Macro Photography at Belmont

I did a short session of macro photography at Belmont with my smartphone and the clip-on lens in early May before one of the elementary school field trip students arrived. I already had some ideas of what I wanted to photograph from some previous field trips with student BioBiltzers. My first stop was the shelf-fungus growing just below eye level on a large sycamore.

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I got as close as I could focus with just the smartphone:


Then clipped on the macro lens to take a closer look at the cracks and edges of the fungus.

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Dandelion seed globes are always a favorite subject. I was careful to not touch it and cause the seeds to scatter before I could get the picture!

The tiny sycamore leaves have a lot of color – I took a picture with the phone alone…and then the macro lens.


The sweet gum is beginning to form gum balls. The balls are small and green currently; they enlarge as the seeds form.

I took pictures with the macro lens of the female flowers (becoming gum balls) and the male flowers that had already fallen from the tree. Both are hard to photograph with the macro lens because they have depth…and the focal plain is shallow.

Overall – it was a very productive 10 minutes of macro photography!

Stink Bug

As part of my early spring cleaning recently, I found a stink bug carcass in a storage closet. It could have been there for a long time. it looked a little squashed with the wings visible on one side). And it was missing some pieces – one antenna, 5 of the 6 legs, and an edge of the under abdomen.

A few years ago, we had many more stink bugs inside our house than we’ve seen in the past year. The brown marmorated stink bug is invasive in the US and initially seemed destined to be a bother for the long term but maybe the other bugs (wheel bugs?) and spiders and parasitic wasps that are native have figured out that stink bugs are fit to eat! Or maybe it is just the vagaries of the weather than have caused the population of stink bugs to drop off.

I experimented with the higher resolution clip on lens with my phone. The bug was not flat enough to get the whole field in focus. I was a little surprised by the extra color and texture that showed up with the magnification.

I took the carcass to the trash (outside). I’ll wait for a better specimen to do a more thorough photographic study.

Smartphone Nature Photography – part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post….

Identification. Sometimes I take a lot of photos so I can identify something later. This was the case with these caterpillars. They were devouring dogwood plants at Brookside Gardens last summer. They remind me of lemon bars (yellow custard underneath powdered sugar). I defaulted to thinking they were a moth or butterfly larvae…but they turned out to be a dogwood sawfly larvae!

Stories. Some pictures tell a story. If you are aware at the time…make sure you take the pictures of the whole story. This Achemon Sphinx Moth was discovered by summer campers going out between rain showers during a nature photography activity. Moths are more active at night and usually are hiding in foliage during the day. This one was on the ground and twitching. I knew from experience in the Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy exhibit that it had probably been bitten by a spider. We took our pictures and left it where it was. I regret that I was too busy helping campers to keep my camera at the ready to shoot the moth being pulled between two rocks – presumably by the spider that never did make itself visible.


Insects. Insects can be very fast moving and difficult to photograph no matter what camera you have. They often are slow or immobile when it is cooler. Cool mornings are good to find cicadas – silent and still…but maybe not dead. Butterflies can be under leaves roosting if it’s cool…or it is dusk and they are seeking a place to spend the night. Then there are masses of milkweed bugs that are prevalent in the fall. They are moving but there are so many that it’s easy enough to get a good number; I always try to figure out how many instars are shown in the same picture.

And sometimes it is just luck. This blue morpho sat on my wrist while I was at the exit of last summer’s butterfly exhibit at Brookside Gardens. I had my phone on the lanyard so was able to pull it out and one-hand the phone to take the picture.


Specimens. There are nature photography shots that might be of specimens rather than out in the field. The shot of the blue morpho wing was from a specimen that had died using the 15x macro lens. I’ll try the 60x next summer. I included the label in the picture of the dogwood tree cookie…for documentation; I liked the irregularity of the rings.

Wet day color. Sometimes a rainy-day hike is a good thing. The color of fungus is often more intense on these days – and the phone handles the raindrops better than more traditional cameras.

Light. Sometimes an image is made by something special about the light – spotlighted ferns, the shadowing of a sectioned Nautilus shell, a sunrise.

