Posts tagged “Close-up Photography

Hairstreak Butterfly

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There are many small butterflies and among them are the hairstreaks. I had a look in a number of reference books and had no luck in finding a specific name for this hairstreak. This poor fellow is getting on and its wings are fraying. It is more difficult to get butterflies face on and if you do try it, it may be at the expense of determining their taxonomy precisely. I find the faces more interesting than the taxonomy, but entomologists, specifically lepidopterists, are free to disagree 🙂

Assassin Bugs (Two Photographs)

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This was my first attempt at Assassin Bugs. I was quite pleased to get a male and female in one place at the same time. The male is easier to find, the female blends in. I would not have seen the couple had it not been for the fact that we were patiently waiting for a bird to come back to a nest. Getting a little bored I had a look around to see what else was about. In the weeks since I looked for more examples but it was a long time before I saw more of them (their camouflage is generally excellent). Assassin bugs are determined enough not to be bothered by a photographer. Their name speaks to their stealth and how they prey on a number of other insects.

Assasin 2

Purdon Conservation Area – The Butterflies (Four Photographs)

Prudon Skippers-2To view more of my photography please click on

Yesterday I posted the Lady Slipper Orchids, today it’s the Skipper Butterflies. The butterflies were a surprise and almost seemed sedated, if they landed on you you had to push to get them off. During our visit we saw hundreds of skippers. They moved slowly and deliberately, covering the flowers. I did a few close-ups here to show the detail of the butterflies. Finally, and for reasons unexplained, the skippers could be found in the bowl of almost all of the Lady Slippers. The Lady Slippers are not carnivorous, but some skippers and bees get caught in the bowl and cannot get out. The plants are considered endangered in the U.S.A. and some believe that the skippers dying inside may not help matters much.

Prudon Skippers-3

Prudon Skippers-4

Prudon Skippers

What’s in a name? (and a reminder about white balance.)

Cadaver BeetlesTo view more of my photography please click on

Two relatively ugly insects mating on the ground probably doesn’t make for a spectacular photo. However, it’s the back story here that taught me a lesson. Frequently people ask me what I’m shooting, the relatively large soft box I use for lighting raises curiosity. I was taking this picture when a person came by who is normally of few words and told me they were cadaver beetles. Now if you know what it is like to look up insect names, you will understand my appreciation of this tip. On returning home none of my books had reference to a cadaver beetle and I have a lot of reference books (the pictures in most reference books are not always helpful – think police station mug shot portfolio). Google was more helpful, it came up with American Carrion Beetle and with that my reference books worked somewhat better. Had I not had the original hint I would not have known where to begin; popular names of insects change all the time and the entomologists are working on a new taxonomy of beetles so figuring out what is what can be a bit tricky. One other point about these beetles is that they perform a sort of taxi service to dinner for some other smaller insects. From a photographic perspective, what made a huge difference to this photo was setting the white balance in post-processing. I do not do that often enough but it can really help make a photograph work out right.

Insects and a Comment on Cropping (Two Photographs)

SyrphidaeTo view more of my photography please click on

Is it possible that there are people who do not appreciate insect photography? In my defense insects in the wild are best, insects, found in the house or eating the garden are not so good (we have a catch and release policy in our house). In any event one of my photographic passions is the photography of insects. My aim in posting insect photography is to show a world of animals most people will never see. In this case we have some flower flies (family Syrphidae) mating.

