Behind the Frame (Macro Photography): Metamorphosis

Shivan Parusnath Macro, Shivan 3 Comments

Inbetween the technical articles on macro photography,  I will drop a few “behind the frame” posts detailing how I captured some of my favourite images, and where relevant, discuss the biology of the species being photographed.

One night after a braai at the Wits Rural Facility in Bushbuckridge, I was walking around with Alexander Herp Lab alumnus Bryan Maritz, looking for chameleons, when a moulting cricket glowed white in the beam of my headlamp.

My Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L macro lens was already attached to my 5D Mark II, since it is my go-to lens for shooting pretty much any animal I would expect to find after dusk (click here for more on lenses). At the time, the only flash I had was a Canon MT-24ex macro ring flash, but no mount for the front of the lens, so the flash was hand-held (by Bryan). (Later I realised that having the flash slightly off-centre produced a much more pleasing image than having it shoot straight on, which can produce flat looking images).

The cricket was awkwardly positioned along the branch it was on, the wings were still folded and curly, and it was tough to differentiate between the freshly moulted cricket and the old exoskeleton. After about 10 minutes the only shots I was able to get all looked like this:

A metamorphising cricket. Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens at 1/200th sec, f/20, ISO 200.

Cool, but awkward.

Interesting, for sure, but not particularly aesthetically pleasing. I decided to leave the cricket to continue its slow and awkward exit from its previous body and continued looking for chameleons, and on the way back (about 40 minutes later) stopped by the cricket again. By this time, the cricket had extricated itself from its shed, ascended higher up on the branch and had spread its wings out, drying them. This certainly made this insect more photogenic, and I spent another 25 minutes with it, careful the whole time not to disturb it during this delicate process.

I took many shots of the crickets, from different angles, framed differently, and with the flash in different positions. My favourite shot was a photograph that captured the freshly shed cricket with its wings and antennae spread out below it, parallel to the branch it was on, and its body clearly differentiated from its shed exoskeleton:

A metamorphising cricket. Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens at 1/200th sec, f/25, ISO 200.

The hero shot.

The cricket looked magnificent – when you spend enough time with a small animal at its own level, you lose track of spatial dimension. I was in awe of this spectacular creature and the bizarre and beautiful process it had just gone through. This shot has become one of my favourite macro photos, because of the story of transformation it tells, and the great experience I had watching it throughout its shedding process. Like most macro photography experiences, getting this particular shot required some patience, and some discretion to not disturb the subject while in a very fragile state.

From a technical standpoint, setting up my camera for this shot was fairly simple. Because I was using a flash, my camera automatically dropped to its max shutter speed when a flash is attached (1/200th sec). I used a low ISO speed (200) to avoid noise, and set the aperture to a fairly narrow f/25. I closed the blades down to f/25 because I wanted to get the entire animal and its shed in focus, and depth of field with macro photography is always thin. Here is a picture showing several of the photographs I took to find the hero shot.

I look forward to writing more “behind the frame” shots to provide a back story to some of my favourite photographs. My next macro photography article will provide some insight into using alternatives to macro lenses for macro photography and will drop next week! In the mean time, check out more photos on Instagram and 500px.

Cheers for now…

About the Author

Shivan Parusnath


I am currently doing my PhD research on the conservation of the Sungazer (Smaug giganteus), a threatened South African lizard species, at Wits University in JHB. Working with reptiles over the past 6 years has fueled my obsession with macro photography. My aim with photography is always to portray a subject on its own level, whether a lion, a lizard or an ant. I am also excited by in-habitat shots, where the subject is shown in the context of its natural habitat. This is great specifically for rare or threatened species, so people who might not readily get an opportunity to see these animals can gain a greater appreciation for where the species fits into the bigger picture.


Comments 3

  1. Pingback: Behind the Frame (Macro Photography): Metamorphosis - Africa Freak

  2. Pingback: Macro Photography: Which flash? - Wild Eye

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