Logistics, logistics

I said in the previous post that more would be coming “in a day or so” after I worked out some details. “Or so” apparently means “five days.” However, that’s nowhere near how long I’ve been waiting.

Back in 2010, I snagged a pair of images of a small unknown insect, one that flew away before I could do anything detailed, and this was before I had the macro options I do now. On examining the images during sorting, I realized I’d never seen anything of the like; it looked like a cross between a lacewing and a praying mantis, less than a centimeter in length.

unknown mantis fly probably MantispidaeWithout a lot to search on, I tried just using the term “mantis fly” and popped it up immediately. Almost certainly a member of the family Mantispidae, this one might well be a green mantisfly (Zeugomantispa minuta,) though the guide page doesn’t give a range of sizes; since this one had wings, I’m assuming it was a reproducing adult and not a larva. I have not seen one since – until, I thought, the other evening.

misidentified assassin bug MetapteriniI pootered this one circling the light and was delighted when I examined it, because I thought I’d finally found another example of a mantisfly. Getting the preliminary photos was a challenge, because this one was about the size of a mosquito and showed no reluctance in flying off, so it would have to be in some kind of enclosure. Unfortunately, the only enclosure I had that would work for the short working distance of this magnification was already in use, as a terrarium housing the very spiders that this guy was initially captured to feed. I ended up lying another small aquarium on its side and shining a bright light in from the top, because I’m sneaky; while the side (formerly top) through which I was aiming the camera was wide open, the insect was attracted to the light so the two times it tried to fly off, it simply went against the acrylic above it (former side) and returned to the leaf. After the initial shots, I popped it into the spider terrarium while I tried to figure out a way to handle this more effectively.

The terrarium only has a thin bit of gauzy fabric stretched over the top, which I thought was sufficient – this post is full of mistaken assumptions. Overnight my subject disappeared, and on a subsequent night I watched several other small insects simply crawl through the openings in the fabric, so that needs to be replaced with something much finer, probably a bit of silkscreen. In the meantime I picked up four 5×7 frames from the dollar store and used the glass to make a 5x5x7 enclosure strictly for photography, and a few pieces of glass to modify other aquariums I have, because acrylic is absolute shit to shoot through. And finally, just now, I sat down to write this up and dig out the old photo you saw at top.

If you thought they looked significantly different, good eye: they’re not related, and the latter one is certainly not a mantisfly. It’s a variety of threadlegged assassin bug, indicated easily by the proboscis on the head; possibly tribe Metapterini, of the subfamily Emesinae from the family Reduviidae (of the clan Macleod – sorry.) Another variety can be seen here.

So, abruptly, I crashed into disappointment strictly from working on this post – I’m going to go ahead and blame that on you if you don’t mind. But while looking through BugGuide.net for further details on the still-elusive mantisflies, I came across this photo (part of a series that provides positive identification,) which looked remarkably familiar, so now it seems I have at least identified those eggs and larvae. This, however, is also a facet of frustration because it means that I had a hatching of the very subject I’d been looking for and didn’t realize it, nor did I ever see an adult.

Now, while searching back through the photo archives to find that mantisfly, I came across the next few images which reminded me of something I’d forgotten about. In my old place, I had an inkjet printer sitting on a hutch atop my desk, before I determined that they were complete wastes of technology and effort and switched to a laser printer, never to return. And one day I glanced up casually to come face-to-face with a spider peering at me from the print delivery slot.

funnel weaver spider Agelenidae living in my goddamn printerThis was some variety of funnel weaver, family Agelenidae, and you may well take this as a reflection of either my sporadic printer use or my terrible housekeeping abilities or perhaps that I lived in something akin to a shed, but it was none of those things. It was high summer, and yes I lived alongside a wooded area, but overall the place was clean and not overrun with spiders; this one has simply found its way in and liked the printer for some reason, and while I can’t pin down a particular time frame from when I could confirm it had not been there, this may have happened literally overnight.

