For most of my career in entomology, I was only interested in economically important arthropod species in agriculture and disregarded the rest. In July 2015, something "clicked" and suddenly I wanted to learn about every local invertebrate and document them through macrophotography. For the first six months, I used a point-and-shoot camera (Coolpix L820). Later, I started experimenting with a Canon 7D body, a challenging Canon MP-E 65 mm 1-5X lens, and a Yongnuo ring flash. The Venus Optics KX‑800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash VEKX800 has proven hard for me and produces a low rate of acceptable images. It gets very little use. However, I suspect the problem is not the flash, but my technique. In regard to flash systems, the game changer for me has been the acquisition (June 2017) of a Yongnuo YN-24EX TTL Macro Twin Lite Flash. When coupled with a homemade flash diffuser, this flash unit consistently produces acceptable results (and its low price is unbeatable). For bugs over 2 cm long, I use a Canon Macro Lens EF 100 mm 1:2.8 paired with a Canon EOS 70D body. To diffuse the flash on shiny beetles, the best solution I have found so far is the MK flash diffuser. I am never satisfied with my bug pictures, and I am always hoping to find ways to improve.
Initially, sweeping was my favorite technique to catch bugs for its convenience and efficiency. From 2018 on, I mostly relied on ultraviolet and mercury vapor lights at night to attract arthropods. Lately, I have been inspecting bodies of water, under rocks, and excavating logs too. Usually, I capture the bugs in plastic vials by the means of an aspirator. Then, take them back home alive for photos and, if possible, release them once done. When the insects are too active, I slow them down by briefly placing them in the refrigerator and photograph them while they recover. These photos are shot inside a white, 30" X 30" "light box" or "tent cube" to reduce their opportunities of escaping into the house. Unfortunately, at times I need to kill the specimens given that they have to be perfectly still for focus-stacking to work or when I need to image their wings. I would love to learn how to perform focus-stacking on live bugs, in the field. Contrary to the advice of most macro photographers, I used to shoot JPEGs. It wasn't until mid 2019 when I became convinced that shooting in RAW format was the way to go. Taking a decent photo is only the beginning. Then, I need to play with its "temperature", white balance, exposure, contrast, shadows, sharpness, highlights, saturation, tone, clarity, vibrance, noise, etc. to improve the image quality without distorting the bug appearance. There are many software applications to do these tasks. My favorite is Lightroom. A time-consuming process is removing specks from the image that are a result of dust on the camera sensor or lens and debris or other particles on the background material.
I am not a taxonomist, but I am passionate about learning to recognize as many insect species as I can as well as to educate myself and others about their lifestyles, relationships, and diversity. I am grateful to BugGuide Editors and Contributors who constantly help me identify and better understand bugs. I post all of my bug photos on BugGuide and the ones of invertebrates in Far West Texas, southern New Mexico, and southeastern Arizona can be found at:
Southwest Bugs - Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
In a nutshell: I have experience in extension, research, teaching, administration, and the agrochemical industry. My applied entomology background includes IPM in cotton, pecan, small grains, field crops, and vegetables. Currently, I work as an Entomologist (Identifier) for USDA-APHIS-PPQ based in Nogales, Arizona.
NOTE: If I were to die, I would like my photos to remain here on BugGuide.
Setup # 1
Canon 7D body, Canon MP-E 65 mm lens, and Yongnuo twin flash YN-24EX
Setup # 2 (outdated version)
Canon 70D body, Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8 USM macro autofocus lens, and Yongnuo ring flash YN-14EX
Setup # 2 (earlier version)
Canon 70D body, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM macro auto focus lens, and Yongnuo twin flash YN-24EX
Setup # 2 (earlier version)
Canon 70D body, Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8 USM macro autofocus lens, and Yongnuo twin flash YN-24EX
Setup # 2 (current version)
Canon 70D body, Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8 USM macro autofocus lens, Neewer speedlight NW-982-II, and MK flash diffuser
On the hunt at Hunter Canyon, AZ: