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We have been working on ways to take photographs of insects at home. Here are some of the tools and techniques we have found useful:
We have been using an iPhone 5 with the OlloClip 4-in-1 macro lens. This gives us a magnification of 15 x – which is better than many hand lenses.
Magnification inevitably results in a shallow depth of field, so achieving a clear focus requires care. The iPhone camera software allows you to lock the focus, if you tap and hold until the square yellow box flashes around your finger. The Olloclip software doesn’t appear to allow this, although it does allow you to set the focus and exposure on separate parts of the image, which is sometimes useful too.
To keep it steady, the camera is held on a tripod with a glif attachment to hold the phone on.
C has made a scissor-lift (out of FischerTechnik) to enable us to do fine height adjustments of the subject, relative to the camera. The lift has a threaded rod, and turning a handle moves the platform up and down relative to the camera. This degree of fine control was not possible with our tripod, but the lift ensures it is easy to make frequent small adjustments.
We have a piece of plain paper on top of the platform to give a neutral background.
J has built a small glass container, approx. 80 x 50 mm, which stops any live subjects from roaming too far. They can still wander/skitter out of view, but it increases the chances of capturing a photograph. The box is made of 3 mm picture glass, glued together with a silicone glue (RTV). You can often get glass off cuts from a picture framer.
The sides of the box are only 11 mm high (with a glass lid on top of that) which enables us to get sufficiently close with the camera. For some creatures you can take the lid off – but for the more mobile individuals, that is not an option.
The flat sides also mean we can get clear photos from the side – unlike the distortions you get with a petri dish or a plastic container.
Any moving of the insects that is required is done with a fine paint brush.
Lighting is also important. Natural light (although not direct sunlight) is sometimes sufficient, since we are using a tripod. When it isn’t, we use an LED torch.
The reason for using LED’s is that (unlike a tungsten bulb) it doesn’t produce much heat, so it doesn’t overheat the creature below.
Here are some examples of our results so far, of insects found in several Christchurch gardens:
This same general setup is also useful for photographing other subjects, such as the details of plants, rocks, shells etc.
Some ideas we have yet to try include:
- Try some focus-stacking software – this involves taking a series of images, each focusing on a different plane, and then the software stitches them together into a single clear photo.
- Find some way of aligning the camera to the eyepiece of our stereo microscope, that provides 40x magnification.
- Perfect a cooling box which will slowly cool an insect just enough to slow it down for photography, but that will also allow it to subsequently warm up and recover.
- Build a tall narrow (approx. 11mm wide) aquatic observation tank, for photographing more of the small creatures from ponds and aquariums – something like this. And find a suitable lighting method for aquatic subjects.
Do you have any tools/techniques you can recommend?
It is lady beetle season here. There are dozens of the larvae in our garden, so we collected some up and have been watching them, and feeding them aphids and mealy bugs. The larvae moult several times, getting larger each time.
We weren’t sure what species they would be. We didn’t find any kind of overview with information about the species that are in NZ, which are both native and introduced. It is especially difficult to find information about the larval stage.
After a couple of days, the first few larvae started to pupate. The pupa was a yellowy colour, later becoming much darker – almost black.
One evening, about a week later, the first beetle hatched. At this stage it was a pale cream colour.
By the morning it had turned the classic red and had two black spots. So probably, we have Adalia punctata. We now have about 8 beetles, apparently all of the same species.
The beetles don’t seem to be quite so keen on the mealy bugs, but are enthusiastic about the aphids.
And we now have several bright orange clusters of lady beetle eggs. Quite a few clusters of eggs were laid, but also quite a few of those were eaten by the beetles themselves. Lady beetles are described as ‘voracious’ feeders, with some eating 1000 aphids in a life time.
The whole life cycle was quite quick and we can recommend these as a species to try, if you would like to keep some insect pets.