Clipping. Because the camera only has a digital zoom, I often take the picture without zooming then make a clip after I get home. In the example below – the two butterflies (tiger swallowtail and male monarch) are clearly identifiable even though the clip has a painterly look.

So – go out and take some pictures! The only blooms we have outdoors right now are the witch hazels. There are other winter opportunities too: tracks in the snow (or mud), seed pods, snow landscapes, and ice crystals. And maybe a squirrel will be close enough and still enough….

Smartphone Nature Photography – part 1


We almost always have our smartphones with us….ready for those natural events that just happen and for planned photoshoots. I pulled together a presentation of a Maryland Master Naturalist retreat on the topic and am using it as a basis for the blog posts for today and tomorrow.


Learn about the camera in your phone. Two critical aspects: 1) Usually the autofocus is reasonably good but tapping on the screen where you want the focus to be can sometimes improve results. Do some experiments to see how close you can be and maintain the focus on your subject. 2) Realize that the zoom is digital – not optical. You are better off getting close to your subject rather than zooming. This is difficult if your subject is an animal that will move if you get close. Birds are notoriously difficult to photograph with a phone.

Consider a lanyard. I like to carry my phone on a lanyard (one that is structured to not obstruct the camera) so that I can be ‘hands free’ while I am hiking or rolling over logs…just doing regular naturalist things.  I want my phone to be easy to access – easier than getting it out of a pocket or pack.


I enjoy using macro lenses. I have 3 different kinds (8x, 15x, and 60x) and tend to use the 15x clip the most. Sometimes I just have it on my phone so that I can move it over the camera as needed. The depth of field is very shallow with the magnification and the phone must be close to the subject. Practice the best stance to steady your hands. I find that tucking my elbows into my body helps….and using one had to hold the phone and the other to take the picture.

Examples of Smartphone nature photography

BioBlitz. Almost all the BioBlitz pictures are taken with smartphones or tablets. Sometimes we use hands for scale – and sometimes the macro lens gives a new perspective! These are pictures taken during BiobBlitz: spotted salamander, wooly bear caterpillar, milkweed.

Landscapes.  The joy of being outdoors! Try to get something of high interest in the landscape: the trail as a leading line, clouds over the trees, an early winter scene with bare trees/large rock/pines.


Macro. The macro lens offers to many opportunities to observe more closely than you can observe with just your eye: clams filter feeding, the center of sunflower.

A chicory flower, a newly hatched Monarch butterfly caterpillar turning to eat its egg covering, and damselfly larvae.

A few minutes observing. I play a game with myself looking closely at one thing and taking photos as fast as I can over a short period of time. In this case it was a sweet bay magnolia. There were seed pods at several stages of development and some eggs under a leaf (maybe a leaf footed bug…if I was patient enough I could see what hatched but that was outside my time box).

(To be continued tomorrow…)

Butterfly Macro

When I use my phone for photography I resist using the zoom (since there is not optical zoom available…only digital) and just try to get close to what I want to photograph. Sometimes that it enough – like these to pictures of small Monarch caterpillars in my front flowerbed. They are still small enough that the black bands are dominating the yellow ones!

The clip-on macro lens is something I use frequently too. It requires getting even closer and a steady hand to focus. The touch samples at the Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy  Discovery Station provided an excellent opportunity to take a macro look at butterfly wings.


The clear wing has a small patch of white scales but otherwise the wing is membrane stretched on a copper colored structure.

The blue morphos show the variation in blue from the incident of light even at the macro level. It is just barely possible to make out individual scales with the macro lens.

Sunrise Alarm

After I posted about the sunrise back on March 18th, I remember a time when I wondered why there were not alarm clocks that would be relative to sunrise rather than the same time every day. Well – there are apps for that! I found several when I thought to check and chose Sun Alarm from Volker Voecking Software Engineering. I set the alarm on my phone to go off at 10 minutes before sunrise for my location.


I usually get up earlier than the alarm…but find that I am seeing more sunrises because I look to the east when the alarm goes off. Seeing a beautiful sunrise is a boost at the beginning of the day that is always welcome. The picture I’m including with this post was taken last Tuesday…about 9 minutes before sunrise.

