Tag Archive | macro

Cheapskate Tuesday 24: On white, in situ


A few weeks ago, I delved into what a white card could do paired with two flashes. I found it was a bit tricky to use it to add fill except in a few situations, but the way that it could be used to blow out a background was intriguing, so I wondered if it was practical to use for “Meet Your Neighbours” style lighting in the field. The difference between MYN style and mine is that the MYN people are really good…But enough of that, the other difference is that the MYN style often involves larger setups and “field studio” type conditions, using tripods and lightstands and the lot. With bounced flash from a white card, I can blow out the background, so what is to stop me from just holding it behind the subject and using the Monster Macro Rig to light both the subject and the background? I gave it a try, and here are my results and some thoughts.


For relatively slow moving insects on stable backgrounds, this is a great technique. The only issues are to get an angle that allows a blown background, and to balance the light hitting the subject and the flash. I was working at f13, with 1/8 power on a YN560 for the subject, and 1/8 to 1/4 with a YN460 (a smaller light) for the background. ISO around 160-250.


For subjects on more mobile backgrounds, it is better to have no wind! The more flighty subjects may tolerate a close approach with the macro rig, but putting the card behind is a whole other level of disturbance to manage! I found that flies and bees and such were tough to approach.


This Grass Veneer was flighty and was also on some ridiculously mobile grass, so this is the only shot I got. Luckily it was mostly in focus. Again, working in calm conditions would be best.


Getting the subject isolated in natural (unselected) vegetation is difficult, especially when they are timid. This shot could be better isolated.


A tiny subject on a larger leaf is a tough one to compose. Wherever you cut the leaf, it will look odd. It may have been better with this lace bug to cut it in the corner…That being said, this technique can make for some nice textural contrasts with a subject such as this.


Small fine features coming out into the white background can be easily swamped, so it is important to keep fine features parallel to the plane of the rest of the subject…This would be great, but the way the antennae fade is not so nice.


The nicest thing about this approach is that the subject is actually in the position and situation it was found in, so the setting is appropriate and not contrived. A field studio approach may not achieve this.

So that’s it for this week’s Cheapskate Tuesday!  I think that it is something I will continue to work on, as it seems to have promise. Keep watching this blog for more results using this technique, preferably of lovelier subjects on calmer days!

Who likes robber flies?


Coming in to the lab this morning, I found this beautiful male Laphria robber fly sitting on a window. He was still cool from the night, so he made a very cooperative photographic subject.

These large handsome flies are strikingly marked and are Batesian mimics of bumblebees. Robber flies do not rob banks, they rob life. For a great example of this, see Alex Wild’s wonderful photo of one with a honeybee.

This robber robbed me of about 30 minutes of photography time, but I think it is well worth it!


If you are interested in how to get these blue sky backgrounds, see this excellent post at Beetles in the Bush.

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Feed your Syrphid well!


It is still National Pollinator Week in the USA, and I hope they are having a good one. Here in Vancouver, it is rainy and cold. But that is no reason not to engage in some pollinator photography! A couple weeks ago, I found a syrphid larva among the blackberry leaves we feed our stick insects.

I ended up keeping it in the cage, feeding it with bunches of aphids.

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The larva disappeared after a day of eating so well, so I presumed it had dropped to the soil to pupate. Sure enough, today we found him buzzing around the cage. I took the opportunity for some pictures, then sent him out (in a protected location) after a meal of honey.

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Emergence Day!


Remember those black widow egg sacs we collected a few weeks ago? Well, the spiderlings have hatched, moulted once, and are now emerging from their egg sacs!


Here is what an egg sac looks like when it is ready.


And here, with light penetrating the silk, you can see the spiderlings inside:


A spiderling peeking out.


And squirming free.




Here, the baby spiders socialize at the playground. They are best of friends at this stage…
Just kidding! They cannibalize each other like zombies!

In other baby spider news, at the apartment, the cellar spiders have hatched, and are spending some time adjacent to mom in the same corner where they were brooded.IMG_0010 IMG_0018




Weekend Expedition 22: Strathcona Park, Vancouver


This Weekend Expedition was to the wilds of Stratchcona Park (no not that one). This is a large park in East Vancouver that features some huge cottonwoods, playing fields and a big community garden! Also, there is a bald eagle nest in one of the cottonwoods, so it is just the place for an insect/raptorophile such as myself.


These chicks will likely fledge in a week or so. I thought this was a cool shot showing them all stacked up in the morning light.

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There are many ways to enjoy the park, like biting your best friend’s head at full gallop!


