Monday, 27 April 2015

Macro photography in the garden

One of the many things I love about macro photography is that there are so many wonderful insects to be found quite literally right at home just in the garden. The following photos are all images I’ve taken in the last couple of weeks when I’ve had a few spare moments and the sun has been shining. Macro photography in the garden also of course has the additional bonus of avoiding the attentions of concerned passers-by (or their curious dogs!) wondering why on earth you’re scrabbling around in the undergrowth or lying on the ground!!! (I have warned our neighbour not to be concerned should he spot me lying face down in the grass!)

Another bonus of being in the comfort of my own garden, I’ve been able to while away some time messing around trying to capture photographs of insects in flight. I was quite pleased with some of the results I got from taking (many!) images of honeybees visiting a clump of grape hyacinth flowers by varying the camera settings as well as swapping between auto and manual focus (I think the latter works better for flying insects!). 

Honeybee visiting grape hyacinth flowers
Also catching my attention have been the many hoverflies guarding their respective territories – a fun if sometimes frustrating challenge to quickly get them in focus as they hover in front of you, only to have them zoom away the moment you press the shutter! The ones I have been particularly trying to capture are the species Eristalis pertinax, distinctive by their yellow front and middle legs, they are also one of the earliest of the hoverflies to emerge in the spring, with the males characteristically defending their ‘patch’. These are the ones which will often hover at head height giving you the once over (or at least so it seems!). It can be a little disconcerting when they do this but they are entirely harmless.

Hoverfly hovering.... Eristalis pertinax

Several other types of hoverfly have also been visiting the garden, the couple below having been found just enjoying the sun on different garden plants. (I've tried my best with IDs but as ever, please let me know if they're incorrect....)

Similar but different - Syrphus torvus (left) and Epistrophe eligans, both female

Speckled Wood butterfly
As spring progresses more types of insects have been emerging by the day. Just in the last week we have had three new species of butterfly visiting the garden; Orange-tip, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood. The Orange-tip and Holly Blue  butterflies will have spent the winter in their chrysalis form, emerging as adults when conditions are favourable. Speckled Wood butterflies can spend the winter as either a chrysalis or caterpillar. 

It has been great to see these spring butterflies, in what will be their first broods of the season, though the only one which stopped long enough for me to take a photo was a Speckled Wood (fortunately these butterflies don't seem to be particularly camera-shy!).

Lily beetle

Another beautiful find, though really not a 'gardener's friend' was a lily beetle (the adults, but also their larvae especially love to munch their way through lilies, causing a lot of damage). 

This one wasn't on a lily so I wasn't concerned about any plants, until it did a purple poo.... (Yes I ended up with a photo of that too though it wasn't actually intentional!) Then the penny dropped that s/he had been busily eating my husband's new Snake's head fritillary flowers.

(Apparently fritillary flowers are the next best thing to lilies where these pretty little beetles are concerned -the beetle was safely relocated elsewhere!)


Harlequin ladybird

Also found on the Snake's head fritillaries was a Harlequin ladybird - the 'villain of the piece' where ladybirds in the UK are concerned. This pretty but invasive species arrived here in 2004 and out-competes our native ladybirds having a wider food and habitat range as well as a longer reproductive period.

Harlequin ladybirds have quite an unfussy diet - whereas they feed most commonly on aphids, when these are scarce they will also eat other ladybird eggs, larvae and pupae, as well as butterfly and moth eggs and caterpillars. 

There is lots more information about Harlequin ladybirds such as how to recognise them (their patterns are very varied), their spread and current distribution and also how to submit sightings of them on the Harlequin Ladybird survey website.

Of the bumblebees there was one unfortunate individual, a white-tailed bumblebee queen, that I noticed motoring across the garden lawn on foot. When I looked more closely it became clear that she couldn't actually fly, with the wings on the right side of her body being completely immobile (in the photos you can see the smaller wing at a strange angle). She was managing surprisingly well, determinedly heading towards a patch of flowers, then climbing the stalks to reach the flowers, though I couldn't help but feel a little saddened that by whatever means her fate had been sealed. 

Queen White-tailed bumblebee with damaged wings

Numerous types of solitary bees have been visiting flowers in the garden - they tend to be quite small and often skittish in their flight so can easily be mistaken for flies - it's worth having a closer look to see if it's a tiny bee that you're looking at. Trying to identify what type they are though is a different matter entirely...  

Solitary bee - Osmia sp?

A slightly surprising find considering the garden isn’t particularly close to any bodies of water and I'm not aware of neighbours with ponds nearby was a small Mayfly, only 2cms long including the ‘tails’.  I’m not sure which type this is, though with many types of mayfly in the UK, several of which need microscopic examination to differentiate, it is often very difficult to know for certain. (I’d be interested to hear from anyone who knows the ID of this one.)  



  1. All beautiful images, Jan! The Hoverfly hovering is an extraordinary capture! Also a very wonderful and inspiring read. I am finding out myself that the garden has a tremendous amount of subject at the macro level. I was amused with your description of lying on the ground while photographing. :-)) I sometimes wonder what folks might think seeing me do this. Also, I am finding out that manual focus works much better in many of these close up situations. Interesting about the Harlequin ladybird. We too have an Asian lady beetle which was introduced as a crop pest control some years ago, but they have grown to such great numbers to have become pests themselves.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Greg. :) The hoverfly was a real challenge! They're a bit easier when they are hovering near a flower so there's at least some point of reference, but out in the open defending a territory took a few (ok a lot!) of attempts!
      Unfortunately my camera doesn't have a flip out LCD screen (though I find them useless when it's sunny anyway) hence getting down to ground level - I'm less self-conscious than I used to be.... at least I haven't been caught talking to bugs or been asked if I'm ok by total strangers as a couple of my contacts in Flickr have (it's a funny old hobby!). :)

  2. Beautiful images and great reading, as always Jan.

    I really enjoyed the sequence of the bumble bee walking to 'work'. Sad, but at the same time amazing to see.

    1. Thanks very much Dougie. It was impressive to watch her determinedly heading towards the flowers and doing her best to clamber around everywhere instead. We've had a few red-tailed bumbles in the garden though I haven't managed to photograph any yet (it's gone a bit cold the last few days which won't be helping anything) hope they appear up your way soon! :)

  3. Oh you are having such wonderful luck in your garden. Very well spotted with the mayfly, and beautifully captured as always. Lovely to hear your flat on the ground photographing the wildlife too, hehe! What an amazing little world under the macro lense. A lovely read, Jan. Thanks for sharing x

    1. Thank you Kez - I'm glad you enjoyed it. :) The little Mayfly I found close to the bird feeders when I was topping them up, probably not the safest place to be considering the number of sparrows we have living in the hedges (as well as a few nesting in the eaves & chimney stack!). Just waiting for the weather to improve again, it hasn't been very good for bugs the last few days!!! x

  4. These are brilliant Jan - love the bees in flight, I've been trying to a bit of macro. I'm a bit limited by my bridge camera - what camera are you using here?

    1. Thanks very much Phil - yes the insects in flight have been a bit of a personal challenge this year! Hard work but good fun trying to capture them. I have a Nikon D7000 paired with a Nikkor 105mm micro lens - the latter I treated myself to about 3 years ago and have had a huge amount of fun using - my most used lens by far!