Archive | January 2013

What butterflies like

In Eastern Cape of South Africa, a beautiful flock of butterflies is puddling on the side of a road. [Canon 7D, Canon 16-35mm]

In Eastern Cape of South Africa, a beautiful flock of butterflies is puddling on the side of a road. [Canon 7D, Canon 16-35mm]

The weather has become so unpleasantly cold that I try not to open my eyes while walking outside, out of fear that my eyeballs will freeze. (I was told that this would happen by my teacher in preschool; she also told me that eating candies makes worms lay eggs in my teeth, and that if I eat pears before swimming then I will drown. Why pears and not, let’s say, gooseberries, I have no idea, and I won’t even mention what she said would happen if I ran with scissors.) Anywho, the lifeless season outside the window makes me seek solace in memories of warmer places, luxuriantly abundant with life, and few phenomena better convey the feeling of life’s unbound exuberance than swarms of tropical butterflies.

A cluster of puddling butterflies on a sandy river bank in Guyana [Canon 5D, Canon 100-400mm]

A cluster of puddling butterflies on a sandy river bank in Guyana [Canon 5D, Canon 100-400mm]

Visitors to the tropics are often surprised by the number of butterflies and moths aggregating on muddy banks of rivers, mud puddles and, this usually comes as a surprise, animal dung. Many butterflies are also attracted to human skin and suck sweat or blood from cuts with their proboscis. They love wet, sweaty socks and shoes, and absolutely adore the stuff that seeps out latrines. We may delude ourselves that all butterflies prefer sweet nectar of flowers, but in fact many would rather gorge on the liquid portion of fresh feces.

African veined white (Belenois gidica) extracting minerals from wet sand (Eastern Cape, S. Africa) [Canon 7D, Canon 100mm macro]

African veined white (Belenois gidica) extracting minerals from wet sand (Eastern Cape, S. Africa) [Canon 7D, Canon 100mm macro]

This behavior, known as puddling, is decidedly more common among male than female butterflies. A series of studies has demonstrated that the main element these insects are after is sodium. Sodium is difficult to find in plant material consumed by the butterfly larvae, although potassium occurs there in abundance. By sucking fluids rich in sodium, adult butterflies try to replace the surplus of the latter element with the former. In extreme cases a moth may imbibe an amount of fluid 600 times its own weight in a single puddling session, expelling the excess water as it drinks and retaining only the precious mineral. It has been shown that a higher sodium content in the male’s body enhances his mating success i.e., fitness. In addition to sodium, moths and butterflies may extract amino acids from soil and animal excrements, and males of some species transfer these compounds to their partners through a spermatophore during mating, thus investing in their offspring.

Puddling butterflies turned out to be remarkably skittish – in order to get a wide angle shot of these insects I had to leave the camera in the sand, and use a radio controlled trigger (seen on the left) to get the shots. [Canon 5D, Canon 100-400mm]

Puddling butterflies turned out to be remarkably skittish – in order to get a wide angle shot of these insects I had to leave the camera in the sand, and use a radio controlled trigger (seen on the left) to get the shots. [Canon 5D, Canon 100-400mm]

While in Guyana a few years ago I noticed a particularly large aggregation of butterflies on the sandy bank of a small river that was lazily flowing near our camp. The patch of sand that the insects were obsessing about didn’t look any different from the rest of the beach, but there had to be something in it that made the butterflies go crazy. I had my suspicions as to what was in the sand, but decided to find out for sure. Alas, after many hours spent crawling around, watching and photographing the butterflies, the reason for their strange behavior was still a mystery. But the following night, as I quietly crept through the forest searching for katydids, I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of water gushing from a faucet. As quietly as I could I moved closer to the river, and there it was – a huge tapir, taking a leak on the patch of sand where the butterflies loved to aggregate, and where I had just wallowed in for hours. My consolation is that the sodium and amino acids that I surely must have absorbed through my skin might increase my fitness as well.

