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- 2005 Nature Photography and Bird Watching Trip, Outer Banks, NC


Nature Photography

My main photographic tools consist of a Nikon digital SLR with a 200 mm telephoto lens for long-range shots of birds and other animals, and a 50 mm macro lens for close-up photography of flowers and insects.

I like to photograph landscapes, animals, flowers, and other interesting natural scenes. To get good photos, I've gone on several trips to various wilderness areas, which include:


Nighttime Insect Photography

Taking photographs at night requires the use of flash units to illuminate subjects as well as to stop the motion of flying insects.

I put together what I call an insect box--a styrofoam cooler with evenly-spaced holes for 10 Vivitar 283 flash units pointing toward the interior. A front panel has a round entry hole with an infrared crossbeam photogate mounted on it, and is the only route of entry into the box from the front and sides. If an insect breaks the crossbeam, it triggers the camera to open its shutter, and the camera sets off the flashes. The camera is inserted into the rear of the box through its own hole, which is large enough for its macro lens. It and the insect entry hole are adjusted so that the rim of the hole doesn't show up on film, only the space inside where the insect might fly through.


The camera is focused beforehand on the crossbeam intersection point by slowly inserting an object through the hole and stopping when the flashes go off. The camera is then focused on the front of the object, which will be at the crossbeam intersection. This focusing step needs to be repeated each time the camera is moved.

Getting Insects to Come to the Photogate

It's advantageous to have a way to entice insects to fly through the photogate so you don't have to count on chance. Otherwise you'll be out all night without getting any photos at all.

Nocturnal insects frequently come out at dusk and dawn, and less frequently in the middle of the night. They won't fly when there's heavy rain, but they will come out after a rainstorm. They tend to be more active when there's lots of moonlight out, but with such a bright light source in the sky there's less of a chance they'll be attracted to your photogate. However, if there are tons of insects out, that will increase the number that are attracted to your photogate, which means a moonlit night might be better for photography than a moonless night.

If there is light pollution from artificial light sources nearby, this also decreases your chances of having insects come to your photogate. They'll distribute themselves amongst the artificial lights instead.

Attracting Insects with Ultraviolet (UV) Light

UV light is highly attractive to nocturnal insects, and a good UV source isn't too hard to find. Just power up any old fluorescent blacklight; if you're in a good area, insects will start flocking to your light like party-goers to a rave. Incandescent sources aren't supposed to be as attractive to insects as UV sources, but if there are lots of incandescents around or they're really bright compared to your blacklight, that will outweigh its attractiveness.

To solve this problem, you can try to get away from artificial lights so that your photogate is near the only light source for a good distance. That will give you lots of insects if they're out flying. If you can't get away from artificial lights, then grab a jar and go toward the lights. You can try catching the insects that are flying around the artificial lights in the jar, and then holding the jar over your photogate. It takes some time to get moths to fly sideways into the photogate hole, and if they're small they can sometimes miss the photogate and end up flying around or sitting inside the insect box. It's really hard to get beetles to fly at all once they've settled down near a light source.

Too Much UV?

There's something about UV light that attracts insects from a near distance, but once they've made it within inches of the UV light, they want to settle down and not fly. That means they're not going to go through your photogate. Sometimes they won't even crawl when nudged. It's as though they're playing dead. If they're removed from the light, they'll start moving around again after a few minutes. Some take longer than others. This can be a problem for photography.

At first I thought this might be because the insects were being blinded by the UV, but if so, why wouldn't they at least move when nudged? I guess this could be a predator defense mechanism, to play dead if you can't see. But then, nocturnal insects didn't evolve under the intensities of UV light that blacklights put out. In a natural environment, there's not much that could blind a nocturnal insect except for possibly lightning and fire. There's no need to play dead when those things are encountered. So now I'm guessing the effects of UV on these insects might just be a physiological reaction resulting from the exposure to intense UV light. If our eyes were exposed to intense light, we would be blinded for a few minutes and it would be advantageous for us to stay still so we don't bump around into things.

Insect Photography Links

Using Blacklights (UV) to Attract Nocturnal Insects:



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