Highly-commended in the British Wildlife Photography Awards!

05th September 2013
Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2013, at the Mall Galleries in London.

This is the fourth year of the BWPA and I decided to submit some insect/invertebrate images in the "Hidden Britain" category. This image, entitled At the Waterhole, was Highly Commended. Naturally, I was thrilled with the result and it has given me the impetus to develop my photography further and perhaps, enter some more next year!

I'm a keen insect/invertebrate photographer, with a particular interest in solitary bee species. These are active from about March to September, so the autumn and winter months leave me at something of a "loose end". Fortunately, I happened upon some Flickr images (particularly by Eddie Nurcombe, Andy Murray and Adrian Jones) of members of the Collembola (springtails); particularly of one type - the globular springtails. I was intrigued. I'd never seen one, knew nothing about them and was determined to also find and photograph them!

Regular readers of this blog will know that I visit the local village church every day, to unlock the doors. I decided to take this opportunity to undertake a regular check of leaf litter etc., whenever I got the opportunity (namely, when it wasn't raining or snowing!), to determine the churchyard's springtail fauna. I must have spent hundreds of hours searching leaves with my hand-lens, getting an understanding of the locations and conditions different species preferred and developing a technique to get reasonable photographs of them. There are some challenges. They are very small (globular springtails are generally in the range 0.5mm - 3.0mm), can be quite active, and have the ability to "spring" away when disturbed. I love a challenge though!

My BWPA image is of Dicyrtomina saundersi, a common globular springtail. I had turned over a fallen laurel leaf and was using my Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens extended to its maximum. This gives x5 magnification. I was also using an MT24-EX TwinLite flash (there's virtually no ambient light in the image). I had dialled in -2/3 Flash Exposure Compensation as the leaf was quite dark. I could see the springtail approaching a film of moisture and thought that with luck, it might be reflected in the surface. I held my breath! It was indeed reflected and the "globby" also obliged by pausing to feed! I calculated afterwards that this individual was about 1.7mm long.

One of the reasons I chose this image to submit to the competition, was the lack of "clutter" in the shot. Leaf litter is not always the tidiest of places! Recently-fallen laurel leaves however, are often quite smooth and a pleasant reddy/brown colour. Competition rules include the following guidance on the level of acceptable post-processing:

"Minor cleaning work including removal of sensor spots and dust, moderate adjustments of: contrast, tonal values, levels, highlight and shadow, colour, curves, saturation, sharpening, white balance and noise may be undertaken". The original RAW file has to be submiited if you are fortunate enough to be short-listed, just to check that you have complied! Cloning out of unwanted distractions is not allowed!

Well, everything seemed to have come together for this shot; a fascinating subject, in a pleasing environment, doing something interesting. You know, I'm quite looking forward to winter this year!

Some Information about the Collembola (Courtesy Wikipedia):
"Members of the Collembola are normally less than 6 mm (0.24 in) long, have six or fewer abdominal segments and possess a tubular appendage (the collophore or ventral tube) with eversible vesicles, projecting ventrally from the first abdominal segment. The Poduromorpha and Entomobryomorpha have an elongated body, while the Symphypleona have a globular body.

Most species have an abdominal, tail-like appendage, the furcula, that is folded beneath the body to be used for jumping when the animal is threatened. It is held under tension by a small structure called the retinaculum and when released, snaps against the substrate, flinging the springtail into the air. All of this takes place in as little as 18 milliseconds


Photo comment By Amelia: Congratulations! I saw the exhibition of the winning photographs last Christmas at the Natural History Museum. I enjoyed it very much but I was rather disappointed by the scarcity of insect photographs last year. I hope all this does not dull your interest on solitary bees.
Photo comment By George: Yes Ed you carry on with your stunning insect wildlife. Not as glam as larger wildlife but for me equally as interesting! A well deserved highly commended photograph. Cheers George

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