This large aggregation of butterflies puddling in Guyana is probably made up mostly of male individuals. [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 16-35mm]

This large aggregation of butterflies puddling in Guyana is probably made up mostly of male individuals. [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 16-35mm]

To some butterflies, residues of my sweat were more tempting than the stuff in the sand (tapir – 0, me – 1) [Canon 5D, Canon 100-400mm]

To some butterflies, residues of my sweat were more tempting than the stuff in the sand (tapir – 0, me – 1) [Canon 5D, Canon 100-400mm]

The best spots to see large aggregations of tropical butterflies are often places visited by large grazers. Their dung often attracts many different species of insects seeking sodium and amino acids. [Canon 7D, Canon 16-35mm]

The best spots to see large aggregations of tropical butterflies are often places visited by large grazers. Their dung often attracts many different species of insects seeking sodium and amino acids. [Canon 7D, Canon 16-35mm]

Life in the season of death

Winter in the Northern Hemisphere – is there anything more unpleasant? To most entomologists living in temperate climates winter is synonymous with the disappearance of everything they love: insect activity and the pleasant buzz of millions of wings, vibrant colors of plants, warm weather. Our beloved animals have long turned to dust, buried themselves into the ground, or entered a stupor so deep that they might as well be dead. It will be long months before the word “green” re-enters our vocabulary, and both our skin and the ground below our feet breathe a sigh of relief.

A female snow scorpionfly (Boreus brumalis) is completely wingless and carries a long ovipositor. [Canon 1D MkII, Canon MP-E 65mm, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

A female snow scorpionfly (Boreus brumalis) is completely wingless and carries a long ovipositor. [Canon 1D MkII, Canon MP-E 65mm, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

But as I walked from my car to work this morning, trying with all my might not to expose any unnecessary fragment of my body to the frigid, dry air, I suddenly remembered that there was an insect, a very interesting one, that flourished in this dead season. I first saw it a few years ago in the middle of February on Wachusett Mountain in MA, jumping on the surface of deep snow like a black, shiny flea. It was a snow scorpionfly, a fascinating insect that up that point was only familiar to me from entomology textbooks.

Snow scorpionflies (Boreidae) are fascinating insects that can often be found on snow in temperate forests of the Northern Hemisphere. Their relationships are still somewhat mysterious —traditionally they have been considered a family of scorpionflies (Mecoptera), a group of agile, predaceous insects, but recent molecular and morphological studies suggest that they may be in fact more closely related to parasitic fleas. Regardless of their genetic affinities, these peaceful, moss-feeding creatures resemble little either true scorpionflies or fleas, and both their larvae and adults feed on mosses.

The male has highly modified wings that resemble a pair of scissors. He uses them to claps the female's elongated mouthparts during mating. [Canon 1D MkII, Canon MP-E 65mm, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

The male has highly modified wings that resemble a pair of scissors. He uses them to claps the female’s elongated mouthparts during mating. [Canon 1D MkII, Canon MP-E 65mm, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

But why are they active in the middle of winter? Bodies of all living cells contain a very high proportion of water, which turns into ice crystals when the temperature falls below 0°C, damaging the cell structure and potentially killing the organism. And yet, even in the middle of winter snow scorpionflies are not alone. Many arthropods have evolved physiological adaptations that allow them to survive and be active in subfreezing temperatures. As ectotherms, animals that cannot generate their own body heat, winter insects and spiders must possess the ability to supercool their body fluids in order to remain active in subfreezing conditions. Supercooling, a process that allows them to lower their body temperature to well below the water’s freezing point and still maintain its liquid state, is achieved by the presence of polyhydric alcohols and antifreeze proteins in their hemolymph and cells.

