11 Astounding Arthropods You’ll See at BugShot/Belize. Plus, a Zombie Fungus.

As you may know, I teach photography workshops. We’ve got an outstanding one planned for September: BugShot Belize, and since we have a handful of registrations left I thought’d I’d mention a few prime reasons to attend.

Jack Owicki with a new amblypygid friend during the January workshop.

And by “reasons”, of course, I mean the wonderful biota you’ll spend the week admiring.

[register for BugShot Belize]

1. The pill millipede. Bother this adorable pink millipede and she goes into turtle mode for several minutes.


(update: it turns out this is even cooler than a regular pill millipede) (more…)

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.

A tropical insect photo safari with Piotr Naskrecki, Thomas Shahan, John Abbott, and… me


Ok, enough silliness. I have news.

I am positively tickled to announce our little BugShot family is expanding. Who have we added? None other than Piotr Naskrecki!

Piotr is a master conservation photographer, a katydid expert at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, author of “Relics” and “The Smaller Majority”, and a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers. I’ve long been a fan of Piotr’s distinctive wide-angle macro style. And now, he is bringing it to BugShot’s newest tropical workshop. I couldn’t be happier!

BugShot/Belize will be held September 22-29 2013 at the remote-yet-comfortable Caves Branch Lodge in Belize. We will be spending a week with army ants, orchid bees, glasswing butterflies, cave crickets, and countless other arthropod treasures. The safari will be a mix of entomological and photographic instruction, and in the tradition of BugShot each of the instructors brings a different talent. John Abbott is a talented high-speed action photographer, Thomas Shahan is an intimate portraitist, Piotr Naskrecki is a master of capturing arthropods in their habitat, and I do… something with ants, I think.

For more details, and to register: BugShot Belize 2013

Our last Belize workshop sold out within 2 weeks, so if you’d like to join us I recommend signing up sooner rather than later.

For a preview of our venue and event, here’s a slideshow:


For an in-depth look, I’ve uploaded more photos to the BugShot Belize Gallery.

I hope to see many of you there!

Next Week at the University of Georgia: How to Take Better Science Photographs

For those in the vicinity of Athens, Georgia next week, I’ll be giving the following seminar:

How to Take Better Science Photographs

Alex Wild

Monday, October 8, 12:20 pm-1:10 pm
Room 404A  Biological Sciences Building
University of Georgia

The extremely short version of this talk is this.

If you are a scientist, you know some incredible inside stories about how the universe works. You’ll tell those stories better if you have strong visuals. Here are some tips for taking jaw-dropping science photographs.

Learn Insect Photography in the Tropics with BugShot-Belize!

I am extremely pleased this morning to announce that our BugShot workshops are expanding to the tropics!

BugShot’s first rainforest photography workshop will be held January 19-26, 2013. I can’t speak for all tastes, but from my perspective a sunny insect-filled week in the Neotropics will be just the thing to relieve the bite of a harsh northern winter. Because our winter workshop is an exploratory first-time event for us, we are keeping this initial offering more intimate than our multi-instructor flagship summer workshops. Enrollment is capped at 12 participants, and [updated 9:45am] if you’re thinking of attending you may have to make a quick decision. Some of the spots sold as I was writing this post.

We’ve chosen Belize for a number of reasons. The local insects are representative of the rich Neotropical fauna, including army ants, orchid bees, peanut bugs, morpho butterflies, and many, many other photogenic denizens of the rainforest. The country is relatively accessible, especially for North Americans. And we have partnered with a charming jungle venue, Caves Branch Lodge, that sits on 50,000 acres of mostly forested private reserve.

For more information and to register:

Plus, check out the photos from a 4-day reconnaissance trip earlier this month: BugShot Belize Preview.

*update (9/24 2:00pm): We’ve been having trouble with the online registration via paypal. This was an error and has been fixed. If your registration is on hold pending paypal’s internal process, please email me ( alwild [at] ) and I will reserve your spot manually while we arrange for payment by check or other method.

*update #2 (9/24 8:45pm): 12 hours after opening registration we’re half full. 6 spaces remain. 5 spaces left. 4 spaces left. 3 spaces. 2 spaces left. That’s it- we’re full!