How To Photograph Insects :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Photograph Insects

by David Peterson 4 comments

So you’re ready to take your photography into the field and snap some shots of insects. While it might seem like a day in the park (quite literally), there are a lot of variables that go into getting a great picture of an insect. If you have struggled for years with poorly lit, underexposed, and blurry insect photos, then this tutorial is for you.

Of all lifeforms, insects are some of the easiest to find and photograph. They’re everywhere, and they’re usually out most times of the day. You can find insects in your own backyard, or you can leave and go out on an insect safari and find them in a more natural habitat.

The only time of the day when you won’t find as many insects out and about is in the mid-afternoon. This time of day tends to be the hottest, so many insects just hide away until the weather cools off a little more. If you wait until the early evening, you’ll usually see a lot more of them come back.

You'll Need A Macro Lens

To take amazing photos of insects, you’re going to meed a macro lens. It isn’t finding the insects that is difficult. The hard part is knowing how to capture them. Without a pretty good macro lens, you won’t be able to get in close enough to frame the picture the way you want to.

You can still use your point and shoot camera, but realize that it is somewhat limited. You might not be able to get as close to your subjects as you like. Many people solve this problem with a teleconverter, but teleconverters can also distort your image. Be aware of this and be willing to accept the effect it can have on your images.

Macro lenses come in many varieties. You can usually get a 50mm or 100mm version of each. Generally speaking, the 100mm macro lens is the best for taking photos of insects. That’s because you can get up really close to see the tiny details. It allows you to frame your shot in such a way as to focus all of the attention on the insect itself.

The Challenges Of Shooting Insects

Did you know that macro lenses reduce the depth of field in your photos? For those who are still just beginning, “depth of field” is a fancy way of talking about the part of the photo that is in focus. When your depth of field increases, more of the photo is in focus. When it goes down, less of the photo is in focus. For a more complete explanation, my Depth Of Field Secrets course is available.

In order to compensate for this reduced depth of field, you need to increase the aperture setting. Many insect photographers use an aperture of at least F16 to photograph insects, but that's only useful when shooting in the middle of the day when there is a lot of available light. I'd recommend starting there and not shooting at dusk yet because of the lack of light at dusk.

Flashy Insects

Whether you are taking pictures of insects or people, the light doesn’t always work in your favor. A flash eliminates many of the variables you will face, making it much easier to get an evenly lit insect. Here’s how you get yours to work with your macro lens.

When I’m working with insects, I like to set my camera to -1 or -2 Exposure Value. This will slightly underexpose the shot but the flash will add a little extra light so the shot should come out okay. Oftentimes, this is enough to create a high contrast shot where the insect jumps out at the viewer.

I know many of you complain about having too many shadows in your insect photographs.

The light from the flash can still overpower the shot - particularly when you are as close as you need to be when using a macro lens. If you find you are having that problem, use a bounce card. A bounce card is basically a white material that diffuses the light from the flash, helping to to make it less harsh and direct. In a pinch, you can also tape some tissue paper over your flash.

The background you choose can often make or break your photo. Take the time to look through the lens and be completely certain you are choosing a clean, single colored background. Trust me, it will help your insects stand out much more than they would otherwise.

While you’re at it, send me your best insect photos. I’m excited to see what you are coming up with!

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  1. Peter Fuller says:

    Hi David,
    I have two particular macro photos that I am proud of - one is a natural raindrop on a red poinsettia leaf and the other is of a praying mantis which is very close and I think you would like. I am not a professional but enjoy the hobby of photography If you like them, your welcome to use them - just let me know how to send them to you.

  2. jo says:

    noo, you wont get better results with a special macro lens.

    If you want to be a professional photographer, yes, it should be better, but like a amateur, that lens will be fine.

    just bought that lens for a friend of mine,
    She is happy with that lens and need some time to find out all opportunities she has with the new lens

    As much as you try, as more you experiences you get.
    believe me. I make photos for more than 40 years and everytime I learn new things.

    good luck

  3. Mort Hurwitz says:

    I really enjoy your articles keep them coming.

    I only hope that the youger phot enthuesats read on.....

  4. vishal says:

    My sigma 70 - 300 mm lens has a macro feature between 200 300 mm. How can I use this optimally for close ups.Will I get better results with a prime macro lens.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.