High-quality Pictures

Taking High-quality Pictures of Weevil Specimens for Further Study and Scientific Publication

Nathaniel N. Levia 

University of Delaware, Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, 250 Townsend Hall, Newark, DE 19716-2160, USA. 

Taking high quality pictures of specimens is important for the further study of specimens, and scientific publication.  With some practice, taking these images is not difficult, and can be done relatively quickly.  This is important, as it allows you to maximize your time when you are visiting a museum collection, while also producing very high quality images.  Here I provide my methods for taking high quality images of specimens, and how to edit them.  My photography methods and setting suggestions that I convey here should work for most cameras. I used these methods when I visited the Curculionidae Collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History at the end of February 2024.  I took pictures of the dorsal and lateral habitus of Eupholus Boisduval and Gymnopholus Heller specimens, some of which can be seen below (Fig. 1). 

Figure 1. Dorsal and lateral habitus of Gymnopholus algifer Gressitt, 1966 (A, B) and Eupholus cinnamomeus Pascoe, 1888 (C, D).

The Camera

My camera setup consists of a Sony a6400 digital camera, fitted with a Laowa 65mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO lens, and a Godox TT350 flash, with my homemade diffuser (Fig. 2).  For photographing very small specimens, I have a Laowa 2.55x ultra macro lens.  I do not use a macro rail, rather, I free-hand the images.  I set my camera's white balance to cloudy, and the aperture of the lens to 5.6.  My setup is pretty small and light, which makes taking images of lots of specimens easier.  Please note that this setup will not be adequate for taking images of the genitalia.

Figure 2. My camera setup.

The Staging

I photograph specimens in a 1/4 size unit tray for a Cornell drawer.  For images of the dorsal habitus I place a small unit tray next to the specimen to allow for the extra diffusion of light.  For an image of the lateral habitus I simply pin the specimen in the 1/4 size tray so that the side of the specimen is facing me. If a view of the ventral habitus is necessary, I will stick the top of the pin into a piece of soft styrofoam, so that the bottom of the specimen is facing upward.  For scale I have a 6 in ruler with a metric side, which I photograph at the same focal length of the specimen. For images of other structures I angle the specimen so the structure  faces me at a good angle to photograph. All of these materials are small so can easily be carried in a backpack.

Figure 3. Set up a specimen in a 1/4 Cornell unit tray to have the dorsal habitus photographed.

The Photos

To photograph a specimen, I hold my camera over the specimen so that the lowest point of the specimen (closest to the bottom of the unit tray) is in focus. To see which parts of the specimen are in focus, I recommend using the focus peaking setting in the camera.  Then while shooting pictures I slowly move the camera upward. I set the continuous shooting mode in my camera on high, and set the shutter speed to 1/160.  Once the images are taken, I look through them to ensure that each part of the specimen is in focus.  I recommend taking at least 30 images at different focal planes to get a good result from stacking.  The pictures I took during my visit to NMNH were stacked from at least 40 images.

The Post-processing

I use Zerene Stacker and Adobe Photoshop to process my pictures.  Zerene Stacker is an easy to use program that aligns and stacks your images.  I stack my images with the pmax function.  I use Adobe Photoshop to edit my pictures. I start by cropping the image, then I go into camera raw filter to edit the white balance using the eyedropper.  Lighting is edited by turning up the exposure, reducing highlights, and increasing the shadows.  To add a scale bar, I crop the image of the ruler I took so that there are just a couple mm showing.  I then add it into the image of my specimen. Using the set measurement scale under analysis, which is under the image tab to measure the custom desired length on the ruler. Make sure to edit the logical length and logical units accordingly.  To add the scale bar, I go back to analysis and click the place scale marker. The text and scale bar are added as layers, and the size and font of the text and thickness of the bar can be edited accordingly.  I usually do a line thickness of 10 pt for the scale bar.  The text and bar can be moved to the desired location in the images, if the bottom left corner is not what you want.

This is my method for taking images, I am mostly self taught but I have gotten plenty of advice from the internet and friends.  This is a very efficient method for taking pictures of specimens that does not require a lot of supplies, but still produces fantastic results. This method can be done relatively quickly allowing you to maximize your precious time at the institution you are visiting.

Figure 4. Dorsal and lateral habitus of Eupholus azureus MacLeay, 1885 (A, B) and Gymnopholus mammifer (Gressitt, 1966) (C, D). 

For questions or comments, feel free to email me at levnathaniel@gmail.com.