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Homing Hornet

Homing Hornet
Copyright ©2006, Jens Birch
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A hornet (Vespa crabro) approaching its nest. The doorkeeper is waiting for it and makes room for the landing.

Theese insects are endangered in Sweden due to the decreasing number of hollow oak trees in modern forrests. So, I was quite glad when we discovered that they had made a nest in an old bird nesting box high up under the roof hangout.

I made a holder for the tripod column that could hang on a ladder and then, dressed in green overall, climber's harness, net-hat, and leather gloves, I finally could take this picture after slowly having approached their nest. They were not at all aggressive but very curious. I must admit that having 10 of these beasts swarming around me sitting 10 meters up, tied with a harness half a meter from their nest made my adrenaline pumping.

Thanks for any comments that you may have.

Cheers, Jens.

I used a very powerful macro setup that I have started to like very much: Olympus E-1 with a Zuiko Digital 50-200 zoom and a Zuiko digital 1.4x teleconverter plus a Canon 500D Achromatic close-up lens. Here the zoom was set to 102 mm and the nominal aperture was f/32. However, with the 500D close-up lens these values change to 83 mm focal length and f/26.
I left the platform on the ladder for another try when the sun is out so that I can get a better background illumination. I used an FL-40 with an oversized diffusor as the light source here.

Photographer: Jens Birch
Folder: Jens' Macro
Uploaded: 05-Sep-2006 13:59 CEST
Current Rating: 9.67/3
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Model release available:
Camera: Olympus E1
Exposure time: 1/160 sec
Aperture: f/26
Focal length: 83 (166) mm
Lens: 50-200 + EC-14 + 500D Closeup
Focusing method: Manual
ISO: 200
White balance: Auto
Flash: external
Image format: SHQ
Processing applied:
Image resized to: 675x900

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Science & art

Must have been a hard and concentrated job to prepare the set up and finaly pusch the putton at the right second !
For the relatively long exposeretime you managed to get a very sharp image (even the wings)!
This is a remarkable scientific work and artistic execution Jens ! regards dirk

Dirk Guttmann at 14:58 CEST on 05-Sep-2006 [Reply]


concerning exposure time i forgot you used a flasch - sorry !

Dirk Guttmann at 15:00 CEST on 05-Sep-2006 [Reply]

Thanks Dirk,

I forgot to mention the flash in the text. I used an off-camera FL-40 with a large diffusor here. I updated the descriptive text now.

Cheers, Jens.

Jens Birch at 16:03 CEST on 05-Sep-2006 [Reply]


You have a dangerous hobby. Never seen a picture with ED 50-200, EC 14 AND 5 D closeup.
Marvellous composition and contrast. I Like the black backgrond. With kind regards Hans

Hans Gerlich at 21:38 CEST on 05-Sep-2006 [Reply]

Hi Nigel,

Thanks for your nice comments.

I know how it feels when you have an idea and it is hard to make it fly (!) ;-)

However, when I got this shot on the screen I can also say that I know how it feels when the ideas do take off. It is well worth to be persistent and try over and over again. Even if you don't get the desired result right away, you will learn a lot in the process.

Keep shooting, your macro shots are always stunning! I can only imagine what will come out of your camera when you get the hang of the in-flight stuff!

Cheers, Jens

Nigel Armes wrote:
> Jens, Absolutely superb! I aspire to get shots with such interest, clarity and sharpness.
> Also the effort to get the shot sounds phenomenal!! I spent the weekend trying to photograph
> insects in flight, but ended up deleting all of them - after seeing this I'm not sure if I'm
> inspired or depressed. Very well done. Regards, Nigel

Jens Birch at 13:39 CEST on 06-Sep-2006 [Reply]

Hi Hans,


The danger here is mostly the risk of falling down. The Hornets are mostly harmless as long as I don't happen to squeeze them.
In the left picture here, you can see my equipment when doing the shots:

Note the harness to attach myself to the ladder when I'm up there. (The sandals are nowadays replaced by rubber shoes that withstand a sting.) In the right picture, you can see me checking the equipment before bringing it to the roof-top. You can see the nesting box with the hornets nest at the top of the ladder.

Just a clarification about the close-up lens: It is a Canon 500D with a focal length of 500 mm which corresponds to 2 Diopters (not 5). A 5 diopters lens would have been too strong for this setup causing severe distortion and wierd images.

Cheers, Jens

Hans Gerlich wrote:
> You have a dangerous hobby. Never seen a picture with ED 50-200, EC 14 AND 5 D closeup.
> Marvellous composition and contrast. I Like the black backgrond. With kind regards Hans

Jens Birch at 13:49 CEST on 06-Sep-2006 [Reply]


Hans Gerlich wrote:
> Marvellous composition and contrast. I Like the black backgrond. With kind regards Hans

You get the black background automatically because the picture actually is underexposed (because the background is out of range for the flash), except for the hornets which receive enough light.

Alfred Molon at 21:57 CEST on 06-Sep-2006 [Reply]

Hugo - the cat...

... may leave the bones temporarily but comes back later to crush them. Unfortunately, his stomach doesn't appreciate them as much as his tongue so he rarely gets bones at all.

The FL-40 sits on an Olympus flash cable "CB-05" on a mini ball head which in turn sits at its own arm attached to the front of a long Surefoot lensplate attached to the tripod collar of the lens. That arrangement allows me to rotate the camera to portrait without rotating the flash. Although the flash attachment isn't shown in detail, you may get an impression of it from this photo of the rig:

Sorry, I can't seem to get the link to the photo to work. You may follow this link to see it:

Cheers, Jens.

Nigel Armes wrote:
> Jens, Thanks for the insights on how you achieved the shot. How are you fixing the flash to
> your camera, I can't figure it out from the photo? Nice cat by the way, does she always leave
> the bones? Regards, Nigel

Jens Birch at 03:27 CEST on 07-Sep-2006 [Reply]


Hi Jen. Congratulations for your good job with this wonderful macro-shot. Thanks for share with us your techniques. I was again a long trip without internet possibilites, but fortunately I arrived on time to see your nice photo. Best regards, Ricardo

Ricardo Rico at 15:22 CEST on 10-Sep-2006 [Reply]