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You cannot afford to buy this image

Several articles about Epomis that have been published over the last few months triggered an increase in public interest and the beetles’ popularity, followed by an avalanche of requests for image use from magazines and news agencies. I should be happy about this, if not for the small fact that most of these requests are for free or discounted images. I avoid mentioning anything about pricing for my photos here on the website. It is not that they are not for sale, on the contrary. My pricing is pretty standard for a wildlife photographer these days, and I even dare say it is competitive compared to stock agencies and other photographers’ rates. At this moment, I prefer to handle licensing requests on a case-to-case basis. I know that at some point, maybe when more people show interest, I will set up an e-commerce website offering prints.

That being said, I take the aspect of rarity into account when calculating my pricing. If my photograph shows a rare event, an unusual phenomenon or something other photographers are less likely to capture, I charge a higher rate. I admit that as of now I only have a handful of such photos, and as you might expect, some photos of Epomis beetles fall under this category. Case in point:

European green toad (Pseudepidalea viridis) being lured to hunt and getting attacked by a larva of Epomis dejeani. Several news agencies, while completely ignoring my pricing, requested to license this photo for what I can only call - pennies.

European green toad (Pseudepidalea viridis) being lured to hunt and getting attacked by a larva of Epomis dejeani. Several news agencies, while completely ignoring my pricing, requested to license this photo for what I can only call – pennies.

Why do I rate these photos differently from the rest of my portfolio? Wouldn’t it be wiser to charge the same rate for each image? Pricing photographs is a bit of a controversial topic. While I will not go into pricing standards, many pro photographers agree that there is nothing more insulting than receiving requests from commercial entities for free images. Some of us already have our photos spreading through the internet after being stolen (Click here for an example. Unfortunately for me I was too late to stop this one from spreading). On the other end of the spectrum there are photographers who are happy to give photos away for a simple credit mention. I try not to judge, but I honestly cannot understand this approach. There is a lot involved financially when one decides to pursue professional photography. I love this analysis by John Mueller:

“It cost me $6,612 to take this photo.
$12 in gas to go from work to this spot and then home. The camera I took this with cost $2500. The lens was another $1600. The Singh Ray Reverse Neutral Density filter was $210. The Lee Wide-Angle Adapter and Foundation kit was another $200. The Slik Tripod was another $130. The shutter-release was another $60. When I got home, I uploaded it to a computer that cost me $1200, and then I used Lightroom 3 which I got for $200. I then exported it and tinkered with it in Photoshop which costs about $500.”

OK, maybe this is a little too extreme. If I took this approach to calculate the rate for my Epomis photo, including gear and traveling costs (this photo was taken in Israel after my relocation to Canada, so there was quite a bit of traveling involved) it would easily reach over $10K. Instead, let’s keep it simple, and I will include just one aspect that is frequently missed when reviewing photographs – time.

To most people, a photo is merely a click of a button. A perfect moment captured in time. However, I hold a slightly different opinion, which I expressed briefly in this post. You see, it took me two years to take the above photo. And I am saying this while omitting the +5 years I have been studying Epomis beetles, which gave me excellent insights on where and when to find them in the field. Knowing your subject is the key to getting good shots in the wildlife photography genre, yet it still took me another two years to get the shot. Why? This is where photographic technique comes into play. I planned this shot in my mind way before I traveled back to Israel to search for my subjects. I had to know exactly where to position and how to diffuse my lights, which moment to press the shutter, and for months I perfected my technique so that when I get to that decisive moment, in which I have only a split second to record the predation interaction, it would go as smooth as possible. And you know what? Even after all this planning it still took a few attempts to get the sequence the way I wanted it.

To summarize this rant, my hard-earned knowledge and level of expertise are not up for grabs. Definitely not at a discounted rate. Oh yes, this particular photo also consists of four different exposures. Maybe I should have mentioned this as well.


UPDATE (11 Mar, 2016): In the last 24 hours this post received a lot of attention, sparking an interesting discussion on FaceBook. After reading some of the comments, I want to clarify a few things:

* The pricing calculation that appears in quotes is NOT my pricing. I only brought it as an example to show the level of financial investment for the professional photographer. If you read on, you learn that I am more realistic and do not price my photos this way.

* I know I made it sound like I never allow to use my photos free of charge but I assure you this is not the case. For most personal use, in-class educational use and scientific presentations I do not charge a fee. Other non-profit use is evaluated on a case-to-case basis, but I am very flexible in my terms. If I supply high quality photos I expect to receive something equal in return, it does not have to be currency; in the past I received books, gift cards, bits of gear, accommodation and even research support in exchange for my photos.

* Also, it is OK if you do not agree with my opinion. If you want to give your photos away for free, go ahead. I do not like it because it causes depreciation of other photographers’ work, but I cannot stop you. However, if one day you choose to start viewing your creations as valuable and decide to charge a fee for their use, making that transition from charging nothing will be hard for you, take it from someone who has been in that stage.

Time for some self-evaluation

Without warning, 2016 sneaked up on me. I had quite a few planned posts for this blog, and I was hoping I could still post them during 2015. But other plans got in the way, and I had to postpone. Hopefully I can find the time and motivation to post more this year.
One of the things I like to do at the end of a year is going over my photo archive in order to see if something has changed in my style. I do not necessarily mean getting better at taking photos, even though some kind of progress is expected from year to year. What I am really after are changes in the way I use my equipment, compose my frames, and in my post-processing techniques. This is something I encourage every photographer to do. There is an unfortunate consequence of digital photography: we tend to shoot a lot, then we transfer the files to our collection for storage, we might look at the photos in the first weeks after the shoot, but then we forget about them for a while. This is in contrast to what it was like in the film age; developing film was pricy and you had a limited number of photos you could take, therefore much more planning went into each single photo. Plus the experience of going over the new prints or flipping pages in a photo album is pretty much lost nowadays. In addition, skipping the film lab stage and the ease of post-processing digital files allow for speed learning, and beginners can see major improvements in their photography skills within weeks.

Leaf-mimicking katydid (Typophyllum sp.). Chapare Province, Bolivia

Leaf-mimicking katydid (Typophyllum sp.). This photo is in fact a scanned film slide, originally taken in Bolivia in 2003.

This year I had a chance to go back and evaluate my entire collection straight from the beginning. When I went over photographs from my film era (mostly 90’s and early 2000’s), I could only find a handful of images that I considered pleasing and worth keeping. In other words, something has definitely changed throughout the years in the way I perceive photographic subjects. Even when I look at the results of my early years in digital photography, I cannot help but wonder what made me choose that composition and those particular camera settings. Surprisingly, the most substantial change in the way I photograph happened only recently. Overall, 2013 was not a good year for me, but I was fortunate to have the time and solitude to dig into what I already know about photography, and more important, what I do not know. I tried new gear configurations, different composition styles and stepped out of my comfort zone. The main result was making the transition from a “snapper”, who hastily clicks the shutter from fear the subject will be gone, to a “composer”, who plans the desired frame during the shot and sometimes even before encountering the subject. By the way, I just made those terms up. It is interesting to compare photos taken before and after this period. Not always you get a chance to compare a photo of the same subject taken in different years. Take this shield bug nymph for example. This photo was taken in Belize in 2013:

Shield bug nymph (Brachystethus rubromaculatus). This is the only photo of this species that I have from my visit in 2013. Why?

