If you read any of the nature blogs I imagine that you have heard about the BugShot 2011 workshop. Over the labor day weekend I had the opportunity to attend this event. I rolled out of the house at 6:30am Friday morning and after a very smooth drive I arrived at the venue by 2:00pm. Most folks were checked in by early afternoon and I hooked up with another attendee TK from Canada and we went out bug hunting. We all met for an excellent supper, brief introductions by the instructors, and general socialization. After dinner we went out to some black lights that had been hung up for more bug photography. Bright and early Saturday morning things got under way with presentations by each of the leaders. The workshop leaders were Alex Wild, Thomas Shahan, and John Abbott. Each instructor had a very different style and I was very interested to learn from them. The instructors had a challenge that the group was split between entomologists with cameras and limited photography experience and photographers who shoot photos of insects. The instructors did a good job balancing the two groups with maybe a slight bias to towards the less experienced photographers. Saturday and Sunday were a good mix of classroom presentations and field work taking pictures of insects. The field work consisted of splitting into groups with the instructors with them providing field instruction. Monday morning came far to early and by 1:30 in the afternoon I was head home. The drive home was not as a smooth as the drive over but still I was home by 9:30. The high points for me were the instructors, the wonderful people I got to meet, and some of the lively discussions we had. The low point was probably some of the basic equipment discussions and some of the photography basics. However saying that I don’t believe the instructors had much choice in the matter as a lot of the people in attendance got something from those discussions. The food was excellent and a special thanks should go out to all those involved in selecting and providing the food. Shaw Nature Reserve provided an excellent venue and the onsite cabins were very nice. I will admit I headed out to a hotel after the first night as the mattress in my bed didn’t provide enough support for my bad back. I’ve had a couple of people ask me if I would attend a second BugShot. The answer would be it depends, if it were a repeat of this year I would say No. However if the instructors were to provide a second track targeted at the more advanced photographer I would be very interested. I think with the talent of the leaders it would be very easy to cover both groups. I really hope to see this workshop succeed.
Now for some pictures from the event.
My long ignored blog, bugging has been a bit slow for me this summer and life got in the way. I’ve been seeing a bunch of these Harlequin Bugs around the yard the past couple of weeks as summer put on its last hurrah. These stink bugs feed on plants like cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips. Theses insects have piercing mouth parts that the use to suck sap from the plants, this damages the plant and also gives a path for other pathogens to enter the plant. When present in large numbers they can be quite destructive. In the first set of images you can see some freshly hatched nymphs and the barrel shaped eggs. The female typical lays a dozen eggs on the underside of a leaf and the eggs hatch in a few days. Notice the freshly hatched ones that don’t have the black markings yet. These nymphs will go through several stages before becoming adults.
Here are some slightly older nymphs notice they are very similar to the newly hatched nymphs above
Finally after 50-80 days and multiple molts the nymph becomes an adult.
My long ignored blog deserves some love. I’ve really been into aquatic insects recently and while wading around in a vernal pool I came across a MayFly Nymph. I captured it in a container and brought it home to take pictures of it. I ended up making a couple of small aquariums to make photography a little easier. It took about 120 shots but I got a pretty cool image of a swimming nymph
I caught a few more of them and raised them to adulthood. Below is a picture of an adult. These will only live for a few days, just long enough to breed.
Mayflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera and there are approximately 630 species in North America alone. In Ohio where I live there are around 114 species. Mayflies are very intolerant of polluted waters and are often used as one of the indicators of water quality. At times these insects can be a nuisance as they tend to emerge in mass coating every surface. They will only be around for a short time however, once they mate the females will lay thousands of eggs and both will die. The eggs will hatch and a new brood of nymphs will spend a year in the water to repeat the cycle.
Well bug season is winding down but I’m still finding a few around. The other evening I found this Brown Lacewing on the porch. These insects are not as showy as their brilliant green cousins but up close they are equally striking. These insects are dead leaf mimics and I can certainly see why. If you look at the wings they have long veins much like a leaf. All of the Lacewings are important predators of other insects especially aphids.
Here are a couple of close ups of this insect. It was really curious and allowed me to move in close and do some 3x shots.
This shows some details of the back and wing attachment also some nice detail in the antennae (click on the image large image)
I got great eye detail in this shot. Not only did it hold still for this it was actually looking at the camera. (Click on the image for larger view)
I posted this on Google+ today but I wanted to go into more detail here. I’ve been spending too much time reading Alex Wild’s blog http://myrmecos.net/ and his work has inspired me to pay closer attention to ants. Today was very windy and the quite cool so I was searching trees and tree trunks for insects. I came across an ant that was crawling about on a dead limb in a oak tree. I shot about twenty shots of this ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus, the eastern black carpenter ant) and the one below is the only one that was not horrible. Ants are quite the challenge, not only are they small (although this one was quite large), they are highly mobile, they are also highly reflective, and they are also fairly uniform in color/shape. In the twenty shots I encountered just about every problem. I over exposed, under exposed, had motion blur from the wind, hand the any move away, blurry focus, body in focus but eye blurry, etc. My hat is off to the people that successfully photography ants.
