Following the BugShot Macro Photography Workshops at Sapelo Island, Georgia, and last fall in Belize, I have two important new ways of thinking about photography: 1) try to capture an image that is not like others you’ve seen before, and 2) imagine what shot you want to capture and then work towards that goal. Here are three examples of photos I took over the weekend in Georgia where I first was taking an OK, but not overly exciting or interesting shot, but then I imagined and captured something more compelling.

1) Rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda, Saturniidae). I first thought it might look neat sitting on top of leaf litter, a scene very much inspired by a photo by Piotr Naskrecki. I set up a little scene in a white box with a floor of leaf litter.

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I think this is an alright shot, but not unique or exciting. Also, the weird bright colors of this moth don’t really blend in all that well with the leaf litter.  Using the same setup I tried a different angle which I think is much more interesting.

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2) I believe this is a slant-faced grasshopper (Gomphocerinae), and is perhaps my favorite animal of the weekend.

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This shot, again in a white box, is kinda neat. But with an animal so unique and unusual just about any well-lit shot is kinda neat. But when I looked closely I noticed an opportunity for something more interesting. The long face and bulging eyes just begged for a portrait. With lots of patience I managed one of my favorite macro shots yet.

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3) Twin-spot skipper (Oligoria maculata), a butterfly that  lives in coastal swamps. This is an OK, but also very normal, shot of a skipper.

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To improve upon this, I really wanted to capture this skipper in the context of its swampy environment. In this shot I used a fisheye lens stopped down to get a large depth of field and an off camera fill flash. I am pretty excited because this is my first successful attempt at an insect wide angle macro.

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These follow-up shots were, I think, all large improvements over my first attempts largely because I came up with a unique vision, and then tried to make that shot happen. Previously, I often didn’t think of macro photography in that way, rather, I just wandered around snapping shots of whatever I happened to find. But thanks to the guidance and inspiration of John Abbott, Piotr Naskrecki, Thomas Shahan, Alex Wild, and the participants of the BugShot workshops, I have a new, and much more fruitful way, of approaching photography.

HT to Andy Warren (@AndyBugGuy) for the skipper ID.

11 thoughts on “Revelations From BugShot: Envisioning and Capturing a Unique Image

  1. Awesome shots, Nash. Nice to see not only the final result (those portraits are superb, the grasshopper in particular!) but also to hear about the process of nailing the photo you want.

  2. Really nice, Nash – as above, the grasshopper one is my favourite! I was sad not to be able to get over for BugShot (embarrassingly, I initially thought it was in the nation of Georgia, not the American state, and so thought I may be able to afford flights from the UK!), but hopefully one day… I have a question for you: what settings did you use for the wide-angle macro? I have been trying to do that with some fill flash, but I’m not quite sure I’m in the right ballpark yet…

  3. Hi Tom, here are the basic settings for the wide angle skipper shot: f/14, ISO 200, 1/125 sec, and using a 15 mm sigma fisheye lens. The general technique is to get settings so the background is exposed like you want and then add a bit of fill flash on the foreground as needed. Here I had a single speed light with a softbox diffuser, probably set to 1/8 power or so.

  4. Agreed, all of your creatively envisioned shots are much more interesting. The minute details are incredible!

  5. Nash, out of curiosity, what was the backdrop in the grasshopper images? Did you hold a leaf behind it, or was the whitebox’s back open towards the vegetation outside?
    Really digging those shots!

    • Hey Gil, those shots had a blurry printed image in the back of the white box. John Abbott brought a bunch of these of all different colors and scenes, pretty neat.

  6. Whoah, I really love that grasshopper. It must be a Nymph because I can’t see any wings.. Makes it look just like a Matchstick Grasshopper (Eumastacidae: Morabinae), which are wingless, but I think only occur here in Australia. Matchstick grasshoppers with their crazy elongated heads were probably my favourite thing that we collected in the rainforest patches up in the Kimberley region. I am hoping we will find some rainforest patch endemics, since they are flightless and so possibly don’t disperse well.

    Anyway, really awesome shot face-on to that grasshopper. Keep up the good work!