Beetle wings, photo question

This is an experiment in beetle wing and goldwork embroidery. These are wings from the Thai Jewel Beetle, Sternocera aequisignata. The goldwork design is based off of one I found online. Beetle wing embroidery was popular in parts of India and the East, and came to England during the Victorian period by way of the East India Company.

For those of you who know a lot about photography, I also have a question, behind the cut.

I pierced the wings with a sharps needle after steaming them for five minutes, and then attached them and the gold to a piece of felt-backed silk using invisible nylon thread. The gold is Kreinik #7 Japan Gold.

For some reason, once the camera *completely* focuses on the wings, it levels out the glare that makes the goldwork sparkle. In person, there are a lot more highlights. The first photo is just a tiny hair out of focus, and so it still has the light – but it tends to go away once it really locks in. Anybody know if there’s a setting or something I can adjust? I tried taking a few on manual with a variety of settings, but it still auto-focuses, and does the same thing. The best images I was able to get, were outdoors in full sun – indoors, or outdoors in shade, were even more flat.

Using the flash wipes out most of the gold. It picks up a few sparkles, but most of it seems to blend into the red ground.

At certain angles, the beetle wings shift color – they can go toward an almost coppery orange, all the way to a blue purple.

The beetle wing color is actually made by irridescence, rather than pigment. The wings are about as strong as a fingernail; they can break with bending, but are fairly tough against scratching.

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  1. prettydark
    prettydark says:

    I don’t know what kind of setup you use for your photography now, but I would pull a bunch of lights in the house into a white room, making sure there is no light *directly* pointed at the item, but as much diffuse light as possible. Then the camera should be mounted on a tripod. No flash. I would probably try fifteen to thirty shots, just playing with the focus and such.

    Forgive me if you already surpass my dilettante photography abilities.

  2. nadalia
    nadalia says:

    I think it’s beautiful I saw a picture of a coat once that was covered in different colored beatle wings and embroider, it was very pretty.

  3. ruddawg
    ruddawg says:

    I asked my photographer hubby about it. He recomended a few things. First was to angle your light source so that the flash does not need to be used. Then play with that angle until you get the right set-up.

    If you have a Cannon, it does have an exposure override. Using that, play with the exposure settings until it comes out with the right exposure to the gold.

  4. admin
    admin says:

    Thanks! I tried working with a single lamp, but haven’t yet tried multi-lights. The weird thing is, in the view finder, it’s all brilliant and glowing, as the auto-focus zooms in… and then it suddenly goes flat the half-second before the shutter clicks. It’s like it *wants* to level out the glare, which I’m sure is good for a lot of outdoor stuff – but it makes it frustrating to catch the sparkle!

  5. admin
    admin says:

    Thanks! I’ll keep playing with it.

    I think the red silk may be contributing to the problem, too – once I started thinking about it, I remember having trouble with some other photos on it.

  6. sharq
    sharq says:

    You’ll want to use a softbox to make sure you don’t get the specular highlights you are experiencing. Put your camera on a firm tripod, use a large aperture and a long-ish shuttertime. Then, direct a flash through the softbox at your subject. That should help.

    ALternatively, you could try painting with light for a more artistic approach.

    The final way of trying it is to use an off-camera flash cord, and take the photo several times, moving the flashgun about 6 inches sideways for each photo. Then, in Photoshop, use the sampled data from the photos to replace the parts of the beetle wings that are burnt out.

    You’ve found yourself one of the most difficult things to photograph (the only thing I can think of that is more difficult is a mirror ball, or a car with flip paint), but it’s not impossible.

    (I was directed here by momomom, who knows me because I’m a geek, and because I run

    Would you mind if I wrote an article for the blog on how you can photograph these types of things more efficiently?

    Also, what type of camera and what flash equipment do you have available?



  7. admin
    admin says:

    Thanks for the advice! I’ll do my best to apply it, although I don’t have a very sophisticated setup.

    I have a Canon A630, no off-camera flash. I’ve got a tripod, though.

    My main confusion is that it looks all sparkly in person (and I’m really trying to *catch* that sparkle, to show how it looks) – and the camera’s screen shows the sparkle *right* up to the point where the focus sharpens. Many of the photos that came out blurry, show the sparkle really well. Like this:

    I’d be happy to have you write about it – I’ll send you the piece, if you want to play around with it yourself. This is just a learning sample for me, so it’s got some inconsistencies, but overall it’s OK.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Great handwork

    Your hand work on that is pretty incredible. Your circles are so consistant.
    As far as photographing them, one thing to remember: the flash is NOT your friend, especially with shiny objects. Try and bring the item close to a window with no direct sunlight, diffused is best. Can you take your camera into manual mode to focus and get away from auto? Use a tripod if at all possible. Use a few different exposures and see which works best. One last pointer, DON’T have your center of focus the darkest or lightest part of the object, seek out a middle range for your automatic settings.
    Good luck
    Dave Daniels

  9. sharq
    sharq says:

    Aha! Yes I get what you mean. It is very difficult to capture as a photograph – you might wish to consider putting your work on a slow-turning turn table (do you have a LP player or a cheese-turning table type thing?) and video it. It’ll show off the sparkles very well. Obviously, videos are more clumsy to handle in an internet setting, but it might be the best way to show off your work.

