The days of yore, part two

Okay, so, I had this idea a couple of weeks ago, to feature an image from the summer solstice on the day of the winter solstice – kind of a callback to nicer weather, and a reflection of that little archive list on the sidebar, right? Yeah, so, first, I had to stick to digital images, since over a decade of slides in my stock are only dated by the month and year I got them developed, so no help there (no, I don’t keep a shooting journal.) But then it became clear how rarely I was out and shooting subjects on the summer solstice. I can shoot a lot in the summer, but it’s not every day, and it appears that June 21st is just one of those days when I didn’t.

So while I had intended to go back to a previous year, I ended up with just six months ago; the solstice fell on June 20th this year.

Doing artsy stuff with insect photography is a little difficult, since combining a photogenic insect, a useful pose, and a decent setting into something appealing is rather demanding. This is one of my few examples, and nothing that I consider high art, but you know how I feel about it anyway. Yet it also illustrates something else, which is where light becomes an issue with such work. This image is natural light, taking advantage of the sun angle to bring out the textures of the leaf, but this required a slower shutter speed and wider aperture than I would normally have used to capture sharp detail, and it produced some interesting focus effects. Notice how the leaf is unfocused in so many areas, but sharp in a vertical stripe under the fly. This basically means the leaf in that area was the same distance from the camera as the fly.

We’ll take a quick look at closer range, too, mostly to show off the color of the eyes. It’s not that this is especially interesting, though I could call this a product of my Green Phase if I was inclined to be pretentious. But insect eye color, and some bird feathers, often depends on light angle rather than inherent pigmentation. I have often noticed that the throat color of ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) doesn’t show up at all with direct flash, making it even more involved to try and get images that display this color. But I also have several arthropod images where the eyes take on a rainbow hue depending on the angle of the strobe. And so it was with this example, as I switched to augmented light for further images.

It might be hard to believe, but this is the same fly (probably genus Condylostylus) in the same setting, less than a minute after the one above. Here all of the light is coming from the camera flash, on a bracket placing it almost directly above the camera – check the position of the shadow for the best guide to where the light was coming from. Not only does the fly not appear to be as green, as the grey legs and lower thorax show up clearly, but the eyes have become orange; I wish I could give a succinct description of why this is, but there’s numerous factors that can contribute, so maybe I’ll tackle this in a later post. Notice that the leaf also takes on a rattier appearance, the lighting seems a bit harsh, and the background has dropped into darkness.

This is one of the benefits of having a flash bracket that allows a lot of position changes for the strobe. Different angles produce different effects in the image, and while you have a cooperative subject, it’s often worth the effort to try moving the strobe around a bit. It also helps to know what light does, especially with high and low contrast, diffuse light (like from a softbox) or bright and direct, and even multiple lighting or supplemental reflectors. Some forms of lighting can produce strange highlights, or be reflected in the subject in some way. I’ve known portrait photographers that do very close work who may put a single cross of black tape across the middle of their softbox diffusers; when it is reflected in the eyes of their subjects, it takes on the appearance of a window with four panes. By the same token, square or oddly-shaped diffusers can sometimes produce curious reflections in macro subjects.

Anyway, not only have we successfully thwarted Armageddon yet again, for those of us in the northern hemisphere we’re over the hump and the days are getting longer now. I’m personally more psyched when the first plants start budding out and I can get into my photographic stride, but this is a good reference point anyway. Maybe someday we’ll go back to calendars that reflect the solar year much better.

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