I love moths… in fact, I love all wildlife, but I have never really spent much time getting to know our British moth species or learning to identify some of them. I can identify some of the common ones, but beyond that, I would be thumbing through my moth book or app! Initially, mothing seems a bit daunting… there seem to be an awful lot of brown ones that look pretty similar, but remember, you don’t actually have to ID everything you capture… just take a look at them! You don’t need an expensive moth trap to start out either… a white sheet and a bright light can attract moths, leave the light on in the bathroom with the window open… your bathroom is a moth trap!
So, I am pretty new to mothing, but very keen to improve my ID skills and get to know more about these stunning insects. I did purchase a 2nd hand moth trap late last year, but have not really had a chance to get it set up this year, as I knew I would need a day afterwards to look through and see what I could identify (not many at the moment!)
When I heard it was National Moth Night this weekend, I was delighted when Rob up at SilverTrees said he was going to set his big moth trap up there and would I like to go up and join him as he looked through the night’s catches! This is definitely the way to start mothing… join up with an expert or with a local group and this will give you a helping hand as you start out. It seems less daunting when you have a friend with you… even if you are both amateurs and it really does not matter if you can’t ID them… just seeing what is present in the area is very revealing!
I have decided to concentrate on the more distinct looking ‘macro’ moths to start with… there are thousands of micro moths too…. but you need to be really dedicated to get to recognise them!
I wanted to be able to photograph some of the insects and other smaller creatures that visit my garden, as well as further afield, so decided to set up a mini portable macro studio that I could take out with me. I wanted it to be simple, fold away for easy transport and be really easy to use. I have never been a great fan of flash and have been bamboozled by the technicalities of all the different functions, but I decided to ‘bite-the-bullet’ and buy a flash gun that I could use with macro. After some research , I decided to go with a YongNuo Flash gun and wireless remote for my Canon 7D. They were much cheaper than the Canon flash guns and, for what I wanted, it certainly looked like it would do the job.
I ordered some cheap, white A3 foam board sheets and cut these to make a simple studio. I created hinges with tape so the whole thing would fold down easily. A piece of white A4 paper curved in the base provided the ‘stage’ for my subjects to sit on.
My plan was to stand the flash gun on its little stand, with the remote attached and then, as I fired my camera, the flash would fire up into the roof of my macro studio and the light would diffuse down onto my subjects. I am used to photographing in manual on my 7D and I can adjust the Flash compensation on my camera. Through this, I was able to control how much light the flash fired. I set the shutter speed to 1/200 sec and the F number to F14. This would give me a decent depth of focus. I then practised on several dead specimens to see what image I got. In fact, it did not take long before I was getting the kind of image I wanted… with a bit of a post processing in photoshop, I felt confident I was heading in the right direction…. luck rather than judgement as I made no changes to the flash gun’s default settings.
Today’s moth trap was a perfect opportunity for me to start trying out the set-up. Rob had set the trap up in an open area by the woodland…
I had not accounted for the breeze down at SilverTrees and my studio disappeared into the undergrowth before I placed a board on top with a rock… very technical! As Rob extracted the moths from the trap, we carefully used a paint brush to manoeuvre them onto the A4 paper. Many stayed still and I was able to just rotate the paper around to get the moth in the position I wanted it. In this way, I did not have to further disturb them. Some, more flighty subjects, disappeared before I managed to get a shot and Rob and I had a few giggles as I chased some around, desperately trying to stop them flying out of the studio!
I managed to get photos of a range of different amazing species… many of which I had never seen before.
Being able to look at a macro photograph of these moths then gives you a whole new insight into their beauty… they are absolutely stunning!
It was not just moths… a couple of other creatures sneaked in too!
With Rob’s expert knowledge and a good selection of ID guides, we identified the larger species of moth and Rob kept some of the smaller micro-moths for ID later. He will submit all the results to the Moth Night website (www.mothnight.info)
I will update this post when I have his complete list, but the ones we caught that I attempted to photograph today were: Buff Arches, Buff Tip, Large Emerald, Clouded Border, Lesser Swallow Prominent, Pebble Hook-tip, Common White Wave, Scalloped Hook-tip, Common Footman, Ghost Moth, Mottled Beauty, Bright-line Brown-eye, Cinnebar, Antler Moth, Buff Ermine, Heart and Dart, Short-cloaked moth, True Lover’s knot, Purple Clay, Green Arches, Broom Moth, Bird’s Wing, Large Yellow Underwing, Small Angle Shades, Beautiful GoldenY.
You can see the images I took on my Flickr account HERE. These are just my first attempts and I want to work on them and improve on them. It certainly has me hooked and I am sure you will be seeing lots more images using this little studio, in the coming months.
Get out there this summer and take a look at moths…. you will be surprised… and probably get hooked…. just like me!