If he cannot get hold of her mouthparts, the male will sometimes grab the female's antennae to secure her position on his back. [Canon 1D MkII, Canon MP-E 65mm, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

If he cannot get hold of her mouthparts, the males will sometimes grab the female’s antennae to secure her position on his back. [Canon 1D MkII, Canon MP-E 65mm, 2 speedlights Canon 580EX]

Like other winter-active insects, snow scorpionflies take advantage of the fact that most predators that target insects disappear in the cold months, and come out in large numbers to mate. The larger and chunkier female is completely wingless, whereas the male has a pair of strangely modified, scissor-like wings, which he uses to clasp the female’s mouthparts and secure her position on his back during mating. After mating the female uses her long, external ovipositor to lay eggs in clumps of moss, where they will stay dormant until spring.

I have not seen scorpionflies this year, yet, but I will look for them. These animals may be about the size of a pinhead, but for me, in this season, they loom large.

Stalk-eyed flies

Stalk-eyed fly (Diasemopsis  fasciata) from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique [Canon 7D, Canon MP-E 65mm, 3 speedlights Canon 580EXII]

Stalk-eyed fly (Diasemopsis fasciata) from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique [Canon 7D, Canon MP-E 65mm, 3 speedlights Canon 580EXII]

I really don’t like when organisms that deviate from our narrow, anthropocentric perception of the natural world are described as “bizarre” but, let’s face it, flies of the family Diopsidae sure look that way. They are hypercephalic, which means that their head is extremely expanded in a way that places both their eyes and the antennae at the tips of very long, often almost horizontal stalks. This family of flies is not the only one that has eyes placed on long stalks, but in Diopsidae this feature is nearly universal. Diopsidae occur mostly in Africa and SE Asia, although two species are found also in North America and one in Europe. (One species is apparently quite common in Massachusetts, and I will definitely try to find it next summer.)

With eyes on such long stalks, keeping them clean is not an easy task. Not surprisingly, these flies spend a lot of time on personal hygiene. [Canon 7D, Canon MP-E 65mm, 3 speedlights Canon 580EXII]

With eyes on such long stalks, keeping them clean is not an easy task. Not surprisingly, diopsid flies spend a lot of time on personal hygiene. [Canon 7D, Canon MP-E 65mm, 3 speedlights Canon 580EXII]

Although flies with hypercephalic features are considered a classic case of sexual selection driving the development of exaggerated morphological characters, Diopsidae don’t quite fit this explanation as both males and females have similar, greatly modified heads. In some species, however, sexual dimorphism exists, and males have longer eye-stalks than females. In such species females preferentially mate with males having the longest stalks, and these matings result in increased fitness of the females. Males engage in long, ritualized contests, where they clash with their heads, and the winner is almost always the individual with more widely separated eyes. This is because of a phenomenon known as hyperallometry – the larger the armament, the larger the body size, and thus the strength of the individual. Such contests serve as a simple way to assess the overall size of the rival, and smaller individuals will quickly give up the duel, sensing the strength of the larger rival.

It is not surprising that carrying your eyeballs at the ends of a long broomstick does not make your life any easier, and it has been shown that males who have particularly long stalks must also develop larger wings to compensate for the drag caused by their eyes. This, in turn, supports the idea of the “Handicap model” of sexual selection in these flies – because the long eye stalks make the male’s life more difficult, surely he must be a carrier of some excellent genetic material to be able to overcome the handicap of the gargantuan ornaments.

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Update (22 Jan. 13): Thanks to Hans Feijen for identifying the fly species, which turned out to be Diasemopsis fasciata, and not Diopsis.

Stalk-eyed flies usually spend the night in large roosts close to small bodies of water (Guinea) [Nikon D1x, Sigma 180mm, flash Nikon SB-28DX]

Stalk-eyed flies usually spend the night in large roosts close to small bodies of water (Guinea) [Nikon D1x, Sigma 180mm, flash Nikon SB-28DX]

Blue land crab

Males of the blue land crab (Cardisoma guanhumi) from the Dominican Republic sport giant claws used in territorial display and combat. [Nikon D1x, Nikkor 17-35mm]

Males of the blue land crab (Cardisoma guanhumi) from the Dominican Republic sport giant claws used in territorial display and combat. [Nikon D1x, Nikkor 17-35mm]

