Posts Tagged ‘aperture’

The importance of aperture, redux


Lasius claviger at f3.5

Lasius claviger at f/3.5

Lasius claviger at f/13

Lasius claviger at f/13

I wouldn’t say that either image is better.  The first is dreamier, more abstract, more interpretive.  The second is crisp and illustrative.  Quite a difference for a small tweaking of camera settings!

Most of my insect photography falls in the small-aperture realm of the second image, but on reflection I probably ought to play around more with images like the first one.

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Among the least understood technical aspects of photography, at least for novices, is aperture.  Yet aperture has profound effects on the resulting image.  Consider the following series of photos, each taken with a macro setup of an MP-E lens on a Canon dSLR camera, focused at the foremost tip of an ant head head shot at increasingly smaller apertures:

apertureWhat’s going on?


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Odontomachus meinerti trap-jaw ant, Argentina

One perk of being at a research university is the opportunity to shoot the various study organisms on campus.  These subjects are interesting– they have to be, or they wouldn’t be studied- and when the research goes public I get the chance to disseminate my photographs with the science media outlets that cover the story.

Among my favorite campus animals is the Odontomachus trap-jaw ant, one of the focal taxa in Andy Suarez’s lab.  The researchers are looking at the biomechanics of the jaw, one of the fastest recorded appendages among all animals, and how it evolves to suit the differing ecology of the dozens of species in the group.  One of Andy’s students works on the structure of the mandible itself, recording where the chitin is the hardest, thickest, and heaviest.  I thought it’d be useful to have an image that really draws attention to just the mandibles, and not the ant attached to them.

This is a different sort of image than my usual fare.  Most macro work takes place at the small apertures of f/11 to f/18 or so.  These settings are pretty standard for insect photography, as they extend the depth of field and bring more of the insect into focus.  But every now and then I have reason to go the other direction.  Here, I opened the aperture to f/5.6, bringing the mandibles into very sharp detail while the rest of the ant blurs away. Perfect for an illustration of  the dense chitin along the jaws’ leading edge.

Oh, and here’s a shot of the whole animal, at f/13:

Odontomachus meinerti, Argentina

Odontomachus meinerti, Argentina

photo details (both images): Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D
ISO 100, 1/250 sec, twin flash diffused through tracing paper

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