Messor decipiens,
South Africa

Here’s a photo I took last week. It shows a granivorous ant with an enormous head housing muscles for milling the harvest. I used Canon’s MP-E 65mm 1-5x lens and a twin flash diffused through two sheets of mylar.

The last time I photographed this species was in the field in South Africa, using a little Nikon coolpix digicam. That was in 2003:


While it’s true that the greater magnification and sensor quality of the newer and pricier Canon gear make an obvious difference, I’d argue the single biggest advance is in the lighting. The Canon allows my to plug in an off-camera flash. I gain control over the direction and intensity of the lighting, and once I add in fifteen cents’ worth of tape, paper clips, and diffusing paper I can produce a lovely, softly-lit ant portrait.

After all, photography is about light. All the megapixels in the world won’t matter if you cannot properly light the image.


  1. #1 James C. Trager
    June 29, 2010

    I’m still around where you were in the older pictures. Note to self: Next expenditure should be on lighting!

  2. #2 Art
    June 29, 2010

    Just an idea but it would be interesting to see what happened if you didn’t use diffuse white light. Perhaps bounced off a bit of blue paper. Perhaps contrasting colors from different directions to highlight surface textures of the insect.

  3. #3 Andrea J.
    June 29, 2010

    Oh, wow. I’d agree.

    And this is making me wish (yet again) that I had the money for an expensive flash unit just lying around. 🙂

  4. #4 Warren
    June 29, 2010


  5. #5 Richard
    June 30, 2010

    Don’t forget the 7 years of experience between the two images. I doubt most people would get similar results with the same equipment 🙂

  6. #6 Nils Cordes
    June 30, 2010

    But what are you doing in South Africa? You’re not just there to watch soccer, are you?!

  7. #7 Nick
    June 30, 2010

    Hey Alex… So I just stepped up from a Canon 100mm macro to a MP-E and MT-24EX. The MP-E is surprisingly easy to handhold if the twinflash is used. The main issue I have now is diffusing the thing. Is there any specific type of mylar that you use, and where do you get it? I’ve played with a few different diffusing materials, and I haven’t found one I’m totally happy with.

  8. #8 Alex Wild
    June 30, 2010

    Art: That’s a great idea. I played around with some scarab beetles a couple years ago using different color reflectors, but I never quite got the hang of it to where the result didn’t look… weird.

    Nils: I wish I had gone to South Africa (especially now that Paraguay is rocking out the world cup!). But no. I just briefly intercepted some lab ants on their way to a genomics screening project.

    Nick: The secret to the diffusing paper, in my experience, is keeping it close to the subject and far from the flash head. Try raising the MT-24’s flash heads up an inch or two- it should make a world of difference.

  9. #9 TGIQ
    July 1, 2010

    Wow. I hope one day I can do a similar post, with equally astounding results. Beautiful portrait, indeed!

  10. #10 Roberta
    July 1, 2010

    Thanks for sharing these photographs. It gives the rest of us hope 🙂

  11. #11 Kiara
    July 3, 2010

    Hi Alex,

    the pictures from you are always awesome!
    Are these all macro images?


  12. #12 Kimberly
    July 3, 2010

    Oh my gosh!

    The images are so incredibly beautyful.
    I’ve searched after the price of the cam and the lens…
    Near 1300 Euros for the cam and for the lens 1000 Euros again!!!
    High prices…that’s a pity

    Ant Planet

  13. #13 Frank
    July 5, 2010

    7d and a MPE-65 is great fun. You can sit anywhere in the world, and find something interesting to photograph. Course, then you spend endless time figuring out what things, plants, insects, etc are, and how to get that really good shot!
    ANts are fun, hard to shot, and interesting. But try getting into the Bryophytes, ie moss. Amazing stuff and all around us.

  14. #14 RowlandRHODA
    August 1, 2011

    If you are willing to buy real estate, you would have to receive the personal loans. Furthermore, my brother commonly utilizes a collateral loan, which is really firm.

New comments have been disabled.