Unable to break her ties to the sea, a female blue land crab cautiously approaches the edge of the beach to release her eggs during the full moon. Shecannot swim, thus she must be careful not to be swept away by the waves, and soon she runs back to her burrow in the forest. Her planktonic larvae will develop into tiny crabs in less than two months and then will leave the ocean to begin terrestrial life. [Nikon D1x, Nikkor 17-35mm, flash Nikon SB-28DX]

Unable to break her ties to the sea, a female blue land crab cautiously approaches the edge of the beach to release her eggs during the full moon. She
cannot swim, thus she must be careful not to be swept away by the waves, and soon she runs back to her burrow in the forest. Her planktonic larvae will develop into tiny crabs in less than two months and then will leave the ocean to begin terrestrial life. [Nikon D1x, Nikkor 17-35mm, flash Nikon SB-28DX]

[An excerpt from the book “The Smaller Majority.”]

Getting low and wide – Part 2

Costa Rican dragonfly (Gynacantha tibiata) drying off its wings after the rain. Taken with a Canon 16-35mm lens with an added extension tube Canon EF 12 II; lighting was provided by a twin flash Canon MT-24EX.

Costa Rican dragonfly (Gynacantha tibiata) drying off its wings after the rain. Taken with a Canon 16-35mm lens with an added extension tube Canon EF 12 II; lighting was provided by a twin flash Canon MT-24EX.

A few days ago I posted the first part of an introduction to wide-angle macrophotography, and here is the conclusion.

Illumination. In order for the illusion that you are a lilliput looking at the giant world to work, the background of a wide-angle macro shot should be well and evenly lit, and the frontmost, focal element of the photo should not be in the shade. One of the most difficult problems to overcome in wide-angle macrophotography is proper illumination of the subject right in front of the lens, which may be just millimeters away. This includes trying to avoid casting a shadow on it. There is not one, simple solution to this problem, and the type of lighting to use will depend on the distance from the lens, time of day, angle of the sun, brightness of the background, reflectance of the subject etc.

In order to get a sharp photo of this Clusia grandiflora flower on the dark, shady forest floor in Suriname I filled a small Ziplock bag with soil and leaves, and used it as a beanbag. This 1 second exposure was taken with a Canon EF 14mm on Canon 7D, illuminated with twin flashes Canon MT-24EX.

In order to get a sharp photo of this Clusia grandiflora flower on the dark, shady forest floor in Suriname I filled a small Ziplock bag with soil and leaves, and used it as a beanbag. This 1 second exposure was taken with a Canon EF 14mm on Canon 7D, illuminated with twin flashes Canon MT-24EX.

What works for me in many cases is a single, remote flash in a softbox (Canon 580EXII in a Photoflex LiteDome XS, either wireless or attached with a Camera Shoe Cord). Because of the proximity of the subject to the lens, a flash mounted directly on top of the camera will not work, as it will cause the shadow of the lens to fall right in front of it. If the subject is not moving (e.g., a flower, an insect sitting motionlessly), and the sun is not directly behind my back, I use a collapsible golden or silver reflector to bounce ambient light at the subject. I also use custom made brackets to mount a pair of small, twin flashes (Canon MT-24EX) about 20 cm away from the front of the lens, which are then diffused with wide pieces of thin, white plastic (made of a cheap plastic folder bought at Staples.) I have also had good experience using inexpensive, flexible brackets DMM-901 (I am not sure who makes these, but they can be ordered here.)

Stabilization. The illumination and sharpness of the background is what often makes or breaks a wide-angle macro photograph. Since it would be difficult to rely entirely on flashes to evenly light the background in a shot that encompasses a part of the landscape, most wide-angle macro photos will require long, often 0.1-2 sec exposures. For this reason a large proportion of my wide-angle photography is made from a tripod. I use a Gitzo GT2531EX, which is light, very sturdy, and allows me to position the camera in any way I want – from close to the ground to 177 cm high. But even a higher number of my photos are taken with the camera resting either on a “beanbag” (in most cases simply a Ziplock bag filled with sand or soil) or directly on the ground. Sometimes, when I am trying to get a really low angle for a subject on the ground, I quickly dig a little hole, place a plastic bag at the bottom (to keep the camera dry), and position the camera in it. In this way the lens is exactly at the level of the ground, or even slightly below it.

