How to face a tiger

Deep in the jack pine forests of Alberta, a tiger prowls. Flitting from spot to spot, always wary, almost unseen. Unless you are willing to go to make the effort, you may never truly see them at all.

Easier to find when on the vastness of the sands, in the needle-strewn woods these pincer-clad beasts blend in with their environment. They prowl on the edge of the open sandy path and the cluttered forest floor, venturing into both areas in search of prey.

Long-lipped tiger beetle, Cicindela longilabris

Long-lipped tiger beetle, Cicindela longilabris

The tiger beetles can be a real pain in the knees (and elbows) to photograph. They are predators, a hunter on scrub-lands, beaches and sandy open spaces. Photographically they are a challenge because they are relatively small (averaging about 15mm), often well camouflaged, fast as blazes and highly attuned to movement. They almost always spot me before I spot them, and it is when they are in the act of flying away that they gain my attention. On occasion the numbers have been high enough that their movement scurrying across the sand is noticeable, but for me it’s usually their flitting departure that hooks me. That’s when I stop, slowly crouch and then make my way in their direction. Once I am close enough to try a photograph (keeping in mind that I may have to stretch out full length) I slowly lower myself to my knees. The next stage is delicate: if I have a right-angle viewfinder, I can lean forward–ever so slowly–until my camera is almost touching the ground, and then move in slowly to focus on the face-to-face shots. If I don’t have a right-angle viewfinder, I will need to stretch-out on my belly on the sand and elbow myself into position.

The difficult part is stalking without taking your eyes off the subject so that you don’t lose its place completely. They may flit off again at any moment, rendering your efforts useless. Even if you manage to get close enough, they may not face you!  But if you persist, you may eventually manage to find yourself peering in the face of the elusive tiger beetle.

For more information on approaching and photographing wary insects, be sure to check out master tiger beetle photographer Ted MacRae and his recorded webinar: Tips and Tricks for Field Photography of Wary Insects.

(Image info: Halfmoon Lake Natural Area, 27 August, 2014. Canon T2i , Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens on a Kenko Teleplus PRO 300 DGX 1.4x AF Teleconverter. Lighting with a single diffused Canon Speedlite 270EX II. ISO 200, 1/200 sec. @f14. Image cropped and processed in Lightroom 5)

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8 Comments

  1. Charles Bird 4 September, 2014 at 7:47 AM #

    Excellent writeup and photograph Adrian. They always fly away from me when I am trying to get a shot.

    • Adrian 4 September, 2014 at 1:10 PM #

      Thanks Charlie! They’re not easy, but well worth the effort.

  2. Ted C. MacRae 4 September, 2014 at 8:37 AM #

    Hi Adrian – excellent description of the general process for approaching these guys. I carry tennis wrist bands with me and pull them up to my elbows if I’m going to be doing a lot of ‘elbow walking’ – really keeps the elbows from getting ripped up trying to photograph these guys, especially in sand or on rocky surfaces.

    • Adrian 4 September, 2014 at 1:12 PM #

      Thanks Ted! That’s an excellent idea. Previously I had another commentator mention that he uses kneepads on his elbows…another solution but perhaps a bit bulky.

  3. Samantha Biobabbler 4 September, 2014 at 12:27 PM #

    Not to mention how GREAT that slow-mo descent is for core strength. =) Also, I’ll notice after I’ve taken a photo that I then gasp for air, ’cause I was unconsciously holding my breath to still the camera.

    I think ANYONE who can take good photos of tiger beetles IN THE WILD has MAJOR chops. MAN, those thing are fast. Wow. And frequently gorgeous. =)

    Thanks for sharing the process–that’s v. uncommon and I find such things valuable.

    • Adrian 4 September, 2014 at 1:14 PM #

      I’m the same, I often find myself breathless, especially when doing higher magnification work. Macro bug photography makes for good exercise!

  4. margaret reda 6 September, 2014 at 2:55 PM #

    What incredible photographs! We need a lot more people appreciating the insects and the plants that support them. Keep up your amazing work…and go to nature every chance you get. Where I live Winnipeg, Manitoba, insects are in peril. We have a Noxious Weed Act with over 500 hundred so called noxious weeds, many of them endangered species themselves or supporting endangered species of insects. There are Weed Supervisors Association Offices set up throughout Manitoba who are in charge of enforcing this act. If this Noxious Weed Act is enforced, it would have a devastating effect on the water quality and the flora and fauna of Winnipeg. Many of the plants targeted are important nectar and pollen sources for bees and other pollinators..So we need many more wonderful people who appreciate nature and who can help teach us about it

    • Adrian 7 September, 2014 at 1:56 PM #

      Glad you appreciate the little guys, Margaret! We certainly do need to awaken society to understand how important the natural world is.