Photographing Crane Flies - A Dilemma

29th June 2012
In between the rain showers, I was out yesterday in my local churchyard, looking for insects that I could photograph and blog about today; Day-5 of National Insect Week.

I was equipped with my favourite insect setup; the Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens with Canon TwinLite flash. The MP-E 65mm is a remarkable lens, providing macro capability from a magnification of 1:1 to 5:1. It does have its drawbacks though (apart from the price!). Firstly, it's purely for macro photography and can't focus on anything more than around 3 inches (100 mm) away. Secondly, anything larger than a bumblebee can't all fit in the frame!

As it would happen, I had no other lens with me. I was looking for small prey! Naturally, what happened was that something much larger (well two things actually), flew into view - two craneflies "in tandem". They landed on the grass close to me. I knew from previous experience that insects "in cop" (as the entomologists say), are often reasonably tolerant of close attention by photographers - for a short time anyway. I opened the lens to the 1:1 setting (smallest magnification) and framed a shot. Nice detail but rubbish composition. Large parts of the pair were out of frame and with the very narrow depth-of-field, even at 1:1 and F13, lots of elements out of focus.

This is one of the challenges of insect photography; getting a nicely composed shot, properly exposed and with the correct elements in focus. Come to think of it; that's the challenge of all photography! The other is the "Art versus Science" element. My entomologist friends tell me that if I'm not going to capture the insect, to photograph it in such a way, that the chance of a reasonably confident identification is maximised. As a photographer, I want a "nice shot". Sometimes it's possible to combine the two. With this shot, I knew I had craneflies but didn't recognise the type/species. I had a quick decision to make so I zoomed to around 3:1 and had another go. Naturally the pair decided to fly off.

They landed close by, so I acted more quickly this time. I laid on the grass supporting the camera on the ground and framed a couple of shots. I wanted the eye and "mouthparts" in focus with the insect "looking out" from between its legs. Checking online and in my books when I got home, I'm reasonably certain that this is one of the "tiger" craneflies; possibly Nephrotoma flavescens. Perhaps a different angle would have given me a better chance of a more positive identification or even to say whether this is the male or female. Whatever, I quite like this one!

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