I was told early on by a published insect photographer that cropping was inevitable with close-up photography. Most cameras today, apart from the point and shoots have 16 to 40 megabyte sensors with most in the 16 megapixel to 24 megapixel range. This was taken with a 24 megapixel camera and heavily cropped (over 80%). Obviously the closer you get the less you need to crop, but how close you can get before your subject leaves or before you are out of your comfort zone are equally important. (One caveat is that there is a limit to cropping when the picture starts pixelating.) The photo below cannot be cropped much more that it is. But there are other considerations to take into account and they have affected all of my photography regardless of size or type of subject. The center focus point in most cameras, dead center in the frame is most accurate and most effective. Using it to advantage means centering your subject, there are a lot of circumstances where fast critical focus is needed. Shooting like this means cropping in post. Our focus on a given subject can be like tunnel vision and we may miss things in the frame, shooting wider and cropping later helps. If we want to apply rules (rule of thirds, golden triangle etc.) it is easier in post than in camera under these conditions. In effect the crop gives us another artistic tool, to create our final product. Most nature photographers crop most if not all of the time and how a picture is cropped can lead to all sorts of debate on the web. One of my photos a few years ago was re-cropped by a participant on a forum. Had this person not been the officer who prepared the U2 photographs for Adlai Stevenson to present at the UN during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I might not have been so happy to see the results 🙂 Lastly, and I am thinking along the lines of those challenges where a photo is processed in more than one way, cropping can mean one frame has more than one photograph in it. Purists who believe that out of the camera perfection is possible and the only approach will be disappointed with my suggestions. I won’t be taking their calls.

Flies mating 2

White Admiral Butterfly (Two photographs and a word about photographic miracles)

White AdmiralTo view more of my photography please click on

They say to never throw away near misses, you never know when something might be useful or you learn a technique to fix it. These two photographs, though cropped slight differently, are the same shot. The first has benefited from shadow and highlight adjustments, noise reduction with careful attention to loss of detail, tonal correction and detail extraction. Just because a photograph looks underdeveloped does not mean you can’t pull out of a raw file something that may be workable. Shooting raw is the key of course and ideally you would have shot with greater attention to the right side of the histogram where a significant portion of the data exists. This is important in nature photography as for some odd reason the first shot is usually the best. When you start thinking about settings or check the back of your camera, the subject  has usually moved on. I do not like to perform major surgery on my files too often but sometimes it is worth trying.

White Admiral-2

A Bee

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Some bees are more difficult than others to shoot; a lot depends on the flower and how long they remain in one place and whether the bee vibrates to get the pollen. I took several shots of bees against this background over two days. The color contrast is an obvious plus but the bee and the flower reflect light differently, sometimes complicating the exposure. If the subject is well-lit and in focus then the background can become tricky. I had to discard several shots because the out of focus background was messy (blown out, or too bright). The bees did not react to my flash. It was needed to stop action and light the bee which otherwise would be too dark. The large number of photographs taken also reflected my trying to anticipate when I could catch the face of the bee. Such is the nature of close-up photography on the best of days.

Mayfly (and a few words about close-up/macro photography)

MayflyTo view more of my photography please click on

Mayflies are good subjects for photography; while they do fly they also have prolonged periods of being sedentary and are an easy target (albeit in the darker parts of the forest and under leaves). Mayflies have a short life span above the water and cannot eat during that period. It’s a wondrous sight to see them emerge like reverse rain from a lake. If you do try to photograph this insect you will probably need a flash, you will most likely get light fall off and as in this shot, you will want to process so that some of the background is visible. Your flash will have impact on the very translucent wings, as any dust becomes a multicolored pixel (as in this shot). It’s much easier from a depth of field perspective to shoot an insect that is parallel to your sensor, if not you have to hope your choice of aperture will accommodate the angle. I tend to aim for f11 as a good starting point. When using one flash there are two things to bear in mind: 1. at a certain point (it depends on the lens) as your aperture closes, diffraction will occur and the shot will look soft; and 2. if you keep your shutter speed low more ambient light will enter the picture. Should you do the latter the flash may not freeze action or movement. My preference is for sharpness, no diffraction and when using a single flash I can live with some light fall off.

