Worcestershire Record No. 4 May 1998 p. 8


By Kevin McGee

Yes, it can be fun and very rewarding, and need not be as difficult as you may imagine!

You may have seen people like myself wandering around local reserves weighed-down by several tons of equipment that all seems very complicated and expensive. Well OK, this really can become the case if you get hooked on combining two "hobbies", although with me its not so much a "hobby" as a way of life!. For me, it began about twenty years ago by developing my interest in Lepidoptera with a new-found fascination for photography, whilst I was an art student. I quickly obtained some basic equipment and set about photographing as many of the Lepidoptera and Odonata of Warwickshire as possible. It's at this time when you become much more aware of the behavioural patterns of each species as you try to get close enough (or not!) to take their portraits.

This is also about the time when you realise what sort of equipment best suits photography of our larger insects eg butterflies. By far the best combination is a good sturdy SLR (single lens reflex) camera with a 100 mm macro lens. This is a specialist lens which has just enough of a telephoto magnification to allow that little extra distance between yourself and the subject, very important with nervous species! This can be very expensive depending on the quality of the lens manufacturer, but bargains can be found in the used lens lists from reputable dealers and these can cost half the price of a new one and be in near mint condition. By the way - autofocus really does work!

Ideally, to achieve professional perfection, you need a good flash gun with automatic TTL (through the lens) exposure metering. This ensures that the flash fires the correct amount of light for the combination of film-type and camera-to-subject distance. I even counterbalance the harsh shadow this can often give by using a second weaker flash from an opposing angle.

Don't worry - this is only when it starts getting serious. Perfectly good results can be achieved by using your family SLR.

Many of you probably own a 35 mm camera with a standard 50 mm lens. These are excellent all-rounders suitable for landscapes, family groups etc. However should you wish to obtain a good close-up picture, of a butterfly for instance, you will probably have realised that the lens will not allow you to focus close enough to your subject. If your subject is something smaller than a butterfly then your results will be disappointing to say the least and correct identification may be impossible. This problem can be simply overcome by attaching a screw-on close-up filter to the front of your lens, a marvellous accessory and relatively cheap. These are available in differing strengths, allowing you to get very close. Try this method first on your field trips and you should get very acceptable results, aiding your identification problems, especially if you feel "awkward" about "taking" the specimen in question. I would recommend a good quality colour slide film with an ASA rating (film speed) of 200 for a fair chance of a decent result under normal daylight conditions.

Photographing insects is a wonderful way of expanding your interest and knowledge towards groups you may have ignored or been "afraid" of in the past because of identification problems. I have become more involved in widening my knowledge of coleoptera and this arose from one particular photograph I took in Trench Wood during 1996. I had no idea at the time what I was photographing but, with the aid of some excellent new books now available, I was able to identify it as one of the longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae): Stenocorus meridianus. Since then my fascination with longhorns has grown considerably and I have since managed to find and photograph rather localised species such as Saperda populnea (Trench Wood 30.6.96), Anaglyptus mysticus (River Avon, Eckington Bridge 27.5.97), Leptura rubra (Tiddesley Wood 19.7.97) Strangalia quadrifasciata (Monkwood 27.7.97) Phytoecia cylindrica (Monkwood 10.5.98) and Rhagium mordax (Knapp & Papermill 16.5.98). As a result of my success with this family of coleoptera I have also found that other beetle groups such as weevils and Chrysomelidae can also be identified from decent photographs, and of course many species are very beautiful when seen in detail.

So why not give it a try? You will be surprised how successful some of your pictures will be.....and like me you may be encouraged to learn more about lesser known groups of invertebrates. Don't forget that you will be capturing forever the image if a real living creature in its natural environment as well as contributing greatly to recording the invertebrate fauna of our county.

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