“Extreme Macro Moth” by Johan Ingles-Le Nobel

Closeup macro photography of a micro moth Carl Zeiss Jena 135mm f/3.5 lens with Nikon CFI Plan 10x/.25 objective telescope eyepiece, 75 stacked JPGs Zerene Stacker focus stacking software and finished off with the Topaz Detail sharpening

“Extreme Macro Moth” by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel


There’s a hidden world of frantic insect activity at night that is rarely photographed or observed – the world of moths. Contrary to popular opinion, moths fly both by day and by night, and they’re on the wing every day of the year – including even the depths of winter when the rest of the insect world is hidden away. Moths are loosely divided into two types: macro and micro moths. Macro moths are the larger type, the more colourful showstoppers, which are roughly butterfly sized. Micro moths outnumber macro moths 10:1, but they are rarely seen because they’re so small – many being 3mm or smaller. This is such a micro moth.

There is a healthy tradition of amateur naturalism in the British Isles, which started with Victorian gentleman collectors and still continues to the present day with expert moth-trapping groups present in every county of the land. Moth trapping is usually done using a Robinson moth trap, a device which is left switched on unattended on a timer overnight, and into which moths fly, attracted by its bright light – akin to a lobster pot. In the morning the moths are identified and released, and the records taken and sent onto county recorders who collate them into an ongoing national census.

This particular moth was trapped in the village of Holmbury St. Mary, England, which is in the county of Surrey, halfway between London and the south coast. Surrey is characterised as the county with the greatest number of trees in the British Isles and, consequently, boasts an unusually generous moth diversity and quantity. Being in the south of the British Isles, exotic migrants also make their way here, riding seasonal Saharan upper atmosphere currents. 500+ moths is not an unusual haul in a trap on a windless, moonless, warm and humid night in June, the height of the mothing season; counting and identifying such a number is not without its own challenges!

The technique employed to obtain a focused, detailed image of something this size is focus stacking. Focus stacking is a relatively new digital-only technique that merges many images taken at different focal points to obtain a uniformly sharp image. The technique has a different take on optic use: rather than use a lens at a specific f-stop for a desired depth of field, lenses are only used at their sharpest f-stop. For this image I used 75 stacked JPGs, each with a focal plane set 14µm (yes, 14/1000th of a mm) apart from each other. Each image was shot on a 2.5s exposure at ISO 100 and uses two flash guns on rear curtain sync set manually at 1/64. The lenses were a Carl Zeiss Jena 135mm f/3.5 used as a tube lens for a Nikon CFI Plan 10x/.25 objective eyepiece.

The background colour was intentional to complement the browns of the moth and was obtained by shooting a small field monitor behind, which was displaying a brown gradient drawn up in Photoshop. Mixing ambient and flash is tricky and can lead to unpredictable results, but with enough experience it is possible to pull it off. The focus stacking was completed in Zerene Stacker focus stacking software and finished off with the Topaz Detail sharpening program. An exercise like this can take anything from 6 hours+ from start to finish and this was no exception! – Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel

To see more work from Ingles-Le Nobel and to find out more information about creating macro photography, visit his website at www.extreme-macro.co.uk. Follow him on Google+.

Equipment and settings: Carl Zeiss Jena 135mm f/3.5 lens with Nikon CFI Plan 10x/.25 objective eyepiece, 75 stacked JPGs, two flashes manual at 1/64th, 2.5 second exposure each @ 14µm focal length, ISO 100