I well remember my mother with her Box Brownie camera, positioning me squinting into the sun and commanding me “Don’t move.” For you younger readers (under 50) a Box Brownie camera was about one step (maybe two) removed from a pinhole camera. Even with this instruction, blurred pictures were common.
It is this “don’t move” factor together with this beetle, unimaginatively named the Red and Blue Beetle, which has inspired this post. Various people who are familiar with insects have asked “how do you get them to keep still”, even, “are they still alive?” They are certainly alive but unfortunately none are as well trained as my old sheepdog that sat on my command. I will admit to asking my subjects to sit still but I am afraid it has about as much effect as King Canute commanding the tide to stop coming in.
The main secret is perseverance but sometimes this is not enough as on several occasions I have had my subjects decide they are bored with the exercise and take wing. I have recently lost a particularly attractive wasp and a mantis that took wing from the field studio, never to be seen again.
Grasshoppers and the like can be sat on your clear acrylic and covered with another clear container. They will usually settle quickly, the container is then lifted off while the exposure is made and then the container replaced while exposure etc. are checked. Other insects that will not settle on the acrylic will often settle on a piece of vegetation.
It was this latter method that I tried with the Red and Blue Beetle (Dicranolaius bellulus). For quite a while it was unco-operative as it explored the small world of the plant I had placed it on. It fell off a couple of times and I picked it up with the tip of a small brush and replaced it. The beetle is only 6 or 7mms long. I managed several barely OK shots as it moved about. One of the problems once you get 2X and beyond can be finding the beast, let alone getting a sharp shot. Eventually however it settled down and proceeded to groom itself. This was great because not only was it remaining in the one spot (more or less) but it was doing something interesting. I was quite amazed at its ability to reach the middle of its back with a front leg.
Since photographing this beetle I have found it should be a welcome find in any backyard as it is a predator on aphids and insect eggs. Ironically I had picked a piece of Flat Leaf Parsley as a test subject to balance my lighting before tackling the beetle. When looking through the viewfinder with the lens at 2X I found it covered in aphids. If only I had known then, I could have released the beetle into a veritable feed lot and maybe got even more interesting shots.
Diffusion of your flash is imperative with these small shiny beetles and although I am only at “flash diffusion 101” level, MYN contributor Matt Cole has a great blog on diffusing Canon’s macro flashes (here).
-by Contributor John Tiddy, Victoria, Australia