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6 Top Insect Macro Photographers

Here's a round up of some of the top insect macro talent we have on site, in no particular order.

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weevil weevil rock you
                                                  'weevil weevil rock you' by orionmystery.

How did you get into macro photography?
About 5 years ago, while browsing some macro images in a few local forums, I found myself amazed by the details in the insect images that we didn't get to see with our naked eyes. That really sparked my interest in macro. I bought my DSLR and a 1:1 macro lens on July 17, 2007, and started doing macro photography seriously since then. However, after about a year, I started yearning for more magnification and the Canon MP-E65 1X-5X macro lens seemed like a natural choice for me. I switched to Canon just because of this wonderful lens. I later also acquired the Canon MT-24EX Twin Flash to complete my macro rig. All my images here were shot with a Canon 40D, either with the MP-E65 and lit with the MT-24EX Twin Flash, or Sigma 150mm, with or without a 1.4x tele-converter, with natural light.

Talk us through how you set up and take a shot.
I always do my best to make my arthropod subjects look good - by giving it good light and by picking the best angles to shoot from. I could spend easily 30 to 60 minutes on one subject, even more if it's something rare. I love both full flash macro as well as natural light macro. I strongly urge that you try both if you haven't already done so!

I always shoot in RAW and process my raw files in Adobe Camera Raw, paying special attention to White Balance. I prefer my nature images to look natural and not overly saturated nor too contrasty! It helps to get the exposure to within the ball park when shooting so you don't have to push up the exposure in post processing which will result in noise. I spend around 5 minutes per image in Adobe Camera Raw, and probably another 5 minutes in Photoshop on dust spot removal and some cloning/spot healing to remove whatever that doesn't add to the image. All in all, it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes per image unless there is focus stacking (to increase depth of field) involved.

For full flash macro, I use the MP-E65 with MT-24EX as the main source of light, diffused by a DIY concave diffuser.

My typical full flash setting is manual exposure mode, F11, 1/200, and ISO100. I always shoot handheld without using tripod.

For natural light macro, I use the Sigma 150mm, mostly with a 1.4x teleconverter, on a tripod whenever possible.

What draws you to macro insect photography?
What attracted me to macro photography in the first place was insects/arthropods. Insect/arthropod macro/close-up photography has really opened up a whole new world for me. The more I get to know my macro subjects (mainly arthropods), the more I am in love with them. What started out as a hobby has turned into a great passion! I hope to promote environmental awareness through my macro/nature images. Invertebrates maybe small, but they are the majority. Without them, our ecosystem will collapse in no time!


NigelKiteley Adonis Blue
'Adonis Blue' by NigelKiteley
How did you get into insect macro photography?
I first got into macro photography three years ago when I met my Spanish girlfriend Piluca, up until then I had concentrated on my main passion which was birds. Piluca is so passionate about butterflies and said I should have a go at photographing them, this coupled with the fact that there were so many wonderful butterfly shots on EPZ fuelled my interest. So in the summer of 2009 I bought a second hand Tamron 90mm lens in readiness for my first Spanish trip at the beginning of September. I also took my Canon 500mm lens on the trip in the hope of photographing the bird life, but it was the butterflies that captivated me. I think this was mainly due to the fact that I could get close to them whereas the birds in Spain are very difficult to approach. I still remember the first new species of butterfly I photographed on that trip, it was a slightly tatty Sooty Copper. The fact that it was nearing the end of the season meant that most of the butterflies we encountered were very worn, but i now had the bug (pardon the pun) and I vowed to return in the following spring.

In 2010 I decided to get serious about macro photography and purchased the Canon 100mm L IS lens. I was blown away by the quality of image I could obtain with this lens at very slow shutter speeds due to the image stabilization. My amount of "keepers" went up dramatically and this just made me more enthusiastic about photographing butterflies. Since 2009 I have been lucky enough to visit Spain on countless occasions seeing and photographing around 70 new species of butterflies, aswell as 50 or so here in England.

