Sunday 27 May 2012

Large Red Damselflies (Meet Your Neighbours)

I recently posted about the emergence of Large Red Damselflies (including video, see here) and noted that this year I have been lucky enough to observe the emergence of several damselflies. I decided to photograph one emergence sequence in the Meet Your Neighbours style, with the idea of a composite image showing the various stages of the process firmly in my mind.

The final composite image is below:


...and here's a closer look at one of the images

on this occasion I didn't have time to wait around until the damselfly's colours had fully developed (it can take several hours) but here's a different, mature, individual for comparison.

and, again, a closer view

Finally, a view of my rough and ready 'field studio' (if that isn't too grand a term for it)! I'm using white Perspex with a flash positioned behind it and a macro flash attached to the lens. I found the trickiest aspect is keeping the Perspex held vertically but settled on a combination of a Plamp and a couple of bamboo canes which seemed to do the job nicely.

All images were taken handheld using a Canon 60mm macro lens.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

(Fairly) Wideangle Macro

A previous post on this blog discussed my attempts to shoot wideangle macro, or more accurately wideangle close-ups, with the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens. This lens is a very effective fisheye but makes close-ups difficult because of its relative lack of magnification. It only really works with larger insects and the lens is still virtually touching the insect (quite literally).

Another lens I've been interested in for some time is the Tokina 35mm macro. Although obviously not as wideangle as the 10-17mm, this is a true macro lens capable of 1x magnification. In principle it should therefore allow small insects to be relatively large in the frame while still giving an impression of the insect's environment.

Anyway, I recently gave in to temptation and this post provides some of my first experiments with the Tokina 35mm macro lens.


A small (10mm) Nomada bee on a grass stalk

In case you're wondering how the focal length of different macro lenses affects the background of an image, even when all are shooting at 1x magnification, I've just knocked up the following comparison using 3 different macro lenses. The subject is an AA battery balanced on its end with my keyboard in the background.

*Please note that these shots were taken quickly on my desk in very poor light so none of the images are sharp but hopefully it demonstrates the differences!*

The left hand image was taken with the Tokina 35mm macro, the middle image with my Canon MP-E 65mm lens and the right hand image with my Sigma 150mm macro. All images were taken at 1x magnification and hence the subject is roughly the same size in each. What is interesting is the difference in the backgrounds. Clearly, the 35mm image contains a lot more of the keyboard, particularly compared to the 150mm image. The 35mm lens can therefore produce macro images but will include much more of the landscape/environment. Incidentally, you can see that lighting is still an issue for the 35mm lens when shooting at 1x as the lens has to be very close to the subject. Shooting at a little less than 1x obviously helps this.

The Nomada bee image above is one image that I have taken recently with this lens. This was taken at approximately 1x magnification (maybe a little less) and I used a 3 flash set-up to get some light on the insect. I'm fairly pleased with this image as I do like this style of shot as it gives a sense of the insect's habitat. A bit of blue sky always helps as well, in my opinion.

I have also taken a few images of ladybirds in amongst a chive plant in my garden:

and here's a Hairy Footed Flower Bee on a dandelion:

and a Grizzled Skipper butterfly:

If I used an aperture such as f20 or 22 it would provide more detail in the background and hence provide a more typical 'wideangle macro' look. Unfortunately I haven't yet had the opportunity to open the lens beyond f13, which is what I used in the test shot below. Unfortunately it was far too windy on the day in question to stop down any further.

test shot at f13 to illustrate what might be possible at f20 or 22 

This lens is therefore capable of a style of macro image that wouldn't really be possible with more conventional macro lenses. In my opinion, it works best with a mix of natural light and flash. I hope to take more images of this nature throughout the summer.

Monday 14 May 2012

BBC Wildlife Gallery

I was recently offered an online gallery on the BBC Wildlife magazine website. It went live today so please take a peek. The theme, in case you hadn't guessed, is British insect photography....

The link to their main website is here or you can visit the gallery directly by clicking on the thumbnail below:

Sunday 6 May 2012

Website Updated

Lots of new images have been added to my main website. Some have already been featured within various recent blogposts but a number are new, some of which are below.

The images can all be found in the Latest Images gallery and in the appropriate Insect or 'Meet Your Neighbours' gallery.


A Green Lacewing

An emerging Large Red Damselfly

A nice colourful green Ground Beetle

A ladybird taking off

An unknown bee

Hawthorn Shieldbug (Meet Your Neighbours)

 Honeybee (Meet Your Neighbours)

Centipede (Meet Your Neighbours)

Angle Shades caterpillar (Meet Your Neighbours)

Friday 4 May 2012

Interview with Matt Cole

I was recently interviewed for a feature on the Splendour Awaits blog in which Adrian Thysse interviews macro photographers from around the world. I was the second photographer to be interviewed (behind Erez Marom) and I was asked about my inspiration, my techniques and my favourite subjects.

Please click on the thumbnail to see the interview:

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Emerging Damselflies (with Video)

I don't normally consider the 'insect season' to have fully begun until the first damselflies are on the wing. While it will be a little while before their larger dragonfly cousins make an appearance, damselflies are similar to dragonflies in many ways, not least in terms of their life cycles. Both spend a large proportion of their lives underwater in their aquatic nymph stage before emerging from the water, climbing a reed and transforming into their adult forms. A truly remarkable process.

The first damselflies to appear in the UK are the Large Red damselflies and I can often be found searching the margins of local ponds in late April looking for signs of activity. Ideally I like to spot the nymph just as it leaves the water enabling me to watch the entire transformation, though they can be difficult to spot at this stage. However, over the years I have increased my chances of finding the nymphs by learning more about them i.e. exactly when they'll emerge and their favoured ponds (and even which parts of those ponds).

This year I have been fortunate to observe the emergence of several adult Large Red damselflies. The image below shows a damselfly half-way through the transformation process. I chose to backlight this one to give it a different feel.


Within a few hours of emerging the wings have dried out and the colours have developed (this is a different individual to the image above):

For the first time this year I thought I would try to capture this process using the video function on my DSLR. I must admit, I had barely even touched this function previously but I'm quite pleased with the results, though I should emphasise that they're fairly amateurish!

There are 2 videos. The first begins half way through the transformation process but you'll have to excuse the  sound of a light aircraft towards the end of the video! 

The second starts right at the beginning of the process shortly after the nymph has left the water and climbed up a stem. The whole process lasted around 20 mins but I've edited it down to 1 min 41 secs. Unfortunately I did miss part of the process towards the end as it was taking a while and, for reasons that now escape me, I turned my back at what turned out to be a crucial moment! Just be grateful that the BBC Natural History Unit doesn't suffer from my short attention span.