Wide-angle macrophotography usually requires long exposures, and thus capturing fast-moving animals is difficult. Here, mammalogist Burton Lim is processing bats collected in Suriname, while small stingless bees are gorging on cornmeal that he uses to dry his specimens. I was able to freeze the action and partially expose the background using twin flashes Canon MT-24EX, and Canon EF 14mm mounted on Canon 7D.

Wide-angle macrophotography usually requires long exposures, and thus capturing fast-moving animals is difficult. Here, mammalogist Burton Lim is processing bats collected in Suriname, while small stingless bees are gorging on cornmeal that he uses to dry his specimens. I was able to freeze the action and partially expose the background using twin flashes Canon MT-24EX, and Canon EF 14mm mounted on Canon 7D.

A stag beetle (Cyclommatus eximius) from the highlands of New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Here I used a Canon 16-35mm with an extension tube, mounted on a full-frame camera Canon 1Ds MkII.

A stag beetle (Cyclommatus eximius) from the highlands of New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Here I used a Canon 16-35mm with an extension tube, mounted on a full-frame camera Canon 1Ds MkII.

For wide-angle photography high in the trees or in situations where a regular tripod or a beanbag cannot be used, I rely on a Gorillapod flexible tripod, which can be wrapped around a branch, providing pretty secure stabilization.
One critically important piece of equipment in wide-angle macro is a remote shutter release, which reduces the chances of vibration caused by pressing the shutter. Recently I have started using a Vello ShutterBoss Timer Remote, which is both less expensive and more functional than the original Canon one.

Camera selection. To say that within the last 10 years the quality of digital cameras has grown exponentially is of course a truism. My cell phone’s camera has twice the resolution and much better low light performance than my first, $5,000 digital SLR (Nikon D1x). You can now walk into a Walmart, and for $399 get an SLR capable of taking photos that were virtually impossible 20 years ago. The latest “pro-sumer” bodies are capable of taking shots in near darkness, and the high ISO performance of almost all SLRs is bound to make you wonder why anybody still uses ISO lower than 400. My point is that cameras have become so sophisticated that no matter which one you chose, the images taken with it can be outstanding. Nonetheless, in wide-angle macrophotography the choice of the right SLR body matters. (I should mention that many point-and-shoot cameras can be a great choice for wide-angle macrophotography, but my experience with them is limited.)

Even in extreme wide-angle closeups, flash illumination is not always required. This molting grasshopper in Suriname was photographed using only ambient light with a hand-held Canon 7D camera and Canon 14mm lens.

Even in extreme wide-angle closeups, flash illumination is not always required. This molting grasshopper in Suriname was photographed using only ambient light with a hand-held Canon 7D camera and Canon 14mm lens.

It may seem counterintuitive that, although you will be using wide-angle lenses, the best cameras for wide-angle macro are not those with a full-frame sensor (35mm equivalent), but rather those with a smaller one. Such cameras give the illusion of producing an image that is magnified, usually by a factor of 1.3-1.6, compared to a full-frame sensor, but in fact the image is simply cropped. Why then buy a wide-angle lens if 30-60% of its coverage is going to be cropped by the small sensor? This is because the shorter (wider) the lens the more likely it is to introduce distortion and chromatic aberration at the edges of the frame, and these faults become more pronounced at close focal ranges, and even more so when the lens is mounted on an extension tube. By using a camera with a sensor smaller than full-frame, you are tapping into the “sweet spot” of the lens – the image captured by the sensor uses mostly the central, sharpest and least distorted portion of the lens, while still retaining the wide-angle perspective (albeit with a smaller coverage.) And of course a camera with a smaller (higher crop) sensor will help you magnify the small, central subject of the photo.

