The last 12 months have seen a shift in the focus of my work from the larger species of animals to the smaller ones that are often overlooked, for example reptiles and invertebrates and with this comes a change in equipment. Whereas before I would normally take two cameras, larger lenses and generally more equipment, now my equipment needs are much less which in turn means requiring a smaller bag rather than a full sized rucksack that is not so easy to quickly pick up and put down.
My equipment list for my insect project is:
Canon 7D, Canon Macro EF 100mm f2.8, Sigma 10mm f2.8 EX DC Fisheye, Canon Speedlite 430EX with diffuser, Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2, Kenko extension tubes, Gitzo GT1544T tripod with Gitzo GH1780QR ball head, memory cards and batteries.
When the Manfrotto Pro-Light range of bags were released I knew there would be something that would fit my requirements perfectly and the Multipro-120PL is now my companion for my insect project. With this bag the ability to arrange the inside compartments to exactly to fit around my equipment is a key feature along with the numerous pockets and detachable tripod holder make it ideal for day trips and the tough durability of the material has so far been able to easily withstand everything that I have thrown at it!
The aim of my insect project is to encourage people to see them differently by creating artistic images of insects, both close-up and in their habitat, using colour and monochrome, moving away from the standard insect photograph that most people really don’t like. I want to share with you some of the images from this project, techniques used to capture them and my experiences along the way. This project is very much on-going and at the moment covers just British species, but I am looking to expand further next year.
When photographing insects there are a few things that you would love to be on your side, the weather being a big factor and the other major one being other people in the area. One way I get around disturbances caused by often interested people is to head out very early in the morning and I will often be on site by 7am at the latest, there are not many people around at that time and it tends to be very still as well.
Early morning in August is amazing time for colours and these first three shots are of Chalkhill Blue butterflies (Polyommatus coridon)silhouetted at sunrise but in three different ways.
For this image I needed to lay completely flat on the ground which meant having my face well and truly in the grass (not advised if you have a really bad reaction to grass!) to be able to achieve the angle. This was very much a shot that came to me in the field once I saw the conditions and I wanted to use the sun to silhouette the butterfly whilst capturing the yellowy/orangey glow of an August sunrise.
The only way to achieve shots like these is to be there and in position by the time the sun comes up.
This next shot is taken a few minutes later as the sun was higher and instead of silhouetted the butterfly against the sun I positioned myself so that the sun would fill a corner of the shot casting a soft light across the image. This image was taken in monochrome with a sepia filter (added in camera) and the only post processing I have done is to crop it to exactly the composition I wanted. For both this shot and the next one I was able to use a tripod which I would strongly recommend to avoid shake and it really helps prevent cramp in your hands.
This last silhouette shot is more of a wide angled shot, still taken using my macro lens but from further away to show more of the habitat. As the sun rises it casts a wonderful golden glow across the grassland, but if you still take into the sun you can silhouette the butterfly and some of the grass whilst capturing the golden hues.
These are two very different shots but both use very similar techniques, in camera the contrast is set to high and both images are under exposed, you can really warm an image up by using a shade (or similar) white balance. There is only a small window in which to capture sunrise shots, once that window has passed it doesn’t take long for the butterflies to warm up and get on the wing and at this point they are much harder to photograph! Whenever I am up super early to photograph insects at sunrise, I always take a flask of tea and some food with me for second breakfast in the field.
These are a very tricky subject, especially once they have warmed up, as they tend to jump in any direction at the slightest movement around them. Over the last 12 months or so I have developed a few techniques for being able to capture face on images of grasshoppers. The first challenge when photographing grasshoppers is to find them, with many of our British species being less than two inches they are not easy to spot when they are not moving. Once I’ve found one that is in a good open position I will get down to eye level or below and creep in slowly, I have found that doing this is less likely to spook them and make them jump off.
These next two photos are taken at eye level with the grasshopper in two different situations. The first of a pink grasshopper sitting behind a clump of dried grass taken from slightly below eye level to bring out the detail in its face and eyes and yes it is real, here is a link to my blog post explaining why they are pink: http://vikspicsphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/grasshoppers-nothing-but-lovely.html)
The second photo is a rufous grasshopper on a dead plant head, again at eye level but for this I didn’t need to be completely flat to the ground and was able to set up the camera on the tripod which made capturing the shot a lot easier due to the breeze.
This next photo is a slightly different angle and actually taken from above the grasshopper, I was only able to capture this because it was chilly and windy so my subject was a lot less active. I am always looking for new perspectives and compositions with my insect project and the following is something that I have been playing around with for a while to perfect. The grasshopper face on looking like it is coming out of its green world by having the grasshopper to one side leaving a lot of green blurred space around it, achieved
by using a wide aperture (f2.8).
Although grasshoppers and butterflies have been my main focus over the last couple of months, I’m never one to pass up an opportunity for other insects that I may come across including this beautiful lesser stag beetle. I have gone for a less common insect shot using high contrast black and white to isolate the beetle on the flower.
This is just the start of my project and I’m really looking forward to continuing it through Autumn and then resuming next Spring with my trusty bag to accompany me all the way whether it’s in Somerset or further afield! I am incredibly pleased with my backpack and the flexibility it offers including the tripod attachments and although I have not yet had to use the reversible heat/rain cover, although I think coming into autumn this will definitely get used!