Bees (Two Photographs and a word about Close-up/Macro Photography)

BeeTo view more of my photography please click on

When I started doing close-up photography of insects it was clear that with many subjects the eyes would not be seen without flash. Professional portrait photographers have a lot of tools to get a catch light in people’s eyes and I do not see why it should not be the same for bees. Using flash also means highlighting the things insects pick up along the way.  I learned from professional entomologists who photograph insects indoors, that they spend a lot of time and effort cleaning the insects before shooting them. It’s unbelievable what shows up after sharpening, some of it is just plain dust and not pollen. Digitally cleaning the photograph after sharpening can be time-consuming. Bees are great subjects especially when preoccupied. In this and other examples where the subject gives me a chance, I will wait and anticipate the bee coming face to face with my camera. This bee did not stay very still even while it collected the pollen. In these two shots the bee performed meticulously and we both got what we wanted.


A Weevil (Two Photographs and a few Words on Close-up/Macro Photography)

WeevilTo view more of my photography please click on

I believe this is a common weevil, Polydrusus sericus, hard to find given its coloring. I got a few shots before it ran off. I had no chance for test shots so there were some blown out parts that needed repair in Photoshop. The use of flash is tricky and often it would be far more pleasing to the eye to shoot without it. We need it to stop motion and for fill-light in close-up photography. Natural looking flash needs a lot of diffusion and sometimes even that fails and we get hot spots. Diffusion does what it says, spreads the light, softens it and reduces its severity. There are so many DIY and commercial ways to diffuse light but a soft box is my favorite approach. With respect to the weevil, had it not been moving, I would have missed it against the green background. I was lucky to have learned early on that the edges of paths are the best place to look for insects; even moving slowly you will miss an enormous number of insects but a few will stand out. The fields are full of them, but like the little birds you hear but cannot find, insects are camouflaged, crafty and exist in vastly greater numbers than you would guess.


Common Fly (Two Photographs and some notes on Close-up/Macro photography)

Green Bottle Fly-2To view more of my photography please click on

This is a green bottle fly, common across North America. Entomologists drilled into me that all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs, and spiders are neither bug nor insect. So if the subject of close-up insect photography interests you I suggest buying a good guide to insects and spiders in your area. You will note that you can get really dramatic portraits of these common beasts. Both of these shots were taken with a heavily diffused flash at 1/250 of a second with 105mm lens with a 12 mm extender tube attached that permits closer focus. Diffusion helps soften the light, and takes the harshness out (but does not help reflections off of the eyes). The front-on shot was taken at F5.6 and the side-on one at F8. Now normally I would be shooting at a smaller aperture (F11) to get better depth of field, had I done so I would have lost all the natural light on the face. Flash on the fly in the field hand-held is hit or miss and needs test shots and adjustment to get just right.

Green Bottle Fly

Soldier Beetle (and a word about Macro/Close-up Photography)

FireflyTo view more of my photography please click on

My reference books tell me that this is a soldier beetle. This picture marks the start of “bug season,” the season when the interesting insects appear in the field. I find that every year I struggle to get back to where I was the year before with close-up photography. All the variables of focus, shutter speed, exposure, and flash combine to make things just a little more complicated than when taking birds. The closer you get, the less light and the shallower the field of focus at any given aperture. At 20 meters F2.8 might be great for a bird in a tree, F11 will get the same depth of field five inches away from your insect subject. Even with flash you get small movement as you see here in the legs; often the antenna of an insect will move at remarkable speeds. While tripods are great for some insects, particularly sedentary ones, most insects will not stay around long enough to set up. This is the challenge and the fun of it.

Damselflies and a New Camera (Three Photographs)

