Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography – Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.


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Black and White Dragons

 

A recently emerged Dragonfly opens it's wings for the first time. It' will never close them again.

A recently emerged Dragonfly opens it’s wings for the first time. It will never close them again.

In the last few months I have mainly been photographing Dragonflies and at some point I started thinking about getting good B&W images as something a bit different to the standard colour images. I love making B&W images because you can really push the editing and manipulate the image in a way that just looks very unnatural in colour. This is due to the fact we don’t naturally see in B&W therefore we are not expecting to see a natural scene.

There have been loads of dragonflies emerging from the pond in my garden. I have probably photographed about 15 individuals in various stages of emergence and there are many many more exuviae (the larval cases left after the dragonfly emerges) of the ones I have missed. I wouldn’t have thought that my smallish garden pond could hold anywhere near that many larvae at one time. Interestingly there was no frogspawn in the pond this year (lots of frogs though) however there are tons of smooth newt tadpoles for the dragonfly larvae to prey on.

Preparing for the maiden voyage.

Preparing for the maiden voyage.

The wings are open and have hardened but the veins are still slightly translucent.

The wings are open and have hardened but the veins are still slightly translucent.

In previous years I have seen a few common darters in the garden but the ones emerging from the pond are southern hawkers, a much bigger species. They seem to sit at the bottom of a stem for a few days before climbing out, apparently to start getting used to breathing air however I’m not sure how true that is as insects breathe through holes in their thorax and abdomen called spiracles. After crawling up an appropriate stem the dragonfly bursts out of the larval case and pumps haemolymph (insect blood) into its wings and abdomen to expand them. The newly emerged dragonfly then hangs off the stem for a while whilst its exoskeleton and wings harden, during this time they are pale and translucent. When it has hardened enough the wings open and the dragonfly vibrates the flight muscles to prepare for its maiden voyage. the whole process can take up to a couple of hours. Unfortunately I haven’t yet caught one in time to get the very start of the process but I have plenty of shots before the wings open.

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When the weather is bad Dragonflies seem to disappear.  In fact they are resting in trees, hidden away from predators so are difficult to find.

When the weather is bad Dragonflies seem to disappear. In fact they are resting in trees, hidden away from predators so are difficult to find.

Here’s a couple in colour as well to show them emerging:

Recently emerged from the pond.

Recently emerged from the pond.

Back-lit to show the translucency of the body and wings before they open.

Back-lit to show the translucency of the body and wings before they open.

If you enjoyed these images please check out my website or like my facebook page.

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Bees!

Hairy-Footed Flower Bee

Hairy-Footed Flower Bee

There have been steadily more and more bees frequenting the flowers in my garden and as these are some of my favorite macro subjects I have been spending a lot of time chasing them about.

Bees are very temperature sensitive (especially the solitary bees) with cooler temperatures slowing them down and even semi paralysing them therefore the best time to photograph them is on a cool intermittently sunny and cloudy day. It needs to be warm enough for  them to be active but when there are fast moving clouds bees can get caught out and won’t be able to fly off or move much until the sun comes out again. Often they will all just disappear but you just have to look very hard for the one or two that didn’t make it back home.

When these bees are cold they are very easy to manipulate onto a nice flower or stem and set up with a good background. They will often sense your body heat and try to climb on your finger where they will sit for a while until they have warmed up enough to fly. This makes photographing them much easier than trying to chase after them when they are active!

At the moment I have several species of bee including a few of the bumble bees, hairy-legged flower bee, red masonry bees, a couple of mining bees including only one tawny mining bee so far and a couple of nomada cuckoo be species.

I also spent a day building a “bee hotel” which should provide places for masonry bees and leafcutter bees to lay their eggs. It’s very easy to build your own bee hotel and I just used some old scrap wood and old bricks that I found in the garden with a few bamboo canes cut to the right size. If you are going to build a bee hotel there are plenty of good guides on the internet but the important things are to make sure that it faces south, receives full sun as early as possible, is sheltered from the elements as much as possible and is off the ground.

