses that were surprisingly well suited for the magnifications I was interested in.

What is your favorite piece of technology from your childhood?
My 1984 Compaq Deskpro. I would spend hours plunking away on old Infocom text adventures and Sierra’s Space Quest series on its dark monochromatic monitor. I spent quite a bit of time on that machine between the ages of 8 and 11 and it was definitely a source of pride to show off to my friends when they’d come over.

Female Blue Dasher Dragonfly

Robber Fly with Prey

What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
Something similar in function to that Lytro camera that came out a while back, but with all the capabilities and resolution of a DSLR. Basically a camera that could capture all depths of focus at once with any lens you wanted, so focus stacking wouldn’t be needed. You could shoot extended depth of field macrophotographs the moment you pressed the shutter. That and the capability to shoot 4K video at high frame rates to document salticid courtship displays, of course :)

Male Habronattus Jumping Spider

Images: Thomas Shahan