Shield bug nymph (Brachystethus rubromaculatus). This is the only photo of this species that I have from my visit in 2013. Why?

And this one was taken exactly a year later, in 2014:

Shield bug (Brachystethus rubromaculatus) nymph. Photographed at the same site, in 2014.

Shield bug (Brachystethus rubromaculatus) nymph. Photographed at the same site, in 2014.

Both photos show the same animal and environment, but have completely different visual styles. The 2013 photo is not particularly bad, I just prefer the one taken in 2014.

I cannot stress enough the importance of self-evaluation, and this goes far beyond photography. With so much content out there, anyone who creates something needs to learn how to view their work without bias, and be honest about it. Become your worst critic.

My take on wide-angle macro – part 4

In case you have not read my previous posts about wide-angle macro, make sure to head over to these pages first. While this post focuses on my relay lens system, the previous posts give a good introduction to wide-angle macro:
To read part 1, click here.
To read part 2, click here.
To read part 3, click here.

It is that time of the year again, in which various “year-in-review” posts start appearing. My intention was to follow what I did in 2013 and 2014, and present my list of 2015 photographic highlights. However, for me 2015 lagged a little photography-wise, and judging by the scarcity of similar annual summary posts from fellow photographers it sure feels like I am not the only one in this. What I can say though, is that I spent a lot of time testing different combinations of my equipment. After publishing my series of wide-angle macro posts I saw them as finished and had no plans to continue. But a recent development convinced me otherwise and I am proud to present part 4 in the series, alternatively titled – You should never stop experimenting with gear.

A curious praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) checking me and my "awkward device" out.

A curious praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) checking me and my “awkward device” out.

In the previous post I mentioned that one can achieve a satisfying wide-angle macro effect using a relay lens system. It is probably the cheapest way to go about it too, as the different parts can be obtained in garage sales and thrift stores. However, using a relay lens has its own drawbacks, for example stepping into full manual gear territory, extreme chromatic aberration and soft focus. This is not, by all means, the end of the world, and after a period of trial and error using my relay system I managed to get some interesting results with a very unique perspective. I was happy with those photographs, for a while.

My previous relay lens system. It used two full sets of extension tubes, a reversed wide prime, a few more tubes and adapters and finally a tiny CCTV lens. No wonder light barely reached the camera's sensor.

My previous relay lens system. It used two full sets of extension tubes, a reversed wide prime, a few more tubes and adapters and finally a tiny CCTV lens. No wonder light barely reached the camera’s sensor.

But after some time I grew tired of the cumbersome system I built. Each photo took me over 10 minutes to plan and execute, rendering most animal subjects uncooperative. I was frustrated with the lack of auto aperture control. And most annoying – my relay lens system was very long, with a tiny front element. This means that it did not let too much light enter the camera, resulting in a dark, upside down image in the viewfinder. In addition, the photos I got using this system all had soft focus and a strange halo around the subject, and I suspect this was a result of chromatic aberration, diffraction and the way I was lighting the scene.

It was back to the drawing board for me. I started to think what kind of look I wanted for these wide-angle macro shots, and then I remembered that some years ago people experimented with attaching a peephole lens to a point and shoot camera to get a fisheye effect. Incidentally, some of these combinations had wide-angle macro capabilities. Once I had an idea of what I wanted, I verified that it was indeed plausible, and went hunting for the suitable parts. The problem with peephole lenses is that they vary in image quality, and also some lens combinations “play well” together while others result in a photographic catastrophe. It took me over a year to come up with the right combination of optics to get the desired look I was after, but I think I got it now (at least until I find something that works better).

Male carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) feeding from goldenrod flowers. Such big eyes you have.

Male carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) feeding from goldenrod flowers. Such big eyes you have.

This current relay system is shorter, lighter and has auto focus and aperture control. The results are much sharper and there is no loss of detail. Almost perfect. Wait, almost?? Yes, although this lens combination perform better than others, the final result also depends on the camera settings, subject magnification and lighting conditions. One thing that is hard to avoid when using this system is sunstars. With a front element allowing a 180° field of view, the sun almost always ends up in the frame. Some people love sunstars, but I must admit that this effect gets old quickly when you see it in each and every photo.

Aster flower (Symphyotrichum sp.) with a complimentary sunstar.

Aster flower (Symphyotrichum sp.) with a complimentary sunstar.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) pollinating pollinating a waterfall of white aster flowers. And a complimentary sunstar.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) pollinating a waterfall of white aster flowers. And a complimentary sunstar.

What I really like about this system is that it is perfect for photographing pollinators. The front element is still quite small, and perceived as non-threatening by skittish insects.

A pair of European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) standing their ground on goldenrod inflorescence.

A pair of European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) standing their ground on goldenrod inflorescence.

Flies are exceptionally skittish when it comes to wide-angle macro. I was lucky to get a few nice shots of this fly pollinating before it took off and vanished.

Flies are exceptionally skittish when it comes to wide-angle macro. I was lucky to get a few nice shots of this fly pollinating before it took off and vanished.

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) pollinating. This is one of the shots I had in mind way before I even started assembly of the lens system. I will probably repeat it a few more times - a sunstar managed to sneak into the frame!

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) pollinating. This is one of the shots I had in mind way before I even started assembly of the lens system. I will probably repeat it a few more times – a sunstar managed to sneak into the frame!

Another aspect of this system is that it allows to experiment with more dynamic shots, producing a very unique style. It will be interesting to test this with different moving subjects in the future.

Male bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) on the move.

Male bold Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) on the move.

Finally, I can now create portraits of small critters while still retaining much of the surrounding background.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) staring straight into the camera.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) staring straight into the camera.

Thank you for following these posts about my evolving wide-angle macro style. I hope they serve as inspiration for creating your own setup. Here’s to a new year full of photographic adventures!

Nailing that Megarhyssa shot – it’s all about flexibility

It is intriguing that I do not post much about North American insects. In fact, ever since I moved to Canada I became more and more obsessed with animals found in my home country (Israel). Some might say this is a common case of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, but this does not mean that North American insects are not exciting or interesting. On the contrary, there are many insect species I hope to see in person. One of these insects rewarded us with its presence during a day trip to Hilton Falls Conservation Area in Ontario. I thought I should write about it and share a little bit of the process of photographing it.

Giant ichneumon wasps (genus Megarhyssa) are some of the biggest North American wasps thanks to the females’ long (10cm) ovipositor, which is longer than the wasp’s own body. These wasps might look fierce but they are actually shy and harmless insects. They are parasitoids: their larvae develop as parasites living inside the body of other insects. The female’s ovipositor is therefore not a stinger, but an organ used to inject eggs into the larva’s host.

