Three ways of shooting a stick insect

The mediterranean stick insect (Bacillus rossius) is one of the longest insect in Europe, with a length up to 10 cm. Therefore, it happens to be a good subject for even a wide angle macro shot. I have found an adult female in Dalmatia, on our family holiday so immediately ran back to the apartment to bring my gear. Luckily, it was still hanging on the plant where I spot it. First I took the Sigma 15mm fisheye lens and installed the twin flash including the softboxes. The wide angle presents the closer and the farer environment too:

Hand-held exposure at 1/100 sec. ƒ/22 ISO 400, the subject was illuminated with diffused flashlight.

The next style is completely different: focal length is 100 mm, aperture wide open, making the background blurred, separating the insect from its ambience:

I took this photo with the Canon EF100/2.8 USM macro lens hand-held at 1/400 sec. ƒ/4.5 ISO 100, direct sunlight was reflected from the right.

At last, I got closer with the MP-E65 lens and took a 2:1 mixed light exposure, focusing on the unusual head. Here I used a single flash diffused with white plastic foam board, the background was lit by the sun.

Hand-held exposure at 1/80 sec. ƒ/10 ISO 400, field of view = 18×12 mm, uncropped.

An early blister beetle

Apalus bimaculatus (Coleoptera, Meloidae) is probably the first sign of the approaching spring if you are a coleopterist in Hungary. They usually appear in February when the temperature hits 10°C, first males fly above the weak grass in the sunshine.

Few days later females come out but they fly less, rather walking on the ground and waiting for the males to be attracted by the feromons. Since they move less, it is more difficult to spot them inspite the flashy color. This coloring may warn off the predators – mainly birds. The chemical what the body contains is cantharidin which causes painful blisters on the skin and who knows what else in the tract if swallowed.

This species parasitise solitary bees, primarily mining bees (Colletes sp.). Before the bees start their adult life, these beetles end their life cycle, females lay the eggs then die. The hatching larvae clamber the bees when they visit flowers, and travel to the nest to start the parasite life.

Female sits quietly on a haulm.

Females’ abdomen is always orange, here is full of eggs

Mating begin immediately after one male meets the female. It usually takes only few minutes whilst they sit motionless, performing cooperative subjects. Otherwise capturing them may be painful, especially in warm sunny weather.

The species is surprisingly spreaded in urban areas, it’s known from several point of Budapest. The spot I have photographed them, found in the suburb, next to a subway station:

All the macro shots were taken handheld with the Canon MP-E65/2.8 macro lens at various magnification. Illuminated with a single diffused Speedlite 270EX flash.

Playing with Squills

The beginning of spring brings new opportunities for the macro photographers. In Europe, Squills (Scilla spp.) start flowering by the end of February. There’s a growing population of it close to my home in the city park of Budapest, each year I find more and more plants. Now I visited the site with a camera and used a newly discovered vintage lens of my father’s ancient Praktica. This is the Meyer Optik Primoplan 58/1.9 which is famous of its unique bokeh.

I had to attach a short extension tube and a 1.5x teleconverter from Vivitar, to achieve the required magnification.

Each shot taken handheld on a low angle, illuminated by the natural light.

Later I decided to take some wide angle shots with an Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-W 24/2.8 objective. This lens is a superb piece of glass with a very short (34mm) and small diameter body. It has an excellent, 25cm closest focus giving the ability of macro shots. This will show you the surrounding area with big trees and buildings in the background:

Since I am very close to the plants here, illuminating the foreground is necessary. The best way to avoid unnatural impression is to use a diffused twin flash with reduced power. Mine is a DIY-ed Canon-Minolta blending and it doesn’t let me adjust anything so must play with the sensitivity and the distance of the flashes.

At last here are some older macros starring ants (Prenolepis nitens) on the flowers, taken with Canon’s MP-E65 macro lens:

Beautiful whitecedar pest

Lamprodila festiva despite its small size (5-10 mm) might be one of the most spectacular jewel beetle (Buprestidae) in Central Europe. The species is native to Hungary, although it was discovered only in 1999 near the southwestern border in a juniper (Juniperus communis) woodland. Its known host plants are the members of the coniferous  family of Cupressaceae. Till now we did not find it elsewhere in the country, but last year some amateur entomologists reported its presence from different points of Budapest, always related to dry whitecedars (Thuja occidentalis) and false cypress (Chamaecyparis sp.). As the news spread I looked for the signs of the beetles late in the season. Surprisingly, I find dozens of exit holes in gardens, even in the district when I live!

Exit holes can be seen mainly on the trunk:

This year‘s spring I have collected pieces of cut Thuja trees along the streets. Galleries of the larvae were present in high number but the insects were already inside the wood, probably in their pupal chambers.

