The words “insects” and “pho­tog­ra­ph­er” can be in the same con­text in two cas­es: when it comes to which repel­lent is bet­ter to buy for shoot­ing in the for­est, or when it comes to macro pho­tog­ra­phy. How­ev­er, a spoil­er: macro lovers will also need repel­lent. Read about how to remove a spi­der so that nei­ther he runs away from you, nor you from him, read in this mate­r­i­al.

Just look into those eyes! / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Some­times novice pho­tog­ra­phers feel some stu­por — they do not under­stand what to shoot. How­ev­er, if you look close­ly, a whole micro­cosm is hid­ing right under your nose: in a near­by park or right in the gar­den near the house. You just need to know where to look. And get the right tools.

What tech­nique is bet­ter to shoot insects
Why cam­eras with a Micro 4/3 matrix are good for macro pho­tog­ra­phy
How to catch a “mod­el“
How to choose the opti­mal cam­era set­tings for macro pho­tog­ra­phy of insects

The most impor­tant trick of macro pho­tog­ra­phy is to get as close to the sub­ject as pos­si­ble. The main assis­tant in this is macro lens­es. Their main dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture from any oth­er lens­es is the abil­i­ty to focus on an object that is close. This allows you to shoot in such a way that the object on the matrix is ​​the same size as in life. A prime exam­ple of a good macro lens is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. It pro­vides a 1:1 zoom ratio, which is ide­al for macro pho­tog­ra­phy.

There are also more bud­get options — for exam­ple, Laowa lens­es. As a rule, for more bud­get lens­es, the scale is 1: 2. This means that the image on the ant’s matrix will be half the size of the real ant. A lit­tle worse, but still accept­able.

Anoth­er option for macro pho­tog­ra­phy is the use of macro rings and macro lens­es. They exist for almost every sys­tem and allow you to make a macro lens out of any lens. The essence of the work of these devices is that they phys­i­cal­ly move the lens away from the matrix and allow you to focus clos­er and shoot small objects.

Also, a macro flash and a good tri­pod can be use­ful for shoot­ing insects.

Ready for a drag­on­fly hunt? / Pho­to: unsplash.com

There are two main rea­sons why macro pho­tog­ra­phers love the Micro 4/3. First, the small­er the matrix, the more effi­cient­ly its area will be used. That is, with the same 1:1 scale on a full-frame matrix, the ant will take up less space, there will be more unused space. On Micro 4/3 the frame will be denser, the ant will look larg­er.

On the right is a frame that can be obtained at full frame, on the left is how it will look on a cam­era with a micro 4/3 matrix / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

Sec­ond, the small sen­sor pro­vides max­i­mum depth of field. The small­er the sen­sor size, the greater the depth of field will be when using the same set­tings and the same lens­es. Depth of field deter­mines how much space is sharp and how much is blurred.

A typ­i­cal prob­lem in shoot­ing insects: eyes in sharp­ness, paws and heat — no longer / Pho­to: unsplash.com

And the larg­er the matrix, the less depth of field and the more prob­lems. If you look at the prob­lem of macro pho­tog­ra­phy pre­cise­ly through the prism of prob­lems with depth of field, then it is real­ly eas­i­er to shoot a spi­der on a smart­phone than on a full frame. At full frame, there will be only whiskers in sharp­ness, on the phone there are chances to catch the whole insect.

This is why cam­eras with small sen­sors are so loved by macro pho­tog­ra­phers. A typ­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of cam­eras with such matri­ces: Olym­pus OM‑D E‑M1.

Insects will not pose for you. It is a fact. But if you’re care­ful, some peo­ple won’t mind you stomp­ing around with a tri­pod and a cam­era.

It’s eas­i­est to start with snails. Strict­ly speak­ing, they are not insects. But they also belong to the microworld, they are very pret­ty and they def­i­nite­ly won’t run away or fly away. At most, a fright­ened snail can hide in its shell. But if you do not touch her for sev­er­al min­utes, she will stick out her horns again.

Snails love mois­ture. They are easy to meet and pho­to­graph after the rain / Pho­to: unsplash.com

It is best to shoot insects imme­di­ate­ly after sun­rise or just before sun­set. Insects are cold-blood­ed, their speed of move­ment is direct­ly relat­ed to the tem­per­a­ture of the envi­ron­ment. When it’s cold out­side, insects become lethar­gic and inac­tive. So the ide­al moment for shoot­ing is when it is already light (to make it eas­i­er to focus and gen­er­al­ly more con­ve­nient to shoot), but cold. The opti­mum air tem­per­a­ture for shoot­ing insects is +15–17 degrees. When it’s warmer, the insects will def­i­nite­ly be too active to shoot. When it gets cold­er, many will hide in bur­rows and be hard to find.

At extreme­ly low tem­per­a­tures, some species are able to fall into sus­pend­ed ani­ma­tion. This is a con­di­tion in which all process­es in the body are slowed down so much that they are almost invis­i­ble. Insects become numb and remain absolute­ly motion­less for some time. Thus, insects expe­ri­ence unfa­vor­able con­di­tions for them­selves, when it gets warmer, they return to life.