The nature of funnel weavers is that they create a large horizontal sheet web that rolls up in one corner into a tube or funnel, usually in a natural niche someplace, and within this tube they spend most of their time, hidden away from predators while awaiting something to fall into their web. At times you may see one sitting out in the open sheet, but most times it will vanish into the tube at the least provocation, and the one on my desk was definitely disposed to this behavior, disappearing deep into the guts of the printer. I wasn’t really inclined to leave it there, and will readily admit that I was more than a little creeped out on my initial encounter. But how to remove it?

funnel weaver spider Agelenidae flushed out with free foodIt didn’t take long. All I did was go out and collect a live ant to throw into the sheet, and in a flash, the spider emerged triumphantly to partake of this free meal, no doubt congratulating itself on the choice homebuilding locale. This delight was short-lived, however, because immediately after I got the photos, the shop-vac came into play before the spider could retreat away from the effective suction, and my printer was clean once again.

Getting back to the subject of flying insects and macro photography, this is something I’ve struggled with for years. Any time something can fly away, naturally getting macro photos is tricky; depending on the focal length and magnification, you might have to loom very close, and this can be enough to provoke the subject to fly off, or it may simply do so because it has no desire to march around on whatever leaf you provided. The goal is to have an enclosure where it cannot escape, and in times past I have used the bathroom (small enough to find the subject again – sometimes) and a variety of aquariums/terrariums. Since acrylic will seriously affect image quality and scratches if you breathe on it, you’ll want glass – but you also want a very short working distance so the subject cannot simply move far enough from the glass that you can’t get the magnification you’re after. This means smaller enclosures, like the 5x5x7 one I mentioned (right now just an open box that can be placed over anything, and sealed off on top by screen or another piece of glass or a book or whatever,) and perhaps even smaller – the one I’m about to modify measures something like 5×7 inches broad by about 1 inch deep, and of course there’s this one that currently houses the spiders.

It would be far better without any glass at all, since even a good piece of glass will offer some distortion if you’re not shooting straight through it, but that means some kind of booth or hood that seals off both you and the flying subject so they can’t get very far, and setting up something like that could be problematic (not to mention finding a place to put it.) Maybe someday I’ll attempt using a large wardrobe or a closet, but right now I have nothing of the sort available. But keep checking back, because I’ll be testing out the new options soon enough.

A preliminary image

unidentified mantis flyJust a quick preview image, trying to beat up Monday color (posting in four minutes.) More coming within a day or so while I hash out the best methods.

EDIT: It helps if I’ve changed the blog time to reflect daylight savings bullshit – I was only 57 minutes too late ;-)

Monday color 39

green lynx spider Peucetia viridans on butterfly bush Buddleia davidii in infrared 720nmI was going to out this one in its own post, but it certainly makes an entry for Monday color that won’t be duplicated in hue anytime soon – or, well, maybe it will, if I dig out the old camera.

This is infrared; specifically, using a 720nm IR filter on an old Canon Pro90 digital camera that has no IR blocking filter of its own. Digital sensors are also sensitive to infrared light to a degree, which can make exposures a little squirrelly sometimes, so most cameras now have IR blocking filters permanently mounted over the sensor. To see something like this, you need a different filter, almost exactly the opposite in fact: it must block nearly all visible light but let infrared through. These aren’t hard to find, and the expense varies, but this one in particular allows IR that is just past ‘visible’ light (which we stop seeing as it passes 700nm or so,) while others are available that block up to 900nm or higher.

The photo was an experiment, to see if the green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) visible to the left produced any curious effect in IR – essentially, the answer is, “no.” The different hues seen here are only slightly tweaked for contrast from the original image, just to reduce some of the monochrome effect. Foliage reflects IR to a large degree, some kinds more than others, while bark and the sky reflect very little and usually go quite dark. Since IR light is sparse, exposure times have to go long even on bright sunny days (which are pretty much a necessity anyway,) so I was lucky enough to have no wind and a placid subject for this shot. The setting, by the way, is a butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii.

