Bad Weather for Insects (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This is what my backyard looked like yesterday:

snow

… and after melting off completely today, is what it will look like again tomorrow.  That’s not good insect weather right there…  I’m really ready for spring!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Water Bug (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I have a giant water bug for you all this week!

Lethocerus uhleri

Lethocerus uhleri

That’s a Lethocerus uhleri nymph, a very large giant water bug common in North Carolina.  This particular individual was only an inch long when I scooped it out of the pond at work, but it was still a baby.  They get quite a bit larger before becoming adults!  I like the way that they looked wholly menacing, even as young’ins.  :)

It’s been cold in Raleigh recently (it’s supposed to dip below zero tomorrow!), so I’m missing my aquatics.  Stay warm, everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Girls and Dragonflies (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

In the summers, I tend to teach a lot.  I get requests to lead programs for our summer camps and other youth programs, so I’m out in the field with 4-8th graders a lot.  Each summer, I do a dragonfly program for the Girls in Science group at my museum and it’s a lot of fun to watch a group of middle school girls with bug nets trying desperately to catch dragonflies.  This past summer I was invited to another site to do the same program with their Girls in Science camp.  This particular group was from a much less affluent part of town than a lot of the kids I work with and were going to camp a few blocks down from a women’s prison.  You could tell that some of these girls had it a little rough at home, but they were the most amazing group of kids!  There were about 12 of them and we caught dragonflies along a greenway through the area.  And you know what?  Those girls caught more dragonflies in the hour we spent catching, photographing, and releasing dragonflies than the three other groups I’d led that month combined!  And they did it with style too.  Check out that nail polish:

Girls in Science dragonfly

That group of girls was awesome, and just thinking about them makes me smile.  So much fun!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Eater of Insects (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I was really excited to find a big group of these little guys in a tree the other day:

Brown headed nuthatch

Brown headed nuthatch

Brown-headed nuthatches!  They’re pretty adorable in general, but it was really fun to watch them digging around in that branch with their beaks as they hunted for insects in the setting sun.  Hope they found a good meal hidden away in there!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Insect Macrophotography with a Canon Powershot SX60

I was given a new camera for my birthday last month.  As you all probably know, I LOVE my cameras and I take photos with them all the time.  The new camera, a Canon Powershot SX60, was an unlikely interest of mine.  I am not what you might consider an early adopter of new technology.  My husband adores trying out beta versions of software and getting the latest and greatest tech gadgets, but I prefer to wait a while so that most of the kinks are worked out before I spend my money.  Kinks annoy me.  I avoid kinks when possible.  So, it’s very unlike me to want a brand new tech gadget, one that is so new that no one’s reviewed it, like this new camera of mine.  But oh did I want it!

See, I’ve gotten rather into photographing birds recently and none of the lenses I have are quite long enough for shooting good, tight bird shots.  However, a really long telephoto lens can easily set you back $15,000 or more and I certainly don’t have that kind of money to spend.  Superzoom cameras, on the other hand, have some AMAZING zoom capabilities for about $500, though I knew that the overall quality is significantly  lower.  I had tried a Powershot SX50 a while back and loved it, so I was thrilled to see that the SX60 was being released.  It’s got a 65x zoom capability (a zoom equivalent of about a 1300mm lens!!) and can focus on a subject less than a centimeter away.  This seemed like my dream walking around camera, one that I could use to photograph the insects and birds I see everyday.  I was ecstatic when I opened it up on my birthday and have been playing around with it ever since.

There are things I absolutely love about the camera.  The zoom is fantastic!  I can take pretty decent photos of birds from 30-40 feet away:

Mockingbird

Mockingbird

I can also get some great shots of the moon:

Moon

Moon

The vibration reduction works well and the camera is surprisingly lightweight, so I can handhold the camera for even the really long shots without too much motion blur.  Neither of the shots above required a tripod, though I did brace my arms on my car for the moon shot.  I feel like this camera does a great job with things that are far away.  There is admittedly quite a bit of noise in the images, especially at high ISO settings (and by high, I mean anything over about 800 ISO), but I feel it does a remarkably good job with telephoto shots given the low cost.  Macro shots…  Well, that’s another matter!

