Introduction: Close Up Wildlife Photography Without Hi-Tech Equipment. Update.

About: I am dedicated to re-use, recycling & salvaging materials to make things for my home & garden, not just for financial reasons but also because I prefer the things I have around me to be the way I want …

Back in the 60's & 70's when I was a small boy we led a different lifestyle to most kids these days, when I was four we moved from our maisonette above The Broadway a busy high street in Loughton Essex to Stevenage a new town in Hertfordshire.
We were surrounded by wildlife, the road I lived in backed onto farmland there was a sizable area of woodland a few hundred feet from my door & even bigger areas a short bike ride away.

In those days we were free to roam the woods, park & countryside at will because the fear of letting your kids out of sight had not crept into every facet of parents lives so my friends & I would spend most of our free time doing just that.

Because the school I attended also backed onto the same farm & woodland it wasn't unusual to see foxes & deer in the school fields, squirrels & hedgehogs made their homes in our gardens, bats would flit around over our gardens, at night owls could be heard when I went to bed & I would be woken at the crack of dawn by birdsong & the distant sound of cockerels in the farm.

It sounds idyllic I know & could easily be put down to my viewing my childhood through rose tinted glasses but I still know many of the people who I grew up with in that road & their memories are the same as mine.

My favourite TV programmes were presented by people like David Attenborough, David Bellamy & Jacques Cousteau, the stars were the animals & I always wished I could take pictures like the guys who got to travel the world shooting footage for these wildlife shows, my dad presented me with a Kodak Instamatic camera when I was 8 or 9 & I saved for months to buy an Olympus Trip at the age of about 13 but they really were not able to do what I wanted; you see I wanted to get right up close........
I wanted to get the pictures of what proportionally are the most dangerous animals going, insects’ spiders, & all manner of creepy crawlies & bugs.

Even later in life when I could afford the equipment I was far too busy to get out into the country & get the shots I wanted so it kind of got left behind.

Until that is about nine years ago; I was in a charity shop near my home & found an interesting little bit of kit in a small leather case, the asking price was the princely sum of £1.50 so I just had to buy it.
It was a Peak scale loupe & as soon as I saw it I knew I could do something very interesting with it.

What you will need:-

A digital camera with a retractable lens.
A scale loupe, I got mine in a charity shop but they are readily available on ebay for a few pounds.
A plastic tube, I used the middle from a roll of sticky tape.
A 35mm film canister cap or something similar.
Insulating tape.
A glue suitable for use on plastic.
Duct tape.

The list above will almost certainly be different for other cameras but the basic concept remains the same, get the loupe on the front of the camera lens.

Step 1: Getting the Core of the Gadget.

I had recently bought a new digital camera, the type with a zoom lens that retracts into the camera body & by coincidence the lens fitted neatly into the eye piece of the loupe, it was a bit fiddly but I got some interesting results & my youngest son who was about six or seven at the time was suitably impressed with the huge spiders & bugs on the computer screen so I was satisfied that my money was well spent.

We had some fun taking pictures in the garden of the spiders & bugs during that summer & then the loupe in its little leather case sat on my desk. I used it occasionally but never for pictures when the camera was replaced with a different model it that didn't fit so well.
Until this summer that is....

We gave up our pub last year & moved back to my better half Joanie’s home not far from where I grew up, the garden isn't large but it faces east to west so it gets sun from early morning until well into the evening we have a large area of allotments at the end of the property so we are slowly encouraging the wildlife back into the garden.

I also bought a second-hand Kodak CX7530 a few months ago & it occurred to me that I still had my loupe in its little leather case.
I had surgery on my shoulder in March so anything more than light gardening duties have been out of the question so I have spent a good amount of time camera in hand trying to get some good shots of the smallest wildlife that made its home in our garden.

Step 2: Making Life a Bit Easier With Some Household Scraps.

As I mentioned I had shoulder surgery in March it was the third procedure I have had & was quite an extensive one, as a result my arm was in a sling for almost three months.

This made using the lens a bit awkward so I decided it was time to find a way of temporarily attaching it to the camera.
It seemed to me that a simple tube slipped over the camera lens with the loupe fixed to it would be easiest to do so my first attempt was just that, I found a scrap bit of tube left over from another diy job which fitted the loupe quite well & with the help of some cling film & silicone sealant moulded a fitting that held it to the camera lens, it worked fairly well but because the silicon didn't stick too well to the inside of the tube it only lasted a few days, after a few variants of this I decided it was time to follow a slightly different route.

