Odds and Ends

A Ghost In The Making: Searching for the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee is an excellent short documentary by Day’s Edge Productions on the plight of an endangered bumble bee. It’s nice to see an excellent macro photographer like Clay Bolt working with entomologists in the field in the effort to publicize this situation. Read more about it in the photo essay, Forgotten but not gone: The rusty-patched bumble bee, and visit the Xerces Society for more on the conservation status of this bee, whose range once extended into Canada.

The winners of the 2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards have been selected and the photographs are outstanding and at times disheartening. We as a species seem to be determined to wreck the earth, and some of the images presented here show how dedicated we are in achieving this. Go to the Invertebrates category to see the section winner and links to the other  invertebrate finalists. Visit the Natural History Museum’s site to see all the finalists. Note that Tim Laman’s winning photograph was taken with a small action camera, the GoPro Hero4 Black!

◊ Nikon’s 42nd annual Small World Photography competition results are now up. Check out the amazing images!

And to end…

Nature through Microscope & Camera (1909) by Richard Kerr.

I am using only the most modern equipment and the latest techniques…*


♦ This last week, I’ve been working on developing a portable high-magnification macro bench for focus stacking. Since 2014 I have dabbled with various temporary rigs, but I am now looking to make a system that is ready to use at a moments notice. The goal is to have a rig and a formalized process that will allow for a range of specimen sizes and shapes to be photographed at magnifications from 1x to about 50x. I am currently testing the viability of some of the many odd and old lenses I have (from reversed 16mm movie camera lenses to Zeiss Jena plan-achromats) before ordering more specialized optics. The challenges are many, from controlling the light to being able to move the subject tiny distances in various planes. The standards for this type of photography are very high, and it’s questionable if I have the adroitness and budget necessary to achieve that quality, but it will be fun trying.

Stinger at the ready... Bombus vosnesenskii , the yellow-faced bumblebee.

The summit of my meager photo-stacking practice so far: Bombus vosnesenskii, the yellow-faced bumblebee.


*Note: the old image, with “Mr. Smith focusing on the camera screen”, comes from Nature through Microscope & Camera (1909) by Richard Kerr. It’s an odd  book, published in London by the Religious Tract Society. In the introduction by Kerr, there is this paragraph, (which I first found in The Public Domain Review):

“There are too many places of amusement in our cities, too many trashy and pernicious novels in our free libraries … We do not suggest photography through the microscope as the remedy for existing defects, but we think that the more our young men take up intellectual pastimes the better it will be for the nation. This is one of those pastimes. It is not a selfish one. One enthusiast is a centre of usefulness to others, for he cannot keep to himself the enjoyment he receives from the study of Nature’s beauties and wonders.”

Today, I think we could equate the “pernicious” free libraries to how some see the Internet today. I would find it hard to live without both, and I still would agree with the line, “...for he cannot keep to himself the enjoyment he receives from the study of Nature’s beauties and wonders.”

Posted in Apidae, Awards, Competition, Conservation, Documentary, Equipment, Focus stacking, Hymenoptera, Insect, Inspiration, International, invertebrates, Lenses, macro, News, Odds and Ends, photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

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.



Posted in Aeshnidae, Alberta, Behaviour, Camera, Canada, Equipment, Insect, Lenses, macro, Odonata, photography, Season, Summer Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Odds and Ends

Odds and Ends will be my new format for sharing interesting articles about–or including–macro nature photography. The post will end with updates on the state of the blog and the blogger. Like me, Odds and Ends will be irregular and untimely, yet (hopefully ) still interesting and informative.

(Due to copyright restrictions, photos will not always be included. Note to macro nature photographers: if you have a post that you would like me to share, let me know through the Contact page)


Image Stacking with the Panasonic GH4 revisited…speeding things up. Paul Harcourt-Davies’ continues with his exploration of focus stacking through 4k video.
  Bugs on Ice. Solving an entomological mystery in the Canadian Rockies. I looked for these critters a few years ago, but without luck. Good story, and a refreshing presentation format by bioGraphic.

Hidden life of the Beewolf. A fascinating photo-essay on the life of the beewolf (Philanthus triangulum, Hymenoptera, Crabronidae) as recorded in someone’s backyard in Budapest. Jealous!

♦ It’s not astonishing enough that a spider exists that is covered with what appears to be reflective mirror-like plates, this spider also somehow manages to change their size. Check out Nicky Bay’s amazing images.


♦ I will also be attempting another redesign of the blog in the near future, so advance apologies should things become wobbly!

♦ I will be attending one day of the 64th ESA Annual Meeting on Friday, October 28th, so if you see someone looking lost and sheepish on the University of Calgary campus, please stop, buy him a beer and nudge him in the right direction.

♦ Regular followers of this blog will have noticed I have been particularly unproductive this year. Circumstances did not allow me to get out into the field as much as I would have liked, and when I did manage to get out I was shooting more macro video than still photography. Video takes longer to process, and in many cases, I have not even had the chance to go over all the footage to see if I have been successful, Hopefully, there will be some interesting results popping up soon!


Take care, everyone.

Posted in Arachnid, Bugs, Documentary, Entomological Society of Alberta, Hymenoptera, Inspiration, macro, Odds and Ends, photography Tagged , |

Photographic techniques for the forest floor

 the fruiting bodies of the plasmodial slime mould, Lycogala epidendrum.

Innocent looking pink blobs are actually the fruiting bodies of the plasmodial slime mould, Lycogala epidendrum. ISO 320, f22, 0.8 sec,

Bugs have been pushed into the back seat for a while. Cool, crisp mornings can mean a dearth of insects, but a wealth of fungi, slime moulds, mosses, liverworts, and lichens still beckon. Here are some of the techniques I use when working on small subjects that don’t run or fly away…

Distracted by She-who-must-be-obeyed.

