In Memoriam–the tongue that killed my flash

Bombus impatiens Cresson

Male Common Eastern Bumblebee, Bombus impatiens Cresson

While this bee was going through a re-shoot, the lighting unit, a Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite Flash, failed on the right side. This image is cropped from the previous 150 image focus-stacked image that I was not satisfied with, but I will share it now because I may not have the opportunity to re-shoot again this winter. I was attempting to show the tongue length with this stack, which is quite amazing but probably not unusual for bumblebees. I have used Lightroom to clean-up grit and dust, but most of the pollen grains remain.

The twin-flash was a used unit, purchased for $500 in 2010. I did not use it heavily, so it’s disappointing that it did not last longer. That is the problem when purchasing reconditioned or used equipment: outside condition is not necessarily an indicator of how often it has been actuated. The MT-24EX is not the perfect macro flash unit by any means, but with adaptations, it worked well when shooting at higher magnification with the MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo Lens.  I will not replace the flash ($900 new!), but will set-up another more affordable system for the coming season.


(Photographed with white-box diffusion. Stacked in Zerene Stacker. Bee provided by Gary Anweiler)

Posted in Apidae, Canada, Equipment, Flash, Focus stacking, Insect, Lenses, macro, MP-E65, photography, Prairie, Season, Winter Tagged , , , , , , |

Buffalo Treehopper

My first impression was ‘Triceratops’ rather than “Buffalo”…

Bug with nostrils?

Bug with nostrils?

SAlberta20140929_0363-2This Membracid (Ceresa sp.) was one of the nice surprises I found in Writing-on-Stone in late September last year. I was searching through shore-line shrubs beside the Milk River when I came across it. Very shy.


Posted in Alberta, Autumn, Bugs, Canada, Hemiptera, Insect, macro, Membracidae, photography, Provincial Park, Season Tagged , , , |

Cranefly Portrait

2015-01-04-13.11.35 ZS PMax.tif

Cranefly portrait. 150 image focus stack, cropped and combined in Zerene Stacker.



Approx. actual size. 31 Dec. 2014


Posted in Alberta, Canada, Diptera, Edmonton, Focus stacking, Insect, macro, photography, Winter Tagged , , , , , |

The Year in Review 2014

I was going to skip the usual “best-of” and “thank-you” post this year, as I have been feeling under the weather and somewhat lost lately. However, I do have much to be thankful for, and it would be shoddy not to be grateful for the many good things that happened in the last year.

◊ The hi-lite of last winter was having an article published in the February edition of Photo Life magazine…


◊ February seemed like the beginning of something larger. As a new member of the Continuing Ed. Faculty at MacEwan U., I participated in a workshop on instructional skills. It was both humbling and nerve-racking–an emotional event for me. I survived.

◊ Then in March I had to break out of my comfort zone (you could call it a box) again. Thanks to the good people at the Crop Diversification Centre South, I had the opportunity to speak to large groups of people on how to make the most out of the cameras they have–cell phones and tablets–so they could provide better images for ID. I survived this also.

◊ Later, in April, I blogged on what has to be the world’s first macro-photography fantasy tale. At least my sister appreciated that! :)

◊ And later that month, I posted on my early focus-stacking experiences. Time-consuming, but I think the results are worth it.

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

A gift from Gary Anweiler… Bombus vosnesenskii , the yellow-faced bumblebee.

◊ In late April and into May we had a family vacation in Ireland. Outstanding, but damp!


Yours Truly, Arwen, sister Marolin and Yuet at the Gallarus Oratory, County Kerry.

◊ Summer was spent on small field trips, and developing and presenting workshops. Thanks again to Myrna Pearman and the good people at the Ellis Bird Farm for those opportunities, and for hosting the Bug Jamboree!

◊ September found me leading my first evening classes at MacEwan, ending with a day trip to Muttart Conservatory. Good students, but not enough of them…

◊ Generally: a big thanks to all those who helped ID insects, to those who visited and commented on the blog, to those who purchased images or made donations, to those who purchased items through my affiliate stores and to those that have attended workshops. You help keep me going.

◊ And of course, thanks to my wife Yuet, who has supported my photography endeavors since about 2008, and who has lived with my eccentricities and whims for longer. I couldn’t have taken this path at all if it wasn’t for her support. She’s in Burma Myanmar now, taking a break from her heavy work (and volunteer) load–I hope she slows down enough to benefit from it.


Yuet and I at Devonian Botanic Garden


◊ Thanks also to daughter Arwen, who still never ceases to amaze and inspire me. She makes me laugh and she makes me think.

Happiness in ruins :) Arwen at the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

Happiness in ruins :)
Arwen on the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

I managed about 16 bug-related photography day trips (usually about 3-6 hrs per trip) throughout the season and one two-week trip late September. I am not happy with the frequency or the results. I think I need to spend some time in the field with entomologists:I need to find more interesting bugs doing more interesting things!