I am not a pro photographer, so I’m sure what follows wouldn’t be considered a true test of the abilities of the SX60, but I did some test shots to see what this camera is capable of.  I don’t expect this camera to take the sort of stunning macro photos my DSLRs are capable of, so I tested it against my tried and true Canon Powershot G12 and my iPhone 5S, the two cameras I’ve carried around with me everywhere for three or four years now and I was hoping to replace with this one.  I wanted to really test the limits of all of the cameras to get a good comparison, so I photographed my trusty fall cankerworm moths under the porch light at night with all three cameras to see how they stacked up.  I set the two Powershots so they would limit themselves to 800 ISO since I knew that the SX60 gets really noisy above that, and I set all of them to auto white balance.

So here are the results.  These are three images straight out of the camera, taken with the three different cameras:

Moths straight out of camera

Moths straight out of camera – iPhone 5S, Canon Powershot SX60, Canon Powershot G12

It’s obvious that you can get closer to the moth with either of the Powershot models than the iPhone 5S, but that’s not surprising.  It doesn’t have any macro ability, but you still get reasonable detail.  Everything turned a little yellow in the iPhone photo, but the SX60 shot wasn’t much better!  The auto white balance on the G12 was the winner here, giving me something close to the actual color of the wall that the moth was photographed on.  You’ll notice too that the shadows get less harsh as you move down the line of photos.  The shadows were bad on the iPhone 5S and a little less pronounced but still obvious on the SX60, but you could see decent detail on the G12.  If I wanted a really high contrast look, the SX60 might be a better option, but I think the G12 produced a more pleasing, better balanced shot.

Even though I like the G12 shot a little better due to better white balance and what I consider a better ability to work with uneven light levels, the SX60 did a little bit better job getting the entire moth in focus.  The wings are similarly focused on all of the shots, but the thorax is a little blurry on the G12 shot.  But let’s take a look at an enlarged detail and see which one does a better job on a fine scale:

Moths enlarged wing details

Moths enlarged wing detail – iPhone 5S, Canon Powershot SX60, Canon Powershot G12

The iPhone 5S is a clear loser here – the details are fuzzy and the resolution is dramatically lower than either of the Powershot models.  To me, the G12 produced the best image here again.  The SX60 shot has a huge variation in the light levels on individual scales, with some completely blown out while others are underexposed.  The light levels are a lot more even in the G12.  What I really notice, however, is the graininess of the SX60 shot.  You can see a lot of noise in the image and there are sections that are muddy and ill-defined.  I think the G12 picked up a lot more detail and generated quite a bit less grain than the SX60.

The conditions in which I took these images are fairly extreme: artificial light from a single source bathing a white wall in light at night.  I tend to take most of my night photos with one of my DSLRs and use a flash, so I probably won’t take a lot of photos in these conditions.  How do the two Powershots stack up in a more typical day shot?  I found a plume moth on the same wall in the shade during the day and shot it with the SX60:

Plume moth SX60

Plume moth SX60

and the G12:

Plume moth G12

Plume moth G12

For both images, I chose an aperture of f/4 and an ISO of 200 and let the cameras choose the shutter speed and white balance.  Neither camera got the white balance quite right, but in these less harsh, daytime conditions, I still think the G12 took the better shot.  The edges of the moth in the SX60 image are just not as crisply well-defined and the contrast between the lights and darks is a little too high.  There’s just not as much detail in the SX60 image relative to the G12’s.  Also, the SX60 chose a lower shutter speed (1/60) than the G12 (1/100), so it took what I think is a less pleasing shot even with a lower shutter speed.  That slower shutter speed might mean the difference between getting a good shot and missing a shot with flighty insects – it’s not ideal!

