Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

August 2002

Question of the Month

How did I capture that flying wasp?

Previously, I discussed the PhotoTrapper, a camera or flash tripping device that allows a photographer to capture birds, bats, frogs, flying squirrels, or any other subject in action. These actions usually occur faster than your reflexes can react to, so, without a mechanical/electrical tripping device, making shots would be almost impossible. I proved that to myself years ago when I tried photographing birds flying in to a nest box, and years before that, flying squirrels gliding. Devices like the PhotoTrapper enable a photographer to capture these activities, and I've used the PhotoTrapper, and before that the Shutterbeam, and before that the Dalebeam, to capture these virtually impossible to film subjects.

Recently we had a group of mud dauber wasps building their columnar nests inside a light fixture right outside our studio/teaching building at Hoot Hollow. The wasps carried gobs of mud up into the fixture to make their nests and, later, carried paralyzed spiders that their young, larvae that hatched upon the paralyzed prey, would feed upon. Working space was extremely tight, and my 'target' area, the wasp, rather small. A traditional infrared transmitting device would have been difficult to use in this situation since I needed to know precisely where the tripping area was and to focus on that location.

I used the PhotoTrap with the laser sensor as my tripping device. My original model has a rather long (3 inches or so) tube that functions as the receiver for the laser beam, and this piece projected too far for the composition when it was positioned directly opposite the laser pointer. So I placed a mirror on the wall behind the nest instead, and aimed the laser pointer so that its reflection would hit the laser receiver that I placed right next to the laser. In this way my target area was defined (via the visible laser beam) and was narrowed, by using the mirror to bounce the laser back to the receiver.

I spoke with the inventor of the PhotoTrap afterwards and outlined the problem I had with the laser receiver. Bill Forbes, the inventor, started working on a better solution immediately, and within days I had a flat, wafer-like receiver that I could place smack up against the wall so that I no longer had to bounce the laser via a mirror. Further, he rigged up a new cross-beam laser that allowed me to use two laser pointers for absolutely pinpoint focusing accuracy, requiring the wasp to cross both beams at precisely the same point. While this pinpoint accuracy means that many wasps will fly into the nest without tripping my camera it also means that those few, or those many, that do will be sharply in focus.

As I have mentioned elsewhere (How do you shoot high-speed action images? and  What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?, I really enjoy using the PhotoTrap but perhaps more importantly, I really appreciate the prompt service and attention to figuring out and producing a solution to the special photo problems I may face.

For more information on the PhotoTrap, please visit and check out the products.

Do YOU have a Question you'd like addressed? If so, please forward your question to our email address, below, and title the subject of your email (in the Subject field) 'Proposed Question of the Month. Can't promise you we'll address your particular question but we'll do the best we can do.

Previous Questions of the Month

How do we carry our film when traveling?   What do we really think about digital photography?
 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites?  What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?
 Why should you know Manual Mode?  Flash and Tele-flash Techniques
 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?
 How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?
What is the Best Composition?  The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?
 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?   How do you shoot silhouettes?
 How would you meter these challenging images?  Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?
 What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales? What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?
 How Easy is Whale Photography?  Is NANPA for you?
 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?
 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?  How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 Reciprocity Failure  Hyperfocal Distance

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