Depends on where you look

tree trunk climbing in fall canopyWe are rapidly approaching ‘peak’ autumn color season here in this section of NC, which is slightly misleading in a couple of ways. First off, peak is different depending on latitude, humidity, and the conditions that the trees were in throughout the summer, so you never have to go very far to find different color conditions. Second, the trees all change at different times and different rates, so each species has its own time for brightest colors, and the best that anyone can aim for (if they’re looking for broad landscapes anyway,) are periods where the greatest number of species visible are closest together in ideal color. Obviously there’s a challenge to this, compounded by the bare fact that a good wind or rain storm near such times can wipe all the leaves from the trees. However, if you’re selective and go for smaller compositions rather than something like an entire hillside, you can shoot ‘peak’ colors for weeks.

Last weekend and yesterday, I got out chasing whatever subjects could be found, and right now that’s primarily autumn scenics – the arthropods have largely called it quits for the year, and even the waterfowl and mammals seem to be scarce, at least where I’ve been. The winter slump has begun, which means I’m going to go into my seasonal funk and try to find various projects to tackle for the next few months. Plus more archive shots will be used, naturally.

But not yet.

green oak leaves against sunlit fall colorsEarly morning is often a good time for scenic shots, but there’s a particular exception at this time of year: it’s not good if you’re in the woods looking for images, because it takes a long time for the sunlight to penetrate, and even if you find good colors, they’re likely to appear drab until the sun illuminates them, especially if you have to frame against the sky. So you end up watching for open patches where the sun can bring out the color, and perhaps even provide a little glowing backlight. Thus, here we have some oak leaves stubbornly clinging to their chlorophyll while in the background another species puts on a flamboyant display, and I took advantage of the contrast; you can see that not even the entire oak branch was catching the light. Note that some colors actually do well in open shade; the subtleties of lots of different fallen leaves often look better in subdued light than in bright light, which increases contrast too much. Most of the forest floor on these trips were carpets of lackluster browns and yellows, nothing too distinctive, so no compelling compositions could be found there yet, but perhaps I’ll dig up something a little later on.

beginning fall colors above an old tree stumpLast weekend was even harder, as the colors were sparse and widely separated, so a lot of selectivity and careful framing was in order – even though only two thin trees are producing color here, the angle made the most of them within the frame, and the stump formed the primary point of focus so the colors just kind of fill out the background as the setting. The sky was too clouded to provide any color itself, so the muted light is communicating the grey fall day thing, and you can see that the colors on the ground aren’t anything to write home (or a post) about. However, after getting back and seeing how this frame turned out, I realized I could have changed my angle only slightly and made that cluster of thicker trunks appear almost to ‘sprout’ from the stump, nicely aligned with the sides. I hate it when I get creative after the fact…

A week ago I posted the photo of the marbled orb weaver striving to be fartsy, and mentioned that those were close to the only wildlife I’d been seeing. This naturally means that I got more photos of the same species, and again, did my best to try and be creative; suffice to say that these aren’t going to win any awards, but are enough to show off on the blog.

marbled orb weaver Araneus marmoreus suspended against beginning fall colorsSuspended in the middle distance over a significant dropoff, I wasn’t going to get very close to this one, so I settled for capturing its subtle presence against the backdrop of the beginning autumn colors, managing to get a hint of the orb web in the image. Marbled orb weavers (Araneus marmoreus) seem to be conflicted: visible here and in that previous linked shot, they have very high visibility markings with the banded legs and the brilliant body colors, which is nature’s way of saying, “Back off!” without having the evolve little Yosemite Sam mudflaps, but they depend on their webs not being obvious in order to feed at all. To the best of my knowledge, flying insects take no note of their colors nor the curious ability to hover in midair apparently unsupported, and thus blunder into the webs, but the birds which might consider them a (sizable) tasty meal are alerted by the incongruous contrast and position. It’s one of those funny things, because like the black-and-yellow argiopes, it’s actually very easy to walk into such a web despite the bright colors, simply because they spider isn’t moving at all; we’re more attuned to movement and larger things ourselves, and can easily lose the spider against the background (more so as the colors develop.) This species is probably worse on the unexpected encounters scale, since argiopes tend to make webs at waist height, but all of the marmoreus I saw placed them right at face level or slightly higher. We managed not to experience that mistake, though.

marbled orb weaver Araneus marmoreus building new webVenturing out onto the slope the fell off underneath the web and switching lenses, I got a bit more of a detail shot of the same spider, seen now to be constructing the web – this was early morning, so I cannot say if this indicates that marbled orb weavers are more diurnal or if this one was simply making repairs after the previous web was damaged. The conditions hadn’t been quite right for dew, but you can make out a faintly beaded appearance along the web strands; I don’t know if this is actually dew or sticky fluid produced by the spider to increase the efficacy of the web. Now I’m going to have to observe these more closely, though I have rarely seen the species close by at all.

