BitB Best of 2009

In my first post of 2009, I looked back at the photographs I had posted during 2008 and picked some of my personal favorites. I hesitated then to call myself a photographer (and still do), but I at least now have suitable equipment to aid in my progress toward that eventual goal. I have learned much over the past six months in my first attempt at serious insect macrophotography (prioritizing in situ field photographs of unmanipulated subjects as a matter of personal choice).  Through this, I’ve come to realize the following skills to be the most important for success:  

  1. Composition
  2. Understanding lighting
  3. Knowing how to use a flash
  4. Knowledge of the subject

I’ll give myself a “A” in the last of these, but in the other areas I still have much to learn. With this caveat, and for the last post of 2009, I offer the following twelve photographs as my final choices for the 2nd Annual “Best of BitB”:  

Best beetle

Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle), Woodward Co., Oklahoma

From Revisiting the Swift Tiger Beetle – Part 1 (June 30).  A decent enough photograph, especially considering that I’d had my camera for about a month when I took it.  However, the discovery of robust populations of this formerly rare and enigmatic species throughout northwestern Oklahoma (and later also in northwestern Missouri) was the most significant find of the 2009 field season, and this photograph is the best capture of that moment.

Best fly

Stylogaster neglecta, a species of thickheaded fly

From Overlooked, needle-bellied, thick-headed fly (Aug 14).  One of my first good “black background” shots.  The white tip of the abdomen compliments the white flower stamens against the background.

Best “true” bug

Beameria venosa, a prairie obligate cicada

From North America’s smallest cicada (Aug 4).  So many different shades of green with white frosting on the bug’s body.  I tried taking this shot in portrait and it just didn’t work—I liked this landscape shot much better.

Best predator

Promachus hinei (Hines giant robber fly) & Ceratina sp. (small carpenter bee) prey

From Prey bee mine (Sept 14).  Robber flies are immensely photogenic, especially those in the genus Promachus due to their prominent “beards.”

Best camoflauge

Dicerca obscura on bark of dead persimmon

From The “obscure” Dicerca (June 19).  Sparkling and gaudy as specimens in a cabinet, the coloration of many jewel beetles actually helps them blend almost perfectly with the bark of their preferred tree hosts.

Best immature insect

Tetracha floridana (Florida metallic tiger beetle) 3rd-instar larva

From Anatomy of a Tiger Beetle Larva (Oct 22).  “Otherwordly” is invariably the first word that comes to mind when someone sees a tiger beetle larva for the first time.  I was lucky enough to get this one in profile with a nice view of its abdominal hump and its curious hooks.

Best arachnid

Centruroides vittatus (striped bark scorpion)

From A face only a mother could love (Oct 6).  Despite some minor depth-of-field problems with this photograph, I’m fascinated by its “smile.”

Best reptile

Eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris collaris) adult male

From North America’s most beautiful lizard (July 10).  A simply spectacular lizard—all I had to do was frame it well and get the flash right.

Best wildflower

Spiranthes magnicamporum (Great Plains ladies

From Great Plains Ladies’-tresses (Dec 7).  Few flowers are as photogenic as orchids, even native terrestrials with minute flowers such as this one.  I like the frosty texture of the lip and the starkness of the white flower on the black background.

Best natural history moment

Thermoregulatory behavior by Ellipsoptera hirtilabris (moustached tiger beetle)

From Tiger Beetles Agree—It’s Hot in Florida! (Dec 18). I chose this photo for the classic “stilting” and “sun-facing” thermoregulatory behaviors exhibited by this tiger beetle on a blistering hot day in Florida.

Best closeup

Megaphasma denticrus (giant walkingstick)

From North America’s longest insect (Aug 21).  I haven’t tried a whole lot of super close-up photographs yet.  I liked the combination of blue and brown colors on the black background.

Best Landscape

Sand Harbor Overlook, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

From Sand Harbor Overlook, Nevada (March 23).   My choice for “best landscape” again comes from Lake Tahoe.  This is not a great photo technically—I was still using a point-and-shoot and had to deal with foreground sun.  However, none of the other photos I took during my March visit to the area captivate me like this one.  I like the mix of colors with the silhouetted appearance of the trees on the point.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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22 thoughts on “BitB Best of 2009

  1. I suppose I see why the Sand Harbor Overlook isn’t great technically, Jeffrey pine on the left blurry and skyline overexposed, but since the eye is drawn to the dancing pines on the point, I think these ‘defects’ actually help the composition. Very nice, and looks almost tropical compared to my walk into work this morning under a blue moon and ice fog.

