Capturing little creatures

Story and photography by Bill Tyler

When most people think of wildlife photography, birds, large mammals, and possibly reptiles come to mind. But in the grand scheme of things, these are a small fraction of the picture. Insects and other arthropods constitute the vast majority of animals, both in numbers of individuals and numbers of species. These small creatures show huge diversity in anatomy and behavior, and make fascinating subjects for nature photographers. What’s more, they’re accessible. With millions of individual arthropods in a typical acre, you don’t have to travel far to find subjects. But photographing them requires different techniques than larger subjects. Here’s how I photographed a live centipede collected from my yard.

When possible, I like to photograph arthropods in their natural environment, unconfined. But that wasn’t going to be practical with this constantly moving specimen. I needed a way to keep it confined in a small area, rather than letting it run to the nearest shelter to hide. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to have a helper who can gently stop a subject from running too far. This time I was working alone, and needed a containment device of some sort.

I had a small petri dish over which I could place a large clear photographic filter as a lid, and I put the centipede into this enclosure. Photographing through the optically flat filter gave a clear, undistorted image, and the glass dish let light in from the sides, while the filter was too heavy for the centipede to lift and escape. A ceramic plate made a white background.

Photographing through a clear lens filter provided an undistorted image while keeping the centipede from escaping. A ceramic plate serves as background. © William B. Tyler

Photographing through a clear lens filter provided an undistorted image while keeping the centipede from escaping. A ceramic plate serves as background.
© William B. Tyler

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