OMD DamselfliesTo view more of my photography please click on

I was very cautious in going out to buy a new camera. I wanted a walk-around camera, small, light, and was ready to accept a trade-off between quality and size. I chose Olympus’ new OMD EM 5II over a Fuji. They say the menus on the Olympus are confusing and after many days if not weeks of wrangling with them I agree (two hours alone to figure out how to activate the flash that came with it in a way that was useful to me). There are a few things I would like to see on the OMD, but the most annoying thing is that most adjustments need a button press and a dial turn. This is not a camera review, more about going into a new technology relationship with eyes open. These photos were taken with the 60 mm macro Olympus lens. It goes to 1:1 which is true macro but it is not a replacement, as is implied, for a 120mm lens (the crop factor of 2x due to the micro four-thirds sensor, means an angle of view equal to a 120 mm lens). 60 mm does not give you the magnification 120mm would. This means you need to get a whole lot closer with the 60 mm than with a true 120 mm lens.  Technically the OMD paired with a macro lens should be the best of all worlds if only because of the greater depth of field that comes with a smaller sensor. In the shots in this post I used focus peaking, where the camera highlights what is in focus. These were taken hand-held and cropped. From my perspective the OMD is a small camera where it is possible to get very high quality with patience and a thorough knowledge of the camera and especially the two-steps needed to change almost every setting. The problem is I would prefer to spend that time on my subject and not on the technology. Am I pleased with the OMD, it won’t replace my D7200. Time will tell if it fits the niche (walk around camera) that I wanted it to fill.

OMD Damselflies-3

OMD Damselflies-2

Comma Butterfly


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What a great name for a wonderful butterfly, as in pause and admire the beauty. I wanted to post this shot because it makes a point I have made to some people recently. This was taken with a 300m lens, not a macro lens. Specialized equipment has its place and utility, but if you ask a store what to buy to take butterfly photographs, they are unlikely to suggest the gear you own. It is sometime easier to stand farther away to take photographs like this than get up close and risk frightening your subject away. Secondly, you have greater control over the depth of field and the lighting. With a macro lens you are closer, depth of field is at a premium and you have less available light. However, there are many reasons to get a dedicated macro lens for smaller subjects, for more detail, and for more control. The latter point is not insignificant, try finding small things with a long lens, it’s a challenge.


Clouded Sulphur

Clouded SulphurTo view more of my photography please click on

This clouded sulphur butterfly was one of many flying madly around on what was then a rare warm day. I suspect it ran out of energy. I took this with a 105 Macro lens from a distance and had to do an extensive crop (not an issue with a 24 megapixel camera). In fact any telephoto lens would have worked. Most of what is called Macro is in fact close-up photography and I do not want to pretend otherwise. Focused on the butterfly I could not do a great deal about the background and was happy enough to get some color even if the flowers were soft. Not the easiest thing to shoot but certainly not the hardest.

Defying the Physics of Photography (Two Photographs)

Dragonfly in FlightTo view more of my photography please click on

I am often asked about my settings (EXIF data). These were taken at ISO 640, F5.6 at 1/320th of a second on Nikon 300mm F2.8 with vibration reduction. These photographs have been heavily cropped by about 50%. All things remaining equal, to get sharp photographs your shutter speed should be the reciprocal of the length of the lens multiplied by the crop factor (in short 1/300th of a second times 1.5 due to the cropped sensor on the D7200 = 1/450th of a second). Clearly I was not following the rules. In my defense it was a dull day with nothing much to shoot except for the first time the dragonflies were flying about. I could not resist trying to get one hovering in flight. Had I been thinking rather than just taking a shot I might have increased my shutter speed, shot with a wider aperture and seen if I could get a lower ISO. My conclusion is that I can be a little less exact on the shutter speed rule and that sometimes just taking a “shot in the dark” works fairly well.

Dragonfly in Flight-2

The Eyes Have It! (Three Photographs)

Mourning Cloak ButterfliesTo view more of my photography please click on

These are Mourning Cloak Butterflies, the earliest butterflies you see in our neck of the woods; they over-winter and come out twice a year in the spring and again in the fall. There is a certain tree that leaks sap that attracts them in numbers. I noticed this last year and did a post about these butterflies. Their eyes have a checkerboard pattern and look a bit like soccer balls. The damaged wings show age.

