Last year I got the “Trifecta of Mega Moths” …Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna; But this year I added the Promethea to get the GRAND SLAM!
All were photographed between my house and garage. My technique is simple…Leave the garage light on all night then go out in the morning and try (emphasize the word “try”) to move them gently to a more photogenic perch. You have to go out very early (5:30 to 6:30 am) before they warm up and fly off.
CECROPIA (Hyalophora cecropia) The genus is named after Cecrops I, the mythical first king of Athens, and it is certainly the KING of North American moths…It is one of the showiest and largest with a wingspan approaching 6 inches. Caterpillars are especially fond of maple leaves but also feed on tamarack, spruce, birch and cherry. Sparse population in the “wild” as there may only be a couple adults in a square mile of forest, BUT some residential populations can be quite dense. Males may FLY 20 MILES (!) over several nights, and mate with several females.
LUNA MOTH (Actias luna) Luna the Goddess, was the ancient Roman divine personification of the Moon. Caterpillars much prefer the Paper Birch leaves in the north woods. This is my best Luna photo in a long while…Unfortunately it is on the T-111 siding on my garage. When I tried to move it, it started its flopping-Arching defense and escaped.
PROMETHEA (Callosamia promethea) Prometheus, a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods and gifts humanity with fire” (Wikipedia). Adults live for a week and may fly 20 miles in that time period. This is a female but the darker male is day-flying and may mimic the unpalatable swallowtail butterfly. Caterpillars feed on black cherry, ash and perhaps, lilac.
POLYPHEMUS (Antheraea polyphemus) Polyphemus is the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology, one of the Cyclopes. And a semi-appropriate name as this huge moth shows one striking “eye” on each hindwing. The thought is that bird predators will attach the false eyes on the hindwings and do little damage to the moth itself. Caterpillars feed on birch, maple, willow and oak.
HOME MOTH PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
1. Leave a garage/exterior house light on overnight (but don’t overdo it…leave the light off for a couple of nights between sessions, otherwise Gray Treefrogs, squirrels and birds will feast on your moths at dawn)
2. Go out early and see what the light brought in. Get outside between 5:30 and 6:30am before the moths warm up and start flying away.
3. Take “record” shots of moths perched on your garage or house siding, or porch. Then try to move them to better perches using native plants, trees. I slowly slip a flat piece of wood (about the size of a shim) under the moth until it clings to it. Then I move to my backdrop of choice and ease them onto that.
4. I have my flash and basic exposure set already…You can use a pop-up flash or hot-shoe flash, but you really should use some flash to make your subject pop.
5. I like to set a manual exposure that keeps my shutter at between 1/160 and 1/250 when using the pop-up flash (which synchs at 1/250 max). Sometimes, for larger moths, I can use my hot shoe flash set to Hi-speed synch to get higher shutter speeds. Remember, much of your shooting will be early in the morning and you may have to crank up the ISO to get these shutter speeds.
6. Now here is the part that has really improved my moth/insect shots..I switch the camera to live view and manual focus. Now when I see my favored composition in the viewfinder, I magnify the live view to 5x power. I now simply move my body/hands/camera in and out until the key part of the subject is razor-sharp in the live view viewfinder and click the shutter. I guarantee this technique will improve your moth and insect images!
[All photos taken with Canon 7D and Tamron f2 100mm macro lens (all images used manual focus). All handheld…Many taken at ISO 1600 or higher!]