A quick search through my hoard of bits & bobs I hang onto because "That may come in handy one day" I came up with a small attachment for my camera that slips on & off easily but holds the loupe in place remarkably well.
The core of it is a plastic reel from a roll of sticky tape, the kind you get on those little tape dispensers that always seem to go missing just when you want to wrap up your Christmas presents.
It's outer body has an inside diameter almost but not quite the exact size of the eyepiece of the loupe, within this there is a second tube & connecting the two a centre plate halfway through. I used a pair of pliers & a small file to remove the inner tube leaving just the centre plate & the outer body,

A small strip of insulating tape inside one side of my tube brought it down to an exact fit to the eyepiece so now all I had to do was find something to hold it to the camera lens, a bit more rummaging produced a lid from an old 35mm film case it seemed fitting that this should continue to have a use in photography so I tried it on my camera, amazingly the collar that was made to fit inside the film canister fitted the lens perfectly it was almost as if it had been made for just this purpose & as a bonus it was also the same size as the tape tube.... this was meant to be!! a couple of minutes with a craft knife to remove the centre of the lid & I had my camera fitting, a little glue to hold the fitting in place on the tape tube & I was in business, to finish it off I cut a strip of duct tape to cover the whole thing so it looked less like a couple of bits of red & white plastic glued together.

Step 3: A Steady Hand & Lots of Practice.

In the past when we were all tied to film cameras a gadget like this would really not have been much use.
The simple reason is that it is a bit of a hit & miss affair getting good pictures, I would estimate that out ot ten shots I will get one that I really like three or four that are acceptable & the rest are fit only for deletion, results like that when you had to pay for film & processing would not be cost effective for many of us however in these days of digital cameras all you will have lost is a bit of time.

It will vary from camera to camera & loupe to loupe but the depth of field on mine I would estimate to be around 6mm this means to get a result you have to get your kit VERY close to your subject, most of the spider shots I have included in this 'ible were taken with the spider in the throat of the loupe & the outer ring was against the web, getting shots from frontal angles is a bit of a challenge as was chasing the little green shield bug in some of these shots around on a cluster of leaves but some of the end results can be outstanding & to tell the truth it is great fun as well.

It is near on impossible to focus the loupe in use, I have found the best way is to fit the loupe then using a small peice of screwed up paper about the size of a pea get the loupe focused focus through the cameras back screen with the throat of the loupe hovering just above the paper, once this is done the cameras autofocus should do the rest of the job for you.

Step 4: You Have Seen the Good Now for the Bad & the Ugly.

As I have said not all your shots will come out well & to illustrate my point & for a bit of a laugh I thought I would include some of my colossal disasters.

Step 5: Plans for Improvments.

I may see if I can get hold of a more powerful loupe, mine is a 7x magnification & produces some good results but I would love to try a 10x or even a 15x magnification model.

Lighting is a problem, the on camera flash is not a big help in low light as the subject is far too close to the camrea body so I may look into some sort of slave flash or possibly an led arrangment around the body of the loupe.

If I can get hold of a suitable camera I may see if I can set up a remote trigger.

In the spring I may try the loupe on a webcam hooked up to a laptop, I may even try this year before autumn closes in on us but I need to sort out lighting first.

Step 6: The Shots That Make It Worth the Trouble.

While I would be the first to admit that this won't take the place of good quality photographic equipment it is lots of fun for just a few pounds & when people see the pictures they get enough ooohhs & aaahhs to give you a little glow of satisfaction.

Will I be applying to go on David Attenborough’s next world tour??? Probably not but at least I can now get those pictures I wanted as a kid & if I can make it work with a digital video camera or a decent webcam I may even get something interesting to bore the pants off visitors with or scare the bejezzus out of them when I show them the monsters that live in their gardens :-)

All the pictures good & bad in this 'ible have been uploaded in their full unedited resolution, if you want to see them as big as you can click in the little i symbol in the top left hand corner of the picture & then choose the "Large 1024 by 768" option.

Step 7: Sheild Bug Update.

As do many people who have kitchens that lead straight out onto the garden we have a fly paper hanging from the ceiling, a simple device but effective enough & we have not really felt the need for a more hi tech solution.

A couple of evenings ago Nostalgic Girl mentioned that she had seen an interesting bug on it so I went to take a look.
I was surprised to see that it was still alive as she had first noticed it a couple of hours beforehand & even more surprised that it was an adult Hawthorn Shieldbug.

Of course I don't really know for certain that it's the same bug that appered in it's nymph stage in the first picture of this 'ible but as they are not exactly common in our garden & our cats tend to scare off most birds which may have feasted on it I like to think there is a chance that it could be.

Either way as the bug seemed to be able to get at least one foot at a time off the sticky paper I managed to help him off with the aid of a butter knife & a bit of patience.

After a couple of days in a bug box with some leaves & a small splash of water I decided it was going to survive & took him out to a large shrub about halfway down the garden.

The pictures on this page are the results of a few minutes with my little friend before he dissapeared into the foliage.
A couple of them are quite good, a few are not so good & one or two would benefit from a bit of cropping (the really bad ones didn't get as far as this page) as from the start I wanted to post them unedited so people can see just what to expect if they decide to copy my 'ible.

I hope you enjoy them folks; they will be the last ones I add to this 'ible I am working on a some new attachments, one to solve the lighting issues I mentioned in step 5, another for a video camera & lastly one which hopefully will allow me to gain even greater magnification.
Some of them were born from ideas I got from other entries in the camera & photo skills challenge for which I thank the authors particularly arpruss for this one.
Assuming they come out ok I will post 'ibles about them as they are completed.

Camera & Photo Skills Challenge

Finalist in the
Camera & Photo Skills Challenge