Up The Rock

I had arranged to go ‘up the rock’ (as we say here in Gibraltar) with a friend late one afternoon in June. It was hot, and the temperature made any form of activity rather uncomfortable. However, at 5pm it began to cool, just a little. The breeze only teased at the hairs on my arm, so it seemed like a great opportunity to attempt a session of micro/macro shooting. I was concerned, because the slightest waft of wind can hinder a macro shot, and more so for me with a D800 of four frames per second; unlike the top-bod’s of eleven fps. Even so, I jumped into my friends Land Rover and off we went. With the sweat bubbling on my brow, wafts of wind forced trailing down my face and I was constantly wiping. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let the heat of low fps spoil my chances.

We drove to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve and I welcomed the open window which cooled me down just nicely. After about ten minutes, we got out of the car and checked a location, but decided to venture upwards just a little more. At that time the conditions seemed perfect for macro shooting — no breeze and plenty of heat spots for athropods. There was no opportunity to shoot birds of prey or landscapes as my prep was just to grab my macro lens (even though I always carry other optics). Macro is my favourite type of photography simply because it allows you to see another world; one you would normally fail to observe and appreciate. It also has an additional benefit in the fact that you can literally do it anywhere.

We finally found a spot just off Spur Battery Road. We kitted up and took a walk down a dusty off-road trail until we reached the end. Then it was just the case of setting up the camera and flash system, and then diving into the undergrowth. I say flash system because I had just that day purchased the R1C1 wireless speed-light unit from Nikon and was eager to try it with my micro Nikkor 105mm 2.8. Obviously, reading the manual and doing a test prior to running into the field with it would have been the sensible option; instead I opted for imprudence. Getting down on the ground was great, although I must confess that knee pads are now on my to-get list! The light was gradually warming, but not enough for to entice the arthropod world to fully surface. I started with a Pentatomoidea (shield bug), but as I got down into the perfect position it chose to fly off . . . As they usually do. I then walked a little further along into a dusty pathway and spotted a Xylocopa violacea. It was quite a large specimen shimmering black and violet in the sun, and it was also dusted “pollen-yellow” on the topside. This was caused by its many visits to the tall Bear’s Breech (Acanthus mollis L. subsp. platyphyllos Murb).

I managed a couple of close shots, and got to within sixty centimetres, but there was nothing I was happy with, and unfortunatley nothing to show you. As soon as I was in a position I liked, three people brushed past and ruined everything. I waited until the carpenter bee returned hearing the “dooga-dooga-dooga-dooga” sound like a helicopter as it neared, but when it did, it darted away from me in preference of the plants at a higher and unreachable level; and out of any possible danger or disturbance. Then I decided to attached the TC-17E II to try it out and get closer, but it wouldn’t do. I continued looking around knowing now that with the TC attached I may have to use a monopod/tripod, groundbag, or level surface for those sharper shots. So again, I turned my attention to the leaf, but as I was waiting for that bee I peered down and noticed some large black ants (possibly Aphaenogaster senilis) pulling this moth of what appeared to be a dead Ophiusa disjungen.

Ophiusa disjungen meal. D800 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 + TC-17E 180.0mm 1/60s f/22 ISO100 + R1C1 Flash

The ants worked great together and I am sure they were on a team-building exercise; and their pulling seemed effortless. They covered one meter in about thirty seconds and I thought this extremely fast. No obstacle was a problem for these workers. I just sat there; watching them move easily over or around any obstacle(s). Then a Salticidae jumped onto a large leaf to my right and moved across in little scurries. I’m sure it was a Evarcha jucunda, and it moved very quickly; too quick for any descent photos. After fiddling a bit with the speed-light settings [manual and 1/8, and 1/16], I tried again but could only manage one shot (see photo below) before she jumped from leaf-to-leaf and finally vanished; and I was not at all happy with the result.

70% crop of possibly Evarcha jucunda. D800 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 + TC-17E 180.0mm 1/60s f/22 ISO100 + R1C1 Flash

After a little eye rolling (and bulging), I did manage to find some tiny coleoptera around two millimetres in size, and then a larger beetle, but then a juvenile Synaema globosum caught my eye. It had just popped out capturing a meal (see photo below). I like the behaviour of this arachnid, as I have observed them towards the south end of Gibraltar, where they love to grasp honey bees visiting bright yellow flowers, particularly Marigolds.

Synaema globosum (Dahl, 1907) Gibraltar. D800 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 + TC-17E 180.0mm 1/60s f/22 ISO100 + R1C1 Flash

Just as the arthropod world began to spring to life the wind started to play with my hair. Then it lifted even more, so we had no option but to call it a day. My fellow photographer had packed up and was ready to go, but just as I began to dismantle my R1C1 he spotted a male P. chrysops, so I ran over with a gait reminiscent of Jack Sparrow. Unfortunately, I had half-packed the speed-light, so I turned on the auto-ISO and managed to get enough light at ISO 4000-5000 (The beauty of modern DSLRs). The trees surrounding the spot blocked out the warm light making it very dull and dark. However, I managed to steady the camera on a low wall and shot away still with the TC attached. I was initially worried that too much glass from the TC reducing stops together with the diminished light from the “forrest-canopy” would make it hard to capture a descent image let alone a sharp one. However, I managed a variety of shots and angles, near and far and was amazed that this spider just sat there, enjoying the limelight.

Definitely not happy with this.

Have you had the same experience, whereby it is almost always the first or last shot that you are usually more happy with?  Well, in this case that is exactly what happened to me. I wasn’t happy with the photo above, and I just wanted him to turn the other way. I tittered because the next time I looked through the viewfinder, he had turned. I shot away and smiled. I knew I had something here. Eventually he began to creep along the wall, over the edge and then down into a crevice. I would have liked the spider a little more centered, a tiny bit to the left which would make it stronger in terms of balancing the overall image. But, I was happy with what I had captured. The DoF was just enough at an aperture of f/11 and gave me that subtle and soft contrasty background. It also allowed for some legs to be out of focus to give the spider that depth and effect. The focal length of the TC-17E allowed me to get to 180mm, and the surface I had my camera on allowed for a shutter speed of 1/200 s. Perfect!

Male Philaeus chrysops, (Poda, 1761). D800 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 + TC-17E 180.0mm 1/200s f/11 ISO4000


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