During our trip we came across an egg-laying female of Megarhyssa macrurus. I only had a couple of small lenses with me and no dedicated macro equipment, but still, I did not want to miss an opportunity to photograph a Megarhyssa during oviposition. I tried to go for a simple wide-angle macro style first:

Wide-angle photo of a female giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) during oviposition.

Wide-angle photo of a female giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) during oviposition.

Very quickly I ran across one of the problems I mentioned in this post. The wasp is so thin and delicate and easily gets “lost” in the background, even when it is slightly out-of-focus. To get a better result, I started to cut broad leaves and placed them like tiles in the background. This photo was taken with the same, non-macro lens as above. Surprising result!

Female giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) drilling in wood to lay eggs

Female giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) drilling in wood to lay eggs

Megarhyssa wasps attack the larvae of another wasp, Pigeon horntail (Tremex columba), which bore into dead wood. The female can detect tiny vibrations coming from inside the wood by the feeding horntail larvae. She then proceeds to egg-laying: she bends her abdomen, exposing her ovipositor from its flexible sheath, and starts drilling. When she reaches a horntail larva, she sends an egg all the way down the ovipositor and injects it to the host. The parasitoid wasp larva feeds on the host and kills it, and then pupates inside the wood. The new generation of Megarhyssa wasps will emerge as adults in the following summer.

Back to the process of photographing – The next thing I wanted was to test the flexibility of the lens (I always recommend doing this), so I took a few more “creative” shots at different angles. What I like about this photo is that you can also see some of the previous holes this female drilled using her ovipositor.

Giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) injecting eggs into horntail wasp larvae found inside dead wood

Giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) injecting eggs into horntail wasp larvae found inside dead wood

The last goal was to get a dreamy background, showing some of the light entering through the canopy. This was a bit tricky, because the wasp was facing down towards the ground. Since I do not have special equipment (such as an angle-viewfinder or a tilt-screen), I had to be creative and improvise. Unknowingly, I had my photo taken while trying to compose the shot. I was completely unaware of my pose because I was too focused on photographing, and I guess some of the poses I tried might have been embarrassing for my trip partners… To tell the truth, I had no idea my body was even capable of getting into these positions. If you look closely, you can even see the wasp in this photo, it is very big!

Flexibility is important while photographing insects!

Flexibility is important while photographing insects! Photo by Mio Konfedrat.

After much bending and neck-twisting I managed to get the shot that I wanted:

Female giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) in egg-laying

Female giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus) in egg-laying

Nice to cross this incredible species off my “wanted” list.

My take on wide-angle macro – part 3

To read part 1, click here.
To read part 2, click here.

In this final post I will list some of the major problems that arise when photographing wide-angle macro using different lens systems. Some issues were already covered in the previous posts (lens barrel distortion, background focus and sharpness) so they will not be repeated.

Difficult lighting situations – this is the number one problem, due to the camera being held very close to the subject. Very often the lens will cast shadows on the subject, especially if it is a wide-angle prime lens with a big front element. There is no real way around this other than experimenting with fill flash or wisely positioned reflectors. I found that a diffused flash on a bracket held tightly close to the lens’ front element does the job, but it can be cumbersome. A ring flash or a similar arrangement (like the one shown here) might do the trick as well.

Weevil infected with parasitic fungus, Amazon Basin, Ecuador

In order to photograph this 9mm-long weevil infected with Cordyceps fungus I had to position the lens very close. I used a long exposure and light-painted some of the shadows with a small LED torch. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter, 6.3mm custom-made extension tube. 10 sec at f/22, ISO800. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers, LED torch.

Extreme Chromatic aberration – all wide-angle lenses are prone to chromatic aberration, resulting in purple and green colors fringing in high contrast areas of the image. Unfortunately for us, this ugly phenomenon only increases in severity when the lens is focused close, as in most wide-angle macro uses. The only way to reduce chromatic aberration in-camera is to avoid shooting in situations that exaggerate it via high contrast, for example towards light penetrating through canopy or against the sun. But what can you do when you see a photographic opportunity of a lifetime in said situations? Hope to rescue the image in post-processing…

Ornate predatory katydid (Saga ornata), Golan Heights, Israel

Even after post-processing there is still some chromatic aberration visible along the branch in this photo of an ornate predatory katydid (Saga ornata) from Israel. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter. 1/50 at f/20, ISO100. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Dirt on lens – surprisingly this is one of the least mentioned problems but it is so important that it gets a special spot among the top three. We like to use wide-angle lenses because of the increased depth of field, but unfortunately this also means that every speck of dust on the front element will be seen in the final image. And if you like to shoot against the sun like I do, any smear will cause a disgusting lens flare that is hard to remove in post-processing. Therefore it is of utmost importance to keep the front element as clean as possible when photographing. For those of you who like to photograph in flower-splashed fields – pollen is another common nuisance.

Dust specks in image when using relay lens

Dust on lens appears as colorful specks in image when using a relay lens. Canon 7D, Canon 24mm STM + FIT Gyorome-8. 1/160 at f/22, ISO400. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Manual and relay lens systems – There are many advantages to constructing your own wide-angle macro lens system, but unfortunately the complexity of their use poses some serious challenges. One of the main issues is that these systems do not have electrical contacts, and therefore there is no communication between the camera body and lens, no aperture control, and no auto focus. When using DIY short extension tubes with wide-angle lenses to achieve greater magnification, very often the lens focus must be set to infinity and the only way to actually focus on the subject is to gently rock the camera body back and forth. Another common challenge comes when using relay lens systems (you can see mine appearing in this brief post), especially ones that incorporate CCTV lenses: the image in the viewfinder will often be displayed upside down, and if the aperture is closed it will be extremely dark, making it very difficult to properly compose the image and focus. If “shooting in the dark” manually does not scare you enough, the images produced by these lens systems are often soft despite the increased depth of field. To know why, you must understand how a relay lens works. In a nutshell, the front lens projects a small image that is then enlarged by another lens to fit the coverage of the camera’s sensor. This increase in image size causes an apparent loss of resolution. All these issues are solvable, and honestly once tackled they are not much of a big deal.

Inverted image in viewfinder when using relay lens

This is what I actually see in the viewfinder when using a relay lens system, a dark inverted image.

