Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Lentic and lotic

October 3, 2017

Doesn’t this idyllic place look like ideal habitat for lotic species of odonates? It is!

Lotic refers to flowing water, from the Latin lotus, washed. … Lotic ecosystems can be contrasted with lentic ecosystems, which involve relatively still terrestrial waters such as lakes and ponds. Source Credit: River ecosystem, Wikipedia.

The preceding photo shows the stream crossing at Popes Head Creek, Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA (facing downstream toward Bull Run). Both streams provide ideal habitat for many species of dragonflies and damselflies that prefer flowing water rather than still water.

Tech Tip: I used my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS150 superzoom camera to shoot the landscape photo featured in this blog post. The camera was set for manual focus at the hyperfocal distance for an aperture of f/4, based upon the instructions provided in the excellent video tutorial by Graham Houghton, “Panasonic Lumix FZ camera easier manual focus method — super point-and-shoot tip.”

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

September 5, 2017

Several Black Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes) were spotted on 30 August 20017 during a photowalk along Deephole Point Road at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

The following individual is a male. All of the Black Swallowtails that I observed seemed to be quite skittish, including this guy. He flew away every time I approached him slowly. I noticed that he returned to nearly the same spot after a lot of fluttering around, so I moved to a position from which I could shoot his photo without moving.

108mm (600mm, 35mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/8 | 1/800s | -3 ev

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation is your friend when shooting high-contrast subjects like this Black Swallowtail. It is usually possible to pull detail from underexposed shadows. On the other hand, detail is lost when the highlights are “blown out.” What’s the solution? Expose for the shadows and use exposure compensation to capture detail in the highlights.

Related Resource: The exposure triangle and exposure compensation

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Exuviart

August 22, 2017

Regular readers of my blog remember when I coined the term “Odonart” and created an “Odonart Portfolio.”

I just coined a new term: “Exuviart.” Exuviart is a concatenation of two words: exuvia; and art. The following photographs are the first additions to the Exuviart wing of my Odonart Portfolio.


Unpublished Photo

An Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) exuvia, from the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers), was collected from the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Whenever possible, I like to collect exuviae along with some of the vegetation that was the site for emergence. The vegetation helps to show scale. In this case, the small specimen is approximately 1.4 cm (~0.6″) in length and approximately 0.6 cm (~0.2″) in maximum width. I like the way the desiccated leaf retained its color and gained a velvety texture.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot the preceding photograph: Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR; Canon EF100mm f/2.8 Macro lens plus Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter; Canon 580EX II Speedlite; Canon 580EX Speedlite; and a coiled six-foot Vello Off-Camera TTL Flash Cord for Canon Cameras. The specimen was staged on a piece of white plastic (12″ square, matte finish).


Published Photos

A Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) exuvia, from the Family Aeshnidae (Darners), was collected at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area (MRA), Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot the preceding photograph: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); Canon 580EX II external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; Canon 580EX external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; and a Yongnuo YN-622C-TX E-TTL II Wireless Flash Controller for Canon plus a two-pack of Yongnuo YN-622C II E-TTL Wireless Flash Transceivers for Canon.


A Cobra Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus vastus) exuvia, from the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails), was collected at Riverbend Park with permission from park staff.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot the preceding photograph: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus) plus a Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tube and Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter; Canon 580EX II external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; Canon 580EX external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; and a Yongnuo YN-622C-TX E-TTL II Wireless Flash Controller for Canon plus a two-pack of Yongnuo YN-622C II E-TTL Wireless Flash Transceivers for Canon.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly (female)

August 16, 2017

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) was spotted during a photowalk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages.

Look for immature- and female dragonflies in fields near water, sometimes far from water. I found this female perching in a large field several hundred yards from Painted Turtle Pond.

As a wildlife photographer with a focus on insect photography, one of my mantras is: “Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot.” In other words, don’t miss the opportunity to document a spotting by trying to get a great shot first.

The preceding photo is the record shot. Next, I worked my way around the subject slowly; several shots later I was able to get a good shot of the dorsal side of the dragonfly.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Adding an extension tube

August 2, 2017

Optics theory

The net effect of adding an extension tube between a lens and camera body is the “working distance” is decreased, that is, the distance from the front of the lens barrel to the subject is decreased. A smaller working distance means the same lens will focus closer to the subject, thereby increasing magnification.

