Recently in the UK the weather has been beautifully sunny and warm, especially in the afternoon, so I’ve been out getting to grips with the 1D Mark IV and trying to capture some shots of Ladybirds.
Ladybirds (technically Coccinellids) seem to like direct sunlight, so when the sun is out you often find them on leaves of bushes facing the sun. It can often take a few seconds for your eyes to see them – despite the seemingly huge contrast between their bright red and the green of the leaves, they seem to blend in very well!
Judging by the grouping on leaves, it appears to be breeding season at the moment, so they are lots around. The ladybird larvae are small, spiky and black with orange markings, so be sure to keep an eye out for them over the coming months.
Ladybirds are quite easy to manipulate – if you get a blade of grass or small twig and put it onto the leaf they are sitting on, they seem both inquisitive and quite happy to wander on to it. You can then hold the leaf/twig in a position to get the best light.
It’s probably worth mentioning here that all of the pictures on this page are with the camera handheld and with natural light, so I was generally trying to move to a position that was a compromise between a pleasant background and minimising the specular highlights on the shell which can be quite distracting. This turns out to be pretty difficult to do without a diffuser, but with the diffuser you lose enough light to start making handheld natural light macro significantly more difficult.
Once the ladybird is crawling on the leaf/grass/twig, you can choose how you want the light to hit, for instance this shot is with strong back-lighting to create a silhouette:
You can also look at different parts of the insect:
It turns out they do seem to like walking on skin too – if you hold a twig with a ladybird on and they walk down to where you’re holding it, they don’t hesitate to walk straight onto your fingers and start crawling all over your hands!
I wanted to try and capture the moment the ladybirds take off. They appear to take off only when the surface they are on orients them upright (feet downwards), and they also tend to take off at end-points like fingertips or the end of a twig, although this is not always the case. Before flying, they open their wing case (elytra) so you can look out for this to start taking a sequence of shots. They don’t always fly after partially opening their elytra, but it’s worth being ready as it’s generally advertising their imminent departure skywards:
This little one had a bit of trouble opening both sides initially and tried a few times, eventually opening the right side and flying away:
Just before launch, they look pretty impressive: their elytra open like gulls wings and their surprisingly large wingspan showing in this shot:
From the back with the elytra parted, their beetle interior is plainly visible:
Then with a push off, they launch:
All of these shots were taken with a Canon 1D Mark IV and Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lens.
Focusing was automatic – the 1D Mark IV is one of the 2 currently available Canon cameras (the other being the 7D) which has a special macro AF focusing mode which samples the AF sensor at a faster rate than normal with certain macro lenses and close subjects, so all these shots are taken in AF mode. Whereas I used to focus manually then rock fractionally back and forth to slightly adjust the focus before taking a shot, the macro AF mode lets me get shots in AI Servo AF mode with a very high success rate.
Where I wasn’t trying to capture a take-off, I tend to use a single focus point (usually the centre one if I’m planning on cropping the shot, otherwise any of the 45 points). For the takeoff shots, I generally used the “ring of fire” mode of the 1D Mark IV (named because all the outer focus points are illuminated in the viewfinder). This is the mode where the camera tracks the subject across any focus points, starting from the centre focus point.
All shots were taken in natural light. Whilst a lot of my other macro work is flash illuminated, the 1D Mark IV has such good high ISO capabilities that natural light and handheld is a real option. When running in 10fps mode to try and capture ladybird take-off, no speedlight will recycle fast enough anyway so until I get better at predicting the perfect moment to take he shot, flash is not really an option.
Post processing was done in Lightroom 4 (which has just been released) – mainly a bit of level tweaking and cropping, and cloning out of the odd dust spot or speck of dirt which detracted from the image.