Saturday 31 March 2012

Ladybird Take-Off

One of the first insects to appear in my garden each spring is the Seven Spot Ladybird and this year it has appeared in considerable numbers. I tend to find the emergence of these charismatic insects difficult to resist, not least since I've been largely starved of macro subjects over the winter months. However, I now have many, many images of Seven Spot Ladybirds so the challenge is to photograph them in a different way. Having given this some thought I decided to try to photograph them in that split second before they take-off. At this point their wing cases are thrown open and their wings emerge like banners being unfurled, giving them a very different appearance to when they are simply walking around with their colourful wing cases closed.

To photograph them in this manner presents a number of challenges. First, I need to get in position next to a ladybird and have a reasonable degree of confidence that it is about to take-off. Second, the timing is crucial. If I release the shutter a second too early its wing cases are yet to open and I get a fairly mundane image of a ladybird sitting on a leaf. But if I'm a second too late it is in the air. If the latter happens I soon realised that it is impossible to prevent the ladybird being blurred even when exposing them purely with flash - what is needed is high speed flash which I don't have. So my only option is to photograph them as they open their wing cases and wings but before they have actually taken off. The final challenge is to get all of the key parts of the ladybird in focus, no mean feat as the depth of field is extremely shallow and the body position tends to move slightly as it opens its wings.

The technique I settled on is as follows. Take some kind of perch such as a leaf or blade or grass (I've been using a daffodil leaf) and hold it in your left hand. Encourage a ladybird onto it and hold it in direct sunshine so that the ladybird warms up. It will then often, but by no means always, walk to the top of the leaf and think about taking off. The tell-tale signs that it is thinking about taking off are that its wing cases move apart ever so slightly. If it is cold this will not happen so some sunshine is necessary here. In terms of camera gear, a short focal length macro lens is needed as this has a short working distance meaning (a) you can rest the lens on your left hand so that it and the ladybird's perch moves as one and (b) it is possible to get your diffused flash very close to the subject thereby helping with the quality of light. My lens of choice has been the Canon 60mm macro lens, a superb little lens. I opted not to use my MPE-65 as the degree of magnification is too great making the depth of field too shallow to get the plane of focus exactly in the right position. Instead, I use the 60mm lens at a little under 1x magnification and use f18 to give myself a fighting chance. I illuminate the images entirely with flash to allow me to use an aperture that small. Finally, it is necessary to hold the ladybird's perch close to some background foliage to prevent the background being black (because of the flash).

I have had a number of sessions photographing ladybirds in this way in recent weeks and have been aided by a large number of willing ladybirds and some unseasonally sunny weather. The following 2 images are probably my favourites so far.


I have also captured one or two slightly different poses that I quite like:

However, I wouldn't like the readers of this blog to think that I achieve images like those above every time :-)  I have many, many images of blurred ladybirds disappearing out of frame, the one below being typical!

Finally, I have also tried to photograph ladybirds taking off in the Meet Your Neighbour style (see this post for an explanation), with the 2 below being those I like best;

Wednesday 28 March 2012

IGPOTY again

A few days ago I received the International Garden Photographer of the Year 2012 book which features my 'Confused Grasshopper' image (see this post). I have to say I'm very impressed with the book, it really is very nice. It contains some excellent images and the print quality is of a very high standard.


(note the image on the cover was not taken by me)

I'm very pleased to see my image given a page all to itself.

and it was also nice to see that my image forms a fold-out inside back cover:

Finally, my image is also being used on the fliers to advertise next year's IGPOTY competition:

The IGPOTY book is currently available from Amazon for only £11.69, see this link (and no, I'm not on commission :-))

Saturday 24 March 2012

Common Frogs

Further to my last post, here is yet more evidence that spring is in the air. This mating pair of Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) were recently found in my garden. What's a little confusing is the fact that there is no pond in my garden or in my immediate neighbours' garden, with the nearest being 2 or 3 gardens away. I realise frogs do wander from ponds but my understanding was that frogs mate in water with the male fertilising the female's eggs as she releases them. This male was firmly gripping onto the female as she crawled around my garden, perhaps he was trying to steer her back to a pond :)


What I also found interesting was the considerable size difference between the male and the female and also the impressive red colouring of the female.

As an aside, I took these images using my back-up body which is a Canon 60D (with a 60mm macro lens). Since I had to shoot these handheld and because the light was failing I raised the ISO to 1000 to get a high enough shutter speed for sharp images. However I was very impressed with the resultant image quality which shows relatively little sign of noise. I did get the exposure about right which certainly helps to reduce noise but in future I won't be too concerned about raising the ISO on this body in order to get sharp images.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Spring is in the Air

My garden is now full of the signs of spring thanks to the recent mild weather. The daffodils are blooming, the bees are buzzing and there seem to be Seven Spot Ladybirds everywhere. As you can see, the ladybirds in particular have quickly got into the swing of things.


These images were taken with a Canon 60mm macro lens using a mixture of flash and natural light. In each case I angled the perch (a daffodil flower and a daffodil leaf) so that the backdrop was provided by the deep blue sky.

Friday 9 March 2012

Meet Your Neighbours

I'm very pleased to have joined the 'Meet Your Neighbours' photographic initiative created and led by Niall Benvie and Clay Bolt. The project aims to celebrate local biodiversity by creating a team of photographers around the world to photograph the wide variety of species on each of their doorsteps. All images have to be taken in the same distinctive style - with a white background created by using a field studio (on location). This not only means the images are instantly recognisable as belonging to the project but this style of imagery also celebrates the beauty and diversity of species by photographing them in isolation from their surroundings.

Photographers contributing to the project either work closely with a local wildlife organisation who utilise the images to further their cause, or they contribute stock images on a profit sharing basis to a Meet Your Neighbours collection held by stock agency Nature Picture Library. I'll be doing the latter and I've just signed a contract with Nature Picture Library.

For futher information about the project please visit the Meet Your Neighbours website. You can also find project updates on the project's Facebook page.

I'll be honest and say I didn't immediately fall in love with the style of photography when I first started to see it a couple of years ago or more. But having read the project's aims the style of imagery started to make sense. Further conversations and emails from Niall and Clay only convinced me further that this project was a great way to encourage people to appreciate their local wildlife. As Niall puts it "A brilliantly-lit white background removes the context, encouraging appreciation of the subject as an individual rather than a species. Their own form constitutes the composition. Seen this way, animals and plants we thought we knew reveal another side of themselves, encourage a second glance, perhaps even renewed interest"

At this stage I'm still refining my techniques before the insect season starts in earnest. But a few insects are now appearing and allowing me to practice on them. In due course I'll be photographing a mixture of large and small insects using a variety of styles and techniques which I will explain on this blog. Watch this space over the coming months!


A Shieldbug

A Seven Spot Ladybird

A Millipede

A tiny Globular Springtail

A Seven Spot Ladybird

and finally a coiled Millipede looking more like an ammonite

Saturday 3 March 2012


I'm pleased to say that my Confused Grasshopper image is a prize winner in this year's International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) competition. It is one of 4 'finalists' in the Wildlife Haven section of the competition. Although 'finalist' sounds a little vague, each category has a top 3, followed by 4 finalists, followed by a number of highly commended and then commended images, so I'm quite pleased with that.


I look forward to seeing the image published in the IGPOTY book and I believe it will feature in numerous exhibitions. The competition seems to attract a reasonable degree of media attention and I've already seen my image featured in the The Telegraph.

The link below shows the other winning images in the Wildlife Havens section.