Capturing gorgeous photos of insects might seem difficult, but it’s actually pretty easy – once you know a few tips and tricks.
In this article, I share my five best insect photography tips, including:
How to find insects to shootHow to level up your insect compositionsHow to pick the perfect angle for stunning insect photos
By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be ready to head out and capture some mind-blowing insect shots of your very own!
Let’s get started.
1. Search patiently for good subjects
This might sound obvious…
…but if you want to take great insect photos, you must learn to find insects in the first place. Our many-legged counterparts are all around us, but they don’t usually announce their presence with a trumpet blast. You have to spend time looking!
So when you head out with your camera, don’t get frustrated if you don’t see any insects. Have some fun looking for critters in grass, dirt, trees, and more. It might take a few minutes, but if you search, you will find plenty of potential subjects.
In my experience, after a bit of subject searching, you can find great insects on trees, shrubs, rocks, benches, buildings, and pretty much everywhere else. Don’t be afraid to search in your own backyard, either; as long as you have grass, trees, or soil, you’re bound to find a few good subjects.
Of course, make sure you wear casual clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty – insects often live in the soil, after all! I sometimes crouch down on the ground, straddle a fence, or perch atop a ladder to get a better view of these small critters. It’s tough, messy work – but it’s also a great way to get some fascinating photos.
2. Wait for the best shots
I’d like to let you in on a little secret:
Insects aren’t so good at following directions. Most bugs simply will not listen to perfectly reasonable requests like “Hold still!” or “Turn the other way!”
So what does this mean for you?
As an insect photographer, you must learn to be patient. Once you find a subject (see the previous tip), you can’t expect to get a stunning photo right away. Wait, watch, and be ready – so that when a good opportunity presents itself, you’ll nail the shot.
This might mean watching a cicada explore a shrub, keeping your eye on a beetle as it blazes a trail across your lawn, or waiting for dinner to fly into a spider’s web. It sounds boring, but if you open yourself up to the insect world, you may actually find a lot to be fascinated by.
Pro tip: The slightest sound can disturb our tiny little friends, so take care to move about quietly. And don’t intrude on the insects’ activities. If your camera has a long zoom lens, you can use it to get close-up shots from a distance.
Another tip: If you want to photograph insects in action, you’ll need to use a fast shutter speed – but in low-light situations, a fast shutter speed will often produce a too-dark image. That’s when you’ll want to bump up your ISO; sure, a high ISO might produce noise, but it’s better to capture a noisy image than a blurry one.
Sometimes you have to keep an eye on a critter for a long time, and even after many minutes of waiting, it may decide to scurry off or fly away. That’s just how insect photography goes! When you set out to take pictures of insects, nothing is guaranteed.
That said, if you can find a balance between shooting and waiting, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.
3. Capture the eyes, not just the insect
This tip might seem a bit strange – and it’s not always easy to accomplish – but if you can capture an insect’s eyes, your photos will reach a whole new level.
As the saying goes, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” And this doesn’t just hold true for humans; it also works for animals and even bugs!
You see, when you get a shot of an insect’s eyes, it’s almost like the two of you are sharing a moment. Like you and the insect are watching each other and allowing one another to share space for a few seconds.
I’m no entomologist, and I have no idea if insects are thinking anything at all when I take their pictures. But seeing their eyes and faces lends a significant amount of depth to what would otherwise be just another photo of just another bug. It takes time and patience, but if you can capture your insect subjects’ eyes, you can draw your viewers to your photos in new and compelling ways.
Note that, if you want to capture insect eyes, you’ll need to pay attention to your camera angle and your point of focus. Here, manual focus can be a big help, assuming your subject remains stationary; that way, you can ensure that the eyes remain tack-sharp.
4. Shoot from down low
It’s a mistake that beginning insect photographers make all the time:
Standing above the insect subject and pointing the camera down.
You can use this approach, and you might get some pictures of spiders, beetles, or giant ants, but they won’t be nearly as interesting, compelling, or engaging as they would be if you tried a lower angle.
For instance, you might try getting down on a level with the insect, so that your camera seems to peer directly into the insect’s little world. This will give you an intimate result, one that serious insect photographers love.
You can even try getting down below the insect and shooting up; this move will make the insect loom above the viewer in a fun little reversal.
I followed this cottonwood borer for almost half an hour as it climbed all over a pine tree, all because I wanted to get a picture from a more unconventional angle:
Sure, I could have just taken a photo while it was on a branch or the tree trunk, but I knew that shooting from a low angle would create a much more engrossing image.
So don’t be afraid to get down low. And experiment with interesting angles whenever you get the chance!
5. Invest in a macro lens
As you’re undoubtedly aware, insects tend to be pretty small – and unfortunately, most lenses aren’t designed to focus on minuscule subjects.
But macro lenses are specifically designed to capture beautiful images of insects, flowers, and other small items. They’ll get you images that are sharp and feature tons of stunning detail, which is why I recommend you invest in a dedicated macro lens as soon as possible.
Now, it’s true:
Macro lenses can be quite pricey. But the results they produce are astounding, so if you’re serious about insect macro photography, a macro lens is generally worth the cost.
If you’d prefer to wait on a macro lens, or if you’re not sure you’re ready to dive into insect photography, you do have other options. You can purchase close-up filters, which will help magnify your subject, or you can use extension tubes, which are another great way to get sharp close-up shots (and they won’t break the bank, either).
Of course, not all insect photography needs to be done at high magnifications, so before you spend money on lenses or accessories, test out the equipment you already own. See if it can’t give you the results you’re after! You’d be surprised what standard lenses – such as 50mm primes – are capable of.
Insect photography tips: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know how to take stunning photos of insects!
So head out with your camera (and if you can, grab a macro lens!). Practice finding insects. Practice photographing insects. And remember: Be patient!
Now over to you:
What kind of insects do you plan to photograph? What gear will you use? Share your thoughts in the comments below!