This is also the year I will probably have to find regular work somewhere. As much as I have enjoyed my stint trying to make a reasonable income out of this photography niche, it is almost certainly not going to happen. What I do is not popular enough to draw the numbers I need for workshops and courses, and contracts amount to only one or two a year. As with many other photographers, print sales are negligible. I could perhaps develop more areas of income through related activities (presentations, education) but that would mean spending more time not doing actual nature photography. At 53, I think I have to switch back to at least some steady part-time work–somewhere–in order to have some sort of retirement in 15 years. What’s a boy to do?

All the best to all of you for 2015!






Posted in Bugs, Diversion, Family, macro, Photo Life, photography, Roundup, Season, Updates, Winter, Workshop Tagged , |

Writing-on-Stone Hoppers

Continuing on my September southern Alberta tour, with some of the grasshoppers I found at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

Morning on ...why I keep returning to southern Alberta

Morning in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, 29 September, 2014. One of the reasons why I keep returning to southern Alberta.



Possibly Melanoplus sanguinipes (Fabricius). I was questing amoung the hoodoos when it landed on a rock nearby. A low and slow approach allowed me to take this eye-level portrait.

The go-to man for grasshopper knowledge in Alberta is Dan Johnson, and he helped ID most of the photos I’m sharing today. A good tip when photographing orthoptera is to try get some shots of the rear-end…it is often the variations in genitalia that help provide a positive ID…so when you see words like “possibly” or “most likely” in the caption, you know I failed to do that!


Most likely Melanoplus sanguinipes again, this time in a lovely shade of jade green.



Commonly know as the Road Duster, Dissosteira carolina (Linnaeus, 1758) is a common large grasshopper. It is noted for having a wing pattern similar to Mourning Cloak butterfly, and, due to its great camouflage, seemingly being able to disappear when it lands on open ground.


Portrait of Dissosteira carolina showing the camouflaged eye.


The Two-striped grasshopper,Melanoplus bivittatus (Say, 1825), also very common.


Probably Trimerotropis verruculata Kirby, 1837. Commonly known (oddly in this situation…) as the Crackling Forest Grasshopper.



Last and least (in size, that is) a 5th instar of Arphia conspersa  Scudder, 1875, the Speckled or Specklewinged Grasshopper. Dan says it’s unusual to find anything beyond 4th by the end of September, so this is an early bloomer. Also very cool eye-colouring, matching the thorax precisely in the light and dark areas.

Posted in Alberta, Autumn, Bugs, Canada, macro, Orthoptera, photography, Prairie, Provincial Park, Season Tagged , , , , , , , , |

An affordable Speedlite transmitter for Canon.

I don’t usually do sales blurbs, but I have been using the little Canon EOS 90EX for a few days and I think there may be some interested in its potential for macro photography.

Many others may have the same problem I do. My older model EOS T2i and 5D MkII do not have flash with integrated wireless Speedlite transmitter capabilities. The solution for many has been to been to buy after-market wireless transmitters, which do not all provide the same type of control as Canon’s system, or if they do, they also come at some expense. Others use Speedlite models 580 EX, 580 EXII and the macro flashes (Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX and Ring Lite MR-14EX) to act as master flashes, or they purchase the Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2. There is a less will known option, made by Canon, that will provide most of the same functions for only $60.00 US.

Remember the Canon EOS M? Released in 2012, it was Canon’s first mirrorless system camera. It did not fare well in initial reviews, but it did leave us with an EOS compatible compact flash, the Speedlite 90 EX, which is listed as:

A compact, high performance flash that delivers superbly lit everyday shots such as portraits and indoor scenes plus creative lighting effects. The ideal companion for the EOS M.

  • Slim, pocketable design
  • Shoot superbly lit portraits and indoor scenes
  • High power in a compact body
  • Explore creative lighting effects
  • Quick, discreet and fully automatic flash shooting
  • Powered by readily available AAA batteries”

Ignoring the usual exaggerations, the kicker line here is “Explore creative lighting effects“. That is Canon-speak for master wireless flash control. The blurb continues…

The Speedlite 90EX opens up countless creative lighting opportunities, thanks to its built-in Wireless master function. As a master flash unit it can wirelessly trigger up to three groups of other flashes, which have a built-in slave function such as the Speedlite 270EX II, from up to 7 meters away indoors.”

Through the camera menu with ETTL II you can also control hi-speed sync., metering modes (evaluative or average), 4 channels, add flash exposure compensation and adjust group A:B flash ratios. On Manual you can also control the output power level of each group, which is great for macro photographers. This means the 270 EXII, 430 EXII, and the 580 EXII can be controlled wirelessly through the camera menu.

So if you miss the benefits of master flash control, and are not yet ready to dish-out for a newer EOS camera, then consider the Speedlite 90EX. Today Canon’s US list price is $149.99but still only $59.49 at B&H!

(Images from Canon website)

Posted in Canon, Equipment, Flash, macro, Winter Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |