This photo of Stephen Dalton has not undergone PS processing. This is Kodak Chrome!

You may assume that the main picture was created with Photoshop if you looked at it right now. But you’d be mistaken. Sadly, we no longer practise in-camera creation. However, photographer Stephen Dalton explained to us how he took this image. He includes several more short anecdotes in his book Capturing Motion: My Life in High-Speed Nature Photography, in addition to this one. If we told you this picture was taken in 1973, would you trust us? Most significantly, it just requires one shot!

SETUP USED TO MULTIFLASHLY RECORD LEAPING FLIES. HIGHSPEED FLASH ON LEFT WITH SPECIAL CAPACITORS TEMPORARILY WIRED IN ON TOP, TRIGGRING AMP AND DELAY TIMING TOWARDS THE LEFT, LEIICAFLEX WITH MACRO ELMAR & BELLOWS AT CENTRE RIGHT. BUT JUST UNDER THE RED BIT OF TAPE, IS THE SPECIALLY MADE TRANSPARENT CONTAINER HOLDING THE FLEAS.

In an email interview, Stephen states, “I never shot a setup photograph of the multiflash lacewing (or indeed for 90% of my high-speed images for that matter). “However, I do have one for the setup of the jumping flea where I utilised three flash heads; if you can pick them out through the electrical noise in this shot, there are three flash heads. Oddly enough, I never mastered the ability to fire many flashes via a single head out of concern for breaking the flash tube and because it takes so long for the capacitors to charge (approximately 10 seconds), thus I was forced to use different flash heads for each flash. He went on to say that modern technologies and digital technology make life more simpler. But to me, he doesn’t have a multiflash and dark backdrops. We don’t blame him, either.

STEPHEN DALTON’S ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT Leicaflex SL Leitz 100mm f/4 Bellows Elmar macro f/11
ll Kodachrome
THE 1973 PHOTOGRAPHY PROCESS
Despite their look of fragility, lacewing flies are fascinating and underappreciated creatures. Among the more than 20 species of brown or green lacewing flies found in gardens, parks, and wooded areas where they aid in controlling aphids, there are numerous European species, with this green one being one of the most prevalent. It is a very attractive bug with enormous transparent lime-green net-like wings and golden eyes, but its most peculiar feature wasn’t identified until the early 1970s while being photographed.

In hindsight, it may not have been unexpected for an insect to have a unique form of flying that was completely different from bees or flies with their comparatively tiny wings and quick wing-beat frequencies. This was because the insect had big, floppy wings that were carrying a light body (low-wing loading). The lacewing fly took off vertically, like a helicopter, with its wings strangely deformed, as seen in one of my initial monochrome test photographs (see page 22). Additional imagery showed that they sometimes performed a full circle before landing in about the same location. I put up three flash heads and programmed the lights to fire sequentially with a predefined interval so that I could watch how this incredible aerobatic manoeuvre was executed. This image displays a typical outcome in which the insect executed a half-loop and essentially took off backward. This explained why it often fell on the same area facing the other way. It’s unclear whether this is a cunning aerial manoeuvre to elude predators or a result of aerial ineptitude, but given the course of evolution, I lean towards the former.

To take this photo, a specially crafted box of tricks with timing delays to fire each of the three flash heads was required. These days, similar pictures may be produced much more easily by adding a “simple” timing chip to the circuitry.

Similar to other members of its order (Neuroptera), such as ant-lions, dobsonflies, and ascalaphids, lacewing flies live extremely predatory lives as both adults and larvae, preying on tiny insects like aphids. The larvae are very cunning.

They camouflage themselves by carrying the dried-up remains of their victims on their spiky backs, allowing them to move stealthily and surprise their target. Some of their neuropteran relatives, such antlions, display even more terrifying behaviour in their larvae. When possible prey reaches the crater’s lip, the conical, loose, sandy hole where they are hidden collapses. Any little bug that tries to clamber over the edge of the “event horizon” will suffer the consequences.