Skip to content

Super ant photographer and ecologist, Mark Moffett is coming to speak in Arizona March 17, 2010. He will be part of the National Geographic Live! speaker series hosted at the Mesa Arts Center, in Mesa, Arizona. He's going to speak about "Army Ants and Flying Frogs." There's also more information at http://events.nationalgeographic.com/events/event-series/arizona-speaker-series/.

Until then, I'll have to make do by checking out Mark Moffett's photography and videos at National Geographic magazine.

2

If you've ever tried it, you know that photographing ants is difficult, more so than other insects. Ants are almost always in motion. Even if they are sitting still feeding, they are stridulating or their antennae are waving. If you get too close, they defend themselves with bites and stings. Some species are quite tiny, even as insects go. You need a microscope, not a camera.

After discovering yet another website with fantastic, drool-over ant photographs, mymician (check this post), I began to think about my own photographic techniques. Here are a few examples.

Tripods are for Weenies
My personal technique for photography definitely doesn't involve tripods. I am usually hiking with my family when I spot an ant I'd like to photograph. My husband runs half-marathons. If I took time to even think about setting up a tripod, he would be so far ahead I would never see him again.

Speed Shots
Have you heard of speed dating? This is similar, except with a camera. There is no time to set up the shot. You get a first impression, click and run to the next opportunity.

If you don't use this technique, you hear statements like:

"Mom, I just lost my shoe down a mine shaft."
"Mom, I don't see dad any more."
And my personal favorite:
"Mom, I just sat on a cactus."

(That's why I carry duct tape and forceps everywhere.)

Speed shots work best if you can control your breathing, blood pressure and heart rate like a professional sniper.

Perfect Lighting
Hand-held flash? No, perfect lighting is when there isn't a cat, dog or kid lying on your subject.

Macro Photography Skills
The best part about macro lenses is that they have a very narrow depth of field unless you know about those F-thingies and/or you have read the manual that came with your camera. Yes, you get a very close view of the creature, but only one hair on its head is in focus.

Brachymyrmex queen
Brachymyrmex queen

Here's a lovely example.

Focus

Focus is what your eyes don't do once you approach 50.

You know what a doubler is? It is a gizmo to put on your camera that allows you to take more than double the number of out of focus photos. (Thank goodness for digital).

If you want to really learn how to take pictures of ants, try Alex Wild's Photo Technique: Working With Ants. Now, there's someone who can take a photograph.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has a wonderful photo gallery of ant pictures by Mark Moffett at The Hidden Life of Ants. The photograph of the bulldog ant larvae is just incredible (see communication section).You wouldn't think a larva with no legs would be able to sit up like that.

Hopefully the gallery will remain up for awhile, because I believe the exhibit itself is ending.