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.

eagle eye view of brown cricket
First attempt at a ground cricket nymph through the plastic walls of its enclosure
side view of a brown cricket
Not too bad, but it’s still blurry – insects move a lot! And I’m sure shooting through the extra “lens” of the plastic didn’t help. It’s almost cute…
back end of a green katydid
Looking at the 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)
blurry back end of a green katydid
Holding the camera and the insect introduced way too much shake to be useful. I was using Av (aperture-priority) shooting mode. It will compensate for 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.
in focus back end of a green katydid
Not perfect, but definitely enough detail to get that species ID! This one is a broad-winged bush katydid (Scudderia pistillata)
side view of a brown fresh molted cricket
A newly-molted adult striped ground cricket (Allonemobius fasciatus)
close up of a green katydid
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 photo booth. The white background give the camera more light and, all else being equal, will allow faster shutter speeds.
collage of green katydid getting closer to camera
The oblong-winged nymph decided to walk towards the camera, which made focusing very interesting.
Katydid sitting on top of a camera
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!