Whilst moving the bricks for the bee hotel I found about 7 Smooth Newts which I will post images of soon!

My Bee Hotel! Needs a bit more bamboo to fill the gaps.

My Bee Hotel! Needs a bit more bamboo to fill the gaps.

 

I hope you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed making them and please like my facebook page or visit my website for more pictures! 

www.robinhoskyns.co.uk

Robin Hoskyns Photography Facebook Page

 

More Bee pictures:

A Mining Bee, probably an Andrena species.

A Mining Bee, probably an Andrena species.

A cold wet Mining Bee on my finger for warmth.

A cold wet Mining Bee on my finger for warmth.

Hairy-Footed Flower Bee closeup

Hairy-Footed Flower Bee closeup

Red Masonry Bee

Red Masonry Bee

Red Masonry Bee

Red Masonry Bee

Bumble bee

Bumble bee

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DIY “plamp” for under £5!

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I had a few people ask me about the DIY plamp that I used in my last post (First Macro of the Year!) so I thought I’d explain how I made it.

Firstly I’m not the first person to try this and if you search “DIY plamp for macro” then you will get many results with different ideas.

The idea is based on the Wimberly plamp and is used for attaching various things to a tripod. This is mainly useful in natural light macro to hold a branch with an insect in place on a windy day or to hold a reflector to get a bit of under lighting on the subject. The wimberley plamp is a great bit of kit and is well built however they cost nearly £40! I thought I’d try making one as it seems a lot to ask for a small bit of kit and managed to find all the bits I needed for under £5.

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Firstly search for “foam covered wire” and you get a fair few results also try “twist ties” or something like that. I got a pack of two for £3! You can also find them at garden and DIY centres for holding delicate plants to stakes and generally attaching things to other things. Then I bought a pack of clamps, I got the cheapest at £1.50 for eight! They probably aren’t the best clamps and are a little small to clip to my tripod but actually they are fine for what I need them for. I then attached the clamps to the twist ties with a couple of cable ties that I had lying around and that was it!

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I find that a single tie on its own is a little bit wobbly in the wind but by twisting two together it is strong enough. I also like that this gives the flexibility to use two if necessary. I attach them to the tripod just by twisting them around and it seems to work quite well however I may invest in some larger clamps at some point just for speed in setting up. I also taped some foam to one of the clamps to try to stop it squashing delicate flower stems but I think this needs a little more work.

So there you go, DIY plamps for under £5! Please feel free to leave any comments below.

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A few quick pictures taken with the plamp today:

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First Macro of the Year!

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I found a 7-spot Ladybird inside the house yesterday so I thought it would be a great opportunity to dust off my macro gear!

I’m hoping try out some slightly more “environmental” macros this year rather that full frame close ups so I thought I’d use the wireless flash control on the 7d to experiment with more of a field studio sort of set up. Since I got the 7d (well over a year ago now!) I have been meaning to try it out with wireless flash for macro work but up until now I haven’t had the time. I was wondering if this could be a way to get softer light on larger subjects as these need to be further away from the camera and I can experiment with much larger softboxes and diffusers which would be impractical to attach to the camera and it also might help to illuminate the background more with closer shots as light fall-off and black backgrounds are a constant problem with macro work.

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My Set-up with my coat to lie on as it was a bit damp still!

I used my new tripod which has a “tiltable” centre column to position my flash where I wanted it and my homemade “plamp” (some foam covered wire ties and some small clamps!) to hold the diffuser. This didn’t quite work as well as I’d hoped. The light didn’t seem as soft as I would like as there were still some blown highlights and it was difficult to find an angle where the reflections on the ladybirds shell were minimised. Anyway I got some shots that I was happy with and the benefit of this sort of set-up appears to be much better background lighting which Is what I was going for. I think it needs a bit more experimentation and I’m going to try and see if it also works for the MPE for much closer shots!

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A more detailed shot of the lighting setup where you can see my homemade plamp.

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