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How to Photograph Insects Up Close

Insects are easier to photograph than other living things in that they’re less finicky and more willing to cooperate with the camera. The best way to learn tendencies of a certain type of subject is to spend time photographing it, gaining firsthand experience.

When photographing living creatures that have a tendency to move, it’s usually a good idea to use a flash (mounted to a bracket or positioned off-camera) or a macro-specific ring light. Doing so lets you use a fast shutter speed in any lighting conditions, and the pop of the flash helps to freeze the motion of your subject.

Bees

Bees can most likely be found on warm, sunny days and in the vicinity of flowers are attracted to the color (mostly blue, violet, white, and yellow) of certain flowers. Patience is a key factor, as they tend to move very quickly and spontaneously. The only time a bee seems to become still is when it’s inspecting a flower to find pollen.

By paying attention to the flowers the bees are going to, you can choose a spot and wait for a bee to come to you, rather than trying to chase the bee (making it less likely that the bee will be scared off by your presence).

Take multiple shots while the bee is present, while looking through your viewfinder, shifting your point of focus and observing its effect on the bee. The goal is to capture an image in which the eyes are your main point of focus. This can be difficult and may require a few tries.

Butterflies

Butterflies move more quickly when it’s warm out. Try photographing them early in the morning to catch them when they’re moving a bit slower than normal (or you can go out on cooler, overcast days for a similar result).

If the sun is out, try to avoid casting your own shadow on a butterfly. This can cause it to fly away to another spot since butterflies are fond of the sun. Be patient with these creatures. Butterflies will go from flower to flower in search of nectar. If one flies away from you, realize it won’t go far from the flowers it’s feasting on.

A monopod comes in handy for subjects that move quickly and often. It gives more stability than handholding a camera, and it enables you to change your camera angles and positions easily.

Dragonflies

Some species become very trusting if you have the patience to earn it. If you begin photographing a dragonfly from a distance and slowly move closer, it may become comfortable with your presence and allow you to move in for a macro shot without flying off.

The easiest way to get shots of this type of creature is to locate a group of dragonflies. This way you have options and can choose one that’s resting rather than one that’s moving around swiftly. Search in areas near water to find dragonflies, or in areas with varieties of plants, such as a botanical garden, or even your own backyard.

Ladybugs

You usually need to get in very close to get good photographs of ladybugs. Even a 1:1 ratio will leave plenty of space in your frame surrounding a ladybug.

These bugs are pretty hard to scare off, which makes them an ideal subject for macro and close-up photography, and they can be found early in the summer in most areas. They prefer climates that aren’t too dry and areas with abundant plant growth.

The morning sun warms aphids and they immediately begin to munch on plants. The ladybugs are close behind to munch on the aphids. If you’re lucky you might even catch one taking a sip from a dewdrop.

Praying mantis

Mantids are typically found in tropical climates, but some species are found in cooler climates as well. These guys usually look very similar to their surroundings, making them difficult to spot but awesome for photographing. They don’t move too quickly, and don’t scare off that easily. So, if you’re lucky enough to find one, you should have an easy enough time getting some shots of it.

Try to tell the story of a praying mantis when photographing it. For instance, by composing a shot in a way that the creature blends into its surroundings, you reveal how well its camouflage works. By including another insect in the same frame, you show the purpose for the praying mantis’s camouflage. They are predators, and if you’re really lucky (or patient), you’ll capture the predator catching its prey.

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