Professional Pest Controller issue 93

07 December 2018

Micro pest macro photography

Technical | PPC93 December 2018

Macro photography is the process of getting extremely close to a subject (which is usually very small in size, such as insects and spiders), to produce a photograph where the size of the subject is greater than life size. Frank Prior, a Technical Officer for BPCA member company, Precision Pest Management Solutions, has agreed to share his hobby (and second income) with PPC readers.

Macro photography by Frank Prior

From experience, the macro photography process can be done in several ways, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, a stacking process can be used of still or dead subjects to gain a very wide depth of field with a lens wide open, making for a very sharp and detailed end product.

Or, on the other side of macro photography, we can also make use of dedicated macro lenses and an onboard flash to capture small subjects in action utilising a fast shutter speed and smaller aperture to get as much of the subject in focus as possible. Each method is extremely effective, and also a very useful tool to study insect anatomy to determine the species, examine behaviour and, of course, showcase unbelievable diversity.

Starting out

In 2012 I managed to save up enough money for a Canon 550D DSLR and after months of playing with landscapes and portraits, a photograph on the internet caught my eye.

It was a 2:1 perspective of the jumping spider Phidippus audax, a spider common in North America. The photo led me to the discovery of a Flickr page by ‘Thomas Shahan’ and, after scrolling through his work, I knew macro photography was something I wanted to not only attempt, but master. I began to photograph insects around the garden with a standard 50mm prime lens reversed and stopped down to allow for a greater depth of field; the results were okay for a beginner.

Frank’s setup

Over six months I developed a rig with a friend that would allow for movements with 0.1mm (100µm) increments. This lets me mount a pinned subject and move it away or toward the camera with precision. I moved from camera lenses to microscope objectives (such as a cheap Nikon M PLAN 5x from eBay), which gave me more magnification, sharper images, and greater control over the end product.

The rig allowed me to move in steps small enough to get an entire subject in focus over the course of 50-200 images. This was necessary as microscope objective lenses have a fixed, wide open aperture. This means that only a tiny portion of a subject is in focus and, in order to get the entire subject in focus, several photos are ‘stacked’ using specialised software.

Franks current setup

Over the next six years I developed more specialised rigs to accommodate higher magnifications (up to 50x!), and eventually I invested in a Canon 750D which is a perfect body due to having an APS-C sensor, as in the 550D. My current setup is capable of 1µm increments, and I have full control over magnification, focus, depth of field, and lighting.

Lighting in macro photography is one of the most important factors (after the lens you choose). I prefer continuous LED lighting and use cheap IKEA reading lamps with a white filter in place. The light is diffused by white paper, and an exposure of three seconds is given to allow enough light to hit the sensor. However, alterations are made based on F-stop and magnification used.

After a subject is cleaned, dried and pinned (if the subject is dead), the process of deciding magnification and stacking distance is chosen. Once enough images are taken at different focus points along the subject, the photos are stacked and processed in Photoshop to enhance tone, colour, and sharpness. I have an artistic background so the work I produce is displayed in a manner that enhances the perspective in which we look at micro-life. I find this gains more attention when compared to bog-standard library photos of bugs we see a lot of the time.

Close up and personal

Being a nature enthusiast, I don’t usually look ahead of me when walking but instead I focus on what’s beneath my feet, on top of ledges, and even on the ceiling. For the past nine months working at Precision Pest Management Solutions, I find my habit of looking for new bugs to capture has got progressively worse. Before starting in the industry, I knew a job like this would be ideal due to my passion for getting a closer, more detailed view of what’s going on within an environment. Macro photography has allowed me to capture images of a number of pests such as the Australian spider beetle, red-legged ham beetle, and even a cat flea.

These images seem to have gained great interest within the industry already, with Killgerm using my photos for display and anatomical purposes, and the managing director of Precision formulating plans for a possible handbook of ‘micro-pests’. Macro photography, in my opinion, is a fantastic tool that can and should be used in pest management to portray many of the smaller pests in a new light. Quite often, what people can’t, or struggle to see is usually ignored, with SPIs being the smallest pest we deal with, and very commonly in large numbers (due to their rapid rate of breeding).

Therefore, I’ve found that by showing co-workers and clients highly magnified photographs of the pests we deal with, the risks that these insects can bring are understood and appreciated a great deal more than by words alone.

What began as a hobby to obtain a closer, more detailed view into such a diverse world has become much more. Macro photography has allowed me to meet nature enthusiasts such as Bill Oddie, gain recognition in magazines like National Geographic Magazine and Aberystwyth PROM magazine, and also earn a second income by selling images to be used in magazines, online portfolios, and for display purposes in scientific studies.

The process of macro photography can be as simple or complex as the photographer wants to make it. However, time, patience, and a keen eye for detail are all necessary in order to capture photos that spark a reaction with an audience, which is exactly what I want from my work.

Check out Frank’s Flickr page

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Source: PPC93

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