The next find, from yesterday morning, comes courtesy of the Ineluctable Al Bugg, who has had plenty of time to get the jump on me with his own images but is still displaying a beach trip from September as his latest post, possibly to rub it in. It was he, though, that was gazing up at the foliage (that I had already dismissed as being not interesting enough,) and said, “Hey, there’s a rainbow up there!” Now, it was almost perfectly clear at that time and no rainbow was going to be showing in the direction he was facing, since they appear opposite the sun and not nearly straight up, but I figured he had spotted a sundog. The canopy was thick and I had to wander back and forth a bit to make it out, but eventually saw something much more interesting, which disappeared and reappeared over a period of about 15 minutes, finally allowing for a better composition.

circumzenithal arc over autumn colorsThis… is a circumzenithal arc, probably the first I’ve seen and certainly the most vivid. A wide-angle shot at 19mm, this image shows the arc off nicely but doesn’t do it justice because it looks smaller than it was. The name indicates that it describes a partial arc around the zenith (“straight up”) and is notable because the sun is towards the bottom of the frame, thus making the rainbow inverted from what we expect. They’re caused by high-altitude ice crystals, which in this case were sporadic and fleeting, and if I can judge from the size, not all that high either. Here’s a shot through the foliage at 80mm instead.

autumn leaves silhouetted against circumzenithal arcAs I mentioned before, any shots of rainbows and similar sky phenomena should be bracketed in exposure, and more than a couple of frames too – if the camera reads exposure from the foreground subjects it might bleach out the sky and wash out the colors of the arc, and even with minor changes of 1/3 stop, there will be one particular setting where the colors really pop. Don’t be stingy, and use exposure compensation liberally to enure that you get what you want.

circumzenithal arc with sun visible through foliageNow for a bit of trivia. While shooting this, I had the presence of mind not just to try and frame the sun with the arc for comparative purposes, but to note the time of day and the relative positions of both sun (bursting through the trees near the bottom of the image) and arc, because at that time I didn’t even know what a circumzenithal arc was. I could only estimate the altitude of the sun and arc, but figured 30° for the sun and 75-80° for the arc. Later on as I looked up details, I found a source that said that the arc is usually about 46° above the sun. Naturally, I pumped my fist in the air and whooped and did all of those other egotistical guy things (EGTs.) But then, with some playing around with Stellarium and the view-angles I should have been getting from the lens, I ended up with the sun at 20° and the arc at 59° – wasted those whoops, it seems. Though I’m skeptical, because I would swear that the arc was higher. The site that I just linked to, by the way, says that the best times to see such arcs is when the sun is around 22° in altitude, so that lines up, at least…

[A quick nonsense note, while the subject has been brought up: people can be really bad about estimating the altitude of things in the sky above the horizon, especially about “straight up” – this is known to astronomers and is a significant factor in things like UFO sightings. Most times when we think we’re looking straight up we’re actually quite far off the mark, 20° or more, and true 90° up is actually very uncomfortable to do. I know this, have for a long time really, and was trying to be careful about my measurements, but so much for that.]

tiny cluster of red leaves sprouting from hole in tree trunkI finish off with another selective composition, because the tiny sapling venturing from a hole in the tree trunk was interesting enough, more so with the color. It wasn’t much later than this that the humidity built too high and the light conditions descended into heavy haze, dropping the wooded areas into deeper shade and destroying any chances for colorful backlighting. But we got enough frames for the day, I’m thinking.