I’m still playing around with the SX60 and exploring its limitations so I know how to put the camera to best use, but my overall verdict so far is this: I love the SX60’s zoom capabilities and I think it’s going to be great to use for photographing birds and dragonflies, the things for which I really like the extra reach.  I do not at all like it for the macro shots though!  What this unfortunately means is that, rather than replacing my G12 as my walking around camera, I’ve simply added the SX60 onto what I was already carrying!  Granted, this has dramatically increased my ability to get a decent shot of almost anything I might want to photograph, but I’ll admit that carrying around two cameras and a phone is quite a lot of weight for my purse.

Has anyone else used a superzoom camera for macro photography?  I would be interested to hear what you think about any of the models you’ve tried.  I honestly wouldn’t recommend my camera to anyone interested in photographing macro subjects, but are there better options out there?  Leave a comment if you’d like to weigh in!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Giant Caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth

For the past two years, this has been the time of the fuzzy caterpillars. I’m used to seeing hundreds of furry little wormy guys hustling across the road at work and making their way through the grass.  This year, I’ve hardly seen any, but the best one was this impressive beast:

caterpillar

Giant leopard moth caterpillar, Hypercompe scribonia

That’s a giant leopard moth caterpillar, and they live up to the “giant” in their name!  That caterpillar was a good 3 inches long, and quite thick with all of those hairs circling its body.  Shortly after I took this shot, it curled up into a little ring in my hand, a defense mechanism they’re known for that tucks their soft underparts safely sway inside the stiff black hairs.  These caterpillars lack stinging hairs and don’t bite, so they rely on those hairs and the red bands between the hairs (warning coloration!) to deter predators.

Wish I’d seen more of these this year, but this has been a very strange year overall.  Here’s hoping things will be back to normal next year!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Throwback Thursday: My First Digital Insect Macro Shot

I missed Wordless Wednesday yesterday, so today I bring you a Throwback Thursday shot instead!  If you have been living under a social media rock (I know lots of people who do!) and don’t know about Throwback Thursday, it’s a day each week where people post old photos of themselves, their families, anything from the past.  I’m not going to start doing this every week or anything, but today I have a lovely little shot for you, my very first insect macro shot taken with a digital camera.  This beauty was shot in 2003 with a Nikon Coolpix 995, my first digital camera, shortly after I took the camera out of the box and long before I read the instruction manual.  That was the camera I got, but swore up and down to myself and everyone else that I was going to keep shooting film with my retro-riffic 100% manual Nikon F and use the digital camera just for insects and shots that I didn’t want to waste film on.  Ha!  The roll of film that was in my Nikon F at the time is STILL IN THAT DARNED CAMERA!  Someday I’m going to finish that roll and get it developed.  It has a bunch of lovely shots of the Tetons on it…

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.  Without further ado, here it is, my very first digital insect macro…

blurry vespid

Whew!  What a stunner!  With a photo like that, it’s a wonder I didn’t win the National Geographic photo competition that year.  Magazines should have been knocking down my door to take advantage of my obvious natural genius.

I keep all of my photos.  I think I’ve maybe deleted 100 digital photos since I got that first digital camera, and I’ve never thrown away a negative or print from my film camera.  I probably have close to a quarter of a million photos at this point, and I won’t lie: a lot of them suck.  But, I keep them all so that I can learn from my mistakes, gauge how much I’ve improved over time, and remember the moment that I took them.  That photo above is total crap, but I remember that I took that photo of an insect that’s in a display behind me as I type this, that I took it in the living room of my first apartment as I sat on the horrid brown carpet on the floor, that the background is the antique Filipino coffee table I got from my grandparents a good 5 years before my dog chewed it up, that my hedgehog was running happily in his wheel at the time and my gerbils were chewing up a toilet paper tube in that adorable way that gerbils devour paper products.  I was so incredibly happy to have that camera that I would have loved this photo if it were even worse than this!  That photo also helped me learn something about photography and cameras that made me the photographer I am today.  I like that photo.  It marked the beginning of an era of journey into insect photography.  An apparently blurry and improperly white balanced journey, but a journey nonetheless!  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth