The Best of The Dragonfly Woman 2012

Alex Wild is encouraging everyone to display their best science and nature photos of 2012, so I’m jumping on the photo sharing bandwagon!  I feel that 2012 was a pretty good year for me photographically.  Aside from moving to a place where there is a lot more greenery and softer light, I also learned how to use my camera more effectively.  I can definitely say that my photography has improved over the last year and that I am looking forward to further improvement in 2013!  There is, of course, always room for improvement and I already have several goals in mind for the coming year.

While looking through the photos I posted on my blog over the year and choosing the ones that I thought represented my best work, I found myself putting them into categories.  That’s what I do – I categorize things.  Honestly, I probably should have become a taxonomist because my brain works that way anyway.  So, I chose my best of 2012 photos by fitting them into categories.   That’s how they’re presented here.  It’s like my own little personal awards ceremony!  Here we go!

Best Cell Phone Shot

Comatose Ants

Comatose Ants

I find photographing insects and other macro subjects with my iPhone a fun challenge.  I have tried a variety of cell phone “macro” lenses and probably took a couple thousand photos with them over the past year.  One day I spent a few hours wandering around in Tucson photographing insects with a new macro lens attachment and came across the ants in the photo.  They were feeding on what I later learned was narcotic Euphorbia nectar and were essentially comatose.  These little flowers were like ant crack houses!  Every single flower on several bushes had ants sitting on them like this.  I like this photo because the colors are bright and bold, about as crisp as possible with an iPhone close-up shot, and the subject was fascinating.  I ended up sitting on the sidewalk staring at motionless ants for a good half hour.  People probably thought I was insane, but what can you do?

Best Aquatic Insect Shot

Thermonectus nigrofasciatus

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.

This was the first year I tried to take photos of live aquatic insects and my first few attempts were good enough that I kept at it all year.  This is, I think, my best photo of an aquatic insect, the predaceous diving beetle Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.  It’s one of my favorite beetles anyway, but there’s something about the way the flash lit up the elytra in this particular shot that I really like.  The beetle almost glows, the way it would in a clear, sunny Arizona stream.  They’re really beautiful beetles, and I feel this shot captured a lot of that beauty.

Best Spider Photo

Phidippus sp

Phidippus sp

I spent years looking for jumping spiders in Arizona and I only came across a handful of them.  Happily, I see them all the time in North Carolina!  I invariably scoop them up, take them home, and do a little photo shoot in my white box every time I find one because I secretly want to be Thomas Shahan and need to practice.  This one, however, is my favorite.  The spider was sitting up on top of the wooden fence at work, so you can see all the nature in the background.  It might not be perfectly crisp (I took this with my point and shoot, which has limited depth of field), but the spider is just so darned adorable!  I took a bunch of white box shots of this spider as well, but I didn’t like any of them as well as this one.

Most Difficult Shot

phantom midge

Phantom midge larva, Chaoborus sp

Have you ever tried to photograph something that’s almost clear and floating in water?  The phantom midge larvae were far and away the most frustrating of my photographic subjects of the year because it was just impossible to focus on them.  I never did get the shot I wanted, but this one is the best so far.  I know where I can get thousands upon thousands more of these larvae though, so I can try again!

Best Insect Eyes

Crisp eyes

Crisp eyes on a blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

I learned something important at BugShot this year: that I was sacrificing crispness for depth of field by turning my aperture up too high.  You’ll notice how none of the photos before this one are very crisp – my aperture was WAY too high on most of those!  This one doesn’t have the world’s best depth of field, but it was my first ever successful shot highlighting the ommatidia, the individual facets, of a dragonfly’s eyes.  I rather like this shot, though I also didn’t diffuse my flashes as well as I could have.  Next year, one of my goals is to get another shot like this with just a bit more depth of field and no twin light spots reflecting off the eyes.

Best Night Shot

happy moth

Happy moth

I took this shot in some terrible, weak light at BugShot.  This was the last evening of the workshop, so I’d traded in my fancy plastic diffusers for the much lower-tech, yet much superior sheets of white plastic we were given at registration.  In doing so, I was able to get some great night shots, some of which I doubt most people would even know were taken in the dark.  This one wasn’t taken in total darkness, but I like how it came out.  It’s rather clear and crisp, so it’s technically good, but there’s something about the jaunty angle of the moth that appeals to me.

Best White Box Photo

Weevil side

Weevil side view

After BugShot and my big aperture revelation, I returned home eager to practice.  I collected many insects and photographed them in my white box so I could try out what I learned.  This was one of those shots and I think it’s the best white box shot I got all year.  I like that I can see all the hairs on the weevil, especially the sporty little mustache.  Plus, it is an absolutely adorable beetle.

My Favorite Photo of the Year

Eastern tiger swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

This photo isn’t the most perfect photo I took as the characteristic tails of this eastern tiger swallowtail are hidden behind a bit of shrubbery and the button bush flower and part of the butterfly’s head aren’t in focus.  However, this is my favorite photo of the year because I adore the dreamy, soft light.  It almost looks like a studio shot, but it was taken in the field with 100% natural light.  North Carolina has stunning light, especially when it’s cloudy (as it often is), so I am really looking forward to taking more photos like this in the coming year.

As you can see from the range of photos I’ve chosen as my “Best of 2012,” I don’t have a single style.  I have several goals for my photography in 2013, but developing a signature Dragonfly Woman style is near the top of my list.  Otherwise, I feel that I am improving and I can see that my photos got better over course of the year, but I still have a lot to learn.  Hopefully I’ll be able to share even better photos with you in 2013!

Happy New Year’s everyone!  I hope you all have a great night and a fantastic new year.


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

22 thoughts on “The Best of The Dragonfly Woman 2012

  1. A great collection. The colour and the composition of the cell phone photo really caught my eye and enforces my growing feeling that there is a lot more to a good photograph than a good camera.

    • The camera does play a role, but I think anyone can take good photos with cruddy cameras if they try. It’s all a matter of playing up the strengths of what you have! My cell phone has a pretty decent camera, but if the subject is moving much at all or the light is low, there’s just no point in trying to photograph it because they’re just not going to turn out well at all. In good light and in the right conditions, though, my phone can get some surprisingly good shots! But, I had to play around with it a lot to figure that out too. You just have to practice until you figure out what works best for the equipment you have!

    • Thanks Morgan! That means a lot coming from you. I really do think that moving had a lot to do with the improvement I noticed as the light in North Carolina is just so much more conducive to pleasing photos than it ever is in Arizona, but I’m definitely learning how to use my DSLR so that I can play up its strengths better too. I’m really looking forward to it warming up again so I can start photographing insects again!

  2. Great shots. Phantom midge larva are a pain. I have manage a shot or two, but only after a number attempts. I manual focus and try to follow them by moving the camera as they float out of focus! Then I just take loads and few will come out ok!

    • That sounds about like what I did! Yeah, they’re a pain. You finally get everything focused and ready to go, and then they move. So aggravating! But I’m determined to get a really good shot of one eventually too. It might take a while, but eventually I’ll get what I want.

    • I bought my white box, but I’m not all that satisfied with it either. It is a collapsible, travel white box, which is great in some ways, but it doesn’t reflect all the light back onto the subjects inside the box either. It’s made of a translucent fabric, so some of the light goes through the fabric and is lost. That’s not ideal. I have another one that I made myself from a 12 inch 15 inch by 12 inch by cardboard box lined with sheets of 11×17″ copy paper that I use at work occasionally. It does a better job of trapping the light inside the box, but it also isn’t collapsible. There are always tradeoffs.

      Honestly, making your own is incredibly simple and cheap! I can recommend a few sources:

      Alex Wild’s cheap toilet paper white box:
      Adrian Thysse’s fancier, collapsible white box (I want to make one, but haven’t gotten to it yet…):
      And a couple of photos of the white box we used at BugShot 2011, made from pvc pipes and copier paper: and

      Hope one of these will give you some ideas of how to make your own! I’m not even going to provide a link to the white box I have because more often than not I have been using a modified partial white box technique with very well-diffused flashes shining directly on my subject on a piece of white paper propped up on a table with a box or something similarly low-tech, like this:

      That’s a piece of paper propped up on a box against the wall in my home office. It has been working well for me with my camera and flash setup, is virtually free, and is incredibly portable!

      If you don’t want to make something yourself, you can find some good options on either Amazon or B&H Photo online too. They range from fairly inexpensive ($40-$50) to quite expensive, depending on the model. Read some reviews to get a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses.

      Hope this helps!

    • Glad you like my ant crack house description. It’s actually rather accurate! :) And until I saw these ants, I had no idea that they might do something like this. Another biologist told me that the nectar of this species is narcotic, but it wasn’t until then that I realize what I was actually seeing. Pretty cool huh? Little ant drug addicts!

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