Gleanings of the Week Ending November 11, 2017

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Water striders illustrate evolutionary processes -- ScienceDaily – Water striders are one of the favorite of elementary school aged students on field trip hikes…next time I’ll have them look for ‘fans’ on the tips of their legs!

New Google Maps Feature Lets You Explore Planetary Maps – Google maps going outside of this world!

Virtual Library Card Gives Access to 2,000 Architecture Books Online – There are a lot of books on Internet Archive that are new enough to still be under copyright protection…but they are available for checkout modeled like physical libraries. This article points to the architecture books; there are other topics as well.

Why we still don’t understand sleep, and why it matters | Mosaic – Nacrolepsy…what has been discovered…but there is still happy ending for people with narcolepsy.

Photographer Captures the Beauty of Colorful Birds in a Series of Portraits – Pigeons, doves and cockatoos…what a trio!

(Some) Birds of the Pantanal – National Geographic Society – More birds. Couldn’t resist.

The History of Mincemeat Pies, from the Crusades to Christmas | Smart News | Smithsonian – A little history as we get closer to the winter holiday season.

Blood test can effectively rule out breast cancer, regardless of breast density: With over a 99 percent negative predictive value, a liquid biopsy test can help clinicians manage difficult-to-diagnose dense breast patients -- ScienceDaily – Hope this reduces the need for biopsies…and can be scheduled/processed more rapidly.

BBC - Future - An eco-friendly way to make smartphones – We have a long way to go to make smartphones in an eco-friendly way. The title of this article seemed hopeful but by the end, I was not sure that eco-friendly was motivating anything. Taking away China’s dominance of rare earth element production seemed the primary focus.

Transparent solar technology represents ‘wave of the future’ -- ScienceDaily – Wouldn’t it be nice?

Macro Lens on a Smartphone

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I bought a clip-on macro lens for my smart phone – something to use when I want to photograph macroinvertebrates in the field (or river). The lens (a 15x macro and 0.63 wide angle combo) is attached to a clip that is easy to position on my phone…and then take off again when I don’t want it.


I experimented a little this weekend – with an earring and a peacock feather. I discovered that it is easier to get the focus right without the case on the phone.

I am looking forward to trying it during the break between sessions in the river with students…hope they find a lot of macroinvertebrates that I can photograph!

Gleanings of the Week Ending September 9, 2017

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Reimaging Neuroscience’s Finest Works of Art – Recreating the work of Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s century old drawings of the nervous system

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week #103 –  There is wood duck image near the end of this group….I have never managed a view from the front. This one has the reflection too.

Utilities Grapple with Rooftop Solar and the New Energy Landscape – I’m glad some utilities are adapting in a positive way to renewable energy. If they don’t – I think more people will be motivated to add battery capacity as the technology becomes available and be ‘off grid.’

New Guide: Smart, Sustainable Materials at Home – This is some I’ll take a look at more thoroughly if I am doing any renovations to an outdoor area.

Wind power costs could drop 50%. Solar PV could provide up to 50% of global power – Are solar and wind energy underestimated? They may be getting cheaper and scaling up faster than the most optimistic forecasts of a few years ago. Hurray!

The Smartphone’s Future: It’s All About the Camera – Some tech…just over the horizon but plausible based on what is available already.

Opinion: The Flood Reduction Benefits of Wetlands – There are lots of studies that will come out of the hurricanes that are impacting the US. This one was based on Hurricane Sandy and came out on August 31. It reported that insurance industry models show that during Hurricane Sandy, marshes prevented $625 million in direct flood damage in 12 states….a reduction in property damage by as much as 30% in some states.

Artificial warming trial reveals striking sea-floor changes – When researchers heated up a slice of Antarctic sea bed by 1 degree (Centigrade), changes were visually discernable: some species grew twice as fast in the heated conditions, different animal communities developed…one bryozoan became so dominate on the warmer sea floor that the diversity of species went down. The researchers already have more experiments planned.

Podcast Series Delves into History, Cultures of Mesa Verde – There are three episodes so far (available here) with a plan for additional ones in 2018.

Our Hurricane Risk Models are Dangerously Out of Date – More than half the area flooded by Harvey was ‘outside of any mapped flood zone’! It seems like insurance companies and property owners need a better understanding of risks…and the old models are no longer adequate.