    Thanks for the Stylogaster too. I recently sat through what might have been an interesting talk on the molecular phylogeny of some flies where the Stylogastrinae were a problematic group, but the talk was not well illustrated and I had no idea what the animals looked like. Flies are surprisingly interesting, but the Centuroides is still my favourite.

    Have a Happy New Year & many fine photos

    • Hi Dave. It’s interesting you mention the “tropical” feel of the Lake Tahoe photo, as that is how it always struck me – something about the color of the water.

      I’d never even heard of stylogastrines when I saw took this photo. The coleopterist in me hates to admit it, but flies really are pretty cool.

      Have a great 2010!

  2. These are great, Ted, for a first-year rookie. 🙂

    I have about as much time at it as you, but not the equipment, so while I’m moderately happy with my photos, I can only wish to produce images as good in the macro realm.

    PS. The bee genus is Ceratina.
    (I searched and discovered that Ceratoma is a beetle, so a natural sort of slip-up for a guy like you to make.)

    • Hi, James – thanks!

      Equipment is half the battle, persistence and a desire to improve are the rest (assuming a modicum of talent). I’ve seen great photos taken with modest eqipment – yours are among them.

      p.s. Ceratoma corrected to Ceratina – a coleopterist’s lapsus calami if there ever was one 🙂 At least I had it right in the original post.

  3. You have arrived my friend! These photos are beautiful and indicate the progress you have made as a macro photographer. My favorites are the robber fly and the arachnid! Keep up your great work. It will be hard to beat these in 2010, but somehow i think you will do it!

    Good luck!

  4. There is a bit of a learning curve in adjusting to new equipment, but I’ve always thought you’ve posted great photos.

    As soon as I scrolled down to the last photo, I immediately recognized it as Tahoe. It’s got such a distinctive feel! And I would be willing to bet that that photo was taken somewhere in the northeast section of the lake – that area always had the most gorgeous, crystal-clear, tropically blue-green waters.

    • You nailed it – Sand Harbor is just south of Incline Village on the northeast shore. It’s amazing how different and unique the different shoreline areas are from each other.

      Thanks for the nice compliment. I’m dedicating 2010 to gaining a deep understanding of lighting and how to effectively use my flash and making use of better diffusion techniques.

  5. They’re all lovely, but I’m grooving on the Dicera pic…I love good cryptic photos! Your work is inspiring to this would-be photographer.

    I’m excited about improving my own skills this year…I got a new macro lens, two tripods and a copy of “Digital Photography for Dummies” for Christmas, so here’s hoping! 🙂

    Happy New Year!

    • Thanks, Crystal. It’s funny, because I didn’t like the Dicerca pic when I first saw it – the insect didn’t “stand out” very well 🙂

      Good luck with the macro photography – I’ll be anxious to see what you come up with.

  6. They’re all fantastic shots, Ted! I don’t think you give yourself enough credit when it comes to your photography (yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black because I’m my own worst critic as well). What a fun trip through the year.

    Promachus hinei has to be my favorite. With prey! And they’re such entertaining predators to watch. Nothing’s too big to chase–or too far away, at least until it becomes clear they’re not going to catch the airplane.

    • Thanks, Jason—you’re too kind. I enjoyed having you along for the ride this year.

      I think the only predator more impressive than a robber fly that I’ve personally witnessed was a European hornet (Vespa crabro). A friend and I were walking a trail and scared up a large bandwinged grasshopper. Boom—the hornet came out of nowhere and tackled the grasshopper in mid-flight, both tumbling to the ground in a writhing, struggling mass. The hornet repeatedly stung the grasshopper until it stopped kicking and began butchering it with its jaws—cutting off all the legs and wings with machine-like precision before separating the head and abdomen from the thorax. It ate the head right there on the spot (spoils to the victor), then grabbed the thorax and flew off. My friend and I just stood there watching in open-jawed amazment, and I turned to him and said, “I bet that thing comes back for the abdomen.” So we waited a few minutes, and sure enough it came back, buzzed around us in a slow, sinking spiral until it located the abdomen, grabbed it with its frong legs, and slowly lifted off carrying the hefty prize. Spectacular!

  7. These are beautiful images Ted, great choices to recap 2009. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, they are all equally splendid. I love the scenery shot, but the pretty little cicada is great too…it is a dilemma. I look forward to 2010 and all the pretty things you come up with.

    • Thank you, Shelly! I like something different about each one, so it would be hard for me to pick among them as well. It would have been hard for me to narrow down much further than these 12.


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