Will and I have been thinking about writing a series of blog posts on some of our favourite images and how they were taken. The aim is to provide a little more explanation behind some of the techniques that we use and to highlight the most important things to consider when you’re taking wildlife photos.
So, I’m kicking off with my mosquito emerging series of photos. As is the case with most of my macro photos, the inspiration behind these shots came from getting outside and actively searching for subjects – you can’t always expect to come up with good ideas whilst sitting on your backside!
I noticed the larvae of these mosquitoes living in a stagnant pot of water in my garden. I did a bit of research into their development and discovered that it takes about 1-2 weeks (depending on the temperature) for them to develop into the adult form that we all know and love! This was perfect, since it gave me a good amount of time to try and come up with a set up to photograph them as they emerged.
Over the course of about 14 days, I maintained a keen eye on their development. I kept the larvae in a glass of distilled water in my room, covering the glass with perforated cling film – I didn’t want my face to suffer any consequences during the night! Once the larvae had turned into pupae, I knew they were close to hatching. As soon as I saw one that had straightened out (normally they are curled up a bit like cooked shrimp), I knew it was about 5 minutes until go-time.
I transferred the mosquito into a custom made pot of water and made final adjustments to the setup. I was using a Canon EOS 5D with an MP-E 65mm macro lens. For the lighting, I had three flash units – a macro ring lite and two supplementary strobes. Additionally, I had two desktop lamps (one 20 Watt and another 40 Watt) to illuminate the green background. Working at such large magnifications meant that I needed plenty of light to keep the ISO low, the aperture small and shutter speed high.
In order to obtain a strong reflection, I had to get an extremely shallow angle with the surface of the water. This effect is known as Total Internal Reflection. An aperture of around f/16 provided a sufficient depth of field, however, using a magnification of around 4x meant that I encountered some softness in my images due to small aperture diffraction.
After the mosquito had fully emerged from the pupal case, it rested on the surface of the water for a few minutes whilst it pumped fluid into its wings to harden them. I took as many photos as I could, but I was limited by how long it took the flashes to recharge to full power. In total the whole process from start to finish took no more than 5 minutes.
It really was an amazing process to observe through my lens and it actually gave me genuine respect for these insects. Of course, if you have any questions about the set up or anything else then leave a comment below.
Update: We were interviewed about these photos by the BBC. We have embedded the interview below: