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Author Topic: Unexpected Elegance  (Read 2055 times)

Arlen

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Unexpected Elegance
« on: May 27, 2015, 11:26:34 pm »

"Elegant" is an adjective that I am confident is rarely applied to any sort of bug. But I humbly submit that it is appropriate for some of the mayflies, most particularly for those bright yellow Pale Evening Duns (PEDs) now gracing the streams west of the Cascades. After a year spent under water in their juvenile form, these insects shed their wet suits and the bright yellow adults burst from the water as winged sub-adults (might we say teenagers?), to add their bright yellow hues to the other lush colors of spring.

Image 1. PED female dun, Heptagenia solitaria; body length (minus tails) = 12mm

Mayflies are unique in the insect world by having two adult winged stages separated by a molt. The initial adult is called a subimago by entomologists, or "dun" by fly fishers. A mere day or two after the juvenile nymph molts to the air-dwelling dun, the dun molts again to the sexually mature form (imago), called a "spinner" in the fly fishing world. They have bigger--not what you're thinking--eyes (especially males), longer front legs and longer tails than the duns. Most notably, the wings become hyaline, or clear, and the body color becomes more vibrant. In the case of the PED, it goes from yellow to a richer gold.

Image 2. PED female spinner.

Spinners tend to hang out (literally) under leaves or twigs during the day, and then swarm over water in the evenings (thus their moniker) to mate, lay eggs, and fall to the water surface to die. That's it for the mayfly. A year in the water fattening up, then two or three days resting and procreating as air breathers, before the whole thing starts all over again.

Image 3. PED female spinner, at 1:1 macro reproduction ratio.

This little nature story was inspired by my initial use of a new Olympus m4/3 60mm macro lens for insect photography. For years I've used a Canon full frame system for that purpose, and I was keen to see how this smaller format would work out. There are pluses and minuses for both, but I am encouraged by what can be accomplished with this Olympus system. Hopefully the images here will be of interest to some. Maybe you'll even agree about the elegance of yellow mayflies.
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maddogmurph

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Re: Unexpected Elegance
« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2015, 04:38:07 pm »

I loved your write up :)  Nature fascinates me.
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Bob_B

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Re: Unexpected Elegance
« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2015, 09:25:41 am »

Wonderful photos and fascinating back story. My only gripe is that seeing those mayflies makes me yearn to grab my flyrod and get a sulfur pattern into a riffle. (Unfortunately for me, poison ivy is in full leaf right now making transits to the stream out of the question.)
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Chris Calohan

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Re: Unexpected Elegance
« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2015, 09:29:48 am »

Got a touch of sumac last week and can attest to not wanting it again. I love these closeups. Delicate insects treated delicately.
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PeterAit

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Re: Unexpected Elegance
« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2015, 09:41:07 am »

Wonderful photos! I am one who feels that nature is full of elegance, and your mayflies are certainly a great example. Elegant and ephemeral.

You say you used the Olympus 60 mm macro lens. I don't know that lens - do you perhaps mean the Olympus 50mm macro, f/2? I find this lens to be truly exceptional, and mounted on an E-M1 it makes the best macro setup I have ever used.
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Rainer SLP

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Re: Unexpected Elegance
« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2015, 04:32:26 pm »

Excellent images  :o
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Arlen

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Re: Unexpected Elegance
« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2015, 09:32:44 pm »

Thanks to all of you for your kind comments. It feels good to be in the company of fellow nature lovers--and even some fellow fly fishers.

There is another facet of this story that is quite interesting to me, and maybe it will be to you. There is a big gender difference in the size of mayfly eyes, with the male's being much bigger, as hopefully you can see in the next image that I'm attaching below. Compare to the females in the pictures in my initial post. The theory usually offered to explain it is that mating occurs in swarms in the air, with males typically staying low and looking upwards to identify and approach females. Thus, supposedly, their eyes have evolved extra size and resolving power for that purpose.

Beyond size, in some families of mayflies, the eyes of both sexes actually change color between daylight and night. For instance, when this species first emerges from the water, it has eyes that are almost black. They soon turn to the yellow-green color that is apparent in the images above. As darkness falls, the eyes go dark too, and then lighten again the next morning. I have never read a good hypothesis for why this occurs, but it is very striking.

Image 4. PED male dun with big black eyes, freshly netted from the water surface. Shot several years ago, Canon 5D, 100mm macro lens.


Peter:  No, although I've heard great things about the Olympus 50mm lens you are using, the new lens that I'm now testing with my E-M1 is the one that Olympus designed specifically for the micro four thirds format, the 60mm f2.8 macro; and it focuses all the way to 1:1. It has also received excellent reviews for the quality of the images it delivers; for instance see Ming Thein's review at http://blog.mingthein.com/2012/09/21/olympus-60-2-8-macro/. The main thing that I have been concerned about is that some users have complained that its manual focus ring is a "by wire" design, so that it's hard to know where you are in the focus range, and thus difficult to use in the field at macro range. I'm finding that manual focusing does take some getting used to, coming from the Canon, but once you get the hang of it it's not too troublesome.

Both my Olympus and Canon macro lens focus to 1:1 reproduction ratio, but because of the 2x crop factor of the Olympus camera, an insect like this one almost fills the frame at 1:1 focus, whereas with the Canon it only fills about half the frame. This is generally an advantage in capturing more small details, but 1:1 focus in the Olympus is at a scant 3 inches, which frightens many bugs a lot more than the 6 inch distance of the Canon. Of course I can just focus the Olympus at 1:2 and get the same size image as with the Canon, and be back at about 6 inches again.

In insect photography, one thing I look for of course is how sharp the lens is, detail that can be captured, and how the depth of field plays out. All those look very good to great with the Olympus lens. At 1:1 macro distance, images are rendered very sharp up to a nominal f5.8, falls off modestly at f8, and is still quite usable for many purposes at a nominal f11, if you really need to reach for that extra depth of field. The next two images below are 100% crops of two similar 1:1 macro focus exposures, differing only in aperture setting. Both are identically capture-sharpened in LR, but not output sharpened.

Image 5. PED female spinner, f8; 1:1 macro distance (~3 inches from front lens element), 100% crop.

Image 6. PED female spinner, f11; 1:1 macro distance (~3 inches from front lens element), 100% crop.

Another quality of a macro lens that is very important to me is how it renders out of focus areas. I'm very happy with how this lens does that. See the flower shot below for a wide-open aperture example, as well as the vegetation backgrounds in the images in my first post, which were about 6-15 ft. away and shot at f5.6 (image 1) or f8 (images 2 & 3).

Image 7.  Flowers at near 1:1 focus distance, f.2.8. White flowers are about 5mm width, against a large yellow flower in background.


So I'm pretty excited about the new lens, and having lots of fun trying it out on various subjects.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2015, 09:37:45 pm by Arlen »
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