Plume moth (Hellinsia homodactylus) from Estabrook Woods, MA, United States

After some careful post-processing of the above image of a plume moth (Hellinsia homodactylus), I was able to get this result. Canon 7D, CCTV relay lens system. 1/10 sec at f/16, ISO1250. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Giant mantis (Eremoplana infelix) from Central Coastal Plain, Israel

The great advantage of CCTV relay lens systems is the small size of the front lens, which allows to sneak up on unsuspecting insects. Unfortunately, this means that they will not hesitate to climb on, like this giant mantis (Eremoplana infelix) from Israel. Canon 7D, CCTV relay lens system. 1/100 at f/16, ISO640. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Uncooperative subjects, focusing distance and getting too close – this is not really a problem but more of a skill that evolves with the photographer’s experience. The main issue when using wide-angle lenses of any kind for macrophotography is that you have to get very close to the subject, and with some lens systems you will literally almost touch it with the front element of the lens. This, for obvious reasons, makes most live subjects very uncomfortable, causing them to pose unnaturally, or even to escape. Because of this, it is important to know your subject, so you can approach it without scaring it. It is also important to be able to predict the subject’s behavior. Some caution should be used here; while some subjects will simply take the chance to climb on your lens, others will not hesitate to attack if you get too close. Do not take unnecessary risks.

Male Wellington tree weta (Hemideina crassidens), Titahi Bay, New Zealand

Sometimes getting too close triggers an interesting response from the subject, like in this case of a male Wellington tree weta (Hemideina crassidens) from New Zealand. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter. 1/30 at f/18, ISO100. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

A wandering spider (Phoneutria boliviensis). Amazon Basin, Ecuador

…and sometimes it is better to know when to back off. When this venomous wandering spider (Phoneutria boliviensis) started walking towards the lens, I quickly stepped back. Canon 7D, Canon 14mm. 1/10 sec at f/18, ISO400. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Conehead katydid from Caves Branch, Cayo District, Belize

This conehead katydid from Belize started walking on the surface of the lens while I was taking the photo. If it wasn’t for the extension tube used here, this photo would have been out of focus. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter, 6.3mm custom-made extension tube. 1/5 at f/22, ISO1600. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

To end this series of posts like I promised in part 1, here is a list of useful articles I recommend checking out for anyone interested in getting into wide-angle macro:

Wide-Angle Macro | The Essential Guide by Clay Bolt and Paul Harcourt Davies – the only resource currently in existence dedicated solely to this photography style. It is excellent. And I hear they are working on a second, more updated edition:
http://learnmacro.com/wide-angle-macro-the-essential-guide-now-available/

Getting low and wide by Piotr Naskrecki – very good tips from the entomologist who inspired us all with his photography:
http://thesmallermajority.com/2013/01/04/getting-low-and-wide-part-1/
http://thesmallermajority.com/2013/01/08/getting-low-and-wide-part-2/

Reviews of the recently released Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 wide angle macro lens (By Nicky Bay, Paul Harcourt Davies, Thomas Shahan, and myself) offer some good insights about wide-angle macro in general:
http://gilwizen.com/laowa-15mm-lens-review/
http://sgmacro.blogspot.ca/2015/06/review-of-venus-optics-laowa-15mm-f4-11.html
http://sgmacro.blogspot.ca/2015/07/part-ii-review-of-venus-laowa-15mm-wide.html
http://learnmacro.com/the-laowa-15mm-f4-wide-angle-has-got-me-thinking/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZcYXUMkhek

Use of CCTV lens (non-English, but still good info about gear):
http://blog.roodo.com/gialaba/archives/11030011.html (in Chinese)
http://tu4477.grassgreen.us/musitoru/musinomel.html
http://tu4477.grassgreen.us/musitoru/musinomes.html
http://ssp-japan.net/ssp/howto/vol/vol_01/001-suzuki-ssp-2/001-suzuki-ssp-2.html (in Japanese)

Examples of relay lens systems:
http://makrofokus.se/blogg/2016/9/22/diy-makro-fisheye.html – Fantastic article by John Hallmén (in Swedish)
http://www.naturfotograf.com/roll_your_own_lens.html
http://www.photomacrography.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=17069

Making a DIY short extension tube:
http://www.4photos.de/camera-diy/Short-Extension-Tube.html

UPDATE (30 Dec, 2015): There is now a part 4 to this wide-angle macro series! Click here to read about my experiments with relay lens systems.
UPDATE (17 Aug, 2017): I added my review of the Laowa 15mm Wide Angle Macro lens in the links. You can also find it here.

My take on wide-angle macro – part 2

To read part 1, click here.

In this post I will discuss common misconceptions about wide-angle macrophotography. These are all things that I heard from people discussing this photography style. Please note that the opinions expressed here are my own only, and are not to be perceived as rules of any sort.

Taking it all in – A very popular view of wide-angle macro is that you have to include ALL the habitat in the background. Not just the subject and its perching spot, but also the ground, trees and even rivers, snow-capped mountains, and I dare say the sun or moon! In most cases this is unnecessary. It is true that wide-angle lenses have the capability of including much in the frame, but there are many creative ways to use them. The main element in the photo is the subject; the background is there just to provide a context for it. A wide-angle macro shot can be perfect even without the horizon line or the sky.

Schneider's skink (Eumeces schneideri) Carmel Mountain Range, Israel

Schneider’s skink (Eumeces schneideri) from Israel. I wanted to capture the “feel” of the windy meadow it was living in. Canon 7D, Canon 14mm. 1/125 at f/14, ISO100. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Bigger is better – There seems to be an unofficial race among wide-angle macrophotographers to get the highest magnification from their gear. This is understandable: the bigger a small subject is in the photo, the more impressive the final result. However, this does not necessarily mean that the subject must be photographed at the closest focusing distance. There is a place for photographs showing subjects from afar, how they blend-in in their surroundings, or go about their daily life. I am aware that this may be considered leaving the macro realm and stepping into regular wide-angle photography. In my opinion it is a blurry borderline, and if the subject is small-sized, it is still considered macrophotography.

Leaf-mimicking Katydid (Cycloptera sp.), Amazon Basin, Ecuador

I could have gone much closer while photographing this leaf-mimicking katydid (Cycloptera sp.) in Ecuador, but I wanted to show how it blends in perfectly with the bush it was resting on. Canon 7D, Canon 14mm. 1 sec at f/18, ISO400. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Super sharpness – Everything, from subject to background, must be in focus and super sharp. While depth of field is certainly important in wide-angle macrophotography, I will argue that in most cases a sharp background can draw the viewer’s attention away from the subject. Our eyes tend to fix on whatever is sharp. Nicky Bay did an excellent experiment demonstrating just that: when he stacked two photos to create a super sharp image of a frog in the rainforest, it became harder to keep the eyes fixed on the amphibian. Unless your intention is to show camouflage, I recommend leaving the background slightly out of focus. And if your subject is a slender insect such as a mantis or a stick insect, consider opening the aperture even more to get a shallower depth of field.

