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Green and orange and purple

Here are some more fun photos of Acronicta lepetita from Texas. Some of them turn orange during their final instar, some stay green, some even turn purple-ish. Luckily this species is quite sedentary, so it is relatively easy to photograph. This first shot is one of my favorites:

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Smile!

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Orange and green siblings.

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This one was not interested in being a model, it just wanted to continue nibbling the leaf edge.

Many caterpillars are known to turn purple-ish, red-ish, or pink-ish just before pupation. However this orange color change happens while the caterpillar is still feeding, sometimes up to a week before pupation. It happens in Acronicta vinnula as well. I wonder why a caterpillar would want to be orange while still feeding on green vegetation?

Photography rig

I love macro photography – who doesn’t? To take a tiny, seemingly insignificant insect and to blow it up to the size of a cat is exhilarating. There are many wonderful macro photographers out there (check out the list of links to the right), whose photographs I drool over every day. However whenever they mention the equipment used, a pit grows in my stomach. It’s all so expensive! So many lenses and flashes and rigs and fancy things I have never heard of. How is a poor/cheap grad student supposed to get into macro photography without a huge monetary investment? How can I ever dream of improving my “take 100 pictures and hope one of them turns out sort-of-ok” strategy?

For a long time I have felt relegated to various point-and-shoot cameras. I had a camera in high school I was able to attach a little macro lens to, but that camera became bulky and obsolete. I considered second hand cameras, but had no idea where to even start.

Fast forward to last year. I was gifted an old Nikon DSLR camera body by a colleague. I was excited, but quickly realized that without flashes (expensive) and macro lenses (expensive) I wasn’t going to get photos any better than with my point-and-shoot. So it sat in my desk drawer.

Fast forward again to this April. One of the invited speakers to the Connecticut Entomological Society meeting was Art Vaughan, a macro photographer. However he doesn’t have the same kind of equipment as other photographers. He specializes in building his own rigs to take advantage of the pop-up flash present on every camera. His rigs include clothespins, screws, bendable book-lights, aluminum foil, and pieces of metal. He finds lenses in garage sale projectors and cameras, and attaches them with bungee cords. I thought – hey, that sounds like something I could do!

To see what he can do with these rigs, check out his flickr page here:

Art’s photo of a wolf spider and offspring.

Impressive, right?

With the help of a colleague (who has the power tools needed to cut and shape metal) I have assembled my own camera rig.

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Nikon D70, Opteka 58mm macro lens, flash barrier, flash rig with book-lights, foil cards.

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My caterpillar photography studio.

The goal of this rig is to redirect the light from the pop-up flash to the two foil cards. This causes the light to act like two separate flashes, resulting in more even lighting across the subject. I finished putting the rig together yesterday, so I tested it out on some caterpillars.

Not bad, eh?

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Acronicta sp. (thoracica?)

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Acronicta sp. (thoracica?)

I’m pretty excited that I no longer have to rely on the availability of the “lab camera” to photograph my caterpillars. My rig is a bit bulky and awkward at times, but considering it cost me $75 (for the macro lens, adapter, and two book lights), it’s worth a bit of trouble.

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If you want to learn how to build your own, Art is amazing and would love to help. You can email him at: thylacine1936[at]verizon.net

Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

Trying to make sense of the world through science and language.