Talk us through how you set up and take a shot.
I find that the best times to photograph butterflies are either early morning or early evening. When I first started I would chase butterflies all over the place in the heat of the day. I soon discovered that this was a fruitless exercise as the butterflies would only stop briefly, usually to feed. As a result I find myself getting up very early so that I can be at a site before the sun rises. Once I've arrived at a site I search for roosting subjects which has mixed results depending on the species and the site. Some species such as Common Blue can be found roosting together in groups, often with two or three on the same plant or grass stem. I usually look for an isolated subject that has no distractions in the background. This isn't always possible so sometimes I will move a butterfly from one plant to another to obtain the desired backdrop. I carry with me a Wimberley plamp which I use to steady a plant or grass stem if it's windy. Roosting butterflies are usually cold and don't tend to move very much, making them easier to photograph. I try to get parallel with a roosting butterfly so as to get everything from the antennas to the tips of the wings in focus, usually with the focus point on the eye. For this kind of shot i shoot with an aperture of F8-F11 depending on how close I am to the subject.

I always shoot handheld in Aperture Priority tending not to worry about shutter speeds too much as the IS of the lens is so good. Once the sun appears and the butterflies wake up they open their wings to absorb the heat they need to take flight. When taking the open wing shots I tend to shoot with an aperture of between F14 and F18 to try and achieve a sharp image from wing tip to wing tip. These shots are harder to get right as often a butterfly won't have it's wings completely flat meaning that the wing tips will be out of focus. I tend to spend the whole day at a site, usually because I've travelled a long way to be there but also because by late afternoon the butterflies are calming down and by early evening they begin roosting again, giving me more photographic opportunities.

What draws you to insect macro photography?
For me the macro photography has taken over from the bird photography as my number one passion. I love the fact that I can get up close and personal with the subject, not only from a photographic point of view but also because I get to see the amazing details that I would probably otherwise overlook.


Flykt ants
'Trophallaxis drop' by Flykt

How did you get in to insect macro photography?
It all started in the summer of 2011 when my husband, who works as a portrait photographer, gave me a camera and showed me some truly amazing macro images of ants from the Russian site www.35photo.ru. I was so fascinated by these pictures and decided that one day I would also succeed in taking such great photographs.

I did not know, then, what I had gotten myself into! Ants are really hopeless small models. They run around, completely aimlessly, and are extremely difficult to get a sharp image with for a beginner like me. But with a great stubbornness and even greater patience, I began to get better and better images.

There is always something exciting happening when you look at ants. They are extremely rarely still. They always seem to be frantically tweaking with something, but sometimes you can see them stay up in "chaos", to be completely calm, quiet and preen themselves or each other. It is so uniquely special to see them like that! I have also seen when they feed each other with 'nutrition liquid' (so called trophallaxis, when adult ants can't eat solid food). One of my "Trophallaxis pictures" was published in the Nordic National Geographic's July number (2012) as the winner of the competition "Monthly best picture"!

Talk us through how you set up and take a shot.
I catch my ants and other insects in the garden outside the house where I live. I just take them home to photograph, and always let them back where I found them. I usually use a black deep dish which I fill with water. In the middle of the dish I put a stone, flower, branch or similar that I find. Then I set up a background. It can be a paper that I painted in watercolour, or a flowerpot. I use an external flash and use a piece of white paper as a reflector. Then when everything is in order, I let the ants on the "island" in the middle of the dish. This way they can't escape as easily as they do not like to swim. I think that's good, because I'm ironically a little afraid of ants and insects. They can actually bite! Once this is done, the fun begins-photography!

What draws you to insect macro photography?
I'm drawn to macro photography because you get to see such details on a small insect that you can't see with the naked eye. To see them in large format is very exciting. And the higher the resolution, the more fascinating they are. I also very much about managing to get the insects "personally" so to speak. To be more than "just" an insect among billions of others. Overall, it's probably the challenge of catching these small insects on the image, with good sharpness, interesting environment and in a storytelling perspective that makes me love the challenge of it all.