One topic that came up at BugShot 2011 that resonated with me was trying to control backgrounds to improve the quality of insect images. This is an area I have been trying to improve on this year and one that I am trying to devote some time and thought to. When shooting macro cluttered backgrounds are a problem we all have to deal with. Some tips from Bugshot were to shot up where possible to use the sky as a uniform background. Relocate the insect to a different location such as a different leaf, a different plant, or even into the studio. Hold something behind the insect to provide a uniform background, such as a piece of paper, a photo, or even a leaf. Another technique is to force the background out of focus. This can be an effective technique and can provide additional depth in the image when it is possible. Last week I was wondering around the edge of the field behind my home and came across a bee nectaring on a flower. My first instinct was to go 1:1 and zoom in on the bee. But as I was composing I realized that by lowering my angle on the shot, moving back a bit away from the bee/flower, and shifting slightly I could capture both the bee and and out of focus flower in the background. Here is the result
I like this image for several reasons. By stepping back I manged to grab some great background details, the nice greens, the out of focus flower that balances nicely against the flower the bee is on, increased depth of field around the bee resulting in both the bee and the flower in sharp focus, and with a little flash I got a nice catch light on the bee’s eyes. I also think by stepping back and including more detail the image tells a better story. You can imagine the bee working the flowers collecting nectar vs a close up of the face of the bee.
The bug slacker is back, I have a ton of bugs to post just no time to do it. I’ve run across some pretty neat Ichneumon Wasps in the yard recently and thought I would share them. These wasps can look pretty nasty but actually don’t sting like a regular wasp does. Their ovipositors are very sharp and apparently they will occasionally use these in defense but it is not common for them to do this. These wasps paracitize different insects and most of them have a specific host insect or insect larva that they hunt for laying their eggs onto/into. This group of wasps is very large and once you are aware of them they are very common.
First up is an interesting wasp that has been coming to my mothing lights at night. Every night I have run the lights (incandescent and black lights) I have had from two to four of these wasps show up. This is a Pelecinid Wasp (Pelecinus polyturator) notice the large heavy duty strong ovipositor that is used to push down in the ground and lay eggs in june beetle larva.
Next up is a Megarhyssa atrata this is one of the longest ichneumon wasps in my area. This wasp was over 10cm long. These wasps paracitize the larva of wood boring insects.
Finally this is an unidentified wasp from my archives I’m fairly certain that it is in the Subfamily Banchinae but I have not narrowed it down any further.
A short post on some of my photo techniques. I’m no expert on photography by a long stretch. Most of my training is from the school of hard knocks and I have hard drives full of so so images. One of the hardest things in macro work and insect photography in particular is controlling the background. When I first started out taking macro photos I concentrated so hard on getting the insect perfect that often my backgrounds were horrible. As I have matured as a macro photographer I find that I spend more time looking at the background than at the subject. Sometimes you can’t control the background but when you can it can make a dramatic difference in the quality of the image. Below are three images of the same damselfly, the only thing that changed was the camera position.
This is not a bad photo the damselfly is well posed, focus is good, exposure is decent, etc. But take a look at the background, the leaves are bright. one leaf goes through the thorax and there is a bright white highlight near the tip of tail. All of these go together to hurt the quality of the photo. The photo is good enough for an ID photo but not really one I would post onto my blog or onto flickr.
Now take a look at the one below.
This is that same damselfly in the same position but I shifted the camera position. I lowered the camera and moved forward a little and improved the background. This is an improvement but I still have an annoying bright spot by the wings
What if I shifted a little bit more?
By moving a little more I manged to move the bright spots around a bit . Still not perfect but an I think an improvement over the image above and a big improvement over what I started with. If I was really ambitious I could move this into photoshop and do even more with it to darken the bright areas. So next time you are shooting macro try paying attention to the backgrounds a little more it’s amazing how a small shift in position can make a big difference in the photo.
I don’t talk about plants much but I wanted to take a moment to talk about the Common Milkweed plant.This native plant is an insect magnet twenty four hours a day. Many people consider this plant to be a weed to be cut down, destroyed, or sprayed with herbicide. I consider them to be quite attractive and they certainly bring in the insects. If you really want to attract insects into your yard you have to go with the native plants. Not only the ones with the showy flowers but also the ones that are food sources. The common milkweed is both a food source and showy. We all know the monarch caterpillar munches on these but so do the milkweed bugs, the milkweed tussock caterpillar, and several aphids. One source I saw claimed over 450 insects feed on milkweed.
We’ll start with the daylight insects
Eastern Carpenter Bee - Xylocopa virginica
The bees just love feeding on nectar on the flowers. There were at least six bees feeding on this one flower head.
Hanging around on the leaves are the Large Milkweed Bugs. These will be breeding shortly and laying eggs in the milkweed seed pods. The adult insects actually feed on the seeds of the plant and have also been seen eating the nectar
Now onto the night time insects – I was actually surprised by what I found.
This is a large very good looking with moth is the Banded Tussock Moth. Notice the interesting markings just behind the head of this moth.
Another shot of the Banded Tussock Moth that shows the flower and the markings on the moth better
These butterflies are the Jimmy Durantes of the butterfly world. I found this one on the back porch and I transferred it a leaf. It was very co-operative and allowed me to shoot a bunch of pictures. These butterflies are one of the few that actually do migrate and at times in very large numbers. The caterpillars feed on hackberry trees and I’ve seen the adults nectaring on the thistle in the backyard. It’s thought that the elongated mouth parts (labial palps) help the butterfly appear to be a stem or leaf on a tree.
Now for some close-ups I switched to a 55 micro lens and various combinations of extension tubes to give more magnification. If you look close you can see the butterfly has some damage to the snout and you can see the detail the underlying structure.