Nicky-WA-toad

An example of how background sharpness can affect viewer’s attention to the subject, in this case a Malaysian horned frog (Megophrys nasuta). Top: background slightly out-of-focus, brings the subject forward; Bottom: Sharp background, photo appears “flat”. Courtesy of Nicky Bay

Green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans), Toledo District, Belize

This green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) would have been lost in the busy background if it had been any sharper. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter, 6.3mm custom-made extension tube. 2.5 sec at f/22, ISO800. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Barrel distortion is bad – Wide-angle lenses are especially prone to barrel distortion. This changes perspective and proportions of objects in the photo, causing whatever is in the center of the frame to appear larger, and straight lines (for example trees, horizon) to appear curved. Many photographers are in a constant battle against barrel distortion, trying to find the best way to eliminate it in post-processing. I somewhat agree; a curved horizon can really be distracting (unless you go for a fisheye effect). But in times when I do not have a clear horizon in the frame (a dense forest is a good example), I find that the distortion can be “forgiven”. In other cases, I find that it actually draws more attention to the subject, if its body proportions are exaggerated. Sometimes the “fisheye look” can directly translate to a “bug-eye look”, even though it may not truthfully represent what insects see. If humans were the size of an insect, maybe this is how we would see the world. Because wide-angle macro attempts to shrink the viewers and make them a part of the scene, barrel distortion is not necessarily a bad thing.

Chicken of the Woods mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus), growing on a fallen oak tree. Ontario, Canada

When barrel distortion can be excused: Chicken of the Woods mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) is the center of attention in this photo. The curved trees in the background are not distracting. Canon 7D, Canon 14mm. 1/15 at f/16, ISO1600. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) from Ontario, Canada

The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) wings touched the front element of the lens, creating the illusion that they are exaggeratedly extended. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter. 1/160 at f/11, ISO100.

Night wide-angle macro is impossible – This is hardly the case. It depends on what you want to capture. The lack of ambient light does make it hard to include much of the habitat in the photo, therefore you must plan the shot before taking it. A tripod and remote shutter release are a must. While I personally do not have much experience in doing so, night wide-angle macro is definitely possible with light painting and clever composition. Some of my favorite night wide-angle macro shots come from Javier Aznar (who won in competitions several times for his inspiring photography) and Nicky Bay.

Male Heterophrynus batesii fresh after molting, Amazon Basin, Ecuador

This freshly molted Heterophrynus batesii was photographed during a rainy night hike in the forest. Canon 7D, Canon 14mm. 1/10 at f/14, ISO800. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

All wide-angle macro photos look the same – of course not, as can be seen just by browsing along this blog post. Every photographer has their own style. In fact, I see much more conformity in landscape photography. If you feel that all your photographs end up looking the same, maybe it is time to try doing something a little different. For example, I had a small wide-angle lens lying around for years, no matter how I used it I could not get the image I wanted from it. Last week I decided to couple it with a new lens and was amazed by the results. Now, some photographers will insist that “you never go full fisheye”, but I disagree. If anything, stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new is very healthy for your point of view and inspiration as a photographer.

White-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum) from Ontario, Canada

Peephole lenses can produce interesting framing, like in the case of this white-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum) from Ontario, Canada. Canon 7D, Canon 24mm STM + FIT Gyorome-8. 1/160 at f/20, ISO400. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.) from Ontario, Canada

When the subject (leafcutter bee, Megachile sp.) stares directly into the camera the result is even more spectacular. Canon 7D, Canon 24mm STM + FIT Gyorome-8. 1/160 at f/22, ISO400. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Photo must be “perfect” – Wouldn’t we all like everything to be the way we envisioned it? Unfortunately, in photography things do not always go as planned. In wide-angle macro it is all too common, there is just too much that can go wrong. Keep photographing. Among those so-called crappy photos one might actually stand out as unique. In fact, very often not-so-perfect photos are much more interesting than “Photoshop-perfect” ones. No one wrote any rules for wide-angle macrophotography, and if there are rules, they can be bent from time to time. The only limitation is your own creativity.

Ornate predatory katydid (Saga ornata), Golan Heights, Israel

Including the human element in the photo can help in telling a compelling story. In this case, we searched for ornate predatory katydids (Saga ornata) for hours, and in the end they turned out to be right under our nose. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter. 1/40 at f/20, ISO100.

So what happens when things do go wrong? In the next post I will go over some of the major problems that arise when photographing wide-angle macro and using different lens systems.

To read part 3, click here.
To read part 4, click here.

My take on wide-angle macro – part 1

A lot of people have been asking me to write about wide-angle macro. After a long period of time in which I was debating how to approach this topic, I decided that instead of giving a word-by-word recipe for making wide-angle macro photos, I am just going to write how I achieve my shots and give some useful tips. There is already a heap of great articles online, and at the end of this series of posts I will give a list of ones I recommend checking out for anyone interested in attempting this unique style.

The idea of wide-angle macro is to use a wide-angle lens to include a small-sized subject and its environment in a single photo. When I think about it, ever since I held a camera in my hands I was trying to get that “look” with an insect standing in the middle of its habitat. I remember trying to do this using my film camera, but back then I did not have the knowledge or the experience to tackle this. And here comes the first tip for anyone trying to learn this technique – you must understand the optics of your lens. Not literally the physics of optics (although it does help, I admit), but the characteristics of that particular lens: how close can it focus? What is the working distance? Can it focus to infinity? Just by answering these three questions you are able to get an idea whether your gear can be used for this style.

Caper bush (Capparis spinosa) overlooking Daliot stream, Golan Heights, Israel

Caper bush (Capparis spinosa) overlooking Daliot stream, Golan Heights, Israel. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter. 1/125 at f/14, ISO100. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Now, similarly to other genres of photography, in wide-angle macro there are many different ways to achieve the same result. You can use stand-alone ultra wide-angle or fisheye lenses, add an extension tube to get more magnification, build a relay system, or even use a peephole lens. Some ways are cheaper than others. There are also small-sized point-and-shoot cameras that are able to produce this kind of photos. It all depends on the amount of money and effort you are willing to invest. I use a dslr and several different lens systems for wide-angle macro photography, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. I highlighted in the photo captions which system I used so you can get an idea about the properties of each one.

Juvenile eastern spadefoot (Pelobates syriacus), Central coastal plain, Israel

Juvenile eastern spadefoot (Pelobates syriacus), Central coastal plain, Israel. Canon 7D, CCTV relay lens system. 1/15 at f/16, ISO1250. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

With the recent release of the fully manual Venus Optics Laowa 15mm 1:1 wide-angle macro lens, I suspect wide-angle macro will become even more popular over the next few years. I was hoping I could receive a unit to review and compare to the other systems I own, alas, Venus Optics Laowa never got back to me (this recently changed – see here). Despite being a somewhat niche lens, I have no doubt that in the near future we will see more and more lenses with similar capabilities, maybe even with automatic aperture and focus control.

