Meet the New Neighbors

The area where I live has been overrun by Halyomorpha halys, AKA stink bugs. They are invasive (from Asia) have no predators in this region and are … everywhere. They even became an issue in coaching Ben's soccer game last sunday.

"If one lands on you and you have the ball or are closely defending someone, just let it crawl around on you. It won't hurt you. You can flick it off when the ball is in another part of the field…"

They are a little over 1/2" long, and mobile. I photographed one for a local photo project earlier this week, using a very simple light diffuser / bug restraint device that works well for anything very small -- moving or not.

I used two common household items to shoot the bugs -- a white plastic cup and a piece of printer paper. (Or, if you are over 40, typing paper.)

The paper makes a great seamless background for any small subject. The cup (upside down with the bottom cut out of it) is perfect as a light tent. And with your lens jammed in the hole, there is no escaping for your subject. Just spread one or more flashes around the table as shown, and you will have all the aperture you need to hold focus through any small object when shooting macro.

It is variation of the $10 Macro Studio, as you are essentially creating a container that is also a light modifier. And once you set it up, your thinking is pretty much over. Just tweak your settings, point and shoot.

You can do this with just one flash, but the light will be more directional and pretty hot on one side. Remember -- the surface of the cup becomes your new light source, and the distance rules still apply. So, two flashes is better and three means that whatever is crawling around will always be pointed in the direction of one of the hot spots on the cup. More than three flashes is probably overkill.

You'll want to work in manual mode. Set your shutter at the highest speed at which you can sync. This will help kill ambient light that might be a bad color, or coming in from the top. Close your aperture down as far as it will go -- you'll need the depth of field -- and set your ISO down to its lowest setting.

You should have your available light pretty much nuked by now. Set the flashes on the lowest power level in manual, and move them in or out until your exposure is good.

You will have plenty of power. Probably too much, even. Mine were on 1/128 power and I still had to move them back this far to be able to shoot at f/8 @ISO 80, which was as far as I could go with my Canon G11. (I use my point-and-shoot most of the time when shooting tiny objects, as those kinds of cameras usually have great macro modes by default.)

Here's what the picture looked like pretty much out of the camera. The light is even, but coming from three different directions and yields a ton of detail. As bad as they smell, they look pretty cool up close. Like aliens with armor, done in a designer color scheme.

Especially when shooting something dark, it is easy to adjust the curves to get a nice, blow-away white background. You might have to clean it up with the dodge and burn wand, too. Or, you could leave tone in the paper and include that texture (or any other background you used) in the photo.

A Special Invitation to Laotian Readers

I read on Wikipedia that stink bugs are considered to be a delicacy by some people in Laos -- because of, not in spite of, the smell. They grind them with chilies and spices and serve the paste up with glutinous rice. (Mmm-hmm-hmm… stink bugs and glutinous rice…)

Well, then. If anyone is hungry for some primo stink bug, Howard County, MD in the USA is where you want to be. Think of it as stink bug destination tourism. We have them by the millions -- fresh and ready to eat. And you are more then welcome to come and help yourself to as many as you want.

Because we are getting tired of them.

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Blogger Chell said...

I like how you turned somethign as irritating as stink bugs into an informative post. We have tons of them too and I have to admit they are an interesting macro subject but beyond that I really wish they would leave..

September 23, 2010 2:15 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

People eat those?! I'd rather eat bees or ants.. After you're finished in Maryland there's plenty left in Pennsylvania too! Come and get them!

PS: David, You must have a nice macro lens to focus on something that close (from the bottom to the top of a plastic cup.) When I got the 5D Mk2 it came with the unintended consequence of un-magnifying what I was used to seeing on my old camera. So everything seems a little farther away. :-( Oh well.. Still love the camera.


September 23, 2010 2:16 PM  
Blogger Brent said...

We had these big time when I lived in Lancaster PA, they were everywhere.... We're starting to get them now up here on Long Island too...

September 23, 2010 2:22 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

This post just reeks!

(Sorry, couldn't help myself).

September 23, 2010 2:42 PM  
Blogger the new simplifier said...

This is strange. I was just thinking yesterday that it would be nice to have a decent macro lens and photograph one of these suckers. I had about five on my third floor balcony. I'm not too far from you (Reston, VA).

Thanks for the informative post!


September 23, 2010 3:33 PM  
Blogger IvarS said...

How do you trigger your SB800s when using G11? Pocket Wizards?

September 23, 2010 3:48 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

That is a super cool setup! I seriously couldn't believe that I was seeing a stink bug on your blog!!
Stink bugs creep me right out..there creepy little walk and their kamakazi style of flying....yeck!!

Like the set up totally hate the subject

September 23, 2010 3:50 PM  
Blogger anthonyberenyi said...

