Best of BitB 2012

Welcome to the 5th Annual “Best of BitB”, where I pick my favorite photographs from the past year. 2012 was one of the most intensive travel years I’ve ever had—I spent 8 weeks in Argentina from February through April, made separate trips to Puerto Rico and Arkansas in May (bracketing a personal week in California), traveled almost weekly to Illinois and Tennessee from June to September (interrupted by a personal week in Florida in July), toured the southeastern U.S. (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia—great food!) in early September, chased tiger beetles in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas in late September, went back to Argentina for a week in October, and capped off the travel year by attending the Entomological Society of America Annual Meetings in Knoxville, Tennessee (for the first time in more than 10 years!)—whew! While many would cringe at such a travel load, I am among the lucky few who actually get paid for doing something that is also my hobby—entomology! This gives me ample opportunity to further hone my photography skills (nine of the 13 photos I’ve selected below were actually taken while I was on business travel), resulting in two key accomplishments this year—my first ever photography talk at the ESA’s insect photography symposium and my first commercial sales (look for the BitB commercial site to go online in 2013).

Enough blather! Here are my favorite BitB photographs from 2012. Click the link in the text below the photo to see the original post. I would greatly appreciate knowing if you have a favorite (and why)—your feedback will be enormously helpful to me as I continue to learn and develop as a photographer.  For those interested, here are my previous year picks for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. And, as always, thank you for your readership!

Spintherophyta (?) sp. in flower of Abutilon pauciflorum | Buenos Aires, Argentina

From  (posted 2 Feb). One of my 2012 learnings was that sometimes a photograph that is not so close is more effective than one that is as close as possible. In one of my earlier attempts at “not-so-close” macrophotgraphy, the soft colors of the flower compliment the brash shininess of the tiny leaf beetle that has been feeding on its pollen. Pink lines lead the eye directly to the subject and create a pleasing composition, and pollen grains stuck to the beetle—a distraction in some situations—add to the miniature natural history story of the photo.

Apiomerus flavipennis with stink bug prey and kleptoparasitic flies | Chaco Province, Argentina

From  (posted 11 Mar). I selected this photo solely for the complex natural history story drama it shows—stink bug (Piezodorus guildenii) feeding on soybean becomes prey of an assassin bug (Apiomerus flavipennis), with volatiles from the chemicals it emitted in a vain attempt to defend itself serving as cues to kleptoparasitic flies (families Milichiidae and Chloropidae) that benefit from the assassin bug’s labors.

Planthopper nymph | Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

From  (posted 26 Mar). Another learning that I began putting into practice in 2012 was the use of low perspective for compositional impact. The cryptic coloration of this planthopper nymph (family Fulgoridae) made it almost invisible on the branch on which it was sitting when viewed from a normal “top-down” human perspective. Getting “down under” it, however, brought the nymph to life and emphasized its unusual form.

Megabaris quadriguttatus | Corrientes Province, Argentina

From  (posted 12 Apr). I spent much of 2012 working on the “blue sky background” technique, with these weevils from northern Argentina representing one of my better attempts. Macrophotography of insects with a blue sky background involves setting exposure, ISO, and aperture to achieve two separate exposures—full flash illumination of the subject for maximum depth-of-field, and ambient light from the sky to create a clean, uncluttered, natural-looking background. In this shot I managed to achieve an almost ideal shade of blue to compliment the wild black, white and red colors of the beetles. (My one criticism of the photo is having clipped one of the beetle’s feet.)

Bombylius sp. cf. mexicanus | Scott Co., Missouri

From  (posted 16 May). This photo is unusual if nothing else. Focus, lighting, depth-of-field, and composition are all better than can be hoped for in a single shot, but the subject—perfectly alive—is in a most unusual position. Read the original post to find out how this happened.

Perisphaerus sp. (a pill roach) | Vietnam (captive individual)

From  (posted 27 May). White-box photography is an excellent technique for clean, uncluttered photographs of insects, but it also isolates them from their natural surroundings and limits their natural history appeal. The best white-box photos are those that highlight a key feature or behavior of the subject—in this case a pill roach’s comically conglobulating defensive posture.

Micronaspis floridana (Florida intertidal firefly) larva | Pinellas Co., Florida

From  (posted 31 July). Here is another photo whose back story played a big part in its selection. This firefly larva not only represents a rare Florida-endemic species but was also first seen by my then 12-year old nephew, who willingly accompanied me through a dark, spooky salt marsh in the middle of a humid Florida night to see what he could learn. The lesson here for budding natural historians (and old-timers like me) cannot be overstated!

Arctosa littoralis (beach wolf spider) | Lewis Co., Missouri

From  (posted 23 Aug—prelude to  posted 28 Aug). Those who follow this blog know of my obsession with close-up portraits, and while tiger beetles are the subjects I most commonly photograph in this manner, I am always on the lookout for good subjects in other taxa. This wolf spider “face” almost looks human, with “two” eyes, two “nostrils” and a shiny upper lip above huge (albeit hairy) buck teeth! It’s enough fill-the-frame spidery goodness to melt (or explode) the heart of even the most ardent arachnophobe!

Anticarsia gemmatalis (velvetbean caterpillar) egg on soybean leaf

From Life at 8X—Guide to lepidopteran eggs on soybean (posted 3 Sep). “Life at 8X” was a new series I introduced this year, featuring insects photographed at magnifications testing the upper limit of my equipment and photographic skills. Diffraction is the chief difficulty with magnifications as high as this and is the primary flaw in the above photograph. Nevertheless, such view of a moth egg on the underside of a soybean leaf provides a spectacular view of the otherwise unseen micro-world that lives right beneath our noses.