Banana spider aka Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria boliviensis) in my kitchen

Banana spider aka Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria boliviensis) in my kitchen. While this wide-angle macro shot was not taken in the field, it shows that once the technique is mastered, it can be reproduced from scratch in almost any situation. Canon 7D, CCTV relay lens system. 4 sec at f/16, ISO400. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

So what makes a good wide-angle macro photo? To simplify, typically, you would use a wide-angle lens focused close on the subject with a closed aperture of f/16 or higher to obtain more depth of field, and you might need to use a fill-flash to light your subject. In my opinion, apart from a sharp focus and good depth of field, there are three key elements that the photographer should strive for in wide-angle macro photography:

Magnification – This is more of a technical issue, as each wide-angle lens has a different maximum focusing distance and maximum magnification. You want to get the subject big enough in the frame so it will not end up “lost” in the background. If the subject is big (like some reptiles and amphibians) then this is not really a problem, but small arthropods are much more difficult to shoot in wide-angle macro. We still do not have the technology to produce a high-quality photo of a springtail walking about in the dense forest. Insufficient magnification can be solved by adding a short extension tube, but this causes several other issues (more on this later).

Male giant mosquito (Toxorhynchites sp.), Cayo District, Belize

Male giant mosquito (Toxorhynchites sp.), Cayo District, Belize. Although this is a relatively large mosquito, it is still a small insect so I used a short extension tube to achieve more magnification. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter, 6.3mm custom-made extension tube. 1/10 at f/22, ISO1250. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Interesting perspective – Focusing close on the subject alone is not enough. Getting low and bringing the camera to the same eye level as that of the subject’s is important to give viewers the impression that they are a part of the scene (this is true for all styles of nature photography, by the way). In addition, if the background is too busy or too far from the subject, the result will be aesthetically unappealing. A good way to solve this issue is to have some sort of gradual transition from the subject to the background. This can be done by including a branch or a vine that leads the eye from the subject to the background (or vice versa), or by actually letting the subject “drift” into the background. A good method for dealing with this issue (given to me by Piotr Naskrecki, one of the true masters of this photography style) is to look through the viewfinder and search for alternatives ways to compose the photo, however I often find that I actually need to take several shots of different perspectives before I decide.

wide-angle-bg

An example to show the process of choosing the right composition: A. Background too far from foreground, no gradual transition; B. Overall busy composition with too much depth of field, subject will be lost; C. Good transition from foreground to slightly out-of-focus background, but background is still too busy; D. Good balance between foreground and background.

Thistle Mantis (Blepharopsis mendica), Central Coastal Plain, Israel

This is the composition I decided to go with eventually. Thistle Mantis (Blepharopsis mendica), Central Coastal Plain, Israel. Canon 7D, Canon 14mm. 1/125 at f/14, ISO200. Fill twin-flash with DIY diffusers.

Telling a story – This one is a bit harder to master. You need to get the other elements right first, but once again, that alone is usually not enough. There are many (technically) good wide-angle macro shots out there, but they include a subject plastered over a poster-like background and in my opinion something gets lost there. In general, a good photo must be engaging, and wide-angle macro is no exception. You want to bring the subject’s perspective of the world and way of life to the viewer.

Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) nymphs marching, Negev Desert, Israel

Marching of desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) nymphs in the Negev Desert of Israel. I wanted to show how the grasshoppers were moving in a thick column, almost like a flowing river. Canon 7D, Sigma 10mm fisheye, x1.4 teleconverter. 1/125 at f/16, ISO100.

Combining these elements is no easy task, especially from the technical aspect of things. In most cases, closing the aperture to get more depth of field will result in less light hitting the camera’s sensor. In other words, to get a proper exposure you need either to increase the ISO value or to use a slower shutter speed, sometimes even both. Using a tripod can help when taking long exposures, but sometimes it is physically impossible. And increasing the ISO beyond a certain value might boost the noise in the photo, resulting in a low-quality image. It’s all about compromises. In the next posts I will discuss common misconceptions and some of the major problems in wide-angle macro photography. If you have any other topic you would like me to address in the next posts – please let me know in the comments and I will do my best to answer.

To read part 2, click here.
To read part 3, click here.
To read part 4, click here.

The question

When you photograph routinely and you manage to produce some decent shots every now and then, there comes a time when people come to you popping THE QUESTION. And no, I do not mean people kneeling while holding a box revealing a ring, asking you to marry them (although, I have to admit, it would be nice…). What I am talking about is the question that every photographer loves to hate – “what lens do you use?” or its even more annoying derivative “what camera do you use?”

I get it. We are all curious people, especially when we see something we like and want to reproduce it ourselves. Nevertheless, when a photographer displays his hard work, the last thing he wants to hear is praises about his equipment. You will find many rants about this phenomenon, written by photographers who are tired of hearing that “it is so easy to press a button”. It seems common for people, whether knowingly or not, to devalue photographers’ work by downscaling their actual involvement in the process of taking a photo. Very recently, I showed a lab mate several photographs that I took. In sheer excitement he exclaimed “That is one great camera you’ve got!” It was not the first time I heard this statement, and for years I have been collecting potential responses for such misled beliefs – “Thanks, it is a good camera. I taught it everything it knows”. Photographers should not deal with this sort of commentary, in the same manner that we do not hear people tell a chef that he must have a great stove or a painter that he must have expensive brushes.

Some of my photography gear. I know what you're thinking - "Does that scorpion come in a Nikon-mount as well?"

Some of my photography gear. I know what you’re thinking – “Does that scorpion come in a Nikon-mount as well?”

This strange behavior does not skip photographers (myself included), even though they have better-phrased versions of THE QUESTION – “what settings did you use?” and my personal favorite “what setup did you use?” What I like about the questions coming from fellow photographers is that unlike most people, they understand that there is a person behind the camera, even though it is the camera that ultimately records the photos. A living person, by implementing his experience, plans the shot, the composition, exposure, and presses the shutter at the right moment. Knowing which camera and lens model were used tells you nothing about how the lovely image you saw was obtained, but knowing the setup gives a greater understanding why the photo came out the way it did. Still, setup alone will not convey anything about the time spent preparing for the shoot, researching and observing the subject, or about composition. Each photo has its own conditions and therefore the capturing process is different.

The reason I am ranting about it is that I am too tired of hearing THE QUESTION. Maybe one day I will put up a webpage detailing the gear I use, but at the moment I see no reason for randomly advertising products. And please, stop asking me which camera or lens I think you should buy. I do not know what YOU need. Oh well. I guess the only way to deal with it is to laugh about it.

A Moment of Creativity: MYN misfires

I recently updated my gallery for the Meet Your Neighbours project with my work from 2014 (if you haven’t checked it already you can see it here). It is great to have such a diverse collection of animals in a single page, and I can proudly say this is my favorite gallery on the website. It is far from being complete, as I still have photos to add, and I plan to continue my contribution to this project. I was also honored to have my gallery featured on Alex Wild’s blog “Compound Eye” in Scientific American.

Contrary to what some people may think, shooting animals on a white background is not as simple as it seems. Like nature photography in general, there is so much that can go wrong. I call these “misfires”, and usually such photos do not exist for too long because I delete them immediately. However, sometimes misfires have interesting results. Not really useful as MYN photos, but maybe still acceptable for artistic values. Here is a collection of common cases when things do not go exactly as planned. I omitted misfires which are purely technical, such as cases where I got the exposure incorrectly or, more embarrassing, when the subject was completely out of focus.

