Whirligig at the surface

Whirligig beetles inhabit the interface between air and water. The series below depicts Dineutes sublineatus, a large species common in the mountain streams of Arizona.


Whirligigs are named for their habit of swimming in frenetic loops along the water's surface, a behavior that makes them difficult to photograph in the field. To get these shots, forgive me, I cheated.

I set up a 10 gallon aquarium in the relative comfort of my living room. This not only confined the beetles to an area small enough that I stood a reasonable chance of capturing one in focus, I was also near both the beer fridge and my stereo system. Not the most uncomfortable of wildlife shoots.

For lighting, I used an off-camera flash bounced off white printer paper to simulate a diffuse, cloudy sky. Improvising with materials at hand, I found that an olive-green office filing folder half-sunk into the back of the tank provided a surprisingly natural-looking backdrop.

Technical details:

Lens: Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens
Body: Canon EOS 20D
Flash: Canon 550 EX flash, bounced off white paper

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I can appreciate what an achievement these photos are. I once wrote about whirligig beetles for a natural history column I had in The Bellingham Herald. A very capable photographer, Mame Burns, sprawled on a lake boardwalk for half an hour to get an image. She ended up with something in focus, only to have the designer veto it because, as she said, "It looked like a turd."

Great shots! I definitely think that a macro lens is my next glass purchase, mostly for just this reason: Bugs!

By Jonathan Martin (not verified) on 12 Apr 2009 #permalink


Fiona- I can certainly sympathize. Most of the photos I took to get these few that worked came out a bit like "turds" too.


Fiona- I can certainly sympathize. Most of the photos I took to get these few that worked came out a bit like "turds" too.