Arthropods as living works of art are fairly perfect in their unique and arresting forms and colors. A third artistic dynamic, if not always present, is motion. The movement of an insect or spider illuminates the subject’s behavior which in turn reveals a character and possibly a narrative in the human imagination. Or in a word, Spiderman. Now, I’m not sure Stan Lee had macrophotography in mind, but sometimes getting a picture of a spider (or bug) in action is as hard as getting one of a superhero.
As I have stated before, macrophotography is pretty much photography with some extreme parameters to work within. Lighting, depth of field and working distance all figure prominently when a moving or active bug is the target. A high shutter-speed, usually abetted by a flash, will freeze the subject in a precise moment. Certain moments lend themselves to easy demonstrations of motion. A basketball player dunking a basketball or a runner in stride would be human examples; the most obvious example for a bug is probably an insect in flight. A hummingbird clearwing nectaring at a flower conveys a distinct action, though there are different tacts to take. If you follow the link, you can see I have frozen the wings, but a slower shutter speed would have captured a blurry swathe of the furiously beating wings and (hopefully) the body in sharp focus.
The flapping wings of a big moth makes for a nice, juicy subject, but just as with people, there are smaller and subtler movements that can be just as powerful or interesting. The fly featured in this post is a member of the aptly-named family of stilt-legged flies. They have a curious behavior of frequently moving their front legs, apparently to imitate ichneumon wasps. I don’t see it honestly, but the behavior is neat to watch. Of the three photos, I think the first, the super close-up, conveys the motion best. The front-facing photo is a bit more disorienting as to what we’re actually looking at, but once you identify the black front legs, you hopefully get a sense of some peculiar movement. In the third, not much motion is apparent, and honestly I cannot remember if the fly was engaged in its distinct hand-dancing or if it was merely coming to rest.
While blur is a surefire indicator of motion, I don’t think it would have been very effective with the stilt-legged fly. Apart from the difficulty of maintaining clarity on the body, the very thin legs aren’t moving incredibly fast and I don’t think they would cover a substantial area to make an interesting feature. A wispy blur at the front of a subject may also be distracting and confusing to the uninitiated: most people are not going to know what a stilt-legged fly is to begin with, forget about the curious behavior. More generally, foreknowledge is going to affect how people view the photograph. It is a good reminder that an audience receives a photograph and that playing to a crowd is not limited to a stage or athletic field. Of course, that is a question of artistic and business-related choices and a hand-dance for another post.