This method for lighting bugs (macros) is so simple, it's genius. I have been struggling to light small pieces of jewelry, rings, pendants etc. and my light setup became extremely complicated. Even though the inverted cup method lacks complete control, it is so much easier! So while this blog is about bugs, it is really about so much more. Thanks David for helping me see things in a little different light!

September 23, 2010 3:59 PM  
Blogger caroline said...

Yeah, what is with all the stink bugs this year? We were just talking about them at my office here in DC. I just spent a summer battling roaches, so it freaks me out at first whenever I see one of these scurrying around my kitchen.

September 23, 2010 4:23 PM  
Blogger paul said...

After 3 straight falls with massive ladybug infestations here in southwest VA, the stinkbugs are almost a welcome change.

At least they don't seem to have as easy a time finding their way into the house and stinky as they can be, the ladybugs are much worse. Especially when several thousand of them have piled up dead in your basement while you were at work. Eww...

Nice idea using the cup as a combination diffuser and containment unit, too.

September 23, 2010 5:43 PM  
OpenID jazzynickel said...

I also live in Howard Co. MD and man, these bugs are annoying! Although I won't be going anywhere near them to get a photo I appreciate the small object/critter lighting tips!

September 23, 2010 5:48 PM  
Blogger glenn kaupert said...

I've slowed down the faster insects by leaving them in the freezer for a bit.

September 23, 2010 5:52 PM  
Blogger glenn kaupert said...

I've slowed down the faster insects by leaving them in the freezer for a bit.

September 23, 2010 5:53 PM  
Blogger Walt Palmer said...

Hmmm, "When life gives you lemons - make lemonade!"

You need a recipe; so, here you go Dave:

P.S.- Sorry, I'm busy whatever night you're planning to cook this.

September 23, 2010 7:57 PM  
Blogger John said...

Awesome post! Your creativity never ceases to amaze me ...and since I'm poor, I really love your cost of production setups.

Cool shots too. FWIW, we have a ton of them here in the Louisville, KY. area too, so if anyone wants to make a trip over here, c'mon over. :)

September 23, 2010 8:51 PM  
Blogger Ronny said...

Hi David,
Nice post, very informative. I'd like to know of you set up 3 flashes instead of using your Orbis ring flash. Thank's in advance.


September 23, 2010 9:16 PM  
Blogger Sleepy Professor said...

David, thought you might enjoy this article (irrelevant to stink bugs, but with some cool lighting--but not, I think Strobist-style):

September 23, 2010 9:37 PM  
Blogger Azzurri said...

It is funny that your post was about them. I was just trying to find out what is the name of this bug and tried countless searches on Google and Wikipedia. THey have been annoying me in my appartment and balcony for about 2 years now. I thought they were called shield bugs. I live in Northern Virginia and these bugs have become annoying and they are around all year. They are very resistant to pesticides. I finished half a can of Raid on one and the damn thing keeps crawling. They are not prone to cold weather as well. I think they don't hibernate. If anyone knows an easy way to keep them away..That would be great, otherwise I will put them in a can and nuke them with my SB-800s until they become blind.

September 23, 2010 9:58 PM  
Blogger Max said...

2 part comment:

I've never actually known the smell these bugs cause, if any.

Let's hear it for the new flickr zoomer.

Now I'm gonna go read the post.

September 23, 2010 11:30 PM  
Blogger samar said...

Nice topic for the post. :)
Trust me, not many people from Laos can afford to come to MD for some stink bugs.
Another effect of globalisation.

September 24, 2010 1:47 AM  
Blogger fonitzu said...

I would use a flash and two mirrors...
Just budget thinking :D

September 24, 2010 4:37 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Nice idea using the cup. Wish I had 2 flashes. Can only afford the one.

September 24, 2010 8:11 AM  
OpenID firthefirst said...

interesting approach to keeping bugs within your field of view. these things are all over Germantown, too, I thought it was just where I lived but sounds like these guys are all over the place.

I wonder what eats stink bugs (other than unique cuisine aficionados)?

September 24, 2010 10:03 AM  
Blogger Dylan Slagle said...

Funny post. I was shooting those smelly little weirdos yesterday for a story in today's Carroll County Times. Shot mine with a 50mm lens mounted backwards stopped down to f16 and 2 speedlights.

September 24, 2010 10:12 AM  
Blogger ~ RB said...

I dont like it, the light is too strong and you can see 'white' parts in the insect due to the excess of light.
besides, a top view is boring. I think you just took the safest method.
anyway, I love your blog and everything is great, but I think you didnt make a great job in this case.

September 24, 2010 11:10 AM  
Blogger Laurent said...

Can't say I like the smell part of those, nor that I'd try any recipe based on them, but they can sometimes be quite beautiful bugs :

September 24, 2010 11:12 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I'm actually relieved to hear that this is happening in other parts of the country. Here in PA it's being considered an epidemic. Just look ho many were on my bathroom window!

I count 58...

September 24, 2010 1:40 PM  
Blogger DArt said...

