I have recently started to get very interested in moths, after visiting a few public moth trap session in my local area. Moths are often considered the ‘poor relatives’ of the daytime flying butterflies; with many thinking they are the dull, night-time flying insects. In fact, there are over 2,500 different types of moth and only 58 different butterflies in the UK. Many moths are brightly and beautifully coloured and there are also many daytime flying species.
We have all had moths appear in our houses and porches at night, attracted by the lights and a simple moth trap uses this principle… a strong light is placed above a funnel-type structure. The moths are attracted to the light and slide down the funnel into a holding container. Packed with cardboard egg carton containers, these moths hide away until the morning when we can go and see what has been caught.
After discovering how beautiful some of these moths are, I really wanted to start photographing them. Having just purchased a small moth trap myself for the garden, along with spending some time with an experienced moth trapper, Rob Winstanley, I was keen to find a way to capture images of these amazingly beautiful insects.
I decided to try to create a very simple studio that was portable, easy to set up and cheap! Purchasing some white foam board, I part-cut it so I could fold it to create three walls. Two rectangular pieces were used to create a simple roof and floor. This set-up folds down easily and fits in a padded envelope so it can be set up at the moth trap.
Using a flashgun on a stand and a wireless remote, I experimented with the positioning of the flash gun. I found that I could create a nice even light by pointing it upwards towards the roof of my mini studio. As the flash fired, the light bounced off the ceiling and lit my subject perfectly. I was able to adjust the power of the flash on my camera to ensure I got a nice white background.
I started practising with some slow moving subjects and was pleased with the initial results…
….so I joined Rob at one of his moth traps near me to see if we could photograph some of the night’s captures.
In the cool of the morning, many of the moths are quite sedate and it was relatively easy to gently lift them on the end of a paint brush and to position them in my home-made studio. Using a piece of white paper, I could move them around on this platform to get the required angle. All I need to do was to get low and close. Using a Canon 7D and a Canon 100mm 2.8mm Macro lens, I was usually able to fire off a few shots before the moth was off, escaping into the morning sunshine!
We captured lots of different species and I was able to photograph each both to identify them but also to have a chance to look more closely at the exquisite colouration and patterning on these insects…
I was also lucky enough to find an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar and this beautiful caterpillar was a perfect subject for my studio…
Perhaps one of the highlights for me has been when my moth trap caught a stunning adult Elephant Hawk Moth. I spent a couple of hours photographing this beauty both on the white background of my studio and on a bark backdrop.
This is a relatively new venture for me and it is a pretty steep learning curve, but I am very pleased with the photographs I have managed to capture so far. The great thing about macro photography is that is opens your eyes to a world that you simply cannot usually see; the delicate feathering of a moth’s antennae, the dusted scales or intricate markings on a wing…
I am hooked onto macro photography and my little studio… it certainly opens up a whole new world, not only of moths, but to all of the other incredible invertebrates that are just waiting in my garden!
Kate MacRae, also known as ‘WildlifeKate’ has spent the last four years turning her rural garden in Staffordshire into a camera haven, allowing her to monitor the goings on of all the wildlife visiting. She has over 20 cameras set up, all wired back to her office, where she can watch and record the visitors. From inside nest boxes, to small and large mammal feeding stations, Kate’s cameras and set-up have appeared regularly on BBC Springwatch and Autumnwatch. Kate is also a keen photographer and avid user of Bushnell trail cameras and these form big part of her wildlife filming. Kate’s cameras stream live on her website and can be watched 24-7.