Photos of the Week – October 3, 2022

Occasionally, people will ask for advice on taking insect or other close-up photos. My first advice is always to pay attention to light and to look for subjects when/where that light is attractive. But my second piece of advice is to take lots of photos when you come across a subject you like. Sometimes, that’s not possible with invertebrates because they don’t hang around long enough. When they give you the option, though, take advantage of it!

Taking multiple shots of the same subject (also known as ‘bracketing’) is helpful in a few ways. It helps you make sure you get at least one sharp image, which can be tough with tiny subjects that move (and are moved by breezes, etc.). You can also try multiple camera settings to see what exposure works best. Perhaps most importantly, though, you can experiment with lots of different camera angles and perspectives.

Many times, my initial idea for a photo is fine, but as I start working, I come up with other, better ideas. Alternatively, might go for an easy photo first to make sure I get at least one shot before the creature leaves the scene. If it sticks around, I can start having more fun. Sometimes, that just means getting closer, but it usually includes looking for a face-to-face shot, trying both back lighting and front lighting, etc.

Here are some recent invertebrate photos that show just a few of many different perspectives I experimented with.

Chinese praying mantis in morning light. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/10, 1/250 sec.
I edged closer to get this photo. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/10, 1/250 sec.
Since the mantis stuck (hung) around, I switched perspectives and had fun with this one. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/10, 1/125 sec.

When I spotted this damselfly, I liked the blue body on the red smartweed stem. It was cool and had some dew on it but I wasn’t sure if it would sit long. As a result, I took my first picture from a comfortable distance and then edged closer and closer. Once I realized it wasn’t going to immediately fly away, I swung around to photograph its face.

Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/200 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/9, 1/320 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens with Raynox 250 attachment. ISO 400, f/9, 1/320 sec.

Here’s another recent damselfly series. This one was also taken on a cool dewy morning and the insect let me get close. These are just three of many images I took by moving my tripod just a few inches one way or the other.

Nikon 105mm macro lens with Raynox 250 attachment. ISO 400, f/18, 1/160 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens with Raynox 250 attachment. ISO 400, f/20, 1/100 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens with Raynox 250 attachment. ISO 400, f/20, 1/100 sec.

Another tip for insect photography is to get the camera down to the level of the critter, rather than staying above it. It usually creates a much more intimate look at the animal. Camera height can also have a big impact on the background behind the subject too. Sometimes getting below the insect means background vegetation is further away (or thinner), giving you a cleaner background. Or you can even include some of the sky, which can also be nice.

Assassin bug photo #1. Pretty nice. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/160 sec.
With the camera just a little lower, I got blue sky behind the subject. Also nice. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/160 sec.
My favorite shot came with a slightly different angle that included both sky and background vegetation in a way that really framed the insect. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/160 sec.
…Then I had fun with a head-on shot. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/16, 1/80 sec.

It can be helpful to experiment with lighting angles too. Since the sun isn’t moving (much), you have to move yourself and try photographing the creature with front, side, and back lighting. Below, the first three dragonfly images all show front lighting (but with subtle-but-significant differences in framing – notice how the background changes too). The fourth shows a kind of side-back lighting that is really different. Sometimes different is good (I like this one) and sometimes not, but with digital photography, what are you losing by trying?

Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/10, 1/400 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/14, 1/200 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/8, 1/640 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/13, 1/200 sec.

I’ve been photographing a lot of garden spiders this fall. When I saw this one, I decided to start with a fish eye lens because I thought I’d be able to show the landscape behind the spider. It worked well. But then I threw the macro lens on and worked on a few other angles that focused more on the spider and its captured prey.

Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 400, f/10, 1/400 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/10, 1/400 sec.
I liked the idea of showing the scene from the perspective of this captured beetle. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/18, 1/125 sec.

