Thursday 23 February 2012

Recent Images in Print

The problem with selling images through a stock agency (FLPA in my case) is that you rarely get to see in print the images that you sell. However, I do also sell images directly which allows me to find out some of the sometimes obscure places that my images have been published.  Here are a couple of recent examples:


The first is the cover of the Polish reprint of the book 'Sex on Six Legs: Lessons from the Insect World' by Marlene Zuk, a Biologist from the University of California. 

The following is a double page spread from an Italian wildlife magazine aimed at children entitled Focus Wild. It shows a sequence of a Southern Hawker dragonfly emerging. Unfortunately this is a very low quality low resolution mock-up (the text was yet to be updated and relates to a previous article):

Not all of my recent images in print have been in exotic overseas publications, I've also had a few small images published in BBC Wildlife magazine in recent months (circled):

While I may not get to see in print the images that I sell through FLPA they do deserve a plug as they sold 5 of my images in one day earlier this week!

Sunday 19 February 2012

Ancient and Modern

While looking for Globular Springtails on a recent frosty morning I found a tiny midge (approx 5mm) on the underside of a rock. It wasn't particularly photogenic and not something I would ordinarily have photographed. However, what did interest me was its striking resemblance to a midge in a piece of 50 million year old amber that I happen to own.


A midge, approximately 5mm in length (2012 model)

A Midge trapped in Baltic Amber approximately 50 million years ago

and from the other side...

Both midges are approximately the same size and both have the feathery antennae characteristic of midges.  The two midges also have very similar compound eyes, mouthparts, thorax and abdomen (although the abdomen on the 2012 midge is not visible in the above image).

I find it remarkable to be able to see a 50 million year old insect but it is also interesting to see that this insect has changed very little over this period of time. Presumably we have to conclude that the midge is, and alway has been, well designed to exploit its niche and has therefore experienced little evolutionary change.

Friday 17 February 2012

Mixed Light Macro

(updated July 2015)

For the majority of my macro images I tend to use either full flash or natural light. Typically, I take high magnification images with the MPE-65mm macro lens using full flash and images of larger insects I take in natural light using my Sigma 150mm lens. Sometimes, however, there are advantages to using a mix of natural light and flash.

On a sunny day it can be nice to include a sunlit background or blue sky in an image as this can often  provide a welcome splash of colour. However, it's not generally a good idea for the main subject to be in sunlight as this tends to cause harsh shadows and highlights. So one solution is to expose the image for the background and to illuminate the subject using heavily diffused flash. Once the flash is effectively diffused it is able to produce very soft light on demand meaning it's possible to get the benefits of sunlight in an image (i.e. a nice background) without the costs in the form of harsh light on the subject.

To do this effectively it is best to use a short focal length macro lens as this makes it possible to get the flash head very close to the subject (see this post for tips on how to diffuse flash) which significantly helps with diffusion. Also, if possible, try to ensure that the subject is not in full sun either by moving its perch if possible or positioning yourself so that you are blocking the sun. I use either my MPE-65mm macro lens or my Canon 60mm macro lens for this style of photography as both have very short working distances. I also tend to shoot handheld by gripping the subject's perch in my left hand and then resting the lens on that same left hand so that the subject and camera/lens then move as one. However, the disadvantage of using mixed light is that, if shooting at high magnification, the partial use of flash no longer freezes movement in the same way that full flash does. So, it can be difficult to go much beyond 1x magnification if using mixed light and if shooting handheld. 

I typically use Aperture Priority at anything between f7.1 and f14 and ISO 200 or 400 and then dial in flash exposure compensation of somewhere between -0.5 and -1.5 so that the flash isn't too bright. It can take a bit of practice to get the flash exposure right. 

Here are a few examples:


Tawny Mining Bee
(Canon 7D with MPE-65mm lens, f141 1/250, ISO 400 and diffused MT-24 flash)

A Stem Sawfly with water drop 
(Canon 60D with 60mm lens, f10, 1/250, ISO 400 and diffused MT-24 flash)

Mating Ladybirds
(Canon 60D with MPE-65mm lens, f8, 1/250, ISO 400, diffused MT-24 flash)

A juvenile Shieldbug (Picromerus bidens)
(Canon 60D with Cano 60mm lens, f7.1, 1/250, ISO 400, diffused MT-24 flash)

A Lacewing
(Canon 60D with 60mm lens, f11, 1/160, ISO 400, diffused MT-24 flash)

A Bumble Bee feeding
(Canon 60D with 60mm lens, f10, 1/250, ISO 400, diffused MT-24 flash)

Finally, another Ladybird on a Daffodil
(Canon 5D with MPE-65mm lens, f11, 1/200, ISO 400 and diffused Canon 580EXII Speedlite)

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Snow and Ice

This winter had been particularly warm in the UK with little by way of snow and ice but the last week or two has seen the arrival of some cold weather. I've no idea how long this cold spell will last (is spring around the corner?) so I was keen to take advantage of these wintery conditions.

I particularly enjoy bright, frosty days as the light can transform even the most mundane of subjects. So last week I visited my local duck pond to see how the local wildfowl were faring. The pond was frozen over but the combination of the low sun and the reflection from the ice did provide some nice lighting.


A Mallard drake on the ice

A Canada Goose

A Common Gull

The ducks also provided some in-flight opportunities.

A Mallard drake in flight

A female Mallard in flight

Away from the ducks, those who have seen my recent post on Globular Springtails will know that these tiny invertebrates can remain active in very cold conditions. So on a recent frosty day I turned over a few rocks in my garden to see if I could see any springtails. Sure enough, there they were and within a few seconds they were wandering around on the ice.

Globular Springtail on ice

Finally, after a few days of heavy frosts, last Saturday night brought a reasonably heavy snowfall to much of the UK. A walk to some nearby fields revealed a number of sets of animal tracks. I'm fairly confident that some were rabbits, and possibly hares, and those in the image below were almost certainly from a fox.

Fox prints in the snow

Friday 3 February 2012

Globular Springtails

In order to prevent too much dust from gathering on my macro gear over the winter months I always like to have at least one session photographing springtails in my garden. Springtails are tiny invertebrates of the order Collembola (not technically insects) that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The vast majority possess a folded spring-like apendage under their body, called the furcula, which allows them to spring some distance away if threatened. Springtails are very common - if you turn over a rock or a log in your garden the chances are you will see tiny springtails attached to it.

In my opinion, the most photogenic are the Globular Springtails which are 1-3mm in size and can easily be overlooked with the naked eye. Like all springtails, they contain an anti-freeze agent in their blood which enables them to remain active in even the coldest conditions. When magnified they can be seen to be very colourful, highly patterned and, dare I say it, actually quite cute :) I think the following are all the species Dicyrtomina ornata.

All of the following images were taken using my MPE-65mm macro lens, typically at between 3x and 5x magnification.


This one was photographed recently on the underside of a red house brick. 

On a frosty day this springtail was found on the frozen underside of a rock and soon started wandering about when it was exposed to the daylight.

This one was under a piece of sandstone.

This springtail is grooming itself with a globule of liquid that it secreted.

I'm not quite sure what this one was doing, but I've seen several do this. It stopped and waved its front legs, possibly some sort of defence mechanism?

All in all, they're fascinating little creatures!