Crawling around the back yard

This is the kind of thing that happens when I’m waiting around all day for a plumber to appear to fix a leaky valve in the upstairs bathroom:


Yes, that’s a perfectly ordinary Earthworm, wriggling into the earth under a border stone in the back yard. Having run out of other things to occupy my time (ok, I confess – that should probably also read “except for things I didn’t really feel like doing”), I decided to finally give the reversing ring I’d bought for the fabulous sum of a couple of dollars from some Hong Kong-based Ebay vendor a whirl. This lets me mount a lens backwards on my camera, which sounds all wrong, but through some optical magic results in the lens focusing at much closer working distances than it usually does. I’m probably about four or five inches from the worm here, using my good old 50mm f/1.8 (not too different from the one you can see in this useful article about reverse-mounting).

While I was turning over stones, I came across all kinds of interesting things. A lot of the creatures I found were just too quick to run away while I was juggling my camera and a flash mounted on a tripod. With the reversed-lens setup, there’s no way to use autofocus – in fact, manual focusing is pretty hopeless too, so the only real option is to move the camera back and forth until the subject is in the rather narrow focal plane. Fine for earthworms, as long as they’re not moving too fast, but far too slow for speedsters like spiders. The net results from an hour or so of poking around were:

  • Earthworms – lots. Some good photos.
  • Pillbugs – lots. A few ok photos, but I need to try again. A bit wiggly and not very interesting when rolled up into a ball.
  • Pillbug relatives (Sowbugs and the like) – probably lots but I can’t tell these things apart. If they don’t roll up like Pillbugs, they simply run away.
  • Centipedes – several attractive bright red and orange ones. Very wriggly and demonically speedy. No good photos.
  • Millipedes – only teeny-tiny ones, that insisted on holding still for just slightly less time than it took me to focus on them. No good photos.
  • Slugs – several. I don’t find these characters terribly photogenic, to be honest.
  • Spiders – one. It ran away.
  • Ants – a bunch. Completely hopeless. Tiny and ridiculously active.
  • Wasps – entirely too quick.
  • Other things – some weird-looking caterpillar or grub or larva of some kind.

All of this makes me think I should be participating in something like the Great Garden Worm Count, and I can’t help but think that it might be fun to attempt species identification on some of these – along with the attractive pink one up top, I also came across ones that were brown, bright red, pale yellow, and even a murky green colour.

Of course, I also took a photograph of a Mourning Dove, since they are (a) frequent visitors, and (b) fearless, at least of dolts with cameras. This, as you might imagine, was taken with an ordinary telephoto lens.

Mourning Dove

There’s a whole lot more miniature wildlife out there, and I think this will be a lot of fun once I build up some more experience and as a result spend less time fumbling around. Which I can get a start on, given the ongoing plumbing problems here (minor, but annoying). In the meantime, you know where to find me.

About Richard Wintle

I am Canadian by heritage, and a molecular biologist and human geneticist by training. My day job is Assistant Director of a large genome centre, where I do various things along the lines of "keeping the wheels on". In my spare time, I tend to run around with a camera, often chasing horses, race cars, musicians, and occasionally, wildlife.
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9 Responses to Crawling around the back yard

  1. rpg says:

    Lovely photos, Richard.

    Just today at work we were discussing cameras, and a colleague mentioned he had a macro *filter*—something I might have to track down and try out…

    • Ta.

      I thought about diopter filters – I know Canon (and probably Nikon) makes them, as well as non-camera brands (Tiffen, Polaroid, many others probably – example here). An easy way to get into this as no weird parts (extension tubes, reversing rings) are required. Raynox is another brand that makes screw-on macro filters – I’ve seen very good results with those. See here.

      The reversing ring is by far the cheapest method, provided you have a lens you can adjust aperture on manually. The beauty of this is that it can be *any* lens with front threads that match the size of the ring – the brand doesn’t matter, because you don’t use the lens mount for anything. I think my reversing ring was $2.99 with free shipping.

  2. John Gilbey says:

    Nice image.

    Unless you want to spring for a dedicated macro lens – I did eventually and have never regretted it for a second – a reversing ring is a very good option. Cheap, small, light, portable and doesn’t have any glass to detract from the optical performance of the prime lens. A 50/1.8 is a good choice – MUCH better, almost infinitely better – than a kit zoom… Screw in macro lenses, also called close-up lenses, have an optical performance that ranges from “Ho, Hum…” to “OK” depending on how much you spend, but at least you don’t have the camera lens off the body and risk getting dust on the sensor…

    For real fun, add bellows or extension tubes and get the magnification up to around 5X – still with the reversing ring – for some really weird garden safaris!


    • Thanks, John. I do have a set of “dumb” (i.e. no electronic contacts) extension tubes which I’ve used before with mixed success – just need more practice I think. Combining with the reversing ring is an excellent idea. 🙂

  3. cromercrox says:

    You didn’t put a scale bar on the earthworm photo. This is worrying. They could really be something out of Dune.

  4. Dawn says:

    Snails make good subjects, I find. Lots of time to focus… 🙂

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