Macro Insect Photography, Part IV

With the drops correctly captured, my next challenge was with my mosquito subjects. Mosquitoes fly in seemingly random patterns and exhibit varying flight scenarios and characteristics. As a result, capturing a mosquito flying through the cameras pre-determined plane of focus is a very difficult task to accomplish. To eliminate some flight variability, I designed an acrylic box that would house a mosquito. Inside the box was a wall with a square hole, whose dimensions matched the cameras sensor size, removed from the center. Above this hole was the valve sensor, which would drop the water onto the mosquito as it traversed the gap from one side of the box to the other. The idea here is that the camera would be pre-focused at the wall opening. Then, when the mosquito moved through the opening it would be in view and in focus. At that instant, I would actuate the Camera Axe, hit the mosquito with the drop, capture the image and Bob’s your uncle. However, nothing is that easy when working with live subjects. When confined in a sealed box, mosquitoes land and refuse to move. Additionally, present with insects with a hole in a wall, they traverse the gap only randomly (i.e they don’t actively move towards the hole). Meaning, if you somehow stirred the mosquitoes to move in the box, they only moved to the hole in the wall after long periods of time. This is how the backlit images of mosquitoes was captured, but it was a very time consuming process. Coupled with the need for user activation of the camera rig, a new plan was needed.

The solution was to tether the mosquitoes in place and then hide the fact that they are restrained. To accomplish this, the mosquito’s rear legs are each attached via superglue to a pin. The two pins are attached to a plate and suspended in front of the camera. The pins are hidden from view by aiming the illuminating flashes away from the pins; in the dark room they are completely invisible. After reviewing high-speed footage of tethered and non-tethered mosquitoes, the attachment of pins does not alter how the mosquito flies or behaves, but only restrains the mosquito to a single location. To attach the insects, a syphon is used to extract one mosquito from a canister containing dozens.

The isolated bug is placed in a small dish, covered with a lid to keep it from flying away, and moved to the freezer for about one minute. This slows the mosquito’s movements temporarily allowing for the pins to be attached and super glue to dry. When the mosquito warms back up, it resumes normal behavior completely unharmed. The pinned mosquito is placed in front of the camera and the Camera Axe is activated to capture the shot. It should be noted that things never went as smoothly as described here: bugs fly away during transfer, glue fails, drops miss, and worst of all, collisions disable and maim some mosquitoes. In all, what seems from this description as a relatively simple shot with the gear and technique described here became a week-long photographic nightmare. The process of tethering a mosquito takes around 20 minutes and often resulted in only one photo before in mosquito flew away or was too damaged to continue. So, you repeat the tethering process over and over and over; patience and fortitude are musts.