Sharpen Your Sweep Net Skills

June 7, 2011

I never thought much about the accuracy of a  sweep net until I read Angus Catchot’s Mississippi Crops Blog this morning.

As an ag photographer, I proudly own a sweep net for tracking down insects in cotton and soybean fields. I’ve photographed crop consultants from California to Louisiana as they used sweep nets. But, until now,  I never really considered what a variance there might be in sweep net results. In his blog, Angus explains that 4 people with 4 different sweeps of 1 field can come out with 4 different results. He also makes the point that the inventors of the sweep net actually had a method of proper usage in mind.  Take a look at his blog and video to see if you are getting the best possible sweep results.

Boll Weevil Picking His Next Jumping Off Point on Cotton Boll

An "iced down" Boll Weevil perched on cotton boll considers his next move.

Sidebar:  One of my favorite photography subjects was the boll weevil in the days before Boll Weevil Eradication. I would use my sweep net to collect a hearty collect of the critters, and then look for one with “star” quality.

You see, the boll weevil is kind of like a dog I had once.  He lived with great enthusiasm for life but a total disregard for what might be going on around him.  In fact, I would find myself  talking soothingly to the chosen boll weevil just as I did to my dog.

Boll weevils, like that dog, were always looking for new horizons.  Maybe the boll weevil really knew his days were numbered so he didn’t have time to waste. The specimen moved fast and erratically, which usually required my secret weapon, ice.

I would put the chosen fellow into a plastic bag and insert it into a small cooler full of ice for about 2 minutes. That usually took all the fight out of him, at least momentarily. When I placed him on the background/cotton boll,  I knew I  had to work quickly to “shoot” him as he was waking up.  The trick is to get him cold enough that it takes a minute or two for him to come out of the ice hangover.  You don’t want him frozen to death.  A live insect, even a very cold one, always  photographs better than the recently dead.

My apologies to the cotton growers,  but if my subject was really enthusiastic about his work, I often gave him his freedom.


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