(Photos by Matt Cashore) Matt Cashore is senior university photographer at Notre Dame. Matt’s photo “Mosquito Buffet” was voted Best In Show in the May 2019 Monthly Image Competition. 

Quick tech stuff—camera model, focal length, exposure data, lighting used (if any):

•Nikon Z6

•Nikkor 105 2.8 AIS manual focus lens on a FTZ adapter (coincidentally the same lens used for the March 2018 MIC Best in Show)

•1/160 sec, aperture recorded as f/2.8 but I think it was more like f/16 or f/22. I didn’t have the Non-CPU lens info set correctly.

•Two Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 speedlights bounced onto white paper behind the subject.

Briefly go through the process: How did the job land on your calendar? Any unique logistics in making the photo? What sort of post processing (or not)?


The initial request was a portrait of the two main research faculty in their lab to be a cover photo for the College of Science magazine story about a record-setting grant for developing a new type of mosquito repellent.

In the course of the portrait shoot I made a few photos of the mosquitos in their plastic and mesh enclosures. Turned out the magazine editors liked the photos of the mosquitos as a cover image and they asked if we could re-shoot with an emphasis on the mosquitos.

Above: The first attempt

Quick aside: A few years back I did some macro mosquito photos using a dead mosquito. I thought I’d done a pretty good job until a faculty member said in essence: “Anyone who knows anything at all about mosquitos can tell it’s dead.”

From a 2016 shoot. No foolin' the experts...apparently it's obvious to those in the know that this is not a live mosquito.

So remembering that feedback I asked if we could photograph live mosquitos out in the open. The answer was “No” to simply letting the mosquitos out, but there was another option to photograph them in a plexiglass feeder cage. Not ideal but it would have to do.


The “mosquito room” looks on the outside like a restaurant walk-in cooler. But open the door and it’s the jarring opposite of a cooler, it’s warm and muggy just like the mosquitos like it.

The feeder cage. The glass at the top is supposed to contain blood above a mesh membrane.

The plexi enclosure was somewhat hazy but not as bad as I’d feared. I started with the 105 macro. While we were still setting up, the faculty member bumped the cage and a drop of blood leaked through the mesh membrane. A mosquito immediately took advantage of the opportunity. I made two photos before it zipped away. I made several more photos of other mosquitos with the 105 macro as well as a 35mm lens on a reversing ring, sometimes throwing an extension tube into the mix. As with most macro and ultra-macro photography, focus was...tricky. No autofocus and microscopic depth of field. Plus, the subjects definitely didn’t understand the words, “Hold still.” A mosquito would pause in a convenient place and I’d have 5…10…maybe 20 seconds to frame it and try to get focus before it buzzed away. The first two frames stood out to me because of the reflection of the mosquito in the blood droplet.

The second frame became the final image.

Other selects from the shoot


Post processing was more involved than typical given that this was going to be a cover image.

In Adobe Camera Raw I gave the image more contrast, brightness and saturation to undo the haziness of shooting through the plexi. Next I used “selective color” in Photoshop to get the white background 100% RGB white. That way the designer could seamlessly add canvas if needed to get more room for text/logos/etc.

Adobe Camera Raw settings

Alert readers will notice that there’s a second mosquito out of focus in the background on the raw image. Yes, I removed it. Why? After showing the initial result I got consistent feedback that it was not adequately clear that it was, in fact, another mosquito. (“Is that dirt on your sensor?”) 3 seconds of “content aware fill” later, I had a solo skeeter.

Depending on the quality and size of display, it wasn't entirely clear whether the spot in the background was another mosquito or a dirty sensor spot. 

We could have a separate and lengthy discussion on adding/removing elements from photos. My short take: Sometimes this job is journalism and sometimes it’s PR. This was an entirely fabricated and controlled situation to make an illustrative photo—in other words: Wholly on the “PR” side of the “PJ/PR” line.

What (if anything) would you do differently if you could re-shoot this today?

I didn’t bring a tripod or focusing rail, and if I were to re-shoot I would bring those and at least attempt some focus stacking. A couple of the mosquitos held still long enough that it may have been possible.

Where do you look for inspiration, feedback and motivation?

#1 is definitely UPAA. Participating in the contests is a big motivator. In my 10 years in UPAA the quality of the work in the MIC and APC just gets better and better. Instagram is a great place for feeling inspired and humbled. Among the accounts that routinely make me stop and stare are UPAA’s own Matthew Modoono, Adam Glanzman and Jaren Wilkey, as well as others like Wired Magazine, Dan Winters, and Alyssa Schukar to name a few.

What would your dream assignment be?

White House photographer. Like being a university photographer, it’s a blend of journalism and PR and would be an unmatchable experience. More likely, though, in the context of my university job would be any story that got me on the flight deck of an operating aircraft carrier.


“What time do ducks wake up? At the quack of dawn!” Blog stories/ideas welcome any time, email editor Matt Cashore at mcashore@nd.edu