They say that the largest group of insects- indeed of all animals- is beetles. Sometimes wandering down the Blackwater Valley one wonders if in fact the largest group are large, irritatingly conspicuous, and unrecognizable ones. What are they? Luckily we live in a golden age of insect identification. Never before have we been able to take such good pictures in the field and identify them with the tools of the internet. Even the cameras and reproduction of 10 years ago look poor by the standards of what an amateur with moderate equipment can achieve now.
It is best to use as good a camera as you have available, but even a mobile phone can capture identifiable pictures. I have a bottom of the range DSLR with a lens with a zoom up to 300mm. My only secret weapon is a 12 mm extension ring, which enables focussing down to less than a metre. In the end, there is no secret: the closer the better.
I find it best to use manual focus: automatic focus is too slow and often focuses on the wrong thing: you can end up with excellent pictures of leaves!
Experience has shown that a quick picture before getting things absolutely right at least captures the image in case the insect flies away. For this reason I keep my camera on automatic setting and medium magnification. But then if I decide the picture is more
interesting, I have time to increase the magnification, check the focus, take another shot and quietly creep closer.
Depth of view can be a issue, for example with Bumblebees at a large flower or long insects like Damselflies: ideally one switches to aperture priority and increases the F stop. (Photo geeks would now talk about macro lenses with built-in flash and photo stacking software, but we are just trying to take an interesting picture while walking the dog.)
Now with the best possible picture the challenge is to know what it is.
- Bumblebees can be identified at Beewatch.
- Butterflies at British Butterflies.
- Moths at UK Moths.
- Ladybirds at Ladybird Survey.
- The three species of Scorpion Flies can be identified at Worcestershire Record.
- Please join the national army of recorders and put all your pictures on Living Record.
Finally, always let a young person take the critical shot: you might get a wonderful picture and a young naturalist in the making, which is part of what it is all about.
Volunteer Alan (Dragonfly and Damselfly Recorder for Moor Green Lakes)