The last series shows a katydid nymph at the Platte River Prairies last week. When I first saw it, it was facing away from me and into the sun. I liked that angle, so I just went with it. I also didn’t want to swing around in front of it immediately in case that spooked it. Once I had the first photo (which I took many times to make sure I got the eye in focus), I shifted around to the other side of it. Its sunflower perch was high enough that I could easily blur out the background but I played around with that background quite a bit, especially with some goldenrod that provided some nice color. I also tried to show at least most of its long antennae while still being close enough to show the other details of its body. I think the third shot is my favorite, even though it’s not the closest. While closer is often better, sometimes the image is more about the subject plus its background than just the subject.

Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/14, 1/80 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/14, 1/80 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/10, 1/160 sec.

I hope this is helpful to a few of you. If not, at least you got to see a bunch of invertebrate photos, so that’s a good thing. For me, it was nice to have an excuse to include multiple versions of each photo instead of having to make heart-wrenching (that’s a little overdramatic, I guess) decisions about which to include or exclude.

That is a downside to taking lots of photos. Having lots of options means a better chance of getting the perfect focus and framing, but it also increases the risk of ending up with tough decisions about which version you like the best. Ah, the tribulations we bug photographers face…

September Quiz

I like calling this the September Quiz because it implies this quiz feature appears at regular intervals. Good luck finding the July and August versions.

As always, this is a serious test of prairie knowledge. If you get all the answers correct, you are entitled to a free double thumbs up from the mayor (or appropriate title) of whatever municipality you live closest to. To redeem your prize, just send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the office of that official with a copy of your answers and a dried and pressed specimen of Callirhoe involucrata. Be sure to add the hashtag #prairiesrule!

Good luck to all of you!

Q1. What is an accepted common name of the above flowering prairie plant?

A. Tentative Sorrow

B. Common Yarrow

C. Uncommon Borrow

D. Dickcissel

.

Q2. Which of the following is not the common name of a moth species in the Great Plains?

A. The Halfwing

B. The Badwing

C. The Changeling

D. The Wedgeling

E. The Joker

.

Q3. What is the correct spelling of the above snake species?

A. Masassauga

B. Massasauga

C. Mississauga

D. Mississippi

E. Bull Snake

.

Q4. What is shown in the above photo?

A. Empty eggs of some kind of hemipteran (true bug)

B. A fungus growing on the stem of a grass

C. The flower of needle-and-thread grass.

D. The abandoned exoskeleton of a recently-molted damselfly

E. A pair of my kid’s socks. (THAT’S where they went!)

.

Q5. Why is the sun shaped like an octagon behind this gaura flower?

A. Climate change

B. COVID-19

C. Area 51

D. It’s an effect caused by the diaphragm blades inside the camera lens that control the aperture (opening through which light passes into the camera).

.

Q6. How many sides does an octagon have?

A. Apparently 7 if the previous question is to be believed.

B. Who even knows anymore?

C. A & B

.

Q7. Which of the following is not the common name of a moth species in the Great Plains?

A. Crambid Snout

B. Rough Prominent

C. Delicate Cycnia

D. Implicit Arches

E. Black Bit

F. Cream-bordered Dichomeris

G. All of the above are actual Great Plains moths

H. None of the above are actual Great Plains moths

.

.

Q9. What is shown in the above photo?

A. The seedhead of Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)

.

Q10. Which of the following is not the common name of a moth species in the Great Plains?

A. Happy Dancer

B. Sturdy Fig

C. Achneris Flipper

D. Deep Orange Geographer

E. Three-Spotted Boop

F. Festival Arches

G. All of the above are actual Great Plains moths

H. None of the above are actual Great Plains moths

.

Q11. True or False: People who name moths are just a little different from the rest of us.

A. True, but in a good way

.

Q12. You skipped Q8.

A. Oops

.

Q13. Did you know Mississauga is the name of a city in Ontario, Canada?

A. Yes

B. Oh, you did not

.

.

.

Answer Key:

Q1. B

Q2. C

Q3. B

Q4. C

Q5. D

Q6. A, B, or C, depending upon your current mood and/or local political climate

Q7. G

Q9. A

Q10. H (hee hee)

Q11. A

Q12. A

Q13. B (probably)