Out, damned spot!



As photographed in direct sunlight.

One of the more frustrating problems in natural light insect photography, particularly with insects with large eyes, is the large specular highlight that is created by the sun. A small catch light in the eyes can be a benefit, adding a bit of sparkle and life to the image, but the large burned-out spot that shows up in dragonfly eyes is, in my view, intrusive, and obscures a great deal about what is fascinating about these predators.

Lake Darner (Aeshna eremita Scudder, 1866) Elk Island National Park. 7 September 2016

Beautiful eyes, as photographed in sunlight with white umbrella diffusion. Lake Darner (Aeshna eremita Scudder, 1866) Elk Island National Park. 7 September 2016. 


What can we do to deal with this?

  • find a different viewpoint that decreases the size of the highlight (may not be possible)
  • only photograph these insects when in they are in the shade (they prefer the sun!)
  • use software to decrease the highlight, or clone the highlight out. (tricky with large highlights, takes time)
  • add diffusion when taking the image. (awkward, may scare away subject.)

I rarely shoot hand-held natural light images of insects. My hands have a slight tremor at the best of times, and raising the ISO so I can have a faster shutter-speed always adds noise to the images taken with my crop sensor camera (currently the Canon 70D with the 100mm non-VR macro lens), so I try to avoid it. This time, I saw the darner come in and land on the balsam poplar, at head-height, so I thought I would attempt a few natural light photos. I managed several shots in full sun, but when I moved in closer to get more detail, it flew away. I stood back and waited, and sure enough, it returned to its’ perch. Seeing as it was being congenial, I decided to try again, this time with an umbrella diffuser. Using my left hand to hold up the diffuser, I moved in slowly, expecting it to be startled by the object looming over it. Thankfully it accepted it, so I could then move in closer holding the camera with the right hand to take a few shots. Depth of field was shallow, not enough to cover the full face of this large insect (I was shooting at ISO 320, 1/100 sec, @ f7.1), so only two photos out of 18 had sufficient depth-of-field and a lack of movement blur to be ranked as acceptable.



This entry was posted in Aeshnidae, Alberta, Behaviour, Camera, Canada, Equipment, Insect, Lenses, macro, Odonata, photography, Season, Summer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Annie Pang 21 October, 2016 at 2:18 AM #

    Great shots Adrian and I really appreciate what you say about lighting. Frankly I am amazed that you were able to get the shots with the umbrella diffusing technique without scaring the Darner off. Lighting is everything in photography no matter what camera is used. Thanks for this great demonstration and just love the close up in your second shot here.

    • Adrian 21 October, 2016 at 6:38 AM #

      Thanks, Annie. I was carrying the large white golf umbrella for diffusion for fungi photos, and never thought I would be using it for bugs!

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