From night to day

The same trails are becoming a little dull as I walk them over and over and so I have turned to day photography to see a different world of insects. The style of photography is also completely different. If you think that good day translates into good night photography and vice versa then think again. The ambient light of daytime photography makes a huge difference and for optimal captures, the light should be taken into account on a case by case basis. I know some people who don’t deviate from their standard settings. They shoot at ISO 100, shutter speed 200 and f/11 and that’s it. Under the jungle canopy, the light is constantly changing and so this demands a certain versatility of the photographer. It is extremely patchy and so one is constantly having to refine settings. This presented a challenge for me at first but I am constantly adapting and refining my technique. The advantage of daytime photography is that these photographs can appear much more attractive since they don’t have the stock black background which usually comes with night time photography. Instead you get a variety of delicate greens or even reds and yellows as insects pose behind flowers, etc…However, daytime animals and insects rely more heavily on vision than do their night time counterparts and so one must be much more careful in the approach and execution.

I even tried my hand at some in-flight shots. These can be quite challenging and timing is everything. But I got a few that I was content with. For some really great in-flight shots though, one should see linden.g’s photostream.

Shooting by day has led me into experimentation whereby I am trying to import some daytime techniques into a night time setting. Such as this shot of a frog:

This shot was taken at night believe it or not. It required mostly just a lot of manual dexterity. I didn't use flash either! I held the flashlight behind the frog and with the same hand, held the leaf behind it. I let the flashlight shine through my fingers on high power so that it gave the reddish glow. I had to maneuver the flashlight, fingers, leaf all with one hand while shooting with the other. This gave me a uniform reddish glow. Okay, but I want the sunrise! So I slightly splayed my fingers to let the more intense light through, but only at the bottom of the shot. At the top I kept my fingers held gradually tighter. This led to the gradation seen in a usual sunrise. Iwokrama reserve, Guyana.

Or this of a spiny caterpillar:

Spiny caterpillar by 'moonlight'. Iwokrama reserve, Guyana.

To see how I shot these you can go to the tips tricks and techniques sections.

BOOOOOORING…Most people are probably yawning, “I want to see something wriggle out of you, or else hear about snakes and jaguars and snakes eating jaguars and jaguars eating jaguars”. What is the world coming to where my audience is crying out for blood and some kind of gladiatorial combat between me and the jungle denizens? “We didn’t say anything!” You all cry defensively. Yeah, yeah…I know what mass media has done to you. Sorry to disappoint, you’ll have to be content with this picture of a Ctenid (Phoneutria sp.) that is kind of interesting.

Toxic Ctenid (Phoneutria sp.). Iwokrama forest reserve, Guyana.

Ctenid (Phoneutria sp.) showing a threat display. It will usually bare its fangs and warning colouration on the jaws and interior of the front legs. Iwokrama reserve, Guyana.

Here it can be seen exhibiting a threat display. Now originally I had no idea that these are some of the most poisonous spiders in the neotropics. They are aggressive, they jump and apparently they can bite several times. And here I was poking and prodding it and getting within several centimetres of it because I liked its threat display. Now I might not have changed my actions and in fact probably wouldn’t have had I known this beforehand, but I don’t like flying blind.

Despite what looks like a huge variety of insects seen here, from day to day I actually didn’t find that much. It is only cumulatively that it seems quite impressive. Most days I would find 10-15 species I hadn’t seen before compared to the 20+  in some other places. So the first couple of weeks were fruitful but by the third week Iwokrama had become a little tedious with fewer payoffs for the effort. So I was really starting to feel the pressure to move on.

