I am working with a pretty minimal setup, so I can shoot in the field or in someone's crowded bug room. I use the built-in flash of my Olympus E-500 SLR. I orient it to hit the head of the beetle and use a small LED flashlight to brighten the hind end where the flash doesn't reach.
I place the beetle in a rounded, smooth, white ceramic bowl. The smooth surface keeps many beetles from getting too much traction, so they stay in place. More important, the rounded walls bounce back the flash, reducing hard cast shadows to just the amount that still supports the impression of three-dimensionality. I later process the images using manual stacking and clean up the back ground.
|Art Evans producing images for his new book project|
|With all those heavy appendages, macro photography is rarely as relaxed as in Robyn Waayer's shot from the BugGuide gathering 2013|
Of course I very much admire the photos that my friends take with better cameras and elaborate multi-source flash set-ups. As many insects are quite shiny, inventive contraptions are used diffusing the flash arrays to prevent irritating reflections. And there is still the problem of cast shadows directly under the insects while maintaining enough shadow to keep the result natural-looking.
|Bernard taking scarab photos after sunset|
|Carabus auronitens, scanned from one of my old slides from the early eighties. Harsh natural lighting is one of the main problems|
|Soft indirect lighting models the textures and angles of this black Pasimachus californicus.|
A small reflector screen (foldable like windshield shades) was used to bounce in just the right amount of additional light. His hands were free to do this because his camera was on a low tripod and he remote-controlled the shutter.
|Carabus taedatus drinking from a dew drop on the leaf litter. This beetle looks just drab and dark in my older photos. |
|Tiny Cylindera lemniscata|
|Calosoma scrutator strutting his colors|
|Super-active Enoclerus bimaculatus was not the easiest model|
Sometimes, natural light can even be too diffuse as I discovered when I posed a cactus longhorn on a prickly pear very late in the afternoon. With now shadow to ground it, it seems to float.