Insects are one of the most iconic subjects in macro photography. The detail revealed about them shows us a look into another world, whether it is seeing the hair you did not know they had or staring them in the eye as if they are checking you out as well. We have all stared in wonder at these images. There are also those who see these images and are creeped out by the sight. Regardless of the viewer’s reaction there is a connection between the viewer and photo.
Most macro photographers have taken a stab at insects even if they have not made it a staple or cornerstone of their work. They have become one of my favorite subjects to work with. While the challenges they present can be many, the excitement of getting the image you intend is well for the effort. Here are some tips to help create better insect images.
1 Show the insect’s face.
When you photograph people one of the things you want to include in your shot are faces. The same thing is true for insects. There are times when you don’t include a face because you are trying to show a specific feature, but as a general rule the face will attract the most interest. People have a natural tendency to look at animals in the same way they look at people.
By showing the face of the insect you create a connection between the viewer and the image. Try to think about your image as a portrait of the insect. With portraits the face should be one of the focal points in the image.
2 Show the insect doing what it does.
Insects have a purpose or job in nature. Some are predators, some are pollinators and others break down dead matter. Photograph the insect doing its job. By giving context to what the subject is doing you better tell a story.
When insects are feeding, take advantage of the great opportunity to photograph them. They are focused on the task at hand and are rarely bothered by your presence. You can add context to your images and give them depth by using some of the surrounding elements in your photographs. These elements can include flowers, stems and other insects.
3 Get on the same level as the insect.
A lot of insect activity happens on the ground or on plants. Plants can be tall or low to the ground. You may have to get down low. People are used to seeing the world from a standing position as they go about their lives. By getting on the same level as the insect you are showing your subject in a different way.
It is preferable to get on the same level as the insect you are photographing. You may need to lie down, sit, kneel and so forth for low-level subjects. For tall and large plants you may need a stool or ladder to get the right height. You can climb a tree and see what you find as you go.
4 Convey a sense of action.
Insects are moving around all the time. The places they travel and what they do along the way is the story of an insect. Learn the habits of your subject and then experiment with how to show this activity photographically. Create a list of things that have worked. Then you will have a set of concepts to draw from as you work in the future
You can convey that sense of motion and action in a couple of different ways. One way is to blur the wings of your subject while in flight. For ants, try to get them carrying items back to the colony. For spiders attempt to get them as they eat or wrap their prey up after catching it in the web.
5 Find a place where you know insects will be and wait.
Insects move from plant to plant as they go about their lives. You can try to follow them as they travel. This can be hard with the insects changing elevations and flying in and out of plants. You can also walk around from plant to plant to see what is there. I have found a plant can be covered in subjects one minute and empty the next. If you walk by at the wrong time you can miss a shot, which will be there later.
You can take another approach. Pick a plant where you know there will be a lot of insect traffic and wait. Spend 15 minutes or 2 hours and photograph what comes by. When I hang out at a butterfly bush at my house I get a great variety of insect activity and a lot of different shots. There will be many insects one minute and none the next. During the down time I can check the shots I have taken and make tweaks for the next ones. I also know I am getting a good sample of the insects in my yard and discover ones I will want to photograph again.