Failed Photography: the Worst of Myrmecos

I have thousands of absolutely awful photographs on my hard drive. I normally delete the screw-ups on camera as soon as they happen, but enough seep through that even after the initial cut they outnumber the good photos by at least 3 to 1. Here are a few of my favorite worst shots.


Thinking that nothing would be cooler than an action shot of a fruit fly in mid-air, I spent an entire evening trying to photograph flies hovering over a rotting banana. This shot is the closest I came to getting anything in focus.


Photo Technique: Post-Processing

Photos posted to rarely go straight from the camera to the web. Through some combination of errors related to exposure and the innate properties of digital sensors, raw images can be a surprisingly poor match to what is seen through the viewfinder. Raw images are often relatively flat in appearance, with colors that are shifted or off-hue. For instance, Canon cameras by default impart a warm reddish hue to their files that is especially apparent in macrophotography. The nice thing about raw files, and indeed the main reason for using them, is that they are malleable enough to allow a wide latitude of corrections.

How much do I alter the raw images? You can see for yourself. Here I’ve posted a series of before/after comparisons (raw and uncropped above, processed below). Click on each to enlarge.

comp6.jpg crop7.jpg pp11a.jpg

comp11.jpg comp2.jpg comp3.jpg

If an original image is within reasonable boundaries of exposure and composition, and it was taken using the camera’s raw settings (not jpeg!), they can be adjusted to more closely match what I remember seeing in the viewfinder. Below is an example. (more…)

Bug Dreams…

In an earlier post about flash diffusion, I wrote about camera flash being a necessity of the trade-off between depth of field and shutter speed. Most insect photographers- myself included- work hard to improve the depth of field in our photographs, trying to bring as much of our diminutive subjects into focus as possible. This means we use a lot of flash.

However, that’s not the only way to take insect photos. If one is happy to throw depth of field to the wind, one can dispense with the need for flash and produce photos from the ambient light. The effect is dramatic. One doesn’t get crisp field-guide type pictures but smooth, watery, impressionistic images. Some fine examples of taking insect photography in that direction can be found at the site Bug Dreams. In particular, check out Rick’s lovely shots of ants.

Photo Technique: On-Camera Flash Diffusion

Flash is a necessary evil in insect photography. This necessity is due to two unfortunate traits shared by most insects: small size and stubborn unwillingness to sit still for the camera. These traits confound each other in a way that renders insect photography uniquely challenging. Small subjects need to be close to the lens, placing them squarely in the zone where depth of field becomes razor-thin. Depth of field can be increased by using a small aperture, but that restricts the amount of light reaching the sensor. With so little light entering the camera, a proper exposure requires the shutter to be kept open for a long time. As most insects are busy creatures with better things to do than wait about for the shutter to close, getting a clean shot under natural lighting requires a fair bit of luck.

The easiest solution is to augment the ambient light with flash, allowing for faster shutter speeds. This is what most insect photographers do, although flash comes at considerable aesthetic cost. (more…)