Megacyllene decora (amorpha borer) on snakeroot flowers | Mississippi Co., Missouri

From  (posted 12 Sep). This second example of “blue sky background” was taken later in the year and was considerably more difficult to capture than the first because of the larger size of the subject and resulting need for a longer focal length macro lens. Getting a well-lit, focused, and composed image with a desirable shade of blue in the background depended not only on finding the proper camera settings, but also secure body and camera bracing techniques for this completely hand-held shot.

Cicindelidia politula politula (Limestone Tiger Beetle) | Montague Co., Texas

From  (posted 28 Sep). I will go ahead and say it—this is my favorite photograph of 2012. As discussed under the first entry, panning back from the subject can allow for some very interesting compositions. This photo combines charismatic pose by a wary subject with panning back and low perspective to create an image that scores high in both natural history and aesthetic appeal.

Calosoma sayi (black caterpillar hunter) | New Madrid Co., Missouri

From Black is beautiful! (posted 7 Nov). Of course, close-as-possible can also be used to create striking photos, especially if the subject exhibits features that are best seen up close. Anything with jaws fits the bill in my book, and highlighting the mandibular sculpturing of this caterpillar hunter (a type of ground beetle) required precise angling of the flash heads for maximum effect.

Cicindela repanda (Bronze Tiger Beetle) | St. Louis Co., Missouri

From  (12 Nov). This final selection is not a rare species, but it is as close as I have come to what I consider the “perfect” tiger beetle macrophotograph—a close, low angle, lateral profile of an adult in full-stilt posture (a thermoregulatory behavior), well lit, perfectly focused, and with a dynamic but pleasingly blurred background. It’s a perfect storm of a photo that took the better part of two hours to achieve—rarely do all of these elements come together in a hand-held photograph of an unconfined tiger beetle in its native habitat.

Well, there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my selections, and again please do let me know if you have a personal favorite. See you in 2013!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

23 thoughts on “Best of BitB 2012

  1. Outstanding, as usual, Ted! The one that sticks in my mind is the pill roach defensive posture. Nice and clean, as well as something that I haven’t seen close up to that degree before.

    It’s always such a pleasure to see your work!

    Happy New Year!

  2. All of the photos are wonderful making it difficult to choose the best. Each is fantastic in its own right and for different reasons. The color in Pollen Bath is breathtaking and fascinating that you can actually see the pollen grains covering the beetle. The Pill Roach photo is precious (ok, I’m sure that’s not how you would like to hear it described…but it is) and stunning in the starkness surrounding it. You focus right in on the pill roach and imagine he’s playing a game of hide-n-seek with you. But my favorite has to be Life at 8X. This photo is magnificent in its simplicity. It brings a feeling of peace as we witness a brief moment in the fragile start of life in this microscopic world.

  3. Thanks for all the nice comments everybody!

    Interesting – between here, Facebook and Twitter there doesn’t seem to be a clear winner among the photos, Life at 8X, wolf spider, and limestone tiger beetle all got one vote. Pill roach and leaf beetle each got one vote and one honorable mention, while the firefly larva has gotten two votes.

    Keep the votes coming!

  4. I’ve gotta go with the pill roach, although the absurdity of the bee fly makes it a strong runner up! What a great collection from 2012 Ted, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for you come 2013! Happy New Years!

  5. i just love the colors in the weevil photograph – so rich and striking! though that Perisphaerus is too cute. happy new year, ted! can’t wait to see the photographs you’ll produce in the coming year.

  6. Here are the new standings, with a hands-down winner:
    1. Pill roach – 7 votes + 2 honorable mentions
    2. Weevil – 2 votes
    3. Firefly larva – 2 votes
    4. Leaf beetle – 1 vote + 1 honorable mention
    5. Life at 8X – 1 vote
    6. Wolf spider – 1 vote
    7. Limestone Tiger Beetle – 1 vote
    8. Bee fly – 1 honorable mention
    9-13. Lord of the flies, planthopper nymph, amorpha borer, black is beautiful, or Bronze Tiger Beetle – 0 votes

    Two interesting observations:
    1) the winner is the only one that was taken in an artificial setting (and I fancy myself a specialist of natural, in-habitat photography), and…
    2) the three photos I consider the most technically challenging to get (Limestone Tiger Beetle, amorpha borer, and Bronze Tiger Beetle) garnered a combined total of one vote!
    I guess I still have much to learn about my audience 🙂

    • I can understand why the pill roach attracted so much attention. No doubt people were also bowled over by the word conglobulating that you used in your text to describe the peculiar posture.

      When it comes to anticipating which photographs in my blog will attract more attention or less from viewers, sometimes I’m right and other times I’m not. There have been pictures I’ve liked a lot that have gone mostly unremarked, and others that I’ve liked but that have gotten even more of a favorable response than I expected. C’est la vie.

  7. Sorry I’m late to the party! These are all fantastic, but the one I want to put on my wall (do you sell prints, and if not, have you considered it?) is the leaf beetle. I have a deep weakness for iridescent beetles, I love the composition, and the colors make it really striking.

    My runners-up would be the tiger beetles and the mating weevils.

    (The pill roach is a great photo, but I am really more fond in general of in situ macrophotography, so I admire it in a technical way, but it’s not one I keep going back to.)

    • Thanks – no comment is ever too late. Regarding prints, I am actually in the process of setting up a commercial website to sell prints and licenses. However, let me know if you already know what you want and I’ll see what I can do.

  8. Pingback: Insect Haiku Inspired By Beetles in the Bush


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