Thanks to mlomeister for introducing me to Flickr and to Lind12_0 for giving a Flickr beginner such kind encouragement.

If anyone can help identify any of the bugs in the photos or correct anything I've written, please post a comment.

I've been a photography enthusiast since my first camera (a Kodak instamatic, remember those with their 126 film cartridges?) back in my teens. I enjoy taking technically challenging photos.

I live in England but I've been lucky enough to be able to travel to several countries over the years. Looking back at my early slide and print SLR camera photography I realise that it is only since going digital that I have been able to take decent close-ups.

Four cameras were involved in taking the shots you see here:

A kodak DC280 2MP 3X zoom;

An Olympus C765UZ 4MP 10x zoom;

A FujiFilm S9600 9MP 10.7x zoom;

A Samsung DX-20 14MP (my first DSLR at last!)

Just a few of the shots were taken with the Kodak, which could focus down to a range of about 200mm.

The Olympus is a fantastic camera and really ignited my interest in insect photography. For years I enjoyed its ablity to focus right down to 30mm from the front of the lens. But eventualy it was time to take advantage of modern technology advances, I wanted to progress to real close-ups so I bought the Fuji camera, with double the pixels and able to focus to only 10mm range. Its higher resolution really helps but to my disappointment the lens couldn't get better magnification than the Olympus.

The Fuji can get reasonable macro shots, but you end up with the lens only 10mm from the subject, giving you a field of view about 38mm wide. At this distance the camera can block a lot of the light falling on the face of the object you're trying to photograph. These problems make midrange shots easier and better with the Olympus, so I still use the Olympus for whole body shots of the larger insects.

To overcome this and get closer to my subjects I used a supplementary lens to magnify the image for the Fuji camera, much like you might use a magnifying glass too magnify the image for your eye. It should be a lens of good imaging quality, at least 50mm focal length. I pinched mine from my elderly 35mm slide projector, it's about 30mm in aperture and 100mm focal length. I reversed it, so that the subject is on the side where the slide would have been. I then made an adaptor out of a plastic waste pipe screw joint, a metal jar top (with a hole cut in it to let the light through) and an elastic band. This just serves the purpose of holding the supplementary lens onto the front of the camera lens.

At first I used this arrangement on the table top only, bringing my bug subjects in the house and putting them in front of the camera. The extra lens restricted the field of view, it was like looking down a black tunnel, but this effect was minimised to just slightly dark frame corners by zooming to 300mm, which also gives the maximum magnification with this arrangement. I found that I was getting about 14mm width of field and the distance from the supplementary lens mount to the subject was a more comfortable 40mm or so. I used the 2 second timer in conjunction with exposure times from about 1/10th second up to several seconds, so everything (including the bug) had to stay still. The reasons for the long exposure are that the magnification means that more light is needed, that I was using ASA 80 for best quality and the smallest aperture f/11 for maximum depth of field. This is a problem with close-up photography and you've probably noticed it in my pictures, that a lot of the subject can be out of focus if it is a deep object. You can get f/11 by going to manual mode on the top dial. You also need to switch to manual focussing, as you focus by moving the subject closer or farther away. I quickly got frustrated by the difficulties of trying to get the bug at the correct height and sideways and back-front position, so solved the problem by making a little adjustable table out of a couple more jar lids, 2 strips of aluminium and 4 bolts. I also tried a 50mm lens from an old film SLR camera in a similar arrangement and got even more magnification, with the field width only 7mm but the depth of field is even worse and difficult to work with.

These days I have overcome the restrictions of the table top by using flash. You need to get the tools out again to do this though, as the camera's built in flash is blocked by the lenses from shining on the subject. I made a light guide (I'm told that it looks a bit like a trumpet) out of some shiny aluminium, which channels the light to the front of the lens. This means that you have enough light to cope with much shorter exposures, which are needed to freeze camera shake and bug movement of the hand held equipment and natural environment. Now the biggest problem is holding the camera at the right distance from the subject to get the focus right at the same time as pushing the shutter release. I use 1/1000th second shutter speed and the Fuji tries to do the rest, to ensure that the flash happens during that time and that it is bright enough. I find that the camera sometimes gives a rather dark picture, especially when the background is a white wall. I normally use the enhance levels adjustments in Photoshop Elements to correct the picture brightness and contrast. I also crop the photo to get rid of the dark corners or to concentrate on the area of interest. With 9Mp, this camera gives plenty of scope for cropping.

Then I changed (at last) to a Samsung GX-20 DSLR with 14.6mp and was using an old 50mm Zeiss Pancolar f/1.8 50mm lens from 1978, with an adaptor and a set of four extension tubes. I've built another flash reflector, this one looks like a little house instead of a trumpet. The lens quality is good and I get a range of magnifications now, to cope with insects of differing sizes, but it's even harder to take good shots because the lens doesn't have automatic aperture and often the diaphragm sticks! I have now abandoned that lens in favour of an antique Industar 50-2 50mm f3.5 lens (based on the old Tessar design) which fits on my extesion tubes and does a great job - except that again the stop-down isn't automatic, so I have to focus with a very dim image in the viewfinder. I'm experimenting with hoods between my face and the camera, to shield my eyes from the glare of the sky whilst i'm trying to focus. Now I've taken the plunge and bought the superb Tamron 90mm di Macro (second hand, at 55% of the new price!), which will make things so much easier as far as 1:1 but I'll still have to revert to the Industar for greater magnifications. Actually I'm finding the 90mm so easy to use (thanks to auto stopdown) compared with manual lenses like the Industar that I can't bring myself to use anything else!

Well, if you want to photograph insects be prepared to use extreme patience, to get your knees and elbows dirty and to reject 95% of your pictures - and to have your relatives and friends mock your strange looking equipment and your even stranger behaviour!

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July 2006
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