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5 Inspirational Bug Macro Photographs and How to Make Your Own

April 15, 2016 - Uncategorized

Macro photography affords us the opportunity to capture some unique
images that not everyone is able to run out and shoot. Here, we look at the
best way to photograph insects and arachnids, as well as some inspiration to
get you bug-stalking in the garden.

What You Need

A Macro Lens (or Alternative)

Recapping on Inspirational Flower Macro Images
and How to Make Your Own
: A macro lens will let you focus really close up
on very small things. They’re usually fast (a large maximum aperture) and come
in a variety of focal lengths and prices. I find that prime lenses are sharper
but be prepared to work harder to nail your picture.

A true macro lens will have the ratio 1:1 or greater on it, meaning it
produces a life-size or larger representation of your subject. Some telephoto
lenses (like the popular 70-300mm) will state they have a macro function, but
what this really means is you can zoom in to a ‘near macro’ size. Of course the
benefit of this is being much further away, handy if you were photographing
insects, for example. The small apertures usually mean that this magnitude isn’t
feasible for great quality pictures, though.

You don’t necessarily need a dedicated lens. There are other
alternatives, such as extension tubes for your existing lenses, and even filters
you can buy. A compact camera or phone camera with a small flower symbol on it
may also take acceptable macro pictures, so you really can try this with almost
anything! You can see more in the recommended reading about macro equipment,


Little Things Need Lots of Light

When it comes to
insect macro in particular, then a longer lens is useful so you can be further
away from your subject. If you get too close, they’re going to fly/run away. There’s
also the problem of your shadow getting in the way in this instance too. So for
insects, longer lenses tend to better (but, I stress, not essential).

The more you zoom,
the less available light you’re going to have, which can cause some depth of
field issues. Bumping your aperture to the widest available at your desired
focal length is always tempting, but you may just create a headache for
yourself in terms of focus; if you don’t nail the eyes/face (unless
you’re going for something completely different) then your image won’t look

A ring flash will also help with light, so you can use a faster shutter speed
and a smaller aperture but it’s another factor that might scare off your
subject. This is another reason I like prime lenses: they tend to be faster
(have a wider aperture available) and as a result, sharper because you can get
that fast shutter speed you require without losing all your light.

A long macro lens
isn’t always the answer, it adds a great deal of shake, which is another
headache for you to deal with. Macro photographers generally find something
around 100mm is a good length, which gives you a working distance of around 4-5
inches. Lower than that and you’re practically sitting on the bug’s lap to get
a picture, and too much longer than that means that every little breath or
movement is exaggerated… good luck with that focus.

Insects, Arachnids… Bugs!

You need bugs.

Flowers are the best place to start. If you do a little research, you can find out
which flower your desired bug is lightly to haunt. For example, my gran has a
Buddleia (or Buddleja) commonly known as the ‘butterfly bush’ because, you
guessed it, butterflies love it!

Please, please,
please try to find creatures in their own habitat and where possible, leave
them there. Many photographers take insects and put them in the freezer to make
them sluggish and easier to photograph and I’ve even seen photographs where the
subject has even been glued to the surface. Personally, I’d rather forgo a good
photograph than get one this way. Not only would it feel like a bit of a
cheat, but imagine if someone popped your cat or dog in the freezer to dope it
up or glued it to the ground to keep it still; it just wouldn’t feel good or
right to do that.

If sluggish bugs
are what you’re after then consider your timing. Early morning is a good time
to catch these bugs when they’ve not warmed up yet and are possibly a little ‘groggy’,
particularly in very late summer to early autumn.

If you really do
want to move something somewhere, be gentle and careful; these creatures can be
very delicate and I always recommend you leave them where they are if possible.



Photograph licensed from Photodune

This is a
nice example of a shallow depth of field that works, but only just! The photographer
was very close to having the ant’s eye covered by its antennae here, and maybe
it was in 100 other shots, we’ll never know, but this is why patience and a
steady hand are desirable skills when it comes to macro photography.

The muted
colour palette in its earthy brown tones works really well with the subject
matter and is a nice contrast the often heavily coloured insect macro photos we

Butterfly on a Flower

butterfly on flower
Photograph licensed via Photodune

A colourful butterfly on a bright
flower is something we see a lot of but, for me, this one works well due to the
fact that it’s not too busy. There are three bright colours dominating this
image but the background is plain, so it gets away with it. The butterfly and
flower are both well in focus here and the dark background helps the butterfly
to really pop!

Spider and Web

spider and web
Image licensed from Photodune

A bug in its natural habitat often gives us context and this is the case with a spider in a web. I’m not a fan of central composition generally, but here the lens flare in the top right corner and dark blue in the top left actually works to throw us off a little, making
the composition seems more three-dimensional. 

