- Set yourself up for success with the right gear. A macro lens, tripod, and remote shutter release are among the essential pieces of equipment you will need.
- Use a wide-open aperture to get a shallow depth of field. Shoot in aperture priority mode so you’re sure to retain control over the aperture used.
- Be patient when looking for an insect to photograph, and once you’ve identified a subject, approach it slowly to avoid frightening it.
- Avoid photographing insects from above. Instead, work to get down to their level to show off what the world looks like from their perspective.
- Look for vivid colors to complement your composition. Flowers make a great supporting subject for your insects. Finding insects in action will also make your image more engaging.
Despite their reputation for being pests, insects are excellent macro photography subjects. Many have unusual shapes, vivid colors, and they are certainly plentiful so you won’t go long without finding a subject!
In this week’s Tip of the Week, we explore the tiny world of insects with a few top tips for composing beautiful macro images.
Naturally, you’ll want to get in close to your insect subject, so a macro lens is in order. Among the most popular macro lenses are those in the 60-105mm range because they have a good working distance while also giving you 1:1 magnification. Depending on the shooting conditions, you can handhold these lenses, although, you’d probably be better off mounting it to a tripod and remote firing your shutter.
You can also add in some lighting, if natural lighting is either unavailable or just isn’t bright enough. A dual-flash system gives you complete control over the lighting, much like you would have if you were a portrait photographer in your studio. When using a flash-based system, it’s a good idea to have a diffuser or two as diffused light will be much more pleasing. The drawback of using a system like this is that it takes precious time to set up, time during which your insect subject might flee.
At such a close range to your subject, your camera won’t be able to autofocus correctly. As a result, you will need to use manual focus. But, because your room for error regarding sharp focus is so thin, you will also need to use your camera’s live view feature so you can inspect the image on your camera’s LCD. This will give you the best view to determine whether your image is in focus or not.
You will also need to open your aperture to get a shallow depth of field. This will turn the background into a gorgeous blur, and will give your insect subject the stage it needs to shine. Set your camera to aperture priority mode so you can maintain the aperture you select with the camera selecting the appropriate shutter speed. ISO should be low – in the 100-200 range – to prevent noise.
Finding Your Subject
For starters, you will need to get up early because, just like humans, in the early morning, insects tend to move at a slower pace as they wake up for the day. The slower they are, the more likely you are to get a good shot! Early morning shoots also have the advantage of great light that’s warm and colorful.
Next, think about the type of insect you want to photograph. If it’s spiders, look on tree branches. Bees and flies like to hang around pollen-rich flowers and ants wander around on the ground. Remember to look for insects in an area that has a decent background, as that will often make or break the shot.
When you’ve spotted a good subject with a decent background, don’t run up to it and start firing away. You will need to approach slowly and purposefully to avoid scaring the insect off.
As noted above, insects have all sorts of interesting shapes, colors, and textures that make for beautiful subject matter. What you need to do is find the compositional elements that best highlight those features.
Try to avoid photographing an insect from our typical viewpoint – looking down or looking up. Instead, see if you can get down to the insect’s eye level. Not only will this give viewers a new way of looking at the insect, but you will also be able to show off the world from the insect’s point of view. This makes for a much more dynamic image.
Look for Colors
A brightly colored insect on a muted background can be a nice photo, but if you can incorporate vivid colors into the scene, like a flower, your image will be much more striking. It might be easiest to look for the flower first, and set your camera up to snap an image when an insect comes to visit the flower. Just be sure the flower doesn’t detract from the insect or overwhelm the shot.
Look for Action
One of the most interesting macro compositions is to catch insects in action. Whether that’s fighting with another insect, working to build its home, or flapping its wings in flight, a little bit of action will go a long way in more deeply engaging viewers in the shot.
Like all other photography, working in macro requires a lot of patience, a good eye, and a steady hand. Despite the mystique of shooting in macro, photographing insects really requires the same procedures as photographing a human. Having the appropriate gear and the right camera settings, and relying on proven compositional techniques will help you explore the macro world and photograph it with success!