Subject suddenly exiting the frame: Usually happens when I miscalculate the animal’s movements. This sometimes produces interesting results, like in the case of this Blunt-headed Tree Snake (Imantodes cenchoa) from Belize.

Blunt-headed Tree Snake (Imantodes cenchoa), Caves Branch, Cayo District, Belize

“Anyone needs a rope?”

 

Subject attacking the camera: Many animals are feisty and just want to be left alone. This is often the case with arachnids, crabs and snakes. While a freashwater crab trying to grab the lens is something I would not normally worry about, I do admit I had times when my heart skipped a beat upon seeing my subject charging towards me (not during a MYN shoot though). A nature photographer should always be alert and cautious!

Freshwater crab (Potamon potamios), Golan Heights, Israel

A feisty freshwater crab (Potamon potamios) charging towards the camera

 

Subject taking off: This is far more common than one might think, especially with beetles and flies. It is nice to actually try getting a decent photo of the insect in flight. However, when working in the field, this will very often be the last photo you snap of the subject, as it is impossible to locate afterwards.

Click beetle (Semiotus sp.), Amazon Basin, Ecuador

Click beetle (Semiotus sp.) in mid-flight

 

The butt-shot: This issue is well known, especially to wildlife photographers who use trap cameras in the field. You set up your camera, you enter all the correct settings, aim for that perfect angle that gives you the most detail of your subject, and at the exact moment you take the shot, the subject turns away from the camera. And stays like this. Forever.
Some animals have a peculiar tendency of constantly turning away from the camera even if you follow their movement. I cannot help but wonder if this has anything to do with IR light-metering beam coming out of the camera/flash.

Jewel wasp (family Chrysididae), Ontario, Canada

Jewel wasp showing her good side

 

The mirror reflection: This usually happens with very small animals moving about until they reach the edge of my diffusion material. Specifically in my setup this creates a strange reflection that I really do not like, but sometimes the results are interesting.

Deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), Massachusetts, United States

Deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) meets its reflection

 

The photobomb: When you get something included in the photo that you initially did not want. I admit I wanted to photograph the two tadpoles of green toad (Pseudepidalea viridis) together, but I was aiming for a clearer separation between them. Many tadpoles tend to cluster together at rest, so this was a uneducated attempt on my part. The bloated tadpole always pushed itself on top the smaller one like a magnet and it was impossible to separate them. By the way, both tadpoles are unhealthy: the thin tadpole is harboring an internal parasite, whereas bloated one has accumulation of liquid in its body.

Tadpoles of the green toad (Pseudepidalea viridis), Center District, Israel.

This tadpole gives the term ‘photobomb’ a new meaning

 

Here is a different example of photobombing a shoot – I was getting ready to photograph this harvestman (opiliones) from Ecuador, when a Gordian worm (Nematomorpha), an internal parasite, started coming out. A rare case in which you “get two for the price of one.” Interestingly, the host was still alive after the parasitic worm came out, and quickly slipped from the acrylic and vanished into the vegetation!

Gordian worm (Nematomorpha), an internal parasite, exits from a harvestman host. Mindo, Ecuador

Getting two animals for the price of one. Sort of.

 

Subject is too big for current setup: Nothing is more annoying then finding out your gear is just not good enough. When I travel overseas I only have a small acrylic sheet with me, obviously this limits its use for animals below a certain size. I thought it was enough to capture this stick insect flashing its wings, but I got frustrated fairly quickly – the insect was just too big.
By the way, the stick insect has an external parasite (tick fly, Forcipomyia sp.) attached, so this is also a case of “two for the price of one”.

Stick insect displaying its wings for defense. Mindo, Ecuador

This stick insect is too big!

 

Subject is light-sensitive: What happens when you try to photograph an animal that is hypersensitive to light against a blown out white background? Craziness ensues. Too often this means that the animal “goes nuts” and poses unnaturally, constantly looking for a place to hide. I try to avoid this as much as possible, and to minimize the stress to the animal. In the case shown below I actually liked the effect of the soil centipede lifting its body in search for something to grab onto. It almost looks like it is praying.

Soil centipede (Geophilidae), Carmel Mountain Range, Israel

Soil centipede (Geophilidae), Carmel Mountain Range, Israel

 

Subject is too fast: Photographing fast animals is extremely challenging, and cockroaches are no exception. Most of them can move easily on smooth surfaces, not to mention some can fly well. Add to this the fact that they are sensitive to light, and you’ve got a subject that will almost never sit still during a MYN shoot. These Egyptian desert cockroaches (Polyphaga aegyptiaca) from Israel took almost an hour to photograph. The image below is a composite of my failures to get one in the middle of the frame. In the end, I had to be creative and decided to chase the insect with the camera looking through the viewfinder until I got it in the frame.

Egyptian Desert Cockroaches (Polyphaga aegyptiaca), Central Coastal Plain, Israel

“You just had to move, didn’t you?!”

 

Oh, almost forgot! Subjects with an attitude: Not the anthropomorphic interpretation of forced unnatural animal poses (becoming unjustifiably popular recently), but more of a “slip of the tongue”, if you know what I mean.

Schneider's skink (Eumeces schneideri) Carmel Mountain Range, Israel

Schneider’s skink (Eumeces schneideri) making faces

2014 in review: traveling, wide-angle macro and great finds!

As the clock counting towards the end of 2014, it is time for another year-in-review post. This was a good year. What a refreshing change from 2013. The main element this year seems to be traveling – I did lots of it. I think I broke my own record for traveling by air, sometimes squeezing multiple destinations into the same month, all thanks to the leave of absence I took from the university. It does not necessarily mean I visited new places; there is still a ton I want to see. The surprising thing is that I do not feel like I photographed enough this year. Many of these trips relied heavily on research, and very occasionally I found myself in a conflict between collecting data and photographing.

Here are my best of 2014. I tried to keep the same categories as last year.

 

The most unpleasant subject

Portrait of human botfly (Dermatobia hominis) larva

Portrait of human botfly (Dermatobia hominis) larva

 

Well, botfly again in this category, just like last year. I actually had a human botfly (Dermatobia hominis) in my own body last year as well as this year (there is a scientific publication about it on the way – a topic for a future blog post!). Although I have to say this year’s cute parasite was not at all unpleasant, on the contrary! For this reason I decided to go all the way through and have it complete its larval development inside my body, and now I am eagerly waiting for it to emerge as an adult fly.

 

The best landscape shots

Bromelia swamp, Toledo District, Belize

Bromelia swamp, Toledo District, Belize

 

Waterfall cave, Cayo District, Belize

Waterfall cave, Cayo District, Belize

 

I’m afraid I did not take too many landscape photographs this year. I was more concentrated in other methods (see below) that I completely neglected this photography sytle. In fact, I have just sold my trustworthy Tokina AT-X Pro 17mm lens, because I found that I am not using it anymore. I did have a chance to visit some breathtaking places this year, and chose two shots from Belize as my favorite landscapes for 2014.

