Facing a Tiger

Deep in the jack pine forests of Alberta, tigers prowl.

Flitting from spot to spot, always wary, almost unseen. Unless you are willing to make the effort, you may never see them at all.

Long-lipped tiger beetle, Cicindela longilabris

Tiger beetles. They are easiest to find when on the open sands. On the edges of the needle-strewn woods, these pincer-clad beasts blend in with their environment. They prowl on the fringes of the open sandy path and the cluttered forest floor, venturing into both areas in search of prey.

Tiger beetles can be a real pain in the knees (and elbows) to photograph. They are predators, a hunter on scrublands, beaches and other sandy open spaces. Photographically they are a challenge because they are relatively small (averaging about 15mm), often well camouflaged, fast as blazes and highly attuned to movement. They almost always spot me before I spot them, and it is when they are in the act of flying away that they enter my awareness. Occasionally, the numbers are high enough that their movement scurrying across the sand is noticeable, but for me, it’s usually their flitting departure that hooks my attention. That’s when I stop, slowly crouch, and then make my way in their direction. Once I am close enough to try a photograph (keeping in mind that I may have to stretch out full length) I slowly lower myself to my knees. The next stage is delicate: if I have a right-angle viewfinder, I can lean forward, ever so slowly, until my camera is almost touching the ground, and then move in gradually to focus on the face. If I don’t have a right-angle viewfinder, I will need to stretch out on my belly on the sand and elbow myself into position.

The difficult part is stalking without taking your eyes off the subject so that you don’t lose its location completely. They may flit off again at any moment, rendering your efforts useless. Even if you manage to get close enough, they may not face you! But if you persist, you may eventually find yourself peering in the face of the elusive tiger beetle.

(4 September 2014. This is an adapted repost from my now-defunct blog Macro Photography in Nature, aka Splendour Awaits, aka The Bug Whisperer.)

Image info: Halfmoon Lake Natural Area, 27 August 2014. Canon T2i , Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens on a Kenko Teleplus PRO 300 DGX 1.4x AF Teleconverter. Lighting with a single diffused Canon Speedlite 270EX II. ISO 200, 1/200 sec. @f14. Image cropped and processed in Lightroom 5)

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