I’ll have to do this in the front yard someday

jumping spider Habronattus pyrrithrix peering out of shadowsWouldn’t it be a great diorama, about a thousand times life size?

For Halloween this year, I feature a jumping spider, most likely an Habronattus pyrrithrix (what a great name,) peering out from around the edge of a dog fennel stalk. I captured this while in pursuit of another subject one evening a few years ago, and the flash angle was ideal to produce the ominous effect with the shadows – had I tried to set this up, I would have been playing around a lot to find the precise angle necessary and the spider, as impatient as the entire family is, would have buggered off. And while the mere presence of a spider makes it ominous, there’s also the huddled and apparently wide-eyed ‘expression,’ making it seem as if the spider is hiding from something much worse, just out of the frame. What do spiders have nightmares of, I wonder?

It’s also the end of the month, and this time I have an offering for the kinda-but-not-quite tradition of featuring an abstract at months’ end, something I’ve missed for the past few.

dewdrop reflections in abstract focusIt’s perhaps not too hard to determine that this is a leaf wet with dew, catching the morning sun and seen largely out of focus – this is a crop from a larger frame. What captured my attention were the peculiar effects of the reflections, some of them showing crosswise bars in all orientations. I haven’t actually figured out what causes this yet, so if you know, feel free to respond. It’s probably something supernatural…

Green day

Not today – today has been rain all day. These are all from a few days back, and noticeably had the green thing going on, so…

pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus on button bush podOver at the pond nearby, a pale green assassin (Zelus luridus) like the one seen a few posts back posed in shadow on the pod of a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis.) While I’ve been seeing them from the start of the insect season this year, for some reason I’ve been seeing more of them recently, and mostly in nymph form – this is telling me that their birthing period does not seem to be linked to seasons. My initial go-to source of arthropod info, BugGuide.net, has nothing to say about this. After shooting some natural light near-silhouettes with the pond in the background, wide open at f4, I added the extension tube for higher magnification – this requires a little fussing around, and while I was doing this, the assassin left the more photogenic location of the seed pod and started venturing up the branches. Thus, I had to abandon being fartsy and go for the basic illustration angle.

pale green assassin bug Zelus luridusNow, while checking out the seasonal thing with the species, I found another interesting detail, not listed for the individual species but for the whole genus instead. See those fuzzy forelegs? Apparently, Zelus use a sticky substance that coats those tiny hairs to aid in capturing their food, using their forelegs sort of like a sundew plant. I’m going to have to do some serious closeups of them for a later post and see if I can illustrate this better. I have not witnessed them capturing any prey, and have only a few shots of them feeding at all, so now this is something to watch for.

unidentified berries in low depth of fieldWe’re going to gradually turn up the green as we go. In one spot alongside the pond, an unidentified tree was sporting tight clusters of berries, and like the first assassin image above, I picked an angle that would make use of the pond’s surface in the background – again, still working in shade since the light just wasn’t cooperating. An assassin in this composition might have been nice, but noooo, none of them could be found here. Try and make them famous, and this is what you get. Ingrates.

handsome meadow katydid Orchelimum pulchellum posed on leaves against pond reflecting skyNot all insects were as uncooperative, though. A handsome meadow katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) – ‘handsome’ is part of the name, not my editorializing – drew my attention by calling distinctly, and posed obligingly against the pond’s reflection of the sky. Disney’s Pinocchio informed us all wrong: no insects call or ‘sing’ by rubbing their hind legs together. Instead, orthopterans create their mating calls by vibrating rough areas of their wing sheaths against one another, sometimes seen as a blur along their mid-back area right between the hing legs. A lot of colorful things actually do better in softer light, getting bleached out by bright sunlight, but you have to admit it worked well for the hue of this species, and is a better version of the same approach seen here – same location, same plants, possibly even the same individual insect, but different lighting.

Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina stretched out on leafWhile in that immediate location, I found just one of the many Carolina mantids (Stagmomantis carolina) that I had been observing before, plastered down onto a leaf and looking rather unhappy. The nights have been getting cold, heralding the end of the insect season, and I was suspicious that the position indicated the mantis was dead, but it lifted its head and legs as I drew in close for the shots. However, my main purpose here is a distinctive illustration of one of the hazards of macro photography. The image above was shot at f4, but because the light was more than bright enough, I shot other frames at f11 and f16, realizing in doing so that there was something I was missing.

Carolina manrtis Stagmomantis carolina semi-obscured by leafThis is only a very slight change in perspective caused by inadvertently shifting a centimeter or two to the side, so the obscuring leaf isn’t something that I moved over to – it’s there in the top photo too, just so out-of-focus that it appears as a faint dark haze. When shooting macro through foliage and in tight conditions, it’s very easy to do this – you have a clear frame in the viewfinder and figure everything’s cool, until the aperture stops down upon releasing the shutter and you discover the foreground leaf later on. I was actually aware of this one quickly, since the Mamiya 80mm macro lens that I adapted to use on the Canon body requires the aperture to be closed manually and thus I could see it, unlike any automatic lens where the aperture only closes (no matter what the setting) when you trip the shutter. The difference is distinctive, isn’t it?

pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus casting shadow through leafBack in the yard, I found yet another pale green assassin, this time on one of the gardenia bushes. I was just going to ignore it, but while searching for other species I noticed how sharp the shadow was when seen from the underside, and went back in to get the camera again – in the sporadic light of the backyard, I knew the sun could quickly move out of the position where the shadow could even be seen. Yes, that’s the tip of the hind leg peeking out over the leaf edge. I waited a bit to see if the assassin would give me a portrait shot over the edge as well, but like its brethren, it stubbornly moved away from a decent perspective.

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis on underside of gardenia leafWhile down there however, I quickly spotted something on a neighboring leaf, this one partially shaded despite being not 20cm away. It was another of my old friends the magnolia green jumping spider (Lyssomanes viridis,) and the gardenia bushes seem far and away their favorite. Or at least, that I’ve managed to discover so far, because my experience now suggests that they typically inhabit the undersides of leaves, which is not a perspective I usually seek, so perhaps they like other plants better but I just haven’t been down there enough. Still, I’ve found four specimens on two bushes less than three meters apart, so the supporting evidence is there. And now I have an inkling of why this species, among so many other jumping spiders in the area, has such a translucent exoskeleton. From the underside of a leaf, coloration like that of the assassin bug isn’t enough to hide their presence, since the sun shining through will show them in silhouette. But with the transparency of the magnolia green jumper, largely all that shows is a few spots around their eyes and along their abdomen, doing a pretty good job of disguising their arachnoness. Arachnicity. C’mon, something has to get past spellcheck…

NotherMagnoliaEyesThe shot above was taken aiming almost straight up, so I sat back up and tried shooting nearly level, edgewise along the leaf, and the spider turned to face me suspiciously. This resulted in a series of images that I combined into an animated gif (pronounced “HEE-la“) – not half as good as the video linked above (or here for convenience,) but still illustrative. I was shooting without a tripod, so the images had to be matched up, and the wandering background perspective is evidence of my minor body movements as I shot the sequence – I’m never going to be able to do those fake statue hoaxes you see on YouTube. Still, it closes out the post nicely.

Monday color 38

monkshood Aconitum blossomsFor this week’s Monday color, we rely on the brilliance of Aconitum blossoms, otherwise known by a zillion different names such as monkshood, wolf’s bane, devil’s bane, Queen of All Poisons, and flake attractor, the last of which is my own, coined after seeing the woo-related claims and usages for the plant that can be found online. While purported to have countless different properties over the centuries, the only two that can be supported with any accuracy are a) that the plant is toxic to a fair degree, and b) the flowers are usually colorful. Many medicinal claims have been made for species throughout the botanical kingdom, and most are anecdotal at best; despite the avowals of numerous naturopathic and mystic flakes, science has not ignored such claims at all, but has tested the majority of them under controlled conditions (meaning, not subject to subjectivity, small sample sizes, and the placebo effect.) The few that actually showed dependable results, like salicylic acid and quinine, quickly became known as, “medicine.” Thus, when you hear phrases such as, “alternative medicine,” or, “traditional medicine,” these can easily be translated to, “not even close to medicine.” Just a little pointer to save you some time.