The effect is greater at shorter focal lengths, as shown by the following table of magnification for the two extension tubes sold by Fujifilm USA.

Table courtesy Fujifilm USA.

Theory into practice

An Eastern Ringtail dragonfly (Erpetogomphus designatus) was spotted along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and rounded hind wings.

Both photos in this set were taken using my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon XF55-200mm zoom lens plus a “Fotasy” brand 16mm extension tube, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash. The lens was set for a focal length of 200mm (~350mm, 35mm equivalent).

At 200mm, the working distance of the lens is 905 mm (90.5 cm, ~35.63 in), or approximately three (3) feet. With a 16mm extension tube mounted between the lens and camera body, the working distance is reduced to 595 mm (59.5 cm, ~23.43 in), or approximately two (2) feet. At a focal length of 55mm, adding the extension tube would result in photos that look more like “macro” photos; at 200mm, adding the extension tube resulted in photos that look like a lens with a longer focal length was used to take the shots.

The first photo is uncropped. I’ve never been able to get a shot like this using a mid-range telephoto zoom lens such as the Fujinon 55-200mm. The 16mm extension tube is the difference-maker.

The last photo is cropped slightly, but not enough to affect the apparent magnification. I look closely at the edges of my photos. In this case, I cropped the photo to remove some distracting elements and leading lines.

Editor’s Notes

I bought a set of two “Fotasy” brand extension tubes (10mm, 16mm) years before Fujifilm released their set of two. The advantage of the Fotasy extension tubes is a set of two costs a little more than half as much as a single Fujifilm extension tube. The disadvantage is compatibility. The Fotasy extension tubes work with my Fujinon XF18-55mm (27-82.5mm, 35mm equivalent) “kit” lens and Fujinon XF55-200mm mid-range telephoto zoom lens; they don’t work with my Fujinon XF100-400mm (152-609mm, 35mm equivalent) telephoto zoom lens. For what it’s worth, the 100-400mm lens was released after the Fotasy extension tubes. Bottom line: I recommend Fujifilm extension tubes, despite the fact that they are significantly more expensive than Fotasy extension tubes.

The Depth of Field is razor thin, in contrast with shooting without an extension tube. I shot the preceding photos at f/11; f/16 or smaller would have been better.

In order to reduce “camera shake,” I almost always shoot in shutter priority mode using the reciprocal rule. Remember, it’s the 35mm equivalent that matters: since my lens is ~350mm, the shutter speed should be set for at least 1/350s; in this case, it was set for 1/1,000s. A monopod was used for added stability.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

BlackRapid Duo makeover

July 29, 2017

Years ago, I used to photowalk the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park frequently. I knew almost all of the “regular” visitors by sight if not by name. I noticed a man who wore a camera strap designed for two cameras. One day I introduced myself to Ilya Treger and we talked about his two-camera rig. Soon afterward, I ordered a “BlackRapid RS DR-1 Double Strap” from B&H Photo.

After limited field-testing in early 2015, I never used the strap again until recently. BlackRapid camera straps connect to a tripod socket, either on the body of your camera or “foot” of a lens. I knew that when I bought the Double Strap but didn’t realize how annoying it can be to switch a camera from the strap to either a monopod or tripod and vice-versa.

That was then and this is now. I discovered BlackRapid makes an accessory called “FastenR Tripod (FR-T1)” that enables one to connect a Manfrotto 200PL-14 Plate directly to the camera strap. Now that’s what I call a game-changer!

Parts and pieces

The first annotated photograph shows my Sunpak 6700M aluminum monopod plus a Vanguard SBH-100 Ball Head. Three plates are displayed on a microfiber cloth (clockwise from the upper-left): Vanguard QS-39 Quick Release PlateManfrotto 323 RC2 System Quick Release Adapter with 200PL-14 Plate; and Manfrotto 200PL-14 Plate with BlackRapid FastenR Tripod (FR-T1) installed.

Sunpak monopod plus Vanguard ball head and Manfrotto adapter.

The last annotated photo shows ball heads and plates manufactured by Manfrotto and Vanguard. I prefer to use the Vanguard ball head with my monopod since it is smaller and lighter than the Manfrotto ball head.

Ball heads and plates manufactured by Manfrotto and Vanguard.