I’m not sure whether the bokeh in the
background is natural or a texture added in post-production, but it works in a
subtle way to break up the background without distracting from the main image.


Image licensed via Photodune

Remember keeping your background uncluttered and simple? Well throw that
out occasionally for great results like this image of bees on a honeycomb. The higgledy-piggledy jumble of bee bodies here works wonderfully to keep our eyes skimming
and failing to find a subject to rest on. 

The yellow and black colour scheme is
the reason this works so well, creating something that is almost abstract but
yet still so clearly not!

Another Butterfly

butterfly on leaf
Image licensed via Photodune

A butterfly similar in composition to
the earlier example but where that was bold and in your face, this has the
opposite effect. The soft background bokeh is beautiful and has a little punch
of colour in the top-left that matches the tones of the butterfly. There’s just
the right amount in focus here to give us enough interest with no distractions
at all.


Depth of Field Issues

One of the lovely
things about macro photographs is a clever use of depth of field. Roughly speaking, the  longer the lens you use, the more zoomed in you are, the shallower your
DOF is. If you want an insect to be fully in focus, it may be that you’re
technically no longer shooting ‘macro’, as you may come out of the 1:1 ratio by
having to pull your zoom out to get your optimal plane of focus. Just to
complicate things for you more, these differences will vary between a DSLR and
a compact camera.

Recommended Reading:

  • Focus Stacking for Extended Depth of Field: The good news is that there are ways around the limitations of shallow depth of field. Focus stacking is tough to do with moving subjects like bugs, who might not want to stand still for a few frames, but it’s a handy technique to have in your back pocket nonetheless.

Make Your Bug Stand Out

Sometimes a tiny
bug can be lost against a busy background of plants or flowers. One way to
combat this is using shallow depth of field, but, as discussed above, that can
come with its own problems. An alternative is to shoot your subject against a
darker background, to make it ‘pop’. Expose for a brightly lit foreground to
underexpose an already darker background. If you can’t get it dark enough, try
sliding a piece of card or cloth behind, hopefully without disturbing your


Manual Focus

Using auto focus
when zoomed in close on a moving subject will surely drive you crazy. Manually
focusing can be hard but it’s worth getting right; auto tends to ‘hunt’ when in
so close and trying to focus on such a tiny area and you’ll waste time waiting
for it to hit where you want.

If it’s difficult
to get the focus before the insect moves off, why not position yourself first. I mentioned a Buddleia plant attracts butterflies: having
your focus ready on one of the flowers in case a butterfly lands on it is
highly likely to pay off. Then you only need to make small adjustments to accommodate
the way your bug has positioned itself.

Shutter Speed

A fast shutter
speed is essential, as mentioned above, but how do you know how fast is enough? Well,
a good rule of thumb is to go with a speed that’s equal to or greater than the
focal length you’re using. So if you’re at 200mm then 1/200 of a second or (preferably)
above, should be a good speed.

Top Tips to Getting Macro Insect Photographs

  1. Use
    a fast shutter speed and try a ‘burst’ of shots to give yourself a better
    chance of getting your focus right.
  2. Getting
    your subject in their own environment, for example a spider in a web, adds
    context and helps with ‘story-telling’.
  3. A
    longer lens will prevent you frightening off your subject.
  4. Stalk
    a flower and wait for the bug rather than chasing them from place to
  5. Cardboard
    and cloth make good impromptu backgrounds if yours is too ‘busy’.

Further Resources

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying that taking macro photographs of insects takes time
and patience, but the results can be stunning. Macro photography is not
exactly something that anyone can just pick up a camera and ‘do’, so there’s a chance
to capture some really unique and interesting images that have a real, ‘wow,
how did they do that?!’ factor.

Your time to shoot insect macro is limited if you want variety. The
spring and summer are the best times, but don’t rule out the colder,
wetter seasons either. There’s plenty of interest to be found in an autumn
woodlouse or frosty spider and its web and it’s less likely that the internet
will be flooded with these kind of pictures because most people attempt it in
the good weather!

Getting your focus right is key; if you miss the eyes or wings, or
whatever point of interest you may be going for, then you might as well scrap
your image as it just won’t have its impact without sharp focus. Consider the
trade off between focal length and depth of field when setting up your shot. Is
it worth getting so much of your subject in the frame if you have a narrow band
of focus across the wrong area?

Like all things, it takes practice and a really great way to start out
is to stalk a bug-enticing plant until you start getting the idea of the best
settings for your shots. It can be frustrating and then very tempting to move
the bug into your own environment to make it easier. Try and avoid doing that:
I don’t think we’d be too happy with being picked up and plonked in an alien environment
so it’s always best to steer clear of that if you can.

Remember to share your insect macro pictures with us in the comments
below and we’re always happy to provide feedback or extra help if you’d like

Source: Photoshop | Tuts

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