For exam­ple, some but­ter­flies and bee­tles do this. They fall into sus­pend­ed ani­ma­tion at tem­per­a­tures below zero. By the way, some ani­mal pho­tog­ra­phers use this pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism: they freeze insects, take them off (actu­al­ly, as a sub­ject), then bring them back to life. How­ev­er, this method of work is con­sid­ered not entire­ly eth­i­cal.

This spi­der was pho­tographed by Malaysian pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robin Wong dur­ing quar­an­tine in 2020 — he found him in his room / Pho­to: robinwong.blogspot.com

A per­son who is going to shoot insects will have, willy-nil­ly, to begin to under­stand some­what their way of life and habits. It will be use­ful to know:

  • the mode of the insects you are going to shoot (some are more active dur­ing the day, oth­ers in the late after­noon);
  • their favorite food (some but­ter­flies feed on nec­tar only from strict­ly defined flow­ers);
  • where you can usu­al­ly find the right insects (drag­on­flies love small, qui­et ponds).

When shoot­ing insects, get­ting as much detail as pos­si­ble is very impor­tant, so try to choose the low­est ISO pos­si­ble for your cam­era. As a rule, this is either 100 or 200. ISO is best fixed: if it auto­mat­i­cal­ly ris­es to high­er val­ues, noise will appear that will hide fine details.

It would be a pity if the hairs on the beetle’s body drowned in the noise / Pho­to: unsplash.com

With regard to expo­sure, it is impor­tant to under­stand two points. First, you’re shoot­ing on a tri­pod or hand­held. And sec­ond: how mobile is the insect that you are going to shoot. If the shoot­ing is with­out a tri­pod and the insect sits still and is not going to leave you any­where, you can only focus on what shut­ter speeds you hold and do not smear. As a rule, this will be a val­ue in the region of 1/100. If you shoot from a tri­pod, then you can set longer shut­ter speeds: 1/50, 1/30. Just make sure that your main char­ac­ter is not smeared if, for exam­ple, the blade of grass on which he sits sways in the wind.

If you are shoot­ing a mov­ing insect (for exam­ple, a cater­pil­lar crawl­ing some­where), it is bet­ter to set the shut­ter speed to at least 1/100 to freeze the move­ment.

As for the diaphragm, every­thing is some­what ambigu­ous. On the one hand, when shoot­ing small objects like spi­ders, there are often prob­lems with insuf­fi­cient depth of field. You can fight it by cov­er­ing the aper­ture to val­ues ​​​​of 8–16. On the oth­er hand, with such aper­tures, you may start to miss nat­ur­al light. Again, this can be com­bat­ed by using the cam­er­a’s built-in flash or a ded­i­cat­ed macro flash.

Macro flash­es dif­fer from con­ven­tion­al ones in that they are attached direct­ly to the lens and do not pro­duce unnec­es­sary shad­ows from the same lens.

The sec­ond way to solve the prob­lem of insuf­fi­cient sharp­ness is to use the sharp­ness brack­et­ing tech­nique. We wrote in detail about how this is done here. In short, the point is to take sev­er­al shots, focus­ing on dif­fer­ent parts of the object (on the eyes, on the legs and body of the spi­der). This approach allows you to use open aper­tures when shoot­ing macro.

Most like­ly, you will have to focus man­u­al­ly. Aut­o­fo­cus, as a rule, los­es to man­u­al focus­ing when you need to catch an object that is as close to the lens as pos­si­ble. Where it is pos­si­ble to focus man­u­al­ly, aut­o­fo­cus may indi­cate that the sub­ject is already too close.

Here is the focus on the back of the bee­tle, the mus­tache has already fall­en out of focus / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Shoot­ing angle. Often, begin­ner shots look bor­ing because they are tak­en from a rel­a­tive­ly high point at an angle of 45 degrees. When shoot­ing insects, just like with any oth­er type of shoot­ing, it is worth remem­ber­ing the angles and diver­si­ty. It is worth try­ing to shoot at dif­fer­ent angles and from dif­fer­ent sides. Bee­tles can look inter­est­ing strict­ly from above or strict­ly from the side.

But­ter­flies are very expres­sive in pro­file / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Back­ground and vari­ety of coarse­ness. The back­ground in any case will be blur­ry due to a small depth of field. How­ev­er, they can still be con­trolled to some extent. Try to make the back­ground con­trast with the col­ors of the insect. An inter­est­ing frame can be obtained, for exam­ple, by shoot­ing from below, against the sky.

As for the vari­ety of sizes, at first it’s easy to get car­ried away with the idea of ​​shoot­ing an insect as large as pos­si­ble — so that it fills the entire frame or even goes beyond it. But frames with con­text also look inter­est­ing: a spi­der on the scale of a web or a but­ter­fly on a flower.


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