I am a big fan of insect photography and would love to do it year round (not a hope in Canada). I used a 105mm lens and in two of the three photographs I used flash and a soft box because in the deep woods the light is poor. The edges of the wings suffered a bit under both natural and flash lighting. I was aiming for the eyes and kneeling in mud. Mourning Cloaks are dark-winged with only a bit of color in their wings; they are better camouflaged when their wings are closed. You often see them flying around defending turf or resting on the ground looking for salt. (You can see this in my post of 18 July.)

Mourning Cloak Butterflies-3

Mourning Cloak Butterflies-2

Azures do it!

Azures Do it!To view more of my photography please click on

These are Spring Azure Butterflies and yes they are mating. The male is the one on the right. I took this on a trail walk with a few friends and this was certainly one of the highlights. Not being able to get close with my macro lens, there was a swamp between me and them, I used a 70-200mm lens, not perfect but close enough to make me happy.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning CloakTo view more of my photography please click on

This is the first butterfly shot I took this year. The Mourning Cloaks overwinter as adults and are the first butterflies of spring in my region. They are one of my favorite subjects. They spend a lot of time on the ground, flying around finding food and defending their territory. When they find a tree leaking sap you can take photographs to your heart’s content, for the most part they will ignore you (I plan to post more shots soon). This was a unique opportunity to get a face on portrait of this butterfly that also showed some of its colorful wings. It was in surprisingly good shape; when butterflies age their wings show nicks and lost portions. I was not expecting to see insects so early in the year (April) so my gear was bird focused and I shot this with a 300mm lens at F5.

Fly on Flower

Fly on FlowerTo view more of my photography please click on

One of my favorite subjects is insects but the season is very short where I live. I like detail in my insects even with narrow depth of field. This normally means that not all the flowers/background are in focus and I need to use post processing detail extraction filters (e.g. Nik software) and shadow extraction to get the most out of the subject.

Hanging in (Two photographs)

Hanging InTo view more of my photography please click on

I keep getting asked how I take my macro photos, and I explain the basics. As well I always suggest getting as close as you can to those things you want to see close up (it does not have to be insects) with your existing camera gear and try photographing them. Anticipate where you want your subject to be in the frame etc. If the truth be told what most people call macro does not come close to being life-size or more, most of what is called macro is actually close-up photography (which describes my insect photography). Not that it matters much, except that calling it macro makes people assume they need a macro lens. Wide-angle lenses focus very close and give a spectacular perspective. I used a telephoto lens here – how close to an insect do you want to get? You should see how far you can go with what you have.

Hanging In-2

iPhone Landscape (and my Gallery of Bees for 2014)

Iphone LandscapeTo view more of my photography please click on

I have been skeptical about the iPhone as a useful camera for me, for example I prefer a viewfinder. I have tried out two camera apps chosen for their support of large Tiff files, as close to Raw files as I can get in an iPhone. This photo was taken with an app called 645 pro. It is a pretty comprehensive app and I will not pretend to have mastered it, or finished reading its huge manual. After taking a few photographs that looked great on the phone, I wanted to see them in Lightroom and Photoshop. There was a problem though, every transfer I tried converted the files to JPG;  when I tried Dropbox it worked, a seamless transfer of files from phone to IMAC in their original format. Now I was not expecting much from an 8mp camera but it’s worked out nicely (a bit of a problem in the lower left that you have to look hard to see). It will certainly give me no excuses for not taking photographs when I am out without my bigger kit.

My gallery of bees can be found here (click on the red): Bees


Last of the Mating Pairs

Last of the MatingTo view more of my photography please click on

Deep into the fall we saw the solitary dragonfly still flying about and even a few moths as the temperatures fell to freezing. As the height of fall color was reached I photographed this pair mating. Hopefully the eggs made it into the lake before the weather got too cold.

Shaft of Sedge (Two Photographs)

Shaft of SedgeTo view more of my photography please click on

I was looking at the grasses hoping to get good lighting and a composition that captured the wonderful day. No sooner had I found something then along came the dragonfly and my whole concept changed. Not that I minded, making sedge grass look good is not easy.

Shaft of Sedge-2