A Cranberry Girdler (Chrysoteuchia topiaria) rests on a grass stem. The gardens are a good source of pests!


A male Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum: Megachilidae), a European import, waits on Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) for a female.


A female Wool Carder gathers Lamb’s Ear fibers for her nest.


The Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci) is a gorgeous flower feeder in the summertime.


Coming in!


Honeybee in a poppy.


A  pretty little ichneumonid  (Mesostenus thoracicus)grooms.


The under-log fauna. Isopods are actually quite attractive little beasts.


A large stinkbug on a dead daisy.


A Linnaeus’s Spangle-wing (Chrysoclista linneella), sits on a trunk. There were hundreds out today, flying around a grove of European Linden.


This crab spider enjoys the haul of Spangle-wings.

Happy accident

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I was off shooting in Hastings Park this evening, using the Monster Macro Rig and having a good time shooting immature insects. Everything was working as advertised, and I got a few decent shots of caterpillars, sawfly larvae and a nymphal seed bug.  The beauty of this rig is that the background and subject are both lit at a tiny aperture, making motion irrelevant and achieving the look a tripod shot might.

Then the batteries in the subject light died just as I was shooting a damselfly…


Although it was not the shot I intended, I am pretty pleased with the result! This is the type of thing that gives me just the boost I need. Maybe I will try a series of silhouettes next.

Cheapskate Tuesday 20: Sitting on white


The photos I took Sunday of the pretty Habronattus males were fun and effective because of their simple composition. This is not a difficult look to achieve, and only requires a diffused flash and a white surface. This is a technique I use often as a shortcut to isolate a subject, and it looks pretty nice!

For these shots, I was shooting on a white formica table, but I have used just a blank sheet of typing paper as well. I just placed the spiders on the table, brought in a diffused flash (YN-560 with the Cheapskate Diffuser Mk II) at 1/8 power, and blasted away at ISO 250-320 at f13. I used a 100 mm macro lens with 37 mm of extension tubes. The exposure I brought up in post so that most of the background goes to white (overexposed on all channels) then reigned in the subject using the blacks slider in Adobe Camera Raw. Often using this technique I get loss of contrast due to the light reflecting off the large white surface directly at the front element, but so long as it is not to severe, this can be brought back in post.


Setup: white sheet, attractive subject, blast light from your favourite angle! Done!

While environmental portraits showing the habitat or behaviour are great and something to work at, you can try this as an easy way to document a subject in isolation when you need a good quality image. The way I look at it is as a convenient visual shorthand that conveys the physical appearance of a subject with no distraction, much in the same way that fashion photographers or catalogue photographers use the same technique. I used this to add some good images of Habronattus ophrys (which is very difficult to shoot in situ) to bugguide.net. I think they turned out nicely, and show how beautiful some of our local spiders can be. What do you think?


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An overly-cooperative model?


I found this beautiful gravid female Phidippus johnsoni hanging motionless, upside-down from a grass stem this morning. She had all the hallmarks of envenomation by a spider wasp (Pompilidae). She was unresponsive, had extremely limited movement upon prodding, and was basically dead to the world.  Being such a large animal, it is possible the wasp was unable to drag the spider to her burrow, or perhaps I interrupted while the female wasp was scouting the terrain ahead.  Anyway, I took some photos with this suddenly very easy to work with subject, and then returned her to her stem of grass. Perhaps the wasp will retrieve it, and if not it will make a good meal for someone!

You can see in this shot, there is something not quite right about how she is holding her legs…

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This shows how big the jumper was!

First Robber Flies of the season!


This morning, on another dog walk at Mt. Tolmie, I came upon my first Robber Fly of the year. It was perched on a closed Camas bloom, which wasn’t very pleasing, so I nudged it onto some other substrates. Because it was a cool and wet day, the robber obliged and did not flee. I do not know what species it is, but it looks to be a small male Laphria, which are known as the “Bee-like Robber Flies”. The Robber Flies )Family Asilidae) are some of my favourites, as they are often showy, have spectacular predation behaviour and can turn their heads to track flying prey!

After shooting the fly on several different backgrounds, I put him on an oak twig, figuring it would be a good place to catch the sun and warm up. To my surprise, a second male robber was perched on the very next twig! Please enjoy the following  pictures responsibly, and if you have a fly-gasm, try to muffle yourself if you are in public.

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Of course the robbers were not the only flies out there:


relatives of the Asilidae are the Empidae, or Dance Flies.


a wet Calliphorid


A Tipulid in the grass


On the subject of Tipulids, check out this spectacular male Tiger Crane Fly I found yesterday!