In my post Very wary tigers!, I lamented my inability to photograph one of our state’s less commonly encountered tiger beetles, Ellipsoptera cuprascens (Coppery Tiger Beetle), on an open Mississippi River beach under a blazing sun. There are solutions to such problems, however, one of which is the use of blacklights to attract the beetles at night when cooler temperatures and readily available prey make the beetles much more approachable. Of course, this only works for those certain species that are attracted to blacklights, of which fortunately E. cuprascens is one, and not long afterwards I was able to photograph individuals of this species that came to a blacklight placed further south along the Mississippi River in New Madrid Co., Missouri. The photos were adequate, but none were what I would consider a true winner, so when I found the species again while blacklighting at another Mississippi River beach in southeast Missouri I continued with my attempts to photograph them.
The species was much less abundant this time, and none of the few individuals that showed up at the light actually spent any time on the ground where I could take reasonably natural looking photographs. This time I decided to look for them along the beach away from the light and succeeded in finding a few. As is typical, the first several that I tried to photograph were too wary to approach, but I’ve learned to keep trying until I find that one (slightly) more cooperative individual. As I crossed over the concrete boat ramp I saw one that seemed not at all flighty. I’ve seen the ubiquitous Cicindela repanda commonly on concrete boat ramps, so I checked carefully to be sure it wasn’t that species, and after confirming its E. cuprascens identity I began the slow, cautious approach that ended with me flat on my belly and the camera lens inches from the beetle. Nighttime photography is tricky because… uhm… it’s dark, and I don’t find my flash unit’s focusing lamps all that helpful (they tend to time out right before I’ve composed the shot to my satisfaction). Instead, I place my headlamp on the ground and position it so that it continuously illuminates the subject so I can concentrate on getting multiple shots without having to constantly divert my attention to the focusing lamp button. The concrete was hard, and my elbows were mad at me for a time afterwards, but the beetle was generously cooperative and took on some very nice poses during the session, leaving me with the impression that I’d gotten that “perfect” shot as I walked back to the blacklight.
Sadly, these photos are far from perfect. Their composition is good, as is their focus and lighting and the natural-looking poses that I captured. But the beetle is absolutely filthy! I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently its wanderings across the decaying lower reaches of the concrete boat ramp resulted in a thick coating of lime on just about every part of its body. Now, few tiger beetles that I photograph are perfectly clean and spotless, and although a few grains of sand around the mouth or on the legs are tolerable, I am not above cloning out debris that detracts from the beauty of the beetle—especially when it is on the eyes or its shiny, glabrous dorsal surface. This beetle, however, is simply beyond repair. I’m by no means a Photoshop expert, but I’m not sure even the most fluent PS whiz could fix this beetle. So, my quest for the “perfect” E. cuprascens photo will continue…
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012