Category: Techniques

How to appease wasps (long enough to take a picture)

Working with wasps can be a little tricky, since they’re very active animals that can fly, sting and bite, and they don’t take direction well. So, I’ve tried a number of approaches while working with them in the studio. The most common advice that I’ve seen online is to chill insects in the fridge for a few minutes. While it’s true that this will make them lethargic, they’ll also often adopt very unnatural-looking poses, with splayed limbs and crooked antennae … and as soon as they warm up, you’re back to square one. Similarly, some insects will freeze when startled (as will snakes, frogs and some lizards — if you’re taking herp photos), but I am pretty sure that startling wasps is not a great idea.

Instead, I use two main techniques — the first is just to place the insect under a drinking glass and let them get out all of their energy.  Eventually, the bug I’m trying to work with will stop running and flying around erratically, and will sit still long enough or me to get a photo or two in. (In the case of dragonflies, I do basically the same thing by setting up a perch in a closed white box, then giving them a few minutes to bumble around before landing — they’ll usually end up right where I wanted them.) Sometimes, however, this technique fails, at which point I move on to my second method — bribery.

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber
Black and Yellow Mud Dauber

Insects are pretty good at sitting still while they eat, and they’ll often pause while approaching potential food, which gives me the opportunity to get in some shots, while their little minds are elsewhere.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/18, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

New Reflector

I spent most of yesterday making myself a small reflector out of cardboard, white paper and aluminum foil (I am super, super cheap) and spent today testing it, first on a very perplexed kitten, and then outside on an actual insect.

River
River

Ah, the glare of reflected light in tiny kitten eyes. So charming.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/11, 1/160 sec
Diffuse Flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Weevil
Weevil

I think it works a little better on small things.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/16, 1/125 sec
Diffuse Flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Parasitoid Wasp

Most of the time, when I find ichneumon wasps, they buzz away before I have the chance to bring out my camera, much less get a good photo. This makes me sad, because parasitoid wasps are probably some of my favorite organisms ever. So, I was pretty excited when I found this girl, who was completely ignoring me while I look a few quick shots.

Female Ichneumon Wasp
Female Ichneumon Wasp

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/10, 1/100 sec
Diffuse Flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Female Ichneumon Wasp
Female Ichneumon Wasp

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 400 at f/5.0, 1/100 sec
Ambient Light
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Also, it’s probably worth pointing out that these are both pretty much exactly the same photo, just with different lighting — the first one is using flash to illuminate the subject and background, while the second one is using sunlight behind the subject to create a more dramatic silhouette. (And showing off the veins in her wings.)

My Photoshop Process

I used to think that using Photoshop made you a bad photographer, and that good photographers were those people who could take something directly out of a camera and have it be completely and utterly flawless.

And while that is probably something that we should all aspire to, the truth is that Photoshop (and its less-expensive cousins!) is a really useful tool for a photographer and there really is no reason that you should be ashamed to make your photos nicer using this tool. It won’t replace knowing how to use a camera, and an overexposed photo will still be crap no matter what, but Photoshop really can help you make better pictures.

Before and After
Before and After -- Image of a hover fly pre- and post-processing

But Photoshop is also a big, scary intimidating program, and it’s hard to know what the hell to do with it sometimes. So, here is a list of some things that I’ve learned by trial and error, that I wish someone had told me when I started playing with Photoshop.

(Also, caveat emptor — I’m a graduate student, not a Photoshop professional. Everything I do might be totally wrong.)

What tricks have you learned with your image editing software?

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