'Jumper with awesome eyes' by philgood

How did you get into macro photography?
I brought my first DSL camera 600D in June 2011, as I have always wanted to get into photography as a hobby. I love all nature. I wanted to be able to take photos of bees in flowers and the like, so I researched how to capture them. I brought the canon 100mm 2.8 L IS USM macro, and what a fantastic lens! I was on such a steep learning curve, not only with the camera but the stunning interesting and fascinating world of macro photography. I was lucky to have some time on my hands to really throw myself into learning the so many different skills in macro, and I'm still learning.

Macro photography has opened up a whole new world to me. From learning the facinating world of insects, to being able to get close, to see the beauty and the behaviour of this miniture world, and now able to capture it. I love capturing things that people don't or can't see, to share the images and also be inspired by other's great work.

I soon upgraded to a full frame camera and more gear! I wanterd to get closer and capture tiny insects, get up close and personal, to see and capture inscets eyes, mouth parts etc. I find it just so fasinating.

Talk us through how you set up and take a shot.
My most used lens is the canon MP-E 65mm 1-5 x macro, it takes you from 1.1life size to 5x magification. It's a hard lens to get used to, but can produce some awesome results, another steep learning curve!

I like to capture an interesting shot, rather than a record shot. I try for something a bit different, so I'm always in the garden or out in the countryside doing a David Bellamy in the shrubbery!

My basic set up would be a Canon 5D mkIII, Canon MP-E, and a Manfrotto 190 CX pro3 tripod. This is a great tripod with a moveable column which really comes in handy to get down very low. I do hand held sometimes but it's best to use a support as camera shake is magnified in macro. In the macro shot it has to be focused well and sharp as depth of field is so limited. I use quite a bit of flash, but this needs to be diffused as normal flash can be to harsh. Lighting in macro is another steep curve! It is a lot of trial and practice with lighting to get right. Natural light can be best at times, but shadows and cloud need a fill in flash at times, using a flash can up the shutter speed and use a better aperture for more depth of field.

Live view can be a great help to focus on tiny subjects, the eyes do get strained at times!

What draws you to macro photography?
Macro takes lots of practice and patience, lots and lots of more practice and patience, but it is so worth it to capture some amazing and interesting images. I hope this will inspire others to try macro and open up a fascinating world in close up photography.
The good thing about macro is that it can be done in the garden. There are insects everywhere, it's just finding them. Getting them to keep still is very frustrating. You get everything right, finger on button, and they fly off, or you point the camera at them and they just turn away, most of them are camera shy! So it's a slowly slowly approach, and sometimes it's nice when they just sit there and pose. There are lots of techniques in macro photography, but that's the fun, always something to learn. Happy shooting!


'Southern Hawker Dragonfly' by Ade_Osman

How did you get into insect macro photography?
I always had an interest in Entomology ever since being at school, and it just combined well with my other passion, photography.

Talk us through how you set up and take a shot.
Depends pretty much on what the subject is really, but before even setting the cameras up I will always try and visualise how I want the end image to look. This can be very difficult to do when shooting out in the field because you have to factor in distractions such as weather, light, leaves, twigs and other debris, plus of course you never quite know where the subject might land or be found in the case of flying insects. This is why I now shoot about 50% of my work in studio conditions, it gives me much more control both over the shooting conditions such as the light and the weather and of course the subject.

So a typical day if I'm doing studio work, (which incidentally is my garden shed) is to first go out and catch the subjects, this can be done using a variety of different insect traps, such as moth traps, butterfly nets, beating trays and just simple insect collection pots. I try not to kill anything I catch, there's no need, most insects can be kept quite calm simply by placing them in the bottom of the fridge until required.

So as an example say I'm shooting a moth (my favourite), 10 minutes prior to shooting I'll place the specimen in the fridge to cool down naturally as it would in the wild. Because it's been chilled beforehand the benefit is two fold, firstly it gives me plenty of time to set up the scene as I wish and secondly because the subject has been cooled it will take time before it fully warms up again to a point where it's liable to fly off. Once the scene is set up, I then move the subject using all the care necessary into the position I want, then it's just a case of shooting away until the moth warms up and starts moving again. At this point I normally release the moth back into the wild unharmed, alive and well.

