Part of the GREATNESS of the world around us lies in the infinitely small things in it. There is a whole underworld of shapes, textures and colors that very few have been lucky enough to get to know up close.
As one of the purposes of photography is to capture testimonies, provide evidence of how wonderful this world is and spread the beauty of the little things that surround us, today I invite you to accompany me on an expedition in which we are going to turn a insect in protagonist.
Why do we like to photograph insects?
Insects make a good photo subject. They offer spectacular compositions in a natural way. Both their attractive color combinations with which nature has endowed them and their complexion and physical form worthy of a science-fiction film make insects one of the best subjects a photographer can portray.
Photographing insects is interesting, too, in the sense that it makes us a kind of explorer in search of small expressions of the beauty of this Mother Nature. The feeling of returning from a photographic expedition and being able to show the world the looks, face, eyes and “armor” of a creature that few have seen is extremely gratifying. They don’t have to be rare or endangered species, or insects that no one has ever seen before. It is enough to get a good portrait of a ladybug or a worker ant in full swing. Any insect or tiny being is likely to arouse the viewer’s interest.
To photograph full-fledged insects, you mainly need a reflex camera (if you don’t have one yet, here are some recommendations) and a good Macro lens.
There are alternative or complementary accessories, such as extension tubes, Macro filters, etc. They are cheap alternatives. If there is no other choice, they can be used, but if you can count directly on a Macro lens, I assure you that the result will not be the same (some Macro lens recommendations here).
If the only thing you have is a compact camera, no problem. Great results can be achieved with this type of camera too, shooting in “Macro” mode. The only thing is that the Macro results of a SLR do not have a point of comparison.
If you are taking Macro photography seriously, an accessory that I would recommend is the flash. There is a type of flash specially designed for insect photography, called the ring or circular flash. It is a precisely circular flash, it is usually placed near the objective, usually surrounding it, in order to cover the entire body of the insect with light evenly.
The main benefit of such a flash, apart from the tiny subject being well lit, is that it gives you complete freedom to play with the shutter speed as you please. You can use a high shutter speed without fear of the photo being underexposed. Remember that shooting at relatively high speeds helps avoid falling into a blurry photo.
Places to locate insects
I’m going to give you some clues, but if you want to do it really well, I recommend you get an insect guide, or one specialized in the insect that interests you, and study a little the behavior, times and places where the type of insects is usually sighted. what interests you. If you look on Google or Wikipedia there are a ton of articles on the subject.
As a starting point I can tell you that dragonflies and mayflies love water, so if you are interested in photographing them, go to a pond or lake and start from there. On the other hand, butterflies and bees enjoy feeding on flowers, so look for them there, in any public park, garden or green area where flowers abound.
Tips and tricks for photographing insects
- Shoot from the same height: Don’t shoot your insect photos from above, like a helicopter view. You will get a much more vivid and real photo if you shoot from the same height as the insect. Also, remember that you are making the little insect a protagonist, so make its protagonism noticeable, photograph it from the same height.
- Highlight its interesting elements: Think about what elements, parts of its body or aspects of its activity that make the insect interesting and try to highlight them through the composition. If it is a butterfly, try to highlight its thin trunk while it feeds on the flowers. If it’s an ant, capture it in a pose of work and activity, perhaps pushing a granite or carrying food.
- It’s like going fishing. Let’s be pacient: Insect photography tests the most patient of men. If you are going to go on an excursion you have to go psyched up. There will be days when you are lucky and can photograph many insects, and others when you return home with very few photos or even none. These critters are very unpredictable. At times and depending on the insect, it will seem very collaborative and will allow itself to be photographed. Other days you won’t be so lucky and you’ll be running after every bug without getting a single decent photo. not to mention the moment “Great, I’m home now, I’m going to take a shower and enjoy my photos on the computer” to take you later real disappointments. In insect photography, it is very typical to return home with 200 photos and end up saving only 4 and deleting the rest due to lack of quality, blurred, underexposed, moved, out of focus, etc. photos.
When is the best time to photograph insects?
Generally, and with rare exceptions, spring-summer is the ideal time to photograph this type of living being. It is recommended to go out early in the morning or towards sunset/dusk as these are times when the daylight is still soft, which will greatly benefit your photo.
On the other hand, early in the morning the insects are less active and less inclined to flee. Take advantage of that moment because as soon as they begin to warm up with the first rays of the sun, they are filled with joy and no one can catch them.
Adjustments for correct insect photography
All the preparations and all the effort you have invested can go to waste if you make a mistake in the camera settings. This is like everything, it is convenient to try, experiment, and learn as you go, each day, each situation and each type of light will require slightly different settings. Even so, I would like to give you a recommendation of more or less “generic” settings that will serve as a starting point. Then you modify to your liking.
In principle, it is convenient to shoot in Manual mode (M) or at most Semimanual with Aperture Priority (Mode A in Nikon cameras, Av in Canon and other brands).
If you are going to use a macro lens shooting between f/11 and f/16 is recommended. With other non-Macro lenses, the choice of aperture is already a freer subject for each one, if you want a general focus, you shoot with smaller apertures (high f/ value), and if you want to achieve a sharp focus only on part of the body of the insect (eyes for example) you use a larger aperture (small f/ value).
The shutter speed will depend on the light conditions. If you take the photo in the early morning or in the afternoon, you will necessarily need to shoot at high speeds, starting at 1/400 at least. If it’s midday I’d go down to 1/100 as a starting point.
Obviously keep the ISO value to the minimum possible, unless you need more light in which case raise it but slightly.
As a general advice, I recommend that you study the settings used by other photographers and try to imitate them. Flickr is full of insect photography that can inspire you in both composition and settings. You already know that the trick to see the settings of a photo on Flickr is to add the word meta to the address of the photo. For example, to see the settings for this photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulobrandao/3557927430/ just add goal at the end, as follows: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulobrandao/3557927430/goal
Is all for today. I hope that you will find in today’s article a foothold from which you can enter the wonderful world of insect photography. Remember that you only learn when you practice. Reading does not make you wiser or more knowledgeable about the issues. Practice is what will make you great.