Monday, 30 August 2010

The Lair of the Slug

Summer is drawing to its inevitable close. Cool nights and sunny days that don't warm until late morning. I took the chance to visit the dragonfly pond where common darters were copulating and ovipositing in profusion. Brown hawkers were in evidence, one also egg laying, and another brighter hawker came to inspect me. I tried for some flight shots but it was too close at times. I did manage to identify it as a southern hawker from one of the blurry photos.

Although I failed to manage any pics of mating darters I did get one of two in tandem laying eggs in the margins. Taken with natural light I was quite please with this effort.

I snuck up on a resting darter too. I thought I'd try some super macro with my new extension tubes, but by the time I'd got everything set up it had flown away. So I left the flash attached after removing the tubes and wandered off, snapping a first attempt at a crane fly on my way to the hidden pond.

I was too clumsy in my approach to the hidden pond and disturbed three ovipositing brown hawkers, which was a shame. There wasn't much else in evidence, the clouds had put the dragonflies down at the dragonfly pond too. Off to the duck pond next. On arrival I saw the unmistakeable azure streak of a kingfisher. The bird didn't reappear, but this might be a place worth an early morning visit to try and catch it with the camera before too many dog walkers get out and about.

I took a last fruitless look at the dragonfly pond before heading for the litter pit and surrounding ponds. The sun was still in hiding and not much was seen, and nothing photographed, at the litter pit. The newt ponds had to be worth a look.

As I locked the car up I heard the mew of a buzzard, eventually catching a glimpse of it as it wheeled awy to the south. The sun had come out again and two dragonflies hawked over a clearing in some scrubby trees. Too far off for a photograph, they wouldn't come any closer.

The flowers there are all but gone by the ponds, and only a few white butterflies were around, although a hawker (southern or migrant, it was hard to tell) buzzed me. Something barked hoarsely in the thicket. I knew it was a deer and turned my flashgun off. There was a rustle and at least three deer ran slowly through the thicket. I still had the camera set to back button focus (but forgot I had) and fluffed any chance I might have had of a photo. Knowing where the deer would have headed I removed the flash bracket and reset the shutter release. It was no surprise to fail to find the deer. They'd melted away. Aside from the hawker the only other odonates were a couple of emerald damsels.

The wood was the next place to check out. Walking down the side of the wood I noticed something black on the track. It could have been some dung but it looked to have legs. I guess it was a newt that had got squashed. There is a pond by the side of the path, it may well have come from there.

I photographed some insects on the last of the umbellifers, tried for some autumnal shots of sloes and failed, then went into the wood. Deer tracks were evident, but it was cool and quiet, save for some briefly raucous jackdaws. Time for tea. Passing a thistle head I made an effort and something arty-farty. I'm not too sure I pulled it off.

During this outing I mused on how I could photograph slugs and snails. Nocturnally active molluscs that are difficult to focus on with no light. It struck me that as they aren't likely to run away I could take them indoors. In to the garage at least. By the time I had finished my evening meal I'd forgotten all about this. When I was thinking of bed I had a wander round the garden and saw a big brown slug. I got the camera ready, setting it up to use the in-camera flash to trigger the flashgun remotely. I attached the flashgun to a table-tripod I have and added my bounce card to soften the light. The next job was to build the set and add the cast of one.

The stage was easy. One of the turfs cut from the pond would do, which I placed on a plastic lid to keep the soil off my workbench. The slug was plucked from the lawn with a gloved hand and deposited on the sod. All I had to do was wait for it to unfurl and I'd be in business.

Lights. Camera. Action!

What I should have done was clip the grass. The star was reluctant and managed to hide behind the short green blades. A pair of scissors did the trick.

Next time I'll make a better job of things, but it was a fun start. One thing I will do is get a cake-maker's turntable to put the turf on. Ol' Sluggy had a habit of turning away from the lens. Playing around with the lighting will also be done. Either with another flash gun, different diffusion, or some small studio lights.

Speedy the Slug

There's more scope for this table-top studio work. Snails and woodlice come to mind as potential subjects that can be photographed inside on easily made convincing sets.

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