Some assembly required

The preceding photograph shows a Manfrotto 323 RC2 System Quick Release Adapter that is mounted on a Vanguard QS-39 Quick Release Plate; that assembly is used with a Vanguard SBH-100 Ball Head. A Manfrotto 200PL-14 Plate, with a BlackRapid FastenR (FR-T1) installed, can be connected to the Vanguard ball head equipped with a Manfrotto adapter. The same modified Manfrotto plate works with my Manfrotto 054 Magnesium Ball Head without using the adapter.

Related Resources

Editor’s Note

Product photography isn’t as easy as one might think, as you can tell by my less-than-professional looking photos featured in this post! Although I have equipment on-hand for lighting studio shots properly, in this case I thought quick-and-dirty would be good enough to convey my point.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

“Record shot”

June 21, 2017

As a wildlife photographer with a focus on insect photography, one of my mantras is: “Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot.” In other words, don’t miss the opportunity to document a spotting by trying to get a great shot first.

11 JUN 2017 | Fluvanna County, VA | Dragonhunter (male)

The preceding photograph — heavily-cropped in order to compensate for the distance to the subject — is a “record shot” (at best) of a male Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) that was spotted at the Hardware River Wildlife Management Area, Fluvanna County, Virginia USA.

The dragonfly was photographed from the banks of the Hardware River, approximately 20 feet above the water. Distance seems to be compressed in the photo, an effect of the mid-range telephoto lens used to take the shot. The Dragonhunter was perching ~10 feet above the water. I settled for a “record shot” since there was no way to get closer to the subject.

Tech Tips

The photo was taken using a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash. Adobe Photoshop was used to remove a small distracting element from the left edge of the photo.

Editor’s Note

Thanks to fellow Virginians Karen Kearney and Mike Boatwright for adding the phrase “record shot” to my vocabulary.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Testing 1, 2, 3.

June 11, 2017

During a trip to Riverbend Park on 09 May 2017 to observe the annual mass emergence of Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphurus vastus), I experimented with my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon XF55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash.

The first photo shows a male perching on the pavement near the boat ramp at the park. Regular readers of my photoblog know I’m fond of head-tilts in which the dragonfly seems to display some of its personality.

200mm (300mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/11 | 1/500s | ISO 800 | +1 ev

The last two photos show a female, perching on a fence rail.

200mm (300mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/11 | 1/500s | ISO 800 | 0 ev

200mm (300mm, 35mm equivalent) | f/11 | 1/500s | ISO 800 | 0 ev

Tech Tips: My Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera was set for manual aperture, manual shutter speed, and automatic ISO; the EF-X500 external flash was set for ETTL.

I like to use relatively fast shutter speeds in order to reduce camera shake, resulting in more tack-sharp photos. The default flash sync speed of the X-T1 is 1/180s. (Actually, up to 1/250s works.) My new EF-X500 external flash is high-speed sync compatible so I was able to shoot at shutter speeds faster than the sync speed of the camera, in this case 1/500s. The reciprocal rule says I should have used a shutter speed of at least 1/600s at a focal length of 300mm, but I decided to go conservative and shoot at a slightly slower speed. Most of my photos turned out to be acceptably sharp.

At f/11 and 1/500s, the camera increased the ISO to 800. That’s higher than I prefer to shoot, but hey, the photos look relatively noise-free so no problem.

In my opinion, the EF-X500 external flash was consistently underpowered in ETTL mode. During follow-up testing, I rediscovered something I learned a long time ago: If you want to control the way a photo turns out, then Manual Mode is the way to go.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Crayfish

May 26, 2017

A crayfish was spotted in the shallows of Bull Run, under several inches of water. I estimate it was 3-4 in (~7.6-10.2 cm) in length.

Many crayfish can be particularly hard to identify from a photograph and many new species are still being discovered in Virginia’s waterways. This large crayfish is from the Family Cambaridae and is likely a native species. Other crayfish found in Northern Virginia, like the rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) and red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), were likely introduced via the food industry and pose a serious threat to native crayfish populations. Source Credit: John Burke, Ecologist III, Stormwater Management Branch, Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

10 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | crayfish (underwater)

Notice the first, second, and third pairs of walking legs feature chelae (plural).

A chela /kˈiːlə/, also named claw, nipper, or pincer, is a pincer-like organ terminating certain limbs of some arthropods. The name comes from Greek (χηλή) through New Latin (chela). The plural form is chelae. Legs bearing a chela are called chelipeds. Source Credit: Chela (organ), Wikipedia.