    ‘sparkling’ isn’t impossible to capture, however, it’s just frustratingly difficult.

    If you would send me the piece for photography purposes, that would be totally amazing, and a genuine challenge to boot 🙂



  10. paperspirit
    paperspirit says:

    Hi 🙂 This is Leigh – we mat at Janet & Charles place Friday. I saw you posing on the spinning community and suddenly realized, “I know that guy in the picture!” So I followed you back to your journal. Love your photographs – I have the silk moth on the bobbin on my desktop now. 🙂

    Hope you don’t mind I friended you, feel free to friend me back if you wish.

  11. admin
    admin says:

    Thanks! It just annoys me that it looks so clear, the moment before the focus sets! Is that just because the lens is still moving? In person, this is what happens: parts of the gold are very sheeny, and parts of it recede, so that you hardly see them. The entire thing twinkles when you move it, but even still, there’s a lot of back-and-forth with the goldwork.

    I’ll experiment with the stitching some more, and send you a sample probably after New Year – I also want to try it on the (more traditional) neutral cream ground. Here are some good web examples:
    this one, the beetle wings sheen a lot, but the goldwork looks tarnished. This is often the case with older pieces.
    This is the one I based the patterning on.

  12. admin
    admin says:

    LOL… understand about the macro setting! I’m getting that “now that you’re getting older” thing with my eyes.

    I’ll friend you back. Let me know if you want a larger image version of the bobbin/moth photo – the original is HUGE, but very detailed!

  13. admin
    admin says:

    Cool! I’ve been doing a lot of tiny photography, with the silkmoths and caterpillars – I need to re-shoot a bunch of the stuff on, because I’ve got better information and equipment now.

  14. selkie_b
    selkie_b says:

    That is really stunning work.

    As to the photography – I’ve run into similar issues – anytime there are metallic threads in my embroidery or handspun yarns. I find that the best luck I had was a trickle of sunlight and no flash – and also setting the f-stop one to two stops down so the camera doesn’t over-compensate for the lack of flash. Worth a shot…

  15. batbuds
    batbuds says:

    You are so amazingly talented!!

    By the way, I have a 55gal drum of osage fruit waiting for spring!! 🙂 ( I have no idea if you remember that lthread or not, but thought I would mention it none the less!!

    Happy Holidays!!!

  16. doobieous
    doobieous says:

    I hate flash. Flash is never good when trying to take anything other than photos of people at parties indoors.

    The only way I could get a decent photo of this persimmon:

    Was to wait until a sunny day and put them near a window with sunlight coming in.

  17. jennybean42
    jennybean42 says:

    I was actually thinking they looked kinda like fingernails! If you didn’t, you know, have beetlewings lying around, a substitution could be some press on nails done with iridescent fingernail polish.
    Or…maybe not!
    Very very cool.

  18. doobieous
    doobieous says:

    So, how did you couch those threads, as in what equipment did you use? The Japanese use their own frame for embroidery, but did you try another method?

  19. admin
    admin says:

    I used a Q-snap frame – just the square part, not the stand. The Q-snap, you just pop it on the frame and put the clamps on. I have a swiveling arm thing that holds the frame up – like this one. I have read about the Japanese technique, and I’ve got a different frame that would work for that – but it’s a lot more complicated to set up, with stitching in the muslin, etc.

    I used a small embroidery needle threaded with invisible nylon thread, which really lives up to its name – it was hard to even see to thread it, some times. It is a little tricky to secure, as it is slippery, but it seems to hold on just fine.

  20. doobieous
    doobieous says:

    Oh, awesome. I will have to think about that. I’d love to use a Japanese frame, but the set-up is more than I want to work with, and what I’m planning is just to do some couching rather than full on Japanese embroidery.

  21. admin
    admin says:

    I got a lot of them. After buying a lot of them, it went down to about $.07 each. I’ve been thinking about selling them in small lots, like #50 for $10, which would make them five for a dollar.

  22. admin
    admin says:

    hee. Several people seem to have that reaction.

    I’m taking a bag of them as a present to the Weavers Guild tonight – it’ll be amusing to see who thinks what about them.

  23. fieryredhead
    fieryredhead says:


    When were these first used as embellishment? Is there any online info with more examples? 🙂 I’d definately like to add these to sca outfits if appropriate

  24. admin
    admin says:

    They were used a lot by the Moghul (Mongol) tribes in India. I don’t have an “oldest use” citation. Most of the examples still surviving, are Victorian, from the East India company. If you’ll email me at , I’ll send you some web resources.

  25. admin
    admin says:

    I’ll check postage when I’m back in the office on Tuesday. It was less than two ounces, for 50 in a pill bottle in a bubble-wrap envelope – so it shouldn’t be too bad. It looks like $1.70, without actually getting to the postage machine.

  26. purplemermaid
    purplemermaid says:

    Nice piece of goldwork

    Not sure if I would want 50 – 5 or 10 is more like it as an experiment. How much would it cost to get them to the UK? Or would sending them to a military person (and ask them to pay the $ for me – and me pay them cash)? Or do you know where I can get them from myself?

    Also have you considered using T71 instead of the Jap? for tight turns is it far better since the gold/silver/copper wrapping is much narrower than on Jap. Could send you some samples – we could even do a swap. Shall I email you privately?

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