Distracted by She-who-must-be-obeyed.

Photographic techniques for the forest floor:

  • Get down to the level of your subject.
  • Because our subjects are often found in shady locations in the woods, use a tripod that can get down low to steady your camera.

The low-down-low Manfrotto 055 tripod.

  • For ground-level shots, a bean bag can also be helpful to stabilize your camera
  • Use kneepads or a small pad of some sort to protect your knees.
  • When on a tripod I always use the 2 sec. timer to avoid shake from pressing the shutter release.
Fruiting bodies of a slime mold, most likely Hemitrichia clavata.

Fruiting bodies of a slime mold, most likely Hemitrichia clavata.  ISO 320, f7.1, 1/5 sec.

  • Watch out for stray branches and grass blades in the frame. these can usually be held back by tucking them under a nearby plant or by weighing down with small clothes pins. Garden with care.
  • If the background looks too bright, use the 10 sec. timer and then cast your body shadow over the background.
  • Use LiveView or a right-angle finder to help view in awkward locations.
  • Sometimes dappled sunlight is present, and a diffuser is very helpful in softening the harsh contrasting light.
Working with a diffuser and tripod. Photo by Yuet Chan.

Working with a diffuser and tripod. Photo by Yuet Chan.

  • A reflector can be used to highlight mushrooms in the shade or to lighten-up areas in shadow.
  • Go beyond single specimens and search for intimate macro landscapes: in some situations, the fungi can create beautiful scenes among fallen logs, moss and lichens.
Textures of mixed mosses and lichen

Textures of mixed mosses and lichen. ISO 320, f32, 0.6 sec.

  • To add a bit of spice to that soft light, a small reflector can be used to open up shadows and pop the subject forward.
  • ISO settings should be kept low, and use the DOF preview to find just the right amount of focus.
Pholiota squarrosa, (Scaly Pholiota).

Selective focus on the mushroom, Pholiota squarrosa, (Scaly Pholiota). ISO 100, f5.6, 1/15 sec. (Thanks to Charles Bird for the ID)

  • With Canon cameras, dialing the aperture and pressing the DOF button while looking at live-view will let you see how much DOF you have.
  • And finally, if your camera has GPS, make sure it is turned on so you have a record of the location of special finds!


Fungi, slime moulds, mosses, liverworts, and lichens can be fascinating, but when you’re taking photos please be aware of your surroundings and try not to trample the area around them. Also, foraging for wild mushrooms is very popular now: remember that harvesting in National Parks is illegal. Please leave them for others to enjoy and photograph.

Posted in Accessories, Alberta, Autumn, Canada, Canon, Elk Island National Park, Equipment, Fungi, macro, Moss, photography, Season, Technique Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Photographing Autumn Fungi


 Bisporella citrina,  Yellow Fairy Cups or Lemon Discos

We’ve had fairly regular rainfall this year, and the garden and natural areas around us are lush. This means ideal conditions for fall fungi and a great time to grab your camera, tripod, reflector, diffuser and macro lens and head out to explore local natural areas. Yuet and I did a walk in Elk Island National Park recently, along the Amisk Wuche trail, and we were not disappointed.

Amanita muscaria

Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria

b21d3ce45f74dc6f1f4e23d97c269aa5Amanita muscaria, the Fly Agaric, is a mushroom I have not seen for a while. It was not in an ideal location, but it is such a stunning mushroom that it was worth the effort of pulling back branches and tucking away grasses to get a clear view. It is not fully open yet, but in that form, it is the classic storybook mushroom, something you expect gnomes to sit under or fairies to fly around. Poisonous, this Amanita can cause delirium, sweating and ranting,something you don’t normally associate with children!

Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow (1910)

Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow (1910)



Hericium sp. (probably H. coralloides)   Comb-tooth fungus.

The Hericium genus of fungi (above) looks like a frozen mass of tiny icicles that have erupted from the dead tree. The size of the mass and the bright whiteness is sure to capture your attention when walking through the woods.


Because bracket or shelf fungi (above) are often found on dying and dead tree trunks and sometimes at eye-level, they are perhaps the most visible fungi to the casual observer. These are polypores (family Polyporaceae) so named because they have massed tubes (the pores) rather than gills to support the spore-bearing basidia. Click on the above images to enlarge.

Lycoperdon pyriform

Lycoperdon sp.

Besides the many types of bracket fungus, Lycoperdon puffballs (above) were probably the most visible fungi in the woods. Children (and immature adults 🙂 ) love to poke them to see the spores puff out like smoke. Drops of rain are the normal trigger for releasing the spores, and wind helps disperse them. Rainfall guarantees that they are released during moist conditions necessary for spores to begin germination.

And finally, another puff-ball in the genus Lycoperdon (above) that looks like a white hedgehog, probably L. echinatum. White puff-ball are generally edible at this stage before spores begin to develop.

Hedgehog spines!

Hedgehog spines!

Comments or ID corrections? Please let me know!

Special Note: I dedicate this post to Annie Pang, who checked up on me at 2 in the morning (!), wondering if I was working on another post for Splendour Awaits! Thanks for reminding me, Annie! 😉


  • Thanks to Martin Osis of the Alberta Mycological Society for assistance with ID (Bisporella and L. echinatum)
  • Mushrooms of Western Canada. Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB, Canada. Schalkwijk-Barendsen, H.M.E. 1991.
  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by Gary A. Lincoff, Gary H. Lincoff, Carol Nehring. 1981


Next: Photographic techniques for the forest floor

Posted in Accessories, Alberta, Autumn, Camera, Canada, Canon, close-up, Composition, Elk Island National Park, Equipment, Fungi, Habitat, macro, Moss, photography, Season Tagged , , , , , , , , |