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Chris Miles' approach to insect macro photography

Chris Miles' approach to insect macro photography - Chris Miles is one of ePHOTOzine's more prolific macro photographers. Here he shares his secrets to success.

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Animals / Wildlife

I am frequently asked how I obtain the macro images of insects I post on ePHOTOzine. This article aims to shed a little light on my technique.

For my macro photography I use Sigma's 180mm f/3.5 DG Macro Lens. This focal length is ideal for the subjects I take as some tend to be very skittish and this gives me the working distance I require.

I nearly always use a tripod to support the camera. This enables me to get right down to ground level and use much longer shutter speeds. Also, if it's windy I can stay in position until the wind dies down.

Time of day
I find it's best to work early morning or late evening as insects are a lot more approachable, being either cool in the morning or just settling down to roost. Another thing with the early morning approach is sometimes they are covered in dew which adds to the overall shot, and at times it is possible to tease the subject further up the stem or branch into a more pleasing position. I find cool cloudy days are the best.

Read up on your subject, location, habitat, time of year etc - it's no use going looking for damselflies in the middle of winter on a traffic roundabout.

It helps to have loads of patience. There have been innumerable times when I have got into position and the insect has decided to hop/jump/fly away. With practice you can minimize this and by knowing your subject you find the best way to approach, I find it best to keep taking a few shots as you get closer so if you do get into position and find the subjects disappeared all is not lost.

Be aware
Keep your eyes open as you never know when an opportunity will arise. There will be many a time something will appear on the periphery of your vision that will require further investigation, and may yield a few good shots. Try just covering a small area, say three or four metres square, as a great deal of things can be found, especially in long grass and brambles.

I carry a variety of clamps in my bag for fastening grasses together or keeping them out of the way so they don’t intrude in the shot. I also have a small pair of scissors to do a little bit of gardening round the subject where possible. I use small sticks, picked up from your location and pushed into the ground, to make ideal temporary braces so perches are a little more stable while you take the shot. I also carry a small 12in reflector to throw a little light back onto the subject when required.

Be strong!
And lastly be prepared to get bitten, scratched and stung in pursuit of this particular form of photography.

Putting the above into practice

Here's one of those situations when walking back to the car after a couple of hours being out and about and not having a lot to show for it, a bit of movement caught my eye and, upon further investigation, I found a longhorn beetle. After approaching slowly I could see it wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere so I decided to bend the grass down and clamp it to the top of my bag so I could get a better shot at it

After taking a few images I decide it could do with a little more light on the underside and proceeded to lay the reflector down to throw a little of the light back onto the underside of the beetle.

This resulted is this little beast, taken at ISO200, 1/4secc at f/25 to ensure both antenna where in focus.

While by no means being a comprehensive way in which I work, I hope this article gives enough insight to go and try it yourself.

Words and pictures Chris Miles

ePHOTOzine hasn't tested the Sigma 180mm used here by Chris but we do have tests of the Tamron 180mm and the Sigma 150mm macro lenses.

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The article is informative and the beetle photo superb. I think that if
you are travelling to a site then a wind break is a useful addition as it
stops your subject being blown around. A small mat is also useful if you want to get down to ground level in rough terrain. If you want to
do ground level,a bean bag or a camera rest is useful in situations
where a tripod is tricky to use. I usually take a few plastic bags and
small plastic containers with me so that I can take insects home and
photograph them in a prepared set up.

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