By Clay Bolt,
Each year, beginning in late summer and moving into fall, there is a particular Beech Tree (Fagus grandifolia) that is inundated with Beech Blight Aphids (Grylloprociphilus imbricator). When these aphids are young, they cover the tree’s limbs and leaves with thousands of their fuzzy white bodies, which seem to “dance” if you get too close. This had led to coining of another common name, the “Boogie-Woogie Aphid.”
Ants and wasps are drawn to the copious amounts of honeydew that the insects excrete and some, such as these Black Carpenter Ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus), take up residence, feverishly guarding the aphids in exchange for the precious liquid. As the season comes to an end, the lower leaves and ground beneath the tree are stained black, with a coal-ash like substance known as sooty mold that grows on the honeydew residue.
While it appears that the camera lens (the Sigma f/2.8 diagonal fish-eye) was quite a reasonable distance from the ants, it was actually positioned around 3 inches away from their leaf shelter. This made it very difficult to not only make the image without disturbing the ants too much, but also to light it as well. The underside of the leaf was in shadow, with only a little illumination on the right side that was provided by the early morning sunlight. To make the photo work, I positioned a Nikon SB900 flash fitted with a mini-softbox beneath the subject, and handheld an additional flash –the Nikon SB600– with my left hand and the camera in my right. After around 20 exposures, I finally achieved an image that featured balanced, natural looking lighting.