Also notice the slimy stuff on the rocks that makes them super slippery!

The slimy, slippery coating you find on rocks in aquatic systems is periphyton. In freshwater systems, periphyton is mostly comprised of algae but other microorganisms and detritus also collect on submerged rocks. Periphyton serves as an essential food source to many aquatic organisms and can also act as a bioindicator, signaling changes in water chemistry and nutrient levels in the system (Chetelat et al. 1997). Source Credit: John Burke.

Tech Tip:  My Canon 580EX Speedlite external flash unit was set for 1/16 power in order to penetrate the water and illuminate the subject on a bright, sunny day.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Epitheca cynosura exuvia

April 26, 2017

On 13 April 2017, a late-stage emergent teneral female Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) was observed at Painted Turtle Pond during a photowalk around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Several dragonfly exuviae were collected near the same location as the emergent teneral female. All of the exuviae look identical, although there is some variation in size. A two-step process was used to verify the genus and species for one of the larger exuvia.

  • Determine the family.
  • Determine the genus and species.

This specimen is approximately 22 mm (~0.87 in) in length.

Step 1. Family

First, determine the family of the specimen. For reference, watch the excellent Vimeo video, Identifying dragonfly larva to family (8:06). Here’s the decision tree used to identify the exuvia as a member of the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

  • The specimen has a mask-like labium that covers the face, characteristic of four families: Cordulegastridae (Spiketails); Corduliidae (Emeralds); Libellulidae (Skimmers); and Macromiidae (Cruisers).
  • There is no horn on top of the face-head, characteristic of Macromiidae, so it’s not a cruiser.
  • Cordulegastridae has jagged crenulations on its labium, so it’s not a spiketail. The crenulations for Corduliidae and Libellulidae look similar.
  • Look at the anal pyramid to differentiate Corduliidae and Libellulidae [See Photo No. 7.]: It’s probably Corduliidae if the cerci are at least half as long as the paraprocts. [Editor’s Note: It’s probably Libellulidae if the cerci are less than half the length of the paraprocts.]

In summary, the exuvia has a mask-like labium with relatively smooth crenulations, no horn on its face-head, and the cerci are more than half as long as the paraprocts, confirming that the specimen is a member of Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

Notice that dorsal hooks are present and well developed on most abdominal segments.

No. 4 | Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) | exuvia (dorso-lateral)

A lateral view of the exuvia provides a good look at the labium, also known as the mentum, a two-segment hinged “jaw” that is used to grab food: the prementum is the segment of the labium closer to the mouth; the postmentum is the segment closer to the base of the head.

The white filaments that extend from the split in the thorax (as shown in Photo No. 1-7) are breathing tubes, artifacts of the unique respiratory system of dragonfly nymphs.

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

A closer view of the head shows two “bumps” that may be a pair of tubercles.

Step 2. Genus and species

Characters from Identification Keys to Northeastern Anisoptera Larvae, dichotomous keys compiled by Ken Soltesz, were used to identify the genus and species for the exuvia. Although palpal/mental setae were not examined, all other characters match Epitheca cynosura.

dichotomous key: a key for the identification of organisms based on a series of choices between alternative characters. Source Credit: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Alternate Key to the Genera of the Family Corduliidae, p. 29.

Key to the species of the genus (subgenus) Tetragoneuria, p. 32.

No. 7 | Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) | exuvia (anal pyramid)

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

The last photo shows a ventral view of the exuvia. The vestigial hamuli located between abdominal segments two and three (S2-3) strongly suggests this individual is a male, therefore this specimen probably is not the same exuvia from which the teneral female emerged.

(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

Tech Tips:

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the preceding photographs: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus) plus a Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tube; Canon 580EX II external flash tethered to the camera by a coiled six-foot Vello Off-Camera TTL Flash Cord for Canon Cameras, off-camera, in manual mode; the Canon flash optically triggered a small Nissin i40 external flash (in SF mode) used for backlight; and a Sunpak LED-160 Video Light with a white translucent plastic filter used for side light.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: Sincere thanks to Sue Gregoire, Kestrel Haven Migration Observatory, for verifying my tentative identification, and for sharing some good odonate nymph knowledge regarding vestigial hamuli!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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