A Bug’s World of Color

Like many photographers during the COVID-19 epidemic, I’m finding it hard to get out to photograph things, so I’ve been thinking about macro. Luckily we put a lot of native plants in the yard a few years ago, and they attract a great variety of insects.

Honeybee on Butterflyweed
Honeybee on Butterfly weed

An insect’s reality is made up of giant, outlandish plant structures, intense color and wildly changing light. And drugs – I once heard an entomologist say “insects live in world of chemical signals we can’t even imagine”.

We’ve all seen amazing macros of flies’ eyes and spiders’ jaws and I’m enough of a geek to appreciate the technique: deep focus-stacking reveals intricate and surprising structure. But the thing I realized recently is that I really want to show the insect immersed in its surroundings – and especially in light and color.

Macro photograph of a green Halictid bee
A green Halictid bee

Those Super high resolution, ultra-macro shots of flies’ eyes require technology: photomicrography gear, dedicated lighting, automated focus stepping, image stacking software. For the photos I like, you just need a macro lens – plus patience, some degree of steadiness in the grip, and luck. Oh and also the ability to endure heat and humidity while maintaining an awkward and uncomfortable position for minutes on end – let’s call it “photo yoga”.

Macro photograph of a dragonfly
A dragonfly – Order Odonata, suborder Anisoptera, species – one of the skimmers. In the background is purple Mondarda, “Bee balm”.

It has to be done hand-held; the background is all about bokeh and shallow DOF; and the eye has to be sharp. Those factors create the challenge – more on that here.

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