Custom flash brackets that I use in most of my wide-angle macrophotography. They are designed to be mounted directly on the front of the lens, and fit lenses with the diameter of 58-82mm.

Custom flash brackets that I use in most of my wide-angle macrophotography. They are designed to be mounted directly on the front of the lens, and fit lenses with the diameter of 58-82mm.

My favorite camera for wide-angle macro is Canon 7D, which has the cropping factor of 1.6; occasionally I also use Canon 1D MkII, with the cropping factor of 1.3. The only time when I use a full-frame body is when I shoot with a Canon 16-35mm with an extension tube – this is because animals larger than 40 mm or so fill up the frame, and block the background if a camera with the sensor smaller than full-frame is used.

I hope that this brief overview of my approach to wide-angle macrophotography was helpful, and will encourage you to try and perfect your own methods. As with any other photographic techniques, practice makes masters, and no amount of theoretical information will ever replace simply going into the field and chasing critters with your lens. And if you have any specific questions, comments, or suggestions, leave them in the comments below or drop me a line.

A cluster of mushrooms (possibly Hygrocybe sp.) in a New England forest. [Canon 1D MkII, Sigma 15mm, ambient light]

A cluster of mushrooms (possibly Hygrocybe sp.) in a New England forest. [Canon 1D MkII, Sigma 15mm, ambient light]

Getting low and wide – Part 1

Getting low to the ground enhances the illusion that you are as small as the subjects of the photo. I photographed these leaf toads (Rhinella lescueri) in Suriname using a Canon EF 14mm on Canon 7D with an angle viewfinder, and lighted it with a single speedlight Canon 580EXII in a softbox.

Getting low to the ground enhances the illusion that you are as small as the subjects of the photo. I photographed these leaf toads (Rhinella lescueri) in Suriname using a Canon EF 14mm on Canon 7D with an angle viewfinder, and lighted it with a single speedlight Canon 580EXII in a softbox.

Shortly after I had become a proud owner of my first real SLR camera (the wonderful Nikon n6006 – an unexpected Christmas gift from my wife), I decided that what I wanted to do with this magical piece of equipment was to document life that was two or three orders of magnitude smaller than traditional subjects of nature photography. But I wasn’t satisfied with simple macro portraits of katydids and frogs –I was desperate to capture their environment as well, and show a clump of lichens the way a fly sees it – a towering forest, three dimensional, and complex. This, of course, turned out to be easier said than done.

Ever since I saw David Attenborough’s “Trials of Life”, and the mind-boggling sequence of weaver ants tending caterpillars (to this day this remains one of the best macro sequences ever filmed – if you haven’t seen it, buy it right now), I have been obsessed with trying to photograph insects and other small organisms in a way that removes the element of scale. I want to show them as part of the landscape, and see the world from their perspective. It took me a while to figure out that the way to do it is to forget about macro lenses, but instead use lenses designed for much, much larger subjects: wide angle lenses traditionally used for landscape photography. These are lenses of the focal length shorter than 50mm. After many years of trying to get a hang of wide-angle macrophotography I am still hoping to improve my results, but at least I have been able to isolate and try to work on those elements that are needed for a good a wide-angle macro shot. Here are a few tips based on my experience so far.

The greater the depth of field the stronger the illusion that you are part of the scene. This photo of a foam grasshopper (Dictyophorus griseus) from Mozambique was taken with a Canon EF 14mm on Canon 7D, illuminated with twin flashes Canon MT-24EX.

The greater the depth of field the stronger the illusion that you are part of the scene. This photo of a foam grasshopper (Dictyophorus griseus) from Mozambique was taken with a Canon EF 14mm on Canon 7D, illuminated with twin flashes Canon MT-24EX.