 

The most perfectly timed photo

Pinktoe tarantula (Avicularia huriana) on painted wall, Ecuador

Pinktoe tarantula (Avicularia huriana) on painted wall, Ecuador

 

This photo is not exactly “perfectly timed” in the sense that I had to wait in order to capture the right moment. As I was walking to my cabin in the Ecuadorian Amazon I saw this pinktoe tarantula (Avicularia huriana) resting on a wall that was painted to show a scene from the rainforest. To my amazement the spider picked the “correct” spot in the painting to rest on, a palm leaf, just as it would be in the real vegetation. The cutesy ants painted marching nearby add a nice twist to this photo.

 

Best behavior shot

Whip spider (Euphrynuchus bacillifer) molting

Whip spider (Euphrynuchus bacillifer) molting

 

This molting amblypygid (Euphrynichus bacillifer) takes this category. I like how it looks like a version of Alien’s Facehugger from this angle.

 

The best non-animal photo

Caladium bicolor inflorescence

Caladium bicolor inflorescence

 

I regard this as one of my best super-macro shots. I have already written a short post about how this unique inflorescence sent me 20 years back in time for a trip down memory lane. What I love about this photo is that I managed to produce exactly what I envisioned.

 

The most cooperative dangerous subjects

A wandering spider (Phoneutria boliviensis) in "threat posture". Amazon Basin, Ecuador

A wandering spider (Phoneutria boliviensis) in “threat posture”. Amazon Basin, Ecuador

 

You can read more about my scary encounter with the huge Phoneutria spider here. I admit that my hands were shaking as I was getting closer and closer to take a photo. These spiders are fast. And usually quite aggressive too. In the end this female turned out to be very docile, and she also kindly warned me when I was getting too close.

Variable coral snake (Micrurus diastema), Belize

Variable coral snake (Micrurus diastema), Belize

 

Never in my wildest dreams I imagined I would be photographing a coral snake from a close distance, not to mention doing it alone with no assistance. These snakes have extremely potent venom and should be left alone when encountered. However, in my case an opportunity presented itself and I could not pass on the chance to photograph this beautiful creature. It was carefully released back to the rainforest immediately after the shoot.

 

The best photo of an elusive subject

Sabethes sp., female in mid-biting

Sabethes sp., female in mid-biting

 

There is almost nothing I can say about Sabethes that I haven’t already said in this post. This mosquito is nothing short of amazing, and for some insect photographers it is a distant dream to photograph one in action. Too bad they are tiny, super-fast, and oh yes – transmit tropical diseases that can kill you. So I guess it fits the previous category as well.

 

The best natural phenomenon observed

Army ants (Eciton burchellii parvispinum) in their bivouac. Toledo District, Belize

Army ants (Eciton burchellii parvispinum) in their bivouac. Toledo District, Belize

 

I have seen army ants in the past but this year I was happy to walk upon a bivouac (a temporary camp in which they spend the night). It is such an impressive sight. It is also quite painful if you are standing a bit too close. Taking close ups of the bivouac’s “ant wall” was an unpleasant process, to say the least.
I also love this scene where a small roach watches by while the ants form their crawling “rivers”.

A small roach watches by while an army ant (Eciton burchellii parvispinum) raid takes place. Toledo District, Belize

A small roach watches by while an army ant (Eciton burchellii parvispinum) raid takes place. Toledo District, Belize

 

The best focus-stacked shot

Spectacular male jumping spider (Sidusa unicolor), Cayo District, Belize

Spectacular male jumping spider (Sidusa unicolor), Cayo District, Belize

 

I rarely take deep focus stacks. The reason is that I like to photograph live animals and this method requires an almost perfectly still subject. This stack of nine images shows one of the most impressive jumping spiders I had the fortune of finding. You can tell I went all “Thomas Shahan-y” here.

 

The best wide-angle macro

If there is one style I was obsessive about this year, it is wide-angle macro. I decided to dive in, and experimented with different setups and compositions. I have now gathered enough experience and information to write a long post (most likely split in two) about this method. Stay tuned. In the meantime, here are my favorites from this year.

Leaf-mimicking Katydid (Cycloptera sp.), Amazon Basin, Ecuador

Leaf-mimicking Katydid (Cycloptera sp.), Amazon Basin, Ecuador

 

Long-faced grasshopper (Truxalis grandis), Central Coastal Plain, Israel

Long-faced grasshopper (Truxalis grandis), Central Coastal Plain, Israel

 

The next photo comes with its own story: On the way to the 700-Feet Waterfalls in Belize for an Epiphytes survey, Ella Baron (manager of Caves Branch Botanical Gardens), Alex Wild and I joked that it would be cool to take a wide-angle macro shot of a frog against the background of the waterfalls, and to use this “postcard shot” to promote future BugShot Belize workshops. 15 minutes after that, I had the shot on my memory card… This is probably my favorite photo from 2014.

Mexican tree frog (Smilisca sp.), at 700-Feet Waterfalls. Cayo District, Belize

Mexican tree frog (Smilisca sp.), at the beautiful 700-Feet Waterfalls. Cayo District, Belize

 

The best Meet Your Neighbours photos

Tadpole shrimp (Lepidurus apus). Center District, Israel

Tadpole shrimp (Lepidurus apus). Center District, Israel

 

Along with wide-angle macro photography, I also photographed intensively against a white background, as a contributor for Meet Your Neighbours project. This technique is easy and produces stunning results that it is difficult to choose favorites. I think I like best the photos that still incorporate some part of the habitat, such as the ones below.

Caterpillar of the crimson-speckled Flunkey (Utetheisa pulchella) on Round-leaved Heliotrope (Heliotropium rotundifolium). Central Coastal Plain, Israel

Caterpillar of the crimson-speckled Flunkey (Utetheisa pulchella) on Round-leaved Heliotrope (Heliotropium rotundifolium). Central Coastal Plain, Israel

 

Stick-mimic mantis (Empusa fasciata), Central Coastal Plain, Israel

Stick-mimic mantis (Empusa fasciata), Central Coastal Plain, Israel

 

Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon rectricrista). Central Coastal Plain, Israel

Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon rectricrista). Central Coastal Plain, Israel

 

Memes

Shooting for Meet Your Neighbours not only gives a chance to appreciate organisms out of the context of their surroundings, but also makes it super easy to use the images in creative ways. I do not consider myself a competent meme creator, but there are times that I have no better way for expressing myself.

I slept too much

One of those mornings.

 

Kung Fu weevil

Sometimes I feel like…

And the most exciting subject…

Ah, where to start? There were so many great finds this year: timber flies, fringed tree frogs, velvet worms, freshly molted whip spiders, eyelid geckos, tadpole shrimps and more. I cannot simply pick one favorite subject. They were all my favorites, so I decided not to end this post with a trail of random photos. I cannot wait to see what I will encounter next year. Have a good 2015!