Adventures in Macro Photography

Although our insects are generally favorable as far as logistics and productivity, looking at tiny critters presents its own challenges.  The insect work in the Parks Lab has inspired me to make several adjustments to my sense of scope.

Just as the telescoping lens is a necessity for fieldwork with whales, the macro lens provides a means of documenting our insect charges, tracking their growth from nymphs to adults, and even aiding in identifying species (often difficult with live, moving specimens).

There is just one problem: a steep learning curve.

I had never used a macro lens before—until a couple of weeks ago, I thought the “Macro” setting on my SLR camera was as good as it got.  I have since learned that a macro lens is a prime lens that magnifies the image onto the camera sensor; a “true” macro lens creates a 1:1 ratio of the subject’s size in real life to its size on the sensor.  More info here. Similar to the telescoping lenses we use for whale photo-identification, the macro lens takes a bit of experience, some knowledge about photography, a bit of finesse, and a whole boatload of patience, but once I get everything figured out, I have no doubt it will change the way that we see our creepy crawly friends.

I’m not even going to pretend to know enough yet to offer a macro tutorial, but I’ll let the rest of this post serve as a brief, photographic account of my own mishaps thus far in macro photography.

First attempt at a ground cricket nymph through the plastic walls of its enclosure

First attempt at a ground cricket nymph through the plastic walls of its enclosure

Not too bad, but it’s still burry—insects move a lot!  And I’m sure shooting through the extra “lens” of plastic didn’t help.  It's almost cute...

Not too bad, but it’s still burry—insects move a lot! And I’m sure shooting through the extra “lens” of plastic didn’t help.
It’s almost cute…

Looking at the wing veins on a deceased bush katydid.  The species identifier for this group is the supra-anal plate on the dorsal side of the tip of the abdomen (currently obscured by its wings).

Looking at the wing veins on a deceased bush katydid. The species identifier for this group is the supra-anal plate on the dorsal side of the tip of the abdomen (currently obscured by its wings).

Holding the camera and the insect introduced way too much shake to be useful.  I was using the Av (aperture-priority) shooting mode: it will compensate the small aperture (high f-stop) used with the macro lens by slowing the shutter speed.  This issue can be helped by adding light and/or stabilizing the camera.

Holding the camera and the insect introduced way too much shake to be useful. I was using the Av (aperture-priority) shooting mode: it will compensate the small aperture (high f-stop) used with the macro lens by slowing the shutter speed. This issue can be helped by adding light and/or stabilizing the camera.

Not perfect, but definitely enough detail to get that species ID! This one is a broad-winged bush katydid (Scudderia pistillata).

Not perfect, but definitely enough detail to get that species ID! This one is a broad-winged bush katydid (Scudderia pistillata).

A newly-molted adult striped ground cricket (Allonemobius fasciatus).  Shooting through the plastic introduced some of the haziness.  Again, almost cute...

A newly-molted adult striped ground cricket (Allonemobius fasciatus). Shooting through the plastic introduced some of the haziness. Again, almost cute…

An oblong-winged katydid nymph (Amblycorypha oblongifolia) To avoid the pictures-through-plastic problem as well as the issue of lighting, I set up a little photo booth.  The white background gives the camera more light and, all else being equal, will allow faster shutter speeds.

An oblong-winged katydid nymph (Amblycorypha oblongifolia) To avoid the pictures-through-plastic problem as well as the issue of lighting, I set up a little photo booth. The white background gives the camera more light and, all else being equal, will allow faster shutter speeds.

The oblong-winged nymph decided to walk towards the camera, which made focusing very interesting.

The oblong-winged nymph decided to walk towards the camera, which made focusing very interesting.

Photography is so much fun that even the katydid gave it a shot!  Well, sort of.

Photography is so much fun that even the katydid gave it a shot! Well, sort of.

 

If you’re interested in using macro lenses to photograph your own insects, check out this site with some great tips!

–Jess

 

 

 

 

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