Bugs are Beautiful

Author:  Bruce Taubert

For whatever reason I have become obsessed with taking macro and micro photographs of bugs.  Beetles, files, wasps, bees, stink bugs, moths, butterflies, and whatever other bugs in Arizona and around the world.  Bugs are cool!  They have compound eyes, colorful exteriors, antennae, exoskeletons with sharp spines or hairs, scales like a fish, and many endearing body forms.

To take extreme macro/micro images of bugs I have purchased some types of photographic equipment that one would not normally find in a photographer’s bag.  All the cameras I own are adequate to take wonderful macro images, but it is the lenses that lack the magnification power to get the job done.  My first super macro lens purchase was the Canon MP-65 f/2.8 1X-5X zoom lens.  This unique lens does not zoom from wide to telephoto but zooms to different magnifications.  By moving the “non-focusing ring” the lens zooms from 1X to 5X without the need for extension tubes, teleconverters, diopter lenses, or the like.  Very easy to use when it comes to changing the level of magnification.

Cognisys “StackShot” attached to the automatic focusing rail. The camera is the Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon MP-E-65mm f/2.8 1-5X. The diffuser is a tapioca cut. In the set-up there would either be a LED light or two flashes.

When I want to go past the 5X world I must resort to purchasing equipment normally found in the research laboratory and, not in the camera bag.  For 10X magnification I have purchased a Mitutoyo microscope objective.  To allow me to use my digital camera and not a microscope I place a 70-200mm lens on the camera and use an adapter to place the microscope objective on the end of the camera lens. Not difficult to do and the cost of objective is less than the cost of a quality macro lens, and there are more inexpensive options than the Mitutoyo lens I have.

Mitutoyo 10X microscope objective mounted on a Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens attched to a Canon 7D Mark II camera. This set-up gives a 16X magnification.

From here the only other relatively costly item is a focusing rail.  When taking images at large magnifications, it is necessary to use focus stacking.  Focus stacking is a mechanism by which the computer puts several images taken at different focal distances together resulting in a final, single image that has more depth-of-field than possible by any other process.  For smaller magnifications I may only take 10 images for stacking but at higher magnifications I take 200 or more images.  The focusing rail allows me to move the camera in very small increments and makes it easy to take the multiple images necessary for stacking.  To make life easier I purchased an automated focusing rail.

The rest of the equipment is easy and cheap.  I use either an empty tapioca container, plastic cutting board, printing paper, or even a ping pong ball for diffusion.  Camera flashes or LED lights provide the illumination and the bugs are free.

This sinister looking portrait of a wasp face was focused stacked from 44 images taken with the Canon MP-65 lens.

Not only are the images, in my mind, beautiful they represent forms that are unimaginable without having a photograph to view.  With this level of magnification, we can better appreciate the natural patterns of even the most obscure creatures.  Small bugs that are completely unappreciated become things of beauty, hopefully allowing the viewer to better appreciate them.  Even with all the biological experience I have and my love for all things alive (yes Roberta, even Creepy, Crawly Critters) I am forever amazed to see the intricate details these images uncover.

With a little practice and some unique equipment, it is relatively easy to see the smaller things in life.  The learning curve is not steep and the equipment not as expensive or exotic as one might imagine.

used a Canon MP-65 to capture this image of the beautiful scales on a moths wing.

If this type of photography interests, you I teach macro photography workshops through Arizona Highways PhotoScape’s and I have just written a book with Amy Brooks Horn on The Art of Macro Photography.

Bruce Taubert is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

 

Life Lessons learned from Macro Photography

By Lisa Hanhard

I had never been what people would call a patient person. I’d always been very goal oriented and for my first 40 years on this earth I was charging through life. My quest was to aim for my next goal, whether personal, professional or physical until it was achieved. Then I would seek out my next challenge and charge forward again, single minded in my purpose of completing what I set out to do, learn or achieve. That was until I got my first macro lens, a Canon f2.8 100mm L series macro lens. And my life has never again been the same.

The day my life changed, started by taking a jaunt over to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. Armed with my new lens I set out to see what I might discover that day. As I came to the little pond that day I saw the most magnificent creature, a gorgeous red rock skimmer dragonfly posing on a rock, and I was entranced. I stared at that little guy and took probably 200 photos. As I sat at the edge of the water it stared at me and I stared back, shooting photos. Every now and then it would do a little rotation, almost saying to me “you think this side of me is eye-catching, check me out from this angle.” Through the course or 15 minutes I just sat with that dragonfly photographing it from all angles.  When I got home to view my photos I was amazed at the detail and intricacy of this creature. I was astounded that in 40 years of life I had never even noticed a dragonfly before, let alone seen their delicate details. The dragonfly became symbolic to me of all of the breath-taking things in the world that I had never slowed down enough to see. From that day forward I have been peeking into flower buds, looking into trees, and crawling on the ground to see what else I have been missing, and I’ve learned there is so much beauty everywhere if we only take the time to look.

Some things that I have learned on the journey.

Patience – If you clear your mind and relax, beautiful things will happen. The best moments in life do not happen when you are in a hurry. Sit down, and plan to stay for a while.

For example, Dragonflies are very territorial and generally flit back to the same branch or two consistently. If you miss a shot, just sit quietly and chances are they will come right back to you, and even pose for you a few minutes later.

Most of my best dragonfly shots photos have come after missing a shot. It gave me time to prepare my focus and choose the best seat to wait for the dragonflies return.

Solitude can be a very nice thing – Spending some time with nature in total solitude can be very peaceful. Not only will you get some of your best shots, but letting your brain have time to totally shut down is very relaxing.

Beauty has many angles – Make sure to explore as many as you are able. If you don’t like the way something looks, change your perspective.

Life is short. A dragonfly only flies for the final few months of its life. Get out, explore, look for beauty everywhere, and make friends along the way. Arizona Highways Photo Workshops are a great place to do that 🙂

And, next time you see a plant or flower of bush, look closer. You might find a tiny little magical world waiting for you to explore.  Enjoy the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa Hanhard is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.