I spoke with Egbert about going to turtle mountain. Apparently it was $50 as a daytrip (I talked them down to $30). I flexed and squeezed a little blood from the stone which was my wallet. Egbert really played up overnighting there. Probably because it would finally allow him to tag along for a night hike. The price bumped to $50. I was getting a deal over the $130 that it normally costs but I still couldn’t help but wince. Cheapness runs like a wounded athlete through our family. You think it will die out in the next generation and then suddenly from out of nowhere it gets a burst of energy and somehow that sperm carrying the stingy genes makes it to the egg against all odds and born is another Bertner. “Oh well”, I reconcile myself with some more illicit hot chocolate taken from the commons while no one is looking (I hope). I pack up my things and we take the motorboat on a quick jaunt upriver. The party consists of Egbert and and a couple of fishermen. We arrive just as a downpour hits. I feel like I need to show to these guys that I don’t need looking after and can do stuff on my own. So I take off my clothes and frolic in the rain in my underwear. “Just going for a shower”, I say gruffly as the two fishermen and Egbert stare at me. Okay, perhaps this wasn’t the best way to achieve my ends. But shortly thereafter I tell Egbert that I am going for a walk while he is going to nap and he waves me on…Success! I make a mental note of the underwear in the rain technique, grab my camera and walk down a trail that wound around like a corkscrew, I didn’t know whether I was coming or going, but my with my trusty GPS I was all confiden…”wait where’s my GPS…?”

I arrive at Iwokrama, drop in and speak to the admin. Hugo and Paulette. The latter seems amused when I forget her name 5 minutes later, specifically after she had introduced herself and said, “Oh, that’s an easy name to remember”. I settle in nicely, there is internet, hallelujah. “How much per night” I ask offhandedly. The fees are…$100/night for the cabins”. “That’s Guyanese right?” “No, American”, she says with a bit of a smile. I gawk. “Mmmmm…Do you think I can just set my hammock up over there” I say pointing behind me to the jungle. “Oh, you want hammock space, that’s 3$”. I basically fall on her, “Yes, yes I’ll take that”. “Okay, and how long will you stay?”. “2-3 weeks”. And I’m all setup. “Any other questions?”. “So what good trails are there around?” I ask. Paulette mentions 3 or 4 trails. “But of course you need to have a guide with you at all times, once we had someone try to go to Turtle mountain alone and he got quite loss, hahaha, he had a GPS and everything, hahaha”. “Hahaha”, I laugh along not really feeling it. “Of course, and how much will that be?”. “Oh, just $10/trail and 30$ for the longer ones”. “No problem”, I say fully intending to leave off on one of those trails alone as soon as I unpack. First I needed to cement my case as reliable though. “Yes I totally understand”, I say. “Some people just don’t have other people in mind when they do something, they think it will be easy and straightforward and next thing you know they’re lost. GPS isn’t infallible (except mine I think to myself), people don’t know as much about the jungle as they think they do (except me), even if they don’t think they do, everyone really should be with a guide (except me)”. She nods like “yes, this boy is talking some sense”. So I unpack, grab my camera and set off for the first trail I can find. The thoughts of the other days’ misadventures far away I set the GPS to track, I can’t go wrong…

Marble frog. Not sure of the actual name or species. Despite it being new to several people at Iwokrama and not having been found by the resident herpetologist I found several of them during my 3 week stay here. Found during a night hike in Iwokrama reserve, Guyana.
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About pbertner

Studied cell biology and genetics at UBC in Canada with a focus in microbiology. However, have gravitated more recently towards ecology and biodiversity. Have traveled the rainforests of Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand with plans to visit many more.
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3 Responses to From night to day

  1. Chris Raper says:

    If you are doing some day photography I’d recommend trying to find some patches of a waist/chest high roadside plant with frothy white flowers. It attracted a lot of good Pepsis and Diptera in French Guiana 🙂

    You could also try taking some of your beloved Coke and paint it onto the leaves of plants in sunny positions. The best time is after rain when the leaves start off clean and there is no aphid honeydew on other leaves. Apparently freshly made honey water works best but Coke is a good alternative and it can attract down some interesting Diptera … like tachinids! 😉

    • pbertner says:

      Not doing a lot of ‘roadside’ currently. Just side paths with no real flowers to speak of. Though I’m sure ‘if I spray them, they will come’ is probably a good philosophy. I might just purchase a bottle of honey for that purpose. Caught you a nice looking Sabethine mosquito the other day too. Looks something like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deadmike/4525866850/

      • Chris Raper says:

        Blimey – that’s an amazing mosquito! 😀 The honey-water has to be fairly dilute – a tablespoon in a litre of water I think. Monty Wood swears by it for getting insects to come down out of the canopy to ground level but you have to put it in sunny glades or along sunny rides. Keep up the good work! 🙂

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