This photo is made for a boy called Harrison, the son of a friend of Nini, my lovely (and incredibly tolerant of my photo habit) wife. Harrison had a tough operation last week but he's been a very brave boy and has come through with flying colours! As a treat, and I'm totally bowled over by this, Harrison's parents asked to give him a little montage of some of my insect stuff, because he loves nature and bugs. I hope Harrison grows up to appreciate all the beautiful things that are out there in the wild, especially the not so very big things!
So for Harrison... this is a Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurata), a 2cm long beetle, one of the British 'flying jewels', which believe it or not is actually relatively common! These rose chafers can be seen sitting in flowerheads between May and July on warm sunny days amidst nectar and pollen, and in particular on roses, from where they get their name. Chafers are one of the closest relatives to the scarab beetles deified in Egyptian history (chafers are the 'other' branch of the Scarabaeidae family) and this one is part of a subfamily that can fly with closed forewings. This is apparently possible due to a tiny slit at the sides and an especially unusual form of forewing articulation. In terms of its spread, rose chafer beetles are somewhat localised in the southern half of the UK, but widespread over southern and central Europe. The adults are variable in colour from dark green to a more golden-green sheen. There is even a nearly black variant down in Cornwall. Rose chafer larvae are the insect equivalent of earth worms and help make very good compost where they are often found in great numbers. They move on their backs, which is a very quick way to identify them. They are considered very beneficial compost makers, unlike many other chafers which have large and unwelcome grubs that feed on the roots of crops.
In terms of appearance rose chafers are commonly confused with noble chafers, but these lack the prominent V in the centre of the body. Another key diagnostic is the white wrinkles on the back - clearly visible in this photo (no it's not dust!). Nobles do not have such prominent wrinkles. Please, if you find a noble chafer in Britain, take a decent closeup photo for ID, record the grid reference and mail People’s Trust for Endangered Species, 15 Cloisters House, 8 Battersea Park Road, London SW8 4BG, as these are critically endangered here!. See www.ptes.org/index.php?page=174 . Now, just to make things even more complicated there is another almost identical beetle in the UK but it is very localised: Protaetia metallica. Protaetia metallica is localised in Scotland, and the elytra (wing coverings) narrow towards the rear on that, whereas on the rose chafer the elytra are parallel sided. Small but important difference. Yet another possible source of confusion is the name - our transatlantic cousins in the US use "rose chafer" as the name for a different insect, (Macrodactylus subspinosus), which believe it or not is also a beetle of the family Scarabaeidae but a different one. Yes it's all a bit confusing. Americans call this the "European Rose chafer".
The colouring on rose chafer beetles is, well, nothing short of phenomenal. As you can see the upper surfaces are an shiny metallic emerald green and bronze, and the underneath surface is actually metallic orange (maybe a photo for a winter day). Web sources are slightly unclear about why and how - whether this is irridescence (also known as 'goniochromism' - a property of certain surfaces that appear to change color as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes) or whether this is the "reflection of mostly circularly polarised light, typically left circularly polarized light...". Maybe it is both? It does seem from googling that very things in nature are known to produce circularly polarized light but that this rose chafer is one of them. But, interesting, from my own experience the colour definitely does change as the angle of light changes. Perhaps someone who is more experienced with colouration in nature might be able to comment...?
Technical: my first try at this beetle was with a reversed 80mm Componon enlarger lens because it gives me a 4cm width in focus and this is quite a big object by my standards. That went ok when I used bellows to add length and reduced the width of focus to 2cm, but in fact I decided to redo it to improve the lighting and show the shell a bit better. So this photo uses el-nikkor 50 f/2.8 enlarger lens reversed on minimal bellows extension which gets about 1.5cm width in focus; I only just managed to fit it in (for goodness sake Pentax do a full frame DSLR) and I eventually had to extend the background to the left a bit in post (the left whisker was only about 20px from the edge). I didn't feel a need to supplement the background with a colour because it seems to me the beetle is colourful enough and any more might well end up being 'kitsch'. Of interest - the background is in fact more of a dark grey than the black you would expect but that's because in the second version I extended the diffuser to way behind the beetle in order to be able to reflect light off the top. Maybe there is some light spillage and the homemade baffles inside my bellows arn't as effective as I'd like! In all a focus stack of 191 photos stacked > 57 sub stacks > then retouched from zerene stacker dmap substack composite of the substacks, all finished off with Adobe CS4, NoiseNinja & Topaz Detail. Smaller than neccessary step size of 40ｵm just because I felt like it, double length polystyrene chip cone wraparound diffuser over lens, image resized to reduce noise. Lighting is 3 flashes on rear synced with manual: @1/64 perpendicular @ 10 & 6 o'clock and 1/32 @ 2 o'clock. Workflow, start, about 4 hrs combined prep (washing, degreasing, relaxing, mounting, cleaning - this stage is the hardest bit for me by miles), 2 hrs shooting 191 images, 10 hrs combined comp processing combining substacks etc, 3 hrs final pp.
In terms of the angle and final photo aesthetics - I am absolutely convinced that there is a much better extreme macro dramatic "portrait" to be done for this creature. But I wanted to show some of the ID characteristics and the colouring on its back. This is a common conflict of interests (for me). I think maybe though a statue type photo standing straight up could work well either on front or back, both are interesting, perhaps another time. One thing that I think failed badly on is that some of those hairs on its jaw do seem to be clumping together in bunches which happened when I washed it, and although I did afterwards degrease it, perhaps I didn't do this well. I did then spend some time trying to brush them out with dissection needles but they were determined to stick together and I don't have a brush thing that's small enough. Your suggestions how to handle this effectively in the future would of course be very much appreciated, thank you!
UPDATE 2014 - I have put together an extreme macro photography learning site to explain the techniques and equipment used for all my macro photos here in Flickr which is now ready. To point to a few of the links that people who want to learn this stuff might like to have a browse of:
Focus Stacking, Focus Stack Preparation, Shooting A Stack, Stack Processing, Stack Post Processing, Schneider Kreuznach Componon 28 mm f/4, Schneider Kreuznach Componon 35 mm f/4, Schneider Kreuznach Componon 80 mm f/4, Nikon El-Nikkor 50 mm f/2.8N, Reject Enlarger Lenses, JML Optical 21 mm f/3.5, 20 mm Microfilm f/2.8, Anybrand MP-E 65 Macro Lens, Manual, TTL, Rear Curtain Sync, Extreme Macro Backgrounds, Single Colour Background, The Gradient Background, Adjustable Flash Shoe Mounts, Extension Tubes, Eyepiece, Field Monitor, Flash Bracket, Focusing Helicoid, Holding Tools, Lens Adapters, M42 Iris, Macro Tripod, Making A Macro Beanbag, Insect Photography