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Wasps! July 29, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, macro photos.
Tags: , , , ,

All my life I’ve been terrified by wasps, at least since, at the age of perhaps three, I was badly stung by one.  I was playing outside my country home on a summer’s day when my carefree afternoon was interrupted by a sharp pinching pain in my left knee and, looking down, I saw a wasp sticking straight out of it, affixed by her stinger and doing a crazy Twist as she pumped me full of her venom.  I’m sure I wailed like a banshee, as I was that kind of kid.

At any rate, it’s taken me a fair while to forgive the whole lot of ’em and come to see wasps as a beautiful part of the natural world, to be wondered at rather than feared.  They’re amazing, really – many are solitary, and lead the same singularly productive lives their ancestors did eons before their birth.

On a recent trip to the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, MA I got to photograph a couple of wasps engaged in what they do best, making love to nectar-sweet flowers.  In this case the flower was an Eryngium,  of the sapphire blue “Sea Holly” variety, and the wasps were of two kinds, Sphex pensylvanicus,  the Great Black Wasp:

…and Sphex ichneumoneus,  the Great Golden Digger wasp:

These are two large specimens, each approaching an inch and a half in length.

Both of these Femme fatales  dig vertical ground burrows with side chambers, then hunt for katydids and crickets, paralyzing them with a nice little sting and dragging them live into those subterranean crypts, where they lay their eggs on them.  The larval wasps hatch and devour their still-living hosts, growing beautiful and strong thanks to Mommy’s thoughtful gifts.

Isn’t Nature wonderful?

And aren’t you glad not to be a katydid?

These shots were taken by Ziggy, my 50mm Sigma macro lens, and were a bit of an experiment – I nearly always shoot entirely manually, preferring to chose all of the parameters involved in this art form, but here I decided to give Shutter Priority and Auto a go because of the windy conditions – I wanted to shoot fast enough to freeze the motion.  They did reasonably well, snagging some shots I doubtless would have missed fiddling with the dials, but the aperture was necessarily set at a low number/large opening, resulting in such a shallow depth of field that large parts of the wasps aren’t in focus.  The effect, while “artsy,” isn’t really what I had hoped for.

I’ll continue to explore these modes hoping to tweak them into compliance, but I’m thinking that if I can’t improve on the results, I’d rather miss a whole lot of shots and bring home a few I’m really proud of.

Your impressions are, as always, welcomed and appreciated.


1. jomegat - July 29, 2011

Great minds think alike. When I was at the Bridge Thursday, I took photos of these same wasps on these same flowers. I will post them as time permits! And now that you’ve identified them, I will save some of that time (thanks).

2. littlebangtheory - July 29, 2011

I googled it, so I could be wrong. But the photos matched pretty well, so I’m going with it.

And yeah, they really like that Sea Holly – they’re much too involved in it to mind if you move in close with a camera. 🙂

3. susan - July 30, 2011

I’m terrified of them as well but your photographs allowed me to examine their elegance rather than running away screaming.

4. Rifqi - August 1, 2011

Very nice wasps, wish we had those around here. Love the blue tone in the first shot. Have you considered using flash to help freeze the motion while preserving the dof? I use flash for pretty much all my bug shots, even if it’s sunny.

5. littlebangtheory - August 1, 2011

Rifqi, welcome, and thanks for the helpful comment. From my visit to your page I see you’re clued about light, which I’m not – mostly I do landscapes, and the ambient light is a prime compositional element in those photos.

Your macros are beautiful, I love your spot-focus/f-stop choices. Are your bee photos mostly on-board flash? I’m considering getting a ring light for such things and would be interested in your thoughts on that.

I would have commented at your place, but the Yahoo system pulled me up short (I’m a Luddite.)

Rifqi - August 2, 2011

All the bee shots are taken with an SB-400 which I use off camera via a SC-28 extension cord. We’re talking Nikon here so if you’re not a part of the dark side the SB-400 is their smallest flash. When I shoot I hand hold the flash just in front (and to the side) of the lens at an angle. Usually I rest the hand a bit on the hood of the lens for some stability. The reason for that is that the light appears softer the closer it is to the subject. A ring light would certainly work as well, though I haven’t tried it myself. It would however produce completely different light so I guess it’s a matter of taste.

Glad you liked my macros as well.

6. TheCunningRunt - August 3, 2011

R, thanks for the details – it’s information to add to the mix as I consider how to move forward in photography, and I need all the (free) help I can get! 🙂

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