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
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)