Late last night

Or early this morning, if you prefer…

After the rains, I went out to try a few artistic photos with the water drops on the plants, but was having issues with the on-camera light I use to focus, cutting those plans short. I still had a headlamp, but it doesn’t aim well past the camera, especially not down right in front of the lens where it’s necessary for tight macro work. But while checking on the little mantis that has taken up residence on the new azalea bush, I found I could prop it up in the lower branches and, at times, aim it where it was needed to focus. I could also get a few frames solely by the light of the headlamp, without using the camera strobe attachment at all.

young Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis at night lit by flashlight casting shadow on azalea leaf
By the way, it’s shot at 1/60 second, f4, ISO 1600 to accomplish this, while the others to follow, using the strobe-and-softbox, are at 1/200 second, f16, ISO 250 – the strobe puts out a lot more light (as in, there is 8.4 stops difference between the settings, meaning the strobe puts out better than 400 times the light of the headlamp, at least at the distances used.) This image gives a faint indication of scale, but to be more specific, the mantis is about 18mm long, and 2mm across the eyes – still quite small. And while it was moving around quite a bit in the immediate vicinity, it largely (okay, smally) stayed in the light beam so I could get some decent photos while sitting in our front yard just after midnight.

young Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis performing ablutions
This one has me a little curious. Earlier, it had made motions of this kind, but it was drinking the raindrops from its forelegs. At this size I couldn’t make out the details while behind the camera, and I thought it was only cleaning a foreleg, but it looks as if there’s something else in there. I cannot vouch for whether it stumbled across a stray insect part and had a quick snack, or if that’s a mantis tongue-equivalent getting into those crevices – I’m going with the former because it’s safer. Either one seems a little odd while it was very much aware of my presence.

yound Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis looking up. Or down
So aware, in fact, that at one point it made a spirited attempt to actually jump onto the camera – I’m not even sure if it made it, to be honest, because this carried it out of the light cast by the propped-up headlamp, and I had to carefully shift my grip on the camera, wary of crushing a minuscule arthropod, to retrieve the light for a detailed examination. I eventually discovered it back on the azalea, on much lower leaves, so whether it missed, or made it but soon jumped back off again, I cannot say. Cooperatively, though, the little spud went right back to the same location (the place I’ve always seen it so far) to pose for more photos. The image above is the first I think I’ve ever obtained on the underside of a mantis chin – not a pose they adopt often when people be around. Looking at this, I feel I should have shifted position ever-so-slightly to place the leaf entirely behind the head of the mantis, giving a much better outline, but recall that I was composing my shots by the same lighting seen in the first pic, and only the strobe going off provided this present light quality, so I’m not sure how well I could have done it anyway. The on-camera light aims from the same position as the strobe for a good reason – it’s too bad it was being balky.

young Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis giving an inverted portrait poseThis one remains my favorite, left as I shot it while the mantis hung from the underside of the leaf. Remember, 2mm across those eyes. At such a high magnification the depth-of-field is incredibly short, even at f16 – note how even the shoulder is out of focus. So the mantis was very accommodating in posing with the forelegs and the antennae in the focal plane enough to remain usefully sharp. That’s an experienced model, that is – a natural. No I am not providing contact info – find your own cover model for the arthropod equivalent of Maxim magazine. I’m not completely stupid.

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