Insect photography is a stimulating and challenging field of photography requiring a great deal of patience and perseverance.
Insect photography is an exciting branch of photography, which, although it does require a certain degree of specialist knowledge and a great measure of patience and dedication, is a highly rewarding one capable of producing stunning and dramatic photographs. Insects are so widespread and plentiful that you will seldom have to look further than your own garden or local park to find an abundant variety of suitable subjects. As you progress you will soon learn where to look for them, what time of the day or night is best for certain insects and how to attract and if necessary, trap them.
The simple gratification of being able to discover and portray the marvels found in the miniature wonder world of insects is immeasurable, what is more, as the camera often reveals details that normally go unseen by the casual observer you can always be assured of great interest in your images. Whether you wish to photograph insects as a creative hobby, a profession or as a function of another task, such as producing images for research or entomological purposes, you will find that it is a captivating subject that grows more fascinating with each new photograph that you produce.
Insect photography embraces a diverse range of subject matter that can include having to photograph anything from almost 30 cm long stick insects to minute 1 mm sized springtails. Your quest for photographs may at times involve actively stalking your prey through the bush, taking photographs at impossible angles from near tree top height to ground level or on the other hand, a subject could call for meticulousness work in the studio together with an elaborate indoor set-up designed to resemble the subject’s natural surroundings.
Insects by their very nature and sometimes bizarre appearance present fascinating and dramatic subject matter for the camera. Adorned with some of nature’s most vibrant colours, they are masters at deception, trickery and camouflage, some boldly flaunt their bright colours, a warning to predators of danger, while others closely resemble dead leaves or multicolored flowers in their effort to blend in with their natural surroundings. In nature’s strange way, others yet again are designed to mimic other insects, so we find flies that look like bees, bees that look like wasps and even larva that look like miniature snakes, complete even up to the flickering tongue. This miniature world of nature’s incredible wonders is out there just waiting for the photographers lens to present it to all who would like to experience it.
Some practical pointers
Photographing insects is not easy but going about it the right way can do much to ensure success.
- Firstly, of course, you will need a camera capable of being able to focus at close range. Your camera should permit focusing to at least about 50 cm, for smaller insects you will need to go closer still. Many digital cameras have a macro mode which facilitates nearby focusing.
- Insects are remarkably detailed in both colour, form and texture. A camera capable of recording at least 3 megapixels or more is necessary to depict this fine detail.
- At close range, camera shake and subject movement are greatly exaggerated. A very steady hand or some type of camera support, such as a tripod or monopod is a necessity. Close-ups generally require the use of a shutter speed of at least 1/200th of a second to avoid camera shake if the camera is being hand held.
- On the other hand the use of small aperture settings are also needed to give the maximum depth-of-field. Depth-of-field, which is the nearest and furthest points in sharp focus decreases dramatically the closer one gets to a subject. This can be compensated for by using a smaller aperture setting.
- The combination of high shutter speeds and small aperture settings decrease the amount of light reaching the digital sensor / film and consequently require more light on the subject. So where possible choose subjects that are illuminated by strong direct sunlight or use reflectors or flash to increase the ambient illumination..
- Keep in mind that as you get closer to your subject than about 50cm the on-camera flash on most cameras will no longer illuminate the subject as the light will be directed over the subject if the flash is placed above the lens and will pass the subject on one side if the flash is on the side of the camera. This will vary from camera to camera depending on the angle of illumination of the flash. It is a good idea to carry out a few tests to determine the minimum distance that your flash will evenly illuminate a subject before you attempt any serious work. To conduct these tests set up a static subject, any small object will do, prefably indoors where it will not receive too much ambient light. Set your flash on and take a series of photographs at decreasing distances from the subject. A study of the results will quickly show the minimum distance at which the flash is no longer able to illuminate the full frame.
- For really close range work a flash that can be removed from the camera and directed directly at the subject is needed.
- Take enough photographs. With digital media the cost of film is no longer a factor so if the subject allows it take shots at different exposure settings, with and without flash. Try different angles and different distances from the subject. This is especially important if you are a beginner as it is the only way that you will learn. Even if it does mean having to delete 90% of your work, that's fine, as you progress your eye will become more trained and you will become more familiar with your camera, soon you will find that you need to take fewer and fewer shots to get a good final photograph.
- Finally, always have your camera at the ready. Often in the strangest places and at the most unexpected times you'll find the most interesting subjects.
Test your flash coverage at different distances – the closer you get the more the flash may cut off
Here the flash covers the whole subject.
As we move in closer the flash lights only the upper section of the subject.
Photographs and text copyright: Lambert Smith, 2005
© COPYRIGHT Lambert Smith, 2009