A prairie restoration at Homer Lake, in HDR

I hardly ever subject images to the intense photoshopping of High Dynamic Range photography. HDR is just too often overdone. All the same, with half an hour on my hands at Homer Lake yesterday before the firefly show, why not kill some time?


The image is merged from 5 input files taken at different shutter speeds. To get a sense of what the camera records without manipulation, here is one of the component images:


You may have already seen the firefly picture that came later, if you follow me on facebook or G+. If you haven’t, here is about 10 minutes of Photinus pyralis above the restored prairie. Click on it to view large:



Ants and the Fisheye Lens

Here’s something I couldn’t photograph before:

Click Me!

My new Sigma 10mm fisheye lens allows me to cozy right up to an open ant nest and take a shot both of the nest interior and the colony’s forest habitat.

The ants are Aphaenogaster fulva, perhaps the most common woodland ant in my area. This particular nest is typical: large cavities in well-rotted wood in a fully shaded forest.

Nature Photography Workshop – Saturday May 18th – Urbana


This weekend I am holding a day-long photography course for the Evolution & Ecology graduate students here at the University of Illinois. This is mostly an in-house program, but after the registration dust settled we still have five spots available. Thus, we are opening the doors for general enrollment. If you’d like to participate in a hands-on photography crash course with a group of bright young biologists, we’d love to have you!

Here are the details:

Nature & Macrophotography Workshop
Instructor: Alex Wild

Saturday, May 18 – 8:50 am until 3:00 pm
University of Illinois Campus – NHB 408 &
Anita Purves Nature Center

Registration: $50
To register, email Rhiannon Peery: peery1 [at]

lunch will be provided

8:50 – Photography basics, presentation (Natural History Building 408 ~ on campus)
10:00 – Studio lighting, practice (NHB 408)
11:00 – travel to Anita Purves Nature Center
11:20 – Nature photography equipment (APNC)
12:00 – Lunch (provided) and discussion (APNC)
1:00 – Macrophotography in the field, practice (APNC)
3:00 – Closing

Topics: Basic level lighting, composition, macrophotography technique & equipment.

Required equipment: Your camera gear, with charged batteries. Cell phones to SLRs ok, preferably with a macro lens (SLR) or a macro function (digicam).
Recommended: Tripod & flash units.

Cognisys at BugShot

As if you needed another reason to attend our BugShot photo workshop in Belize, it seems we’ll have a rather interesting bit of equipment on hand:


Cognisys is a Michigan company that makes electronic gadgets for assisting macro and other science photography, and they have a growing reputation for affordable rigs of high build quality. I have yet to use any Cognisys gear, but my co-instructor John Abbott does a great deal with it, loves it, and has arranged a StackShot for our September course.

Let me explain why I’m excited to try it out.

In recent years I’ve watched entomologists gradually realize that high-magnification photography is better with SLR cameras + macro lenses than with traditional video cameras + microscopes. First, SLRs are just better at photography than video cameras. Images are crisper, bigger, brighter, deeper, and simply…better. Second, and this is important, SLRs are far cheaper. The magic combination of way better and way cheaper means we’re seeing fantastic micrography coming from folks who don’t have six-figure research grants and university resources.

Cognisys fits into this imaging revolution by providing, inexpensively, an integral part of the new SLR microscopy kit. Most insect microscopy uses a technique called focus-stacking to overcome limited depth-of-field at high magnifications. Stacking involves a series of exposures taken at slightly different focus points and merged into a single sharp image. Like so:

Over 30 separate images were combined to make this sharp portrait of Eciton hamatum, an army ant collected at the January 2013 BugShot course in Belize.

I don’t focus-stack often. When I do, I manually advance the camera along a rail to capture each image by turning a little focus knob. Turn, click. Turn, click. Manual stacking takes time, and it has the unintended consequence of fussy and uneven focus intervals. If I jump too far, I miss a slice and have to re-do the whole stack. My system is functional for occasional pieces, but people who work in the genre typically need an automated system to standardize intervals and speed the workflow. Automated z-steppers are what the high-budget folks at use with their microscope systems, and they are what StackShot can do for the rest of us.

In any case, if you come to Belize with us you’ll be able to see StackShot in action.

Crematogaster lineolata is polygynous. I wish a had a better photograph.

Over at CE I mentioned the trouble of useful natural history photographs that are technically mediocre:

…the blurry capture is my only photograph of [an] animal. Do I upload it to my professional galleries anyway? It won’t look great printed, and I’d feel embarrassed to sell it onwards for, say, a display at a natural history museum.

The question isn’t trivial, as it burrows right to the heart of why I photograph insects. Am I making pretty images? Or am I documenting real natural history?

I’ve rustled up another example. In Kansas last week I shot a colony of the common acrobat ant Crematogaster lineolata with several queens in the brood nest:

A pair of queens in a nest of Crematogaster lineolata. Konza Prairie, Manhattan, Kansas. 4/30/2013

The photographic documentation of polygyny is a small yet potentially useful tidbit about the biology of a population. Yet, the photo is aesthetically crowded, the lower queen is out of focus, and it is not the quality of image I want included in my professional portfolio. So it goes here instead.

I should probably upload these to Wikimedia.

One more day for the Spring Print Sale

I was planning to close the Spring Print Sale last night, as scheduled, but since I was driving back from Kansas until late I have decided to keep it going for one extra day.

This Hegemona darkling beetle from Belize has been among the most popular photos of the print sale

Thus, the sale gallery will remain open until 10pm EST tonight for any last-minute orders, with prices starting at $3.99 for a 5×7″:

Sprint Insect Print Sale

If you need a framing/mounting recommendation, I particularly like the lustre paper and the 3/4″ standout mount.

*update (5/2/13): the sale is closed- thanks guys! The most popular prints were 1) bee castes; 2) ant on black; 3) leafcutter ant; and 4) Lasioglossum bees.

Bee Photography Course: June 21st


Most of my workshops are broadly designed for teaching macro photography. Thus, I am pleased to announce a fun and rather more specialized course, a day-long session on photographing honey bees:

Honey Bee Photography

June 21st (Friday), 2013
-full day-

Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
Fairmount, Illinois
cost: $89

[register online]

The course is intended for beekeepers and bee enthusiasts with minimal photography experience. Course topics will include:

  • Magnification
  • Lighting
  • Composition
  • Photographing bees in the hive
  • Photographing bees in the field
  • Telling a story in pictures

Required equipment: (minimum) any camera, SLR or digicam, with a macro function; (recommended) camera with off-camera flash and macro near 1:1.

This workshop is the final day of a week long Beekeeping Institute taught by master beekeeper David Burns. People travel to David’s classes from all over the country. If you are thinking of keeping bees as a hobby, consider signing up for the full week. Otherwise you may elect to take just the photography bit.

Coming Soon: the Spring Print Sale


You guys were tremendous during my first-ever insect print sale last December. You ordered several hundred prints, quite literally an order of magnitude more than I’d anticipated.

So I’m doing another one. The spring print sale will go online in mid-April with 30 selected prints discounted severely, starting at $3.99/each for a 5×7.  Here’s the new bit: this time I am crowd-sourcing part of the selection.

15 of the 30 images I’m leaving open for you guys to decide. If there’s a particular photograph you’ve been eyeing, let me know via email, facebook, or the comments below.