Insect macro photography might capture your interest, particularly in this time of pandemic where outdoor activities are limited (prohibited to some). Photographing close-up of insects could lessen your stress and anxiety. It is a way of practicing your passion and bonding with nature.
In close-up photography of bugs, dragonflies, and other insects, you don’t have to go further away from your home. You can find your subjects almost anywhere like your own garden, bushes, parks, or even inside your home.
Equipment and Gears
Using appropriate camera and equipment is necessary to do the task efficiently. It is understood that what you need is a camera and a macro lens. Mobile phones aided by an external lens might also be used. However, for this topic, we will focus in using a DSLR. A separate article for phone macro photography will be posted soon.
A DSLR Camera.
A Digital Single-Lens Reflex or DSLR camera will be used to capture the image of your subject. The best DSLR is always what’s available. Of course, you could have a better chance of having a great photo with DSLR of high specifications. What you have [DSLR] could never be that far behind. It still depends on other technical factors.
A macro lens is a lens that has the capability of focusing from infinity to 1:1 magnification. 1:1 magnification is the magnification ratio of the real size of the subject with as it appears in the camera sensor. Moreover, a macro lens allow you to move at a closer focusing distance unlike normal lenses.
The issue, however, is that the cost of a decent macro lens might be a little pricey. It is highly recommended to use macro lens in insect macro photography if you have the budget. Macro lenses have the ability to focus immediately, more quiet motor in focusing, 1:1 ratio (even more), to name a few.
As to some enthusiasts with low budget, there are alternatives that might help us in getting close-up photos of insects. It just might need more efforts than with the use of a macro lens. Click here for detailed discussions on Macro Photography on a Budget.
Macro Lens Alternatives
Among these alternatives, I personally recommend the use of extension tubes. Extension tubes are tubes usually made of plastic or metal that are attached between the camera body and the lens (normal or kit lens). The scientific explanation in this is that you are moving the lens away from the camera sensor. Once the lens is farther away from the sensor, the lens will allow you to move the lens closer to the subject, thus magnifying the subject. If you do not have an extension tube, try using a can (tube) of potato chips. The same principle applies. Just make sure that you cleaned it first. You do not want to have ants in your gears.
The problem with this is that you are disrupting the electronic communication between the lens and the camera. Thus, no aperture and auto focusing is disabled. Our main concern here is the aperture part. I advice that you do manual focusing because it is easier and more efficient. You might drain your battery faster in auto focusing.
To address this, you might consider using an electronic extension tubes. It is still much cheaper than using a macro lens.
External Light Source
One challenge in insect macro photography is the need of good light source. If you said that you are working outside so there is enough light, you might be correct or maybe not. It depends actually. It depends on how much light does the sun provides and the quality of the light. If the light is just right, then you are good to go. However, most the time, not.
That is why you need an external flash or other light source like a LED/flashlight.
Flash Diffuser and/or Reflector
Too harsh light is not good for close-up photography. Remember that you magnify everything. Harsh light causes strong shadows and over-exposed image. Using flash diffuser evenly distribute the light coming from your flash or LED lights. A reflector can be used to block some harsh sunlight and reflect some light to remove too much shadows.
A sturdy tripod is needed to have a stable camera. Camera shakes can cause blurred images. Even small movement when pressing the shutter will be magnified. This could result to blurred photo. Sharpness shows clear details of the subject. In macro photography, details is everything.
Tips in Insect Close-up Photography
Before you go out or look for insects, make sure that your battery is fully charged, your SD cards can store all your photos to take, and your gears are working perfectly. In addition, make sure to know the best time to take photos of insects. We all know that insects are sensitive and aware of of every movements in its surroundings. Likewise, be prepared of the weather.
The best time to capture photos of insects is usually during early morning where insects and bugs are slow. Insects usually needs to absorb sunlight to regain their energy. Moreover, there might be dew drops that could add effects to the macro images.
Be sure to move as quiet as possible. Any noise or movement can scare the insects away.
Details is everything in macro. However, it is advisable that you shoot a couple of safety shots as you get closer. This is to make sure that you had a good shot in case the subject noticed your presence and fly away.
Detail is Everything
Make sure that you capture the details. The magic of macro photography is the minute world that is never seen before by the naked eye. Try shooting at a compound eye of dragonflies, damselflies, houseflies, etc. The image could be wonderful.
Do not quit with one shot
Believe me when I say, it is frustrating when you are not getting a decent insect macro photography image. It takes more frustrations as you go along. However, it is more challenging and more fulfilling. It’s just that you have to keep aiming and pressing that shutter. If it would take a thousand shot to get one perfect image, then why not?
It doesn’t make you less of a photographer if you post-process your work. Remember, the output is a digital image. Meaning, it is not a straight out of the camera thing. Just make sure that the post-processing is just a basic editing which means, it has no photo manipulation being done. It is just to enhance the brightness, exposure, shadows, colors, highlights, depth, etc.
Moreover, a decent photo is still needed. Meaning, you have to make sure that you captured a good photo to subject in editing. “Garbage in, garbage out.”
Try searching for macro photography images in the internet. Do not be discouraged by others’ work. Even more, be inspired and try to motivate yourself. Then, set goals. Picture out how you wanted your photos to look like. Be patient, maintain the passion.