My set up for use in the field is very conventional, although I do prefer to use an aluminium tripod purely because the increased weight makes it very stable and being a bit of a man mountain it's a lot stronger than the lightweight carbon fibre models available, I learnt that the hard and costly way. I have several different macro lenses available for me to use, that's the nice thing about having three photographers in the family. But my favourite weapon of choice is the Tamron 90mm Sp Di, I just prefer it over other lenses because of the very large focussing ring, really helpful if you mainly focus manually as I do. I trust my eyes more than the camera and only ever use auto when I'm in a rush trying to grab a shot of a flighty butterfly. I also use a Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro, this is a real specialist piece that offers x5 magnification of life size, great for doing the really small stuff. It's an expensive kit which offers no auto-focus. The results from it are astounding, but it's very much a lens for the serious amateur or professional as the learning curve with is incredibly steep and it not easy to use.

My advice to anyone seriously taking up macro imaging is to take your time and don't rush, precision is the key, work slowly but methodically, make sure everything is locked down and still before firing the shutter. Use Mirror Lock Up if your camera has this facility. Everything has to be completely still, because camera shake is your worst enemy when working with macro lenses, more so if using low shutter speeds, I rarely use ISO above 100, because I want maximum quality, therefore I have to use slow shutter speeds or artificial lighting. I also want good depth of field and sharpness so normally shoot at f8-11, sometimes though I will go right up to f16 because I want everything to be in perfect focus.

What draws you to insect macro photography as a medium?
Insects to me offer a glimpse into a world we rarely see with the naked eye, especially at magnifications larger than 1:1 life size. What might look like a simple black bodied beetle can in fact when magnified be a multi coloured, completely alien monster that's better adapted to it's own environment than we could ever wish to be and what's more it can fly if has a desire too. Without insects we simply wouldn't exist and if we did, we'd all be up to our necks in detritus and excrement. They are fascinating creatures that come in all shapes and sizes, from great big dragonflies the size of your palms and even larger, to tiny microscopic fairy-flies that measure 0.008 of an inch. I can never understand folk who rave about going on safari to some hot African country and spending a small fortune doing it......I go on safari every time I go through the back door into the garden and the only piece of luggage I need take is a magnifying glass!


Biker 11
'Red' by biker 11

How did you get into insect macro photography?
I`ve been photographing for 10 years. Digital photography was the most important impulse for me, because the result can be seen immediately.

At the beginning I was a typical enthusiastic photographer – hundreds of photographs and every one was perfect in my opinion.

But now I`ve become a member of various internet photo galleries and after some critical reactions I`ve understood, that there have been a lot of things still to learn. I bought books, and step by step I created my own style and started to photograph insect macro. I felt that this is the right way for me.

Talk us through how you set up and take a shot.
It is "simple". It is best to go out in the early morning around 5 - 5,30 hrs. It must be coolish ( 6-10 C) and dewy. Insects will rise at dawn, with a bit of luck.

You need to like and be kind to insects, because I take pictures only with live insects. I use a Canon 40 D with a Canon mp-e 65 1-5x and a Canon flash 480II with a hand made Diffuser. The most important aspect of macro is light. The secret to good macro is cardinal light.

DOF (depth of focus) is very small in macro and so you need to arrange 2 or more pictures to get a good looking shot.

I then Photoshop my images – some of them are made from 2 pictures - and then I sharpen and contrast them a bit – it takes around 20-25 minutes.

What draws you to the medium of insect macro photography?
It's another world, which can be seen under our feet. We can discover a world of small monsters. Each fly, bee and spider is a perfect predator or a warring victim in this empire. It`s always a big surprise for me to find out how many species, forms and colors exist in this kingdom. I see the things around me a bit differently after each visit in this micro-world. I try to look at them in their own way. It's very funny.


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CaptivePhotons 19 1.7k 2 England
29 Sep 2012 10:45AM
Some great images there, and some good pointers. I think I'll have a dabble Tongue
Msalicat 12 3 South Africa
27 Oct 2012 8:33AM
Some very good pointers Smile I always wondered how one got the very close up shots of eyes etc and was thinking that I'd have to resort to "dooming" them but am glad to see that I can chill them or put them in some water with an "island" for them to rest on.

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