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Photographing Insects and Other Bugs

By Edited Sep 15, 2015 2 4

It may not be everyone's idea of good subject matter for a photo, but taking photos of insects in close up using your digital camera's macro setting reveals fascinating detail that we don't usually see. Many people might prefer not to see bugs at any size, magnified or otherwise. The rest of us find them fascinating.

Challenges

It can be quite challenging to get interesting shots of living bugs, especially as they're not known for being cooperative, so here are some of the main problems and ways to overcome them.

Depth of Field

At very close distances, focal range is an issue. If you focus on the closest part of an insect at very close range, the furthest away parts will be out of focus, and vice versa. This range of distances that are all in focus is called the depth of field. To increase the depth of field, you need to narrow the aperture by choosing a higher f no on your camera's aperture control. Doing that, however, cuts down the light available to the sensor and you might have to compensate by increasing the ISO (sensitivity) of your camera. If closing down the aperture isn't an option, make sure you focus on the most interesting part and let the extremities be out of focus.

Look at the spider shot. The eyes are in focus but the front and back legs aren't. That's ok as they're not that interesting - as legs go.

Spider
Credit: chasmac

Depth of field is critical in macro photography

Macro Settings

Most, if not all, modern digital cameras have a macro setting. This arranges the lenses in your camera in such a way that you can focus on subjects very closely. Many include the macro option in their auto-settings. The camera detects that you're very close to the subject - too close for it to focus normally, so it automatically switches to the macro setting.

Subject Movement

Another challenge at close distances is subject movement, which is often the case as it's a living bug that has no interest in posing as your model. If you can wait until it stops, you'll get a better shot. If it shows no intention of stopping, use a high shutter speed. You can also use flash as the main source of illumination in dim conditions; it will enable you to use a higher shutter speed to freeze any movement from the subject, or you, and it also enables a smaller aperture setting for increased depth of field.

Butterfly
Credit: chasmac

Blurred backgrounds make the subject stand out more

Wasp feeding
Credit: chasmac

Wasp feeding on discarded banana

Using Flash

Flash has its own challenges, however. Onboard flash isn't designed to illuminate objects that are just a few inches away from the lens. It may either project the light over the top of your subject and miss it completely, or it may completely overexpose the subject. If the flash has a swivel head (up and down) you can use it to direct the flash in such a way that it hits the subject - but not full on so as to overexpose it. You can always practise doing this with any small objects. Moving back from your subject overcomes most flash problems, but it reduces the size of the subject in the photo. So it's a judgement call. How close do you want to get? You don't always have to be as close as possible, especially with larger bugs, and even more especially with venomous, stinging or biting bugs.

Dragonfly
Credit: chasmac

This type of photography where you can chase after live bugs wasn't nearly so practical until modern digital cameras with integral macro lenses became available. You need to take lots of shots to ensure you get some that work and many shots will be discarded. In the days of film photography, that would have been too expensive for most people. Nowadays with digital cameras, you can shoot as much as you like until your camera's battery runs out or your file storage fills up.

Now, thanks to digital technology, we have the means of taking interesting pictures of bugs with nothing more sophisticated than a reasonably inexpensive compact camera. They may not be of professional quality, but that doesn't matter - they'll still look impressive.

Common Tiger butterfly feeding
Credit: chasmac

Common Tiger Butterfly

Ant
Credit: chasmac

Ant

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Comments

May 26, 2014 9:29pm
shar-On
Interesting and beautiful photos. We share an interest here with photography, I love taking macro shots of insects and also photos of birds. rated up
May 27, 2014 1:18am
chasmac
Thanks shar-On. It's always nice to meet another photography fan with the same interests.
May 27, 2014 12:11pm
EdWalker
Thanks Chasmac for this great article. I enjoyed your clear explanations and great photogaphs.
May 27, 2014 12:41pm
chasmac
Thanks Ed - I'm glad you enjoyed it
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