I’ve shown these flowers before (twice,) but both of those times were in bright sunlight conditions; this time around, it was overcast, so the color is coming courtesy of the flash, which did a much better job of it I think. Taken at the same time as this post just a couple weeks back, I didn’t try to shoot them in the overcast light to show what the effect on the colors would be – most likely, the slow shutter speed would have made the images not very impressive anyway. We’ll stick with this one.

On the negative side 6

just some dice in "sand"
For this escapee from the film negative vault, we go back, oh, about twelve years to a casual photo competition on the rec.photo.equipment.35mm newsgroup (c’mon, don’t make me explain that, it’s not that old.) While I was well into shooting on slide film at the time, I often did the competition shots on negative film and took them to the local drugstore lab for ‘process only,’ scanning the resulting negatives – this saved both money and turnaround time. The challenge, without further explanation, was, “six.” Whatever you wanted, it just had to express six somehow. What you see here came from idle brainstorming (maybe call it brainsprinkling) and the realization that I could potentially make it work, followed by no small amount of “studio” shenanigans.

I’d known for a long time that opposite sides of a regulation die added up to seven, but upon examining one, I realized that adjacent sides added up to six. So, how many times could I show these sides and produce multiple sixes in the image? That was going to require some specific angles, so the dice would have to be propped up on something.

Trickier was a little fact that I kept from the other participants: I only had three dice. Thus, to produce the illusion of six, I needed to reflect them in a mirror, which allowed me to show to opposite sides and how they would add up to six as well. Obviously, some very specific angles were required for this, and I had some playing around to do. I also had to disguise the mirror as much as possible, which meant not just hiding the edges, but eliminating any reflection of myself and the camera. To do this, I propped up a broomstick with a blackout sheet draped over it, and shot with the camera poking out underneath. The mirror angle that showed the back sides of the dice also aimed the mirror away up from the camera, so that worked well. Then I had to ensure that the light angle would adequately illuminate the dice without producing glare from the reflection in the mirror, nor lighting up the blackout cloth too brightly – I had originally tried a flash but ended up working with natural light through a patio door. In short, a lot of playing around for a simple idea, but the experience in setting up such a shot was worthwhile. There was little I could do about the stray reflections which can be seen along the edges of some of the dice, coming from the front surface of the mirror glass rather than the silvered back.

Take a look at the lighting herein, and realize that the three ‘back’ dice, actually the reflections of the ‘front’ dice, should have been in shadow, but the position of the table bounced light from the mirror and illuminated the backs almost exactly like the fronts, a serendipitous thing. While there is a faint color cast to the back dice, coming from the faintly green glass of the mirror, it is barely noticeable and seems like just a facet of the lighting.

But the sneakiest part of this all? The substrate I used to prop up the dice was salt. Which is a cubic, six-sided crystal. Thank you very much.

Real quick

marbled orb weaver Araneus marmoreus on black leafFirst off, you do know Halloween is coming, right? This little lady seems to…

I know, after claiming I could completely blow off the blog in the last post, I pretty much completely blew off the blog, a demonstration of dependability from me that is entirely unprecedented – it just took the right motivation. More is coming shortly, since I have some recent pics to feature, but first is a trivial post, and Monday color again.

Fall colors are not quite up to snuff yet, but a photo outing this morning netted this marbled orb weaver (Araneus marmoreus) being shy on a dead leaf while still providing a nice portrait angle. Right away, I was thinking how similar it is to a photo shot two years ago, one that I recall easily since it happens to be a favorite of mine (soon to be added to the main site gallery.) And to be honest, I’m pretty sure it’s the same plant species, just one I haven’t pinned down yet.

These spiders, with an abdomen about the size of a grape, could be found everywhere down at the river, one of the few species that wanted to show itself today (and you’re going to see at least one more of them later.) I have barely seen them anywhere else at all, so I’m guessing a few hatchings in the right conditions caused the species to become prevalent in that particular region. But then again, that’s just uneducated me talking.

