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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.