Walkthrough: Face off

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

IMG_8358“Face off”
Canon 5D, MPE-65 @ 3x, 430EXII flash, f13, 1/200th

Wasps are one subject that I really enjoy shooting, but don’t often get the chance. Some species can be very aggressive and unpredictable, so shooting high magnification portraits can simply be out of the question in the natural setting. As I shoot all my macro shots in the field, this really limits my opportunities.

I came across this common paper wasp (Polistes humilis) one cold morning sitting on a blade of grass. Usually, I encounter this species perched on a nest with many other individuals, so my first reaction was to check the surrounding grass to find the nest and ensure I didn’t accidentally stand on or up against it. To my surprise, there was no nest in sight. I looked again but the area was clear so I knelt down in the cold dewy grass for a closer look.

As far as wasps go, this species tends to be less aggressive and unless you physically bump their nest, they will generally leave you in peace. Given this fact and considering how cold it was, I thought I would be in with a good chance of getting a few low-risk shots of this one.

At this stage, I didn’t know how the subject would react to my presence, so I moved in slowly and shot a few lower magnification side on shots. There was no reaction to this and it all but confirmed that the wasp was feeling the effects of the cold and was very lethargic. This was my signal to move in and try for the front on pose shown in the image above that I had been thinking about from the start.

To achieve this angle, I shuffled around until I was kneeling directly in front of the wasp and took hold of the blade of grass it was sitting on, holding it between thumb and fore-finger (thumb on top) about 7-8 cm / 3 inches from the actual wasp. This gave enough separation from the subject to minimise intimidation and also ensured my fingers could easily be kept out of the shot.

Once I had a firm grip, I held the position for 10 or 15 seconds to let the wasp get use to the presence of my fingers… this is an important step as introducing too many elements such as fingers, lens and flash at once can easily spook your subject.

During this time, the wasp stood up and literally looked around and up and down my fingers, but sensing no threat settled back down again. I then placed the end of the lens on top of my thumb and slid in towards the wasp to achieve sharp focus.

Once everything was in place I slowly pulled the blade of grass until it was taught and then using my second finger on the underside of the grass as a brace, bent the tip of the grass down slightly to bring the sloped face of the wasp completely into the small window of depth of field available at these magnifications. After a quick adjustment to ensure sharp focus, I fired off 4 frames (just to be sure!) before letting go and stepping back.

From the time I took hold of the grass to the time I let go was no more than 30 seconds, but it was a short period that I really enjoyed. Coming face to face with an insect that a lot of people don’t like and would try to kill on sight can be a real treat and show that perceptions can be misleading.


* Disclaimer: Wasps can be unpredictable and pack quite a punch with their sting. Take care when shooting them and always keep an eye on their movements and if they become agitated, just walk away!


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