29.7.09

The Inverse Size Law I: Camera Vs Subject.




One of the most unexpected results of close-up photography is that the smaller the subject, the more gear you need to be able to film it. The inverse law of subject size. Hence the 20 cases (er - you took 20 cases to film the lions too - ed). If someone could be bothered, they could make a study of this phenomenon, quantify the relationship, and have an obscure law named after them. For this trip, we are using Frankencam* whenever possible. Frank weighs in at about 40 kilos when fully loaded, whereas the ants weigh around a 500 000th of a kilo.

video
Frankencam being assembled on a shoot last year

Yesterday, those members of the crew not sure about the value of Frank were finally convinced of the need for a camera that allowed us to be well away from our ant subjects while the tiny camera glided among them. The ants of the day were harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbartus in the process of nuptial flights. The males and winged queens come out of the nest, fly off and mate. The males die shortly afterwards, while the queens start new colonies. At this stage in their life cycle, the worker ants are very aggressively defensive and will attack anything that moves.

These harvester ants also have a vicious sting containing the most powerful venom of any animal yet tested. And they really hurt - about two times a bee sting per ant - some of us sustained over 50 stings filming the flying females while Frank was being set up. Swarms of workers would come running out of the nest towards intruders, climbing up legs and stinging as soon as they felt like it.

Incidently, if you are wondering what kind of clothing would be best in this situation, we can tell you that shorts and flip flops probably aren’t ideal, but those of the crew wearing shoes and long trousers got stung at least as much if not more.

Was it worth it? - to see nuptial flights of any species of ant is quite hard. To see it when you want to and have the equipment to film it is practically a miracle.

*Frankencam
- affectionately known to us as Frank, is an Ammonite invention, a motion-control device developed over the years to help overcome the various problems associated with filming insects.

5 comments:

savannah said...

incredible, but so very true re the equipment! xoxo

xl said...

Flaming trousers might slow them down a bit!

Madame DeFarge said...

Makes our efforts at holiday snaps seem tremendously amateurish. I need a Frankencam.

kate said...

I feel for the crew! I got bit by an army ant in Kenya years ago and it hurts like a &@$#%@!! OUCH!

-kate

ammonite said...

Savannah - we might call this show Small Creatures Vs Big Contraptions.

xl - it is true that fire is an ant deterrent

Mme D - Do you have large suitcases and a strong back?

Kate - we feel your pain