8 things every insect photographer must know

Insect Photography Tips: fill the frame

Insect Photography Tips: choose a beautiful subject

Whether you shoot insect photography or not, when you’re working with tiny subjects, it’s almost impossible to point, shoot and come away with good results. You really need to think about composition and lighting, and also about the way you behave around nervous wildlife such as insects.

Below are 8 crucial tips every photographer should know when trying to shoot insect photography outside of a controlled environment.

Insect Photography Tip 1: Find a beautiful subject
Select good specimens. If a macro shot is worth taking then it’s worth taking well. Avoid insects with tatty wings, or bees on flowers that are wilting or vegetation that’s been munched.

Insect Photography Tips: avoid direct flash

Insect Photography Tip 2: Avoid direct flash
Study the structure of the subject to work out the best way to light it. Shiny leaves or beetles will reflect light, so avoid direct flash. However, translucent wings or leaves will look more dramatic if they’re backlit.

Insect Photography Tip 3: Use a macro or long lens
Fill the frame! There’s no point taking a macro shot if there’s acres of space around the subject. Be aware that insects can crawl out of the frame if you approach too close too quickly. By using a longer zoom or macro lens you’ll gain a greater working distance.

Insect Photography Tip 4: Mix it up a bit
Vary the composition. If you’re spending a few hours taking one subject, whether it be butterflies or flowers, vary the camera angle and composition. For example, take shots of butterflies with their wings open, head-on, feeding and maybe mating. Don’t forget to take a mix of vertical and horizontal shots.

Insect Photography Tip 5: Ditch the tripod
Switch on image stabilisation if your lens has that option. This will reduce camera-shake when you’re shooting handheld. Dispensing with a tripod provides more flexibility for reacting to changes in a subject’s position.

Insect Photography Tip 6: Use a monopod
Use a support for sharper shots. On warmer days, insects will have flown out of shot by the time you set up a tripod, so a monopod is a better option. However, recently emerged insects have to rest until their wings have dried out, and a tripod allows slower shutter speeds and fine-tuning of the composition (see our 4 tips for sharper shots when using a tripod).

Insect Photography Tips: fill the frame

Insect Photography Tip 7: Avoid distractions
Keep backgrounds simple. Look beyond the subject to make sure there’s nothing distracting in the shot. If there is, move slightly to one side to alter the camera angle.

Insect Photography Tip 8: Dress for the weather
Dress in layers if you’re visiting someplace like a tropical butterfly house. Whatever the weather outside, tropical butterflies won’t survive in low temperatures, so it will be warm inside! Be prepared to take off outer layers so you can work in comfort.

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