Perspective. What truly makes a good wide-angle shot is the impression that you, the viewer, are standing right inside the frame, and that you are looking at the world from the perspective of a mouse. Macro photography that uses lenses of the focal length longer than 50mm enlarges the subject, but a macro photograph taken with a lens shorter than 50mm shrinks the viewer. The shorter the lens the more striking the effect of “shrinkage”, and it is amplified by a low angle of the photo. For example, we never see mushrooms from below, looking up at their underside, and such a perspective enhances the impression of suddenly being transported to the world of towering, giant mushrooms. My two favorite lenses that provide just the right perspective are Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L (often mounted on an extension tube – see below) and Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L. Occasionally I also use a Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye, although this lens creates a very strong barrel distortion of the field of view. A very helpful piece of equipment that allows me to get a ground level point of view is the right angle viewfinder (Canon Angle Finder C).

A tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) on tomatoes in our garden. This photo was taken using a Sigma 15mm lens – notice a strong barrel distortion, particularly visible in the curvature of the stick on the right.

A tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) on tomatoes in our garden. This photo was taken using a Sigma 15mm lens – notice a strong barrel distortion, particularly visible in the curvature of the stick on the right.

Focus. A wide-angle photograph must have a focal point that is perfectly sharp. Unfortunately, most wide-angle lenses are not designed to focus close enough to fill the frame with subjects as small as insects. Luckily, an inexpensive extension tube can turn almost any wide-angle lens into a wide-angle macro lens. I use a Canon Extension Tube EF 12 II, which allows me to focus on and fill the frame with subjects as small as a grasshopper. The shortest lenses that can be used with it should have the focal length of 16mm or longer – if a lens is shorter than 16mm the point of focus will be inside the lens. Thus, neither Canon EF 14mm nor Sigma 15mm can be used with an extension tube, but luckily both focus close enough so that I have been able to use them to photograph subjects as small as ants (they don’t fill the frame with an individual ant, but that’s not the point of wide-angle macrophotography anyway.)

A column of Matabele ants (Pachycondala analis) returning from a successful raid on a colony of termites in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. This photo was taken with a Canon 16-35mm lens with an added extension tube Canon EF 12 II; lighting was provided by a diffused twin flash Canon MT-24EX.

A column of Matabele ants (Pachycondala analis) returning from a successful raid on a colony of termites in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. This photo was taken with a Canon 16-35mm lens with an added extension tube Canon EF 12 II; lighting was provided by a diffused twin flash Canon MT-24EX.

Depth of field. The sharper the objects in the background, the stronger the illusion that the frontmost, focal subject of the photo is huge (relative to you, the viewer). In order to achieve a maximum depth of field, use the shortest lens you can and stop the aperture as far down as possible. I usually use the aperture of f/16 or f/22, which means that the exposure time tends to be quite long, often 0.5-2 sec, even in the middle of the day.

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Stay tuned for the second part of the post where I will discuss how to stabilize the camera, illuminate the scene, and select the best equipment for wide-angle macrophotography. In the meantime I highly recommend a recent e-book “Wide-Angle Macro: The Essential Guide” by Paul Harcourt Davies and Clay Bolt, which is filled with great practical information and superb examples.

Wide-angle macro does not necessarily mean that the scene must include a part of the landscape. It can also be used to draw attention to a detail of the main subject, such as the stinger of this scorpion (Pandinus imperator) from Ghana. Here I used a Canon 16-35mm lens with an added extension tube Canon EF 12 II on a Canon 1Ds MkII body; despite the closeness to the subject (its telson was nearly touching the lens) I was able to use a simple reflector to illuminate the scene.

Wide-angle macro does not necessarily mean that the scene must include a part of the landscape. It can also be used to draw attention to a detail of the main subject, such as the stinger of this scorpion (Pandinus imperator) from Ghana. Here I used a Canon 16-35mm lens with an added extension tube Canon EF 12 II on a Canon 1Ds MkII body; despite the closeness to the subject (its telson was nearly touching the lens) I was able to use a simple reflector to illuminate the scene.