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My Last Month with the Robber Flies…

29 / 06 / 20

Every year during June I find the Leptogaster species of robber fly at my local pond. This June has been a bit different from the last few years in firstly there has been a global pandemic so I've been staying home, secondly, there has been quite a lot of dewy morning where the temperature has dropped below the dew point and lastly, for whatever reason, I've been seeing so many of these robber flies this year. Some morning I've found 20 individuals and sometimes I've found multiple robbers on a single perch. The output of this is I have spent a lot of time photographing this beautiful species and the point of this blog is both to showcase the work and also share some of the experiences. There's a 25 minute video as part of the blog which runs through the end to end process of how I photograph them and how I process the results too.

The 1st robber fly I found was actually on the last day of May. I find them 1st thing in the morning and at this stage they are torpid and although they may get active and start moving they will not fly. Ironically I really find this species during the day as I guess at that point they are flying around and hunting.

1/40 of a second at f/8.0, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/40 of a second at f/8.0, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm

All of the photographs that I share in this blog are stacked and only using natural light. If you do want to know more about stacking you can watch the video lower down and or have a look at this blog I wrote a few weeks ago about what stacking is and why you would use it. That blog can be found here.

I used to use flash a lot in macro photography when I first started out, but now if I can, I avoid it. The above image is a good example of why. The large dew drop which is on the horsetail plant has all the surrounding plants refracted in it. You can tell it's a refraction as it's upside down. It would be really hard to get these refractions in the same way if you used flash.

The next robber fly was taken the following day and there was a pretty heavy dew this morning. I love the big blob of dew between the flies head and the grass.

1/60 of a second at f/6.3, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/60 of a second at f/6.3, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm

The next image taken on the same day is at higher magnification as I wanted to show a few details of these predatory flies. Robber flies predate other insects and they use their legs and sharp claws (you can clearly see these in this picture) to capture their prey and then they use their short, stout proboscis (the black part like a cigar under the eyes) to deliver a powerful venom which kills the insect and liquefies the insides. They use the proboscis to drink the liquified contents of their prey.

1/25 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/25 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm

I was going to make this blog just about robber flies but I could ignore this green bottle fly I found on the same morning covered in dew like some little jewel!

1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm

So roll on another day and more Leptogaster robber flies! This was the first day that I found multiple subjects on the same perch. Not sure if it was the fact that when they roost together they get more active but the first pair moved around the perch and then the second pair got very active!

1/160 of a second at f/8, ISO 400 Canon 5Div and Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro
1/160 of a second at f/8, ISO 400 Canon 5Div and Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro
1/40 of a second at f/8, ISO 800 Canon 5Div and Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro
1/40 of a second at f/8, ISO 800 Canon 5Div and Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro
1/100 of a second at f/6.3, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/100 of a second at f/6.3, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/25 of a second at f/8, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/25 of a second at f/8, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm

The weather then changed and we had about a week of very windy conditions which is no good for this style of macro photography. Ideally, I want no wind and nice cold crisp mornings!  Finally, the weather changed again and it was perfect so I went back to the pond partly expecting this species to have disappeared but there where still may around and found this pair covered in a great dew. They would also get quite active and then pause again giving me a number of different compositions.

1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro
1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro
1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro
1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro
1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm
1/13 of a second at f/7.1, ISO 1600 Canon 5Div and Canon MP-E 65mm

Then at two separate points, they got extremely active so I put the Canon 5Div into movie mode and recorded two clips which make up these 30 seconds! The first part of the clip is with the Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro and the 2ndy part with the Canon MP-E 65mm.

On my next visit to the pond, I was doing a more close up of a subject and it wasn't until I got home that I realised that my dog was refracted in the largest dewdrop! There was another photographer at the site and I got him to behind the robber fly and I got this (2 images down) fun image of Iain Sternland refracted in a dewdrop on the back of a robber fly :) I had to work very quickly so the ISO was put to 6400 hence some noise in the stacked image.

My Last Month with the Robber Flies…
My Last Month with the Robber Flies…

So my last day photographing the species for this year (and their numbers are very down now) I thought I would video myself so you could see the process I follow to create these images.  Both how I do this in the early morning on the site and then how I process them when I get home. I've included the actual image I was creating just below the video. 

My Last Month with the Robber Flies…

So this wraps up the blog and hopefully it has done what I set out to do in showing you the images of this delightful predator fly but also given you some insight as to how I go about producing the images.

Below is a gallery of all the above images if you want to see them full screen and feel free to feedback and questions or share.

All the best,

Oliver :)

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