ImageSpotlight: Moth Caterpillar

There are literally thousands of moth species and while I find them fascinating, I’ve never had a desire to try and learn them all. So, I’m not sure exactly what moth this caterpillar will eventually turn into but given that it is lacking the middle legs, I can broadly tell you this is what many commonly refer to as an inch-worm. It uses it’s front legs to clasp onto an object, then it pulls it’s back legs forward, grasping with it’s hind legs, then pushing the front part of it’s body forward, repeating that cycle over and over as it essentially “inches” along its life journey.

This was the first photograph I took during the 2008 Valley Land Fund contest. I recall how anxious I was to get to the ranch. The contest ran for 3 months; however, the first half of the contest had already passed by and I had not even been out to the ranch yet. I was getting edgy as I essentially had zero images in my contest portfolio and time was slipping by. As I drove around on the ranch this particular day, my antenna was hitting the overhanging branches of the trees, causing these caterpillar to rain down on the hood of my vehicle so I decided I’d spend an afternoon photographing them.

There was a slight breeze in the air and it was imperative that I time the shot when the mesquite leaf was still. I meticulously sought out this particular mesquite leaf, looking for one in which all the leaflet pairs were healthy, vibrant, and free of any damage due to wind or insects. I also wanted a leaf that had a natural bend in the stalk as I wanted the artistic element of curves to be provided by the leaf. Critical to this shot was getting each leaflet pair exactly perpendicular to the plane of focus from top to bottom. This required that I pinch the leaf at the bottom and try to hold it in position. I also wanted the caterpillar’s body to be completely stretched but first, I needed a caterpillar. No problem, to the truck I went and there on the hood of my vehicle was this nice looking specimen. I placed it on a small stick then carried it over to this mesquite leaf.

I tried taking the image using natural light but the background was either distracting or I couldn’t get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the slight movement caused by the breeze. I had no choice but to use flash, which in this case was going to cause the background to be completely black due to light falloff. I tested a few images and decided I liked the look as it visually simplified the image by removing any distracting elements from view. I took lots of images and decided I had the shot I wanted. It was good to finally jump into the competition. Incidentally, there’s no way this image would have been possible without the use of a solid tripod. I needed one hand to hold the bottom tip of the mesquite leaf, keeping things as still as possible. The tripod allowed me to free my left hand for this very purpose.

Moth Caterpillar. Canon 1DMkII | 180L macro | f11 | ISO 400 | 550ex flash @ -1 | Flash diffuser

Oh and as for the contest, I ended up not submitting this image. Looking back, I think that was a mistake on my part as the image is stronger than I realized. I was just concerned that it could not compete with the winged counterparts. Either way, I ended up in a tie for Second place in 2008. I had hoped for a repeat victory after winning in 2006, but having missed the first half of the ’08 competition, I was thrilled with the placing.

2 thoughts on “ImageSpotlight: Moth Caterpillar

  1. Hi Kevin, I like the way you explained how to position the leaf to the plane. It made more sense after I saw the photo, but gives me a better eye for framing subjects. The link below is to a group of photos of the many different moth species that come from as many inchworm species.
    http://www.google.com/search?q=inchworm+moth+photos&hl=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=yHQZT8PzBueQsQLZp5zECw&ved=0CCoQsAQ&biw=1152&bih=667

    • Hey Kevin, Good to hear from you and hope this ImageSpotlight series is providing some useful insight in what goes on behind the scenes. Hopefully it helps others with their own shooting. Interesting link to those moths….so many it’s quite amazing.

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