Monday color 37+

So, the important stuff first: with this post I surpass all previous records for posting within a year, and we’re only in mid-October! Everything past this point is gravy, and even if I stop posting now, I’ve still got that accomplishment under my belt. It’s a warm fuzzy feeling, let me tell you.

A lot of this is due, naturally, to starting this whole “Monday color” thing in the first place, responsible for 39 posts all by itself, not to mention even more images, so it seems only appropriate that I am adding to them with this post, which does serve more of a purpose that gloating, or simply pushing the count over the line. Because it actually follows-up with some things talked about in the previous post.

On taking a casual peek at the Euonymus americanus (or hearts-a-bustin’) tree in the yard today, several days after the images from the previous post, I spotted a new occupant of one of the seed pods, and fetched the camera for a trivial sequel shot.

pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus nymph on hearts-a-bustin' Euonymus americanus seed podThis pale green assassin nymph (Zelus luridus) had taken shelter within the overhang of the seed pod, adding another layer of color to the layout. I did some quick initial shots, producing the same ‘night macro’ effects as earlier, though if you look close there are faint hints of blue from sky visible through small gaps in the foliage. I then decided to go back out and revisit the subject with a little more effort. During that delay, the assassin had left the shelter (where presumably it had maintained a tad more warmth than being fully out in the open last night) and was now perched atop the husk. Moreover, the sun had shifted and was actually falling onto the pod now. Okay then.

pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus nymph on hearts-a-bustin' Euonymus americanus seed podAble to get a decent angle against the sky with this one, I first did the standard exposure – with the macro rig, I have a fixed exposure at 1/200 second at f16, ISO 200, and the flash output is right in line for this. As before, the bright sky came through with some color, though notably deep. It’s okay, but definitely not a natural look. As I first loomed in close, the assassin went into defensive posture, drawing the legs up as protective bars – this is a common trait with the species, and it often serves to obscure the eyes, which is a no-no for nature photography, so finding the angle where a red compound eye remained visible was important.

Next, I shut the flash off and switched to aperture-priority, bracketing a few frames to see what settings I could get away with in completely natural light; again, this was possible because light was actually falling onto the seed pod this time around, whereas for the previous post they had all been in shade.

pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus nymph on hearts-a-bustin' Euonymus americanus seed podNot bad, but the shadows are a tad dark under the seed pod, and the light angle not quite ideal for the assassin, though now the sky is acceptable. So, now the challenge is to get the right level of ‘fill-flash’ to balance out the exposure and get good light on the subject, without looking like a spotlight. The FP38 flat-panel flash I was using has a fixed output, so it was a matter of adjusting the angle and distance (mostly aiming above the subject) to reduce the light output to the desired level. With a fixed flash, this could also be done with layers of diffusing material, but I already had a softbox diffuser on it in the first place, a routine part of my macro rig. Eventually, I got the level I was after.

pale green assassin bug Zelus luridus nymph on hearts-a-bustin' Euonymus americanus seed podIn comparison to the others, the sky still came out slightly dark, but by itself it can easily be mistaken for a natural-light shot. Not the most compelling of images, especially for showing off an assassin bug (the stem should definitely not be right behind the bug,) but it illustrates the lighting thing well – better angles were prevented by other branches. In fact, the leaf peeking in at lower left was too prominent in a couple other frames where the lighting was even better – another hazard of macro work, since while looking through the viewfinder before the aperture has closed down, leaves and branches that are actually in the way may not be seen, only appearing in the final image because the depth-of-field has increased. This post illustrates how this can occur.

While I’m posting, I figure I’ll mention that the Orionids meteor shower peaks on the nights of the 21st and 22nd, if you have the interest. I went out for the previous shower and watched the sky for a bit, resolving to set up the camera for long exposures if the activity appeared decent. Alas, I didn’t see one, and with the light pollution nearby, very long exposures are pointless – the sky will wash out and might obscure any meteors that were actually captured. Perhaps we’ll see if this one fares any better – if I’m successful, you know you’ll see it here, even though I can be lazy about posting now.