The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Light, camera…action!

Alex Wild over at Myrmecos did a good post today on the use of digital point-and-shoot cameras for insect photography; if you haven’t read it yet, you should.  It’s full of how-to awesomeness and pretty pictures. 

*stands up*  My name is TGIQ, and I am a point-and-shooter.

I don’t have a dSLR.  I would LIKE a dSLR, but what I have is a Canon PowerShot.  I’ve had it for a few years and started taking bug pics with it about a year and a half ago, shortly after I was gifted a nice little Raynox clip-on “macro” converter, which lets me get slightly better magnification.  I have no flash, other than the god-awful built-in, so I rely nearly 100% on natural, outdoor lighting in my photography.

In the world of p-a-s cameras, light can be your best friend or worst enemy.  Sometimes I darn-near lose my mind because there is SUCH A COOL BUG RIGHT THERE but it’s too overcast or yellow or glarey to do anything with my camera other than curse at it.  But, when the lighting is good, you just KNOW that your images are turning out the way you want. 

I’ve become acutely attuned to the cycles and properties of natural light in my region (I say “in my region”, because it’s different depending what latitude you’re in; I had to figure it out all over again while working up north).  I don’t have all the right smarty-pants terminology for it, but I know good light when I’m shooting in it. I love the warm tones of late afternoon sun, the cool and crisp feel of early morning light.  On a humid day like today, even the mid-day sun can be excellent if diffused just a little bit through not-too-dense cloud cover, or through the leaves of an overhanging tree.  

The light today, right now, is not quite ideal, but it made a huge difference in the pictures I took of the new little “problem” in my garden.  Compare:

Left: ug-tastic pic taken with built-in flash at dusk. Right: much lovelier pic taken with natural, diffused, mid-day light

On the left is the photo from yesterday’s post.  I hated it, but wanted to report on the important news asap (*rolls eyes at self*). Why do I hate it? The beetles look unnaturally orange, their black bodies are too black and the too-white glare popping off the wing covers is painful. The green of the leaves looks too yellow, and the lines are all too harsh. The background shows uninteresting and distracting green-black contrasts, thanks to shadows generated by the flash.   In other words, the colours and contrasts are all hyper-exaggerated and don’t reflect what you’d actually see if you were in my garden looking at this scene in real life.  It looks like crap. The only things I do like about it are the threesome (although they’re a little squished together, making it hard to discern the features of each animal) and the little nibble on the leaf tip, because I like a good story in a bug photo. 

On the right, a picture I just took.  Same subject, same equipment.  The only difference is the lighting.  The elytra, which are super-shiny and reflective, still have highlights, but they’re softer and follow the natural curvature of the body, drawing attention to the shape and sculpturing, not the highlights themselves.  The colour of the elytra is much more natural and pleasing to look at.  The black body parts are toned down and less jarring, and you can see the interesting features like abdominal segments and hairs on the legs.  The two leaves in the foreground look like proper vegetation (not yellowey dollar store plastic monstrosities), and those in the background provide a contrast in shade but are not distracting.  I wish the horizontal leaf was a little higher relative to the head of the female, so it didn’t appear to intersect her neck, but, composition aside, overall this is a much nicer picture to look at.

Anyways, here are a few more shots of my invaders.  I’m going to cage a few in hopes of getting some shots of the eggs and larvae, but otherwise these guys’ days are numbered.  The first one, I think, might be a contenter for my BugShot application. 

Here's lookin' at you...

Lilioceris lilii
Lily beetle, surveying the buffet

7 responses to “Light, camera…action!

  1. Morgan Jackson May 19, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    Photo 1 at the end should definitely make it into your BugShot portfolio! Definitely some great improvement in your photos since I started following your blog, keep up the good work!

    Also, I think the RSS feed for your blog is misbehaving and not reporting new posts (at least for me)…

  2. Ted C. MacRae May 19, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    Excellent phollow up to Alex’s post. I actually like ‘Surveying the buffet’ best, at least from a compositional standpoint.

  3. Rebecca May 19, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    Hello from a fellow Canon Powershot-toting bug enthusiast! I’m still more or less a novice with it (like you, I don’t know any of the technical terms) but I enjoy playing with it and sometimes I’m lucky enough to capture pics I can be proud of through sheer trial and error. I definitely need to start thinking a lot more about diffused light, but at least it didn’t take me long to figure out that the flash is useless for macro subjects.

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