How to photograph insects

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There’s wildlife in your own back garden. Zoom in and capture the spectacular world of insects in their natural habitat. Andreas Eiselen tells you how, using this image by Martin Heigan.

Equipment Nikon D7000, Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G (with wired remote and tripod), ISO 100, f/18, 1/30 sec. Image Martin Heigan

Martin says…

I took this photo in the garden after a rain shower. Dragonflies are usually very active, but as luck would have it this one was soaked and drying off in the sun. I started with a much higher shutter speed but quickly went for longer exposures at f/16 and f/18 when I saw it was remaining perfectly still. Closing down the aperture provides more depth of fi eld, resulting in better overall focus. This is one example of when it’s worth shooting with a tripod and remote.

Take it yourself

The closer you get, the more fascinating your subject (and image) becomes

Equipment

DSLR Use a macro lens (100mm or 105mm), a tripod and shutter release (if the subject is still or slow-moving) and a small reflector – a piece of white cardboard will do – stuck to the front of your camera or above the lens. If you have a longer lens, such as a 120–300mm, it’s possible to take pictures of insects without a macro lens by zooming in on the subject, although you won’t get the same crisp results.

Settings

When you get really close, the depth of field becomes narrow and shutter speed becomes very important if the insect is moving. Open up the aperture (between f/2.8 and f/5.6) to get a faster shutter speed (about 1/250 sec). If the insect is still, a slower shutter will be fine, in which case you can close down your aperture to get wider depth of field. Adjust the ISO until you have the shutter speed you want.

Practical

Anticipate where your subject is heading. Wait for insects just as you would wait for game at a waterhole. Set up near a flower or in a spot where you’ve seen them perch. Look at the direction of light and decide what will work best. Backlighting highlights the wing structure and exaggerates textures on bodies. Use a reflector to bounce light back towards your subject in order to balance the contrast and help provide good exposure.

Move in as close as you can to get a nice tight crop and interesting angle.

Set the colour temperature to suit your scene, as large parts of your frame will likely be filled with one colour (see Know Your Stuff on the next page).

Use the distance lock on the lens (a switch on the side) to fix the focus. Because you are so close to the subject, the lens struggles to focus and runs through the entire focus range. Using the lock prevents this.

Starter tip

Shoot in the early morning or after rain, when the light is good and insects are less active.

Amateur tip

Use Live View to frame and focus when shooting on a tripod. Using the LCD screen instead of the viewfi nder makes it easier to see what you’re doing.

Pro tip

Use colours to contrast your focal point with the background to provide more ‘pop’. For example, if the insect is yellow, shoot it against a green background.