A fully developed pupa shortly before the last molt:
Canon EOS 5DII + MP-E65/2.8 lens + diffused Speedlite 270EX flash

I kept the wood in a plastic bag on the balcony. In late May the adults started to come out:

Looking the woods closer, some of the holes were still not left:
Canon EOS 5DII + MP-E65/2.8 lens + diffused Speedlite 270EX flash

I waited a few minutes and the beetle tried to leave. The moment of the coming out was really short so I could take pictures only with the peeking head:
Canon EOS 5DII + MP-E65/2.8 lens + diffused Speedlite 270EX flash

Freshly emerged specimen:
Canon EOS 5DII + MP-E65/2.8 lens + diffused Speedlite 270EX flash

Few days later a friend found a place where hundreds of adults were sitting on small living trees. Here’s his report along with other xylophagous beetles:

I’ve also visited the place to shoot them in their habitat.

Wide angle photos to have the idea about the unnatural circumstances:
Canon EOS 5DII + EF20/2.8 lens + 8 mm extension tube, handheld.

With my friend who is looking for a beetle fallen down to our approach (another one stayed on the plant):
Canon EOS 5DII + EF20/2.8 lens + 8 mm extension tube, handheld.

Two focus stacks for a better depth of field:
Focus stack of 66 exposures with Canon EOS 5DII + MP-E65/2.8 lens. More info.

Focus stack of 45 exposures with Canon EOS 5DII + MP-E65/2.8 lens.

This species is not alone on the woods, I found individuals of the tiny parasitic wasp Metacolus unifasciatus (Hymenoptera, Pteromalidae). It is not clear to me if they are related but there’s a chance.

Tiny cricket in sufferance

At the end of March I willingly would have liked to shoot arthropods in the wild, such as flies, midges or early beetles. Due to the unusually long, never-ending winter in Central Europe I had poor chance to find any active insects, although in this period we could observe several species of butterflies and many-many flies, or small weevils and ground beetles. So I decided to join friends looking for overwintering beetles hidden under barks of deciduous and coniferous trees or still in the pupal chambers within the wood.

Now instead of beetles and flies I would introduce a tiny particular orthopteran living together with ants. The ant-loving cricket (Myrmecophilus cf. acervorum) has a really specific life related to ants, giving them nothing in exchange of food and safe living space. I propose an article on Wikipedia, where the summary of the knowledge about them is described well.

A mixed deciduous forest with fallen trees in central Hungary. The big rotten tree was an oak (Quercus petraea). We expected and found click beetles (Ampedus spp.) and small stag beetles (Aesalus scarabaeoides) in the red rot, and sometimes opened huge cavities with hundreds of Lasius emarginatus (ID-cred: G. Lőrinczi – see his comment) ants.

Between the ants there was another insect at the same size but remarkably different appearance:
It was walking quietly without any incident with the ants:
Definitely the smallest (3 mm) and most interesting cricket in Europe:
Probably they don’t need to see too much that’s why have degenerated eyes with only a few ommatidia:
IMG_3567ww IMG_3562ww

The macro photos were taken with a Canon MP-E65 1-5x maro objective at various magnifications and cropped subsequently as much as needed. Each one was handheld and lit with diffused external flash (Canon Speedlite 270EX). Some of the photos will be uploaded soon onto Flickr.

Beetle in the cave

As a macro-photographer, I have a wishlist what I would like to see and shoot from the world of arthropods. One of the targets was the endemic ground beetle Duvalius gebhardti found only in a small mountain range in Hungary. Its way of life is still unclear. All we know that adults live in narrow caves and crevices in the karst.
I visited one of the known habitats, a cave in the Bükk Mountains with young biologists and a caver, and luckily, we found a few living individuals. Now let’s see the pictures of the short excursion. Some of the photos were taken by a member of the team, Márton Szabolcs.

Weird company walking to the cave.


Before disappearing in the dark.


Ouch, this is really strait! Claustrophobics turn back!


A lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) spending the winter deep in the cave.


On the walls we could see large parasites of the bats. These ticks (Ixodes vespertilionis) differ from the common ones in their long legs.


Another one, looking to be starving:


A young fire salamander found almost 300 m from the entrance.


The highlight of this trip – the tiny, 4 mm long Gebhardt’s blind ground beetle (Duvalius gebhardti):


Improvised field-studio with helping hands:



Welcome to Nikola Rahmé’s *Macro adventures* blog dedicated to macro-photography, arthropods, amphibians, reptiles and many more creatures in the nature living in the wild. In the following pages I try to share my experiences in photographing bugs and plants and sometimes techniques I use in the field or in the studio. The posts are based mostly on photos, some of them report photo sessions, excursions or entomological trips. Hopefully, you will find many curiosities. Should you need any more information please do not hesitate to ask me, I’m happy to help in any way I can.