In italy there's a green variant of them, but yeah, they still stink.

September 24, 2010 4:44 PM  
Blogger thatjustinguy said...

Incredible image! Sorry if this is obtuse, but what kind of cup was it? A plastic cup? Styrofoam? Or some kind of paper cup? I can't quite tell from the picture.

My 8-year old is a bug savant and I'll probably have to use this method in the future to help him write his books!

September 24, 2010 4:54 PM  
Blogger ytee said...

Found these pin head like eggs on our clothes from hanging on the line. They also appear on some surfaces outside from time to time. Wondering what they were I photographed them and found to my amazement eyes etc inside. I waited a few days and they hatched into your friends - little stink bugs! Each egg was no larger than the head of a normal sewing pin. Shot with 1 sb800 with the a plastic diffuser over the flash on a table.

September 24, 2010 5:42 PM  
Blogger David said...


Frosted white plastic. Styrofoam would work well, too.

September 24, 2010 6:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Benson said...

Hey, I posted a stink bug pic to the Flickr strobist group on the day before this article appeared... more than just coincidence? :-)

The darn critters are a nuisance, but they do make for an easy-to-find macro subject.

September 24, 2010 9:32 PM  
Blogger DS said...

People say they are harmless... I had one get between my shorts and abdomen today and now have a nice chemical burn...ouch

September 24, 2010 11:46 PM  
Blogger Ynad said...

To everyone, lemon juice is great solution to get rid of the smell if you get in to contact with one of those. They are here in NYC too.

September 25, 2010 8:08 AM  
OpenID DAligeri said...

DS, I don't think anything is *totally* harmless. Even some nice soft foam could be a choking hazard if you rammed it down somebody's throat. But after having a bunch of ground bees fly up into my shirt while mowing, I'm willing to call stinkbugs 'harmless' by comparison.

Great post, Mr. Hobby. While not as technically advanced as, say, the Circus post you just did, you've always done an excellent job of providing information for a wide span of interests and skill levels. This is something I'll be able to show my Photo 1 students; I'm always looking for things to teach them that are advanced enough that they feel like they're learning and progressing, but not so advanced that they feel overwhelmed.

Thanks a lot!

September 25, 2010 8:16 AM  
OpenID DAligeri said...

Oh, and I just noticed no one responded to IvarS' question ... or at least I didn't see it. The SB-800s slave optically. And, oddly enough, are perfectly happy sitting on top of a Canon G-series camera and firing in sync and at a safe voltage, provided you use them in manual mode.

I'm guessing Mr. Hobby either slaved the SB-800s from the G11's built-in flash, or maybe he used a forth SB-800 at minimum power, and aimed it directly at one of the other SB-800s as a master. If I were doing the shooting here, that's what I'd do. No sense getting out the PocketWizards when everything is in a four foot radius.

September 25, 2010 8:21 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Thanks for the tip on using the point and shoot. I have a G10 but I've never though of using it in this manner. I'll have to give it a try..

September 25, 2010 10:54 AM  
Blogger Aud said...

Hi David... Been a reader for quite awhile, but never posted. Funny, I just had to shoot live Stink Bugs and Bedbugs for my newspaper on Long Island. Wish this post had been just a few weeks earlier :-) But... I used the orbis ring flash that I learned about from your blog! It worked out real well. Thanks!

September 25, 2010 11:55 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I used to see these guys out in the backyard of our house back in South Western Iran!
It's the first time I see one in nearly 15 years!

Thanks David!

September 26, 2010 5:43 AM  
Blogger Puggle said...

OMG, I was wondering what they were. We've been getting them in our house lately, and they give off the most vile smell if you squish them. You can't wash it off easily, either.

Now I know what they are, and they are GROSS !!!!

I'm in New Jersey, just outside of New York city.


September 27, 2010 3:19 PM  
Blogger Sheri said...

Oh yuck.

This is all we need is another bug infestation floating around the U.S.

I've been reading alot on the bed bugs,and have now heard about these stink bugs.

I'd lose my cool with these things flying around me,and I assume they fly.Because the article mentioned if one lands on yet,don't squash it..(scream)

Here it's just the jackpine beetles,and the misquitos I have a hard time dealing with.

If these things move into the neighborhood,I'll be looking for a place in the Artic to move to..No more bugs please..yuck..:(

October 01, 2010 3:28 PM  
Blogger Jon Prentice said...

I've never seen one of these bugs before. But as of last week I started seeing them around my house in Southern California. I have no idea if they are the same thing, but they sure do look a like.

This is your fault David. I'm sure of it. Thanks bro.

BTW, very nice shot!

October 04, 2010 12:45 PM  
Blogger IvarS said...

I like this setup.
I would like to remind you about the G11 built-in 3X ND-filter... Then you get "more than" f:8 stop-down: I get all combos from f:2,8 to f:22!

November 19, 2010 3:17 PM  

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