Too Good To Be True (Palmetto Tortoise Beetle, Hemisphaerota cyanea)

metallic blue beete with horizontally spread yellow antennae resting on green frond

Palmetto Tortoise Beetle (Hemisphaerota cyanea) at rest on palmetto bush.

On my visit to Florida, unsurprisingly, I was at times under brilliant sunshine. For a lot of areas of photography, harsh sunlight is a bane, but in the kind of high-magnification macro photography that I favor, I find it very helpful because so much light is necessary to expose a shot properly. It can still create impenetrable shadows or blown out highlights and leave you with no tonal contrast in between, but the camera usually has to be staring into the sun to get really awful effects. Another helpful aspect peculiar to macro is the ability to control the light of the whole “scene” simply by shading the “scene.” This technique can be accomplished simply by the position of the flash diffuser, the photographer’s natural position behind the camera, or a deliberate hand/arm/object (e.g. a leaf, a park map, etc.) held up at an advantageous angle. Essentially you block the sun and leave the light softened, but because it’s otherwise so bright, you can still keep a small enough aperture to get a decent depth of field; a low enough ISO to avoid too much noise; and a low enough flash output to avoid harsh glare spots (flash diffuser be damned).

Why do I bring this up? Well, our little beautiful blue tortoise beetle friend pictured above, was one of several I noticed on the eponymous plants as I walked through the state park. I had shot some really cool things already that day, including a ladybird beetle pupa amidst a horde of unsuspecting aphids (ladybugs eat aphids, a lot of aphids, for those who don’t know); an emerging swarm of termites from a dead tree; a lizard who decided facing my camera was less terrible than leaving said swarm where it was effortlessly picking off said termites, the palmetto tortoise beetles, etc. So it was shaping up as a nice outing with all the new subjects and to top it off I had this amazing lighting! I could see everything so clearly, brightly, and the soft brilliant colors in my resulting shots were very pleasing on a number of fronts. There was only one problem. I couldn’t get anything in focus. I mean, what the heck. What is going on? I’m doing this right. Am I going blind? Am I doing this right? What is happening. Why is this happening? Is my camera broken? Am I broken? Etc., etc., and so on, bashing my head into a brick wall. (And remember a brick wall can’t hurt a stupid that’s already there.)

I had my aperture almost wide open.

How does this happen, you may ask? It happens when you use a reverse lens and a toothpick to hold the aperture open. (For the record, I might have had my aperture adjustment attachment by then, don’t think so, but anyway that only would make this flub worse.) In my excitement over finding new things and my assumption the bright sunlight was making my life easy, I overlooked the obvious and most crucial aspect. Some of my termite and lizard shots were okay, but basically that was a literally blown opportunity. I was able to return to the ladybug and find another tortoise beetle (as you see above), but it was discouraging and had dampened my enthusiasm and inspiration. It was one of those hard lessons I think I’ll probably have to relearn every so often.

Anyway, shortstorylong over, I really like this shot and the stark boundaries of focus. A black and white version can be found below.

metallic blue beete with horizontally spread yellow antennae resting on green frond

Palmetto Tortoise Beetle (Hemisphaerota cyanea) at rest on palmetto bush. (Black and white version)


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