How to get those macro shots of insects....?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by a._j._jacobs, Sep 16, 2008.

  1. Ok, I really want to know how people get those amazing macro shots of insects, like so close you can see the lenses in their eyes. I have
    a Canon 60mm f/2.8 USM macro lens, but I can't get anything compared to those shots. I'd like to know how to achieve those shots, and
    it would be nice if some fellow Canon users who do them could tell me the equipment and techniques that they use.

    Also, how do you get so close without the said insect running/flying away? Thanks!
  2. Hi. There are several approaches.

    One way is to get a 2X extender and put it behind your lens. Then you go up to 2/1 magnification ratio with a macro lens.

    Another way is to crop your images.

    A third way is to buy an old, manual focus 50mm lens and hold it wide open, inverted before your lens. Then you can get magnification ratio's of up to 10/1. I have friends im my nature photo club who do this with a digital point & shoot, handholding the lens in front of the camera and they get very good results.

    My personal approach : I use a 200mm macro lens with a 2X extender and a TTL flash. It gives me 2/1 magnification ratio and a working distance of well over a foot, which makes it easy to approach the insects. I regularly crop, too.

    Perhaps other posters can tell you about their methods, too.

  3. Of course, the ultimate way is to get the Canon EF 65mm F2.8 MP - E macro lens, which goes from 1/1 until 5/1 magnification ratio.

    Look at this link:

  4. Magnification is not the answer. Most of the excellent shots you see on are less than 1:2. The trick is patience, a good technique, adequate working distance and luck.

    Insects and other living creatures don't like to be closely approached, so a long working distance (objective to subject) is often paramount. Much work is done using a 200mm or longer lens. The Nikkor 200/4 Micro has a working distance of about 16 inches at 1:1. A long lens also controls the background content by virtue of a narrow field of view, for better "isolation" of the subject.

    Focus is important, and you never have enough depth of field. A picture won't look sharp unless the eyes are in focus, so start there. Twisting the lens doesn't have much effect closer than about 1:4 magnification, so a focusing rail to move the whole camera fore and aft is a big help. Setting up the shot so key elements in the subject are parallel to the camera is also important.

    Insects are ectothermic, so they don't move as much in colder weather. A good technique is to venture forth on a chilly September morning before they have a chance to warm up (and before the wind picks up). Some people keep mantids as pets, and use their refrigerator to get "chilling" effects.
  5. I second Edward's observation. Late August/early September is insect macro season where I live. I look for low lying areas, preferably with a water source nearby. There's often morning mist or heavy dew in those areas. The insects will be dormant in the chill and if you work quickly once the sun comes out you'll be able to get very close, they'll stay very still and you may get them as they're still covered with dew, the small water droplets shining like jewels.

    Don't forget a polarizer.
  6. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    One of the most helpful lenses to have for insect photography is a 200mm macro. Not only does it give you more
    working distance, it also helps you isolate out distracting backgrounds, especially hotspots. However such
    lenses are pretty expensive. Selecting appropriate f-stops and thinking about the angle you are with your
    subject are critical to getting what you need in focus. All the other factors associated with good nature
    photography are critial too, good lighting, good composition, interesting subject, a good eye to spot subjects,
    and dumb luck all play a factor. I also often carry around a small collapsible reflector (Silver/Gold) and
    diffuser to help some with the lighting; its amazing what a little well-placed light can do to pop out a subject.
  7. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    PS. If you don't want to buy a reflector you can easily make one yourself. Crumble up some aluminum foill (really crumble it up) and stable it to a small piece of foldable cardboard. I used to do this all the time with my nature photography students, works great especially with dew drops on the subject.
  8. SCL


    A famous studio used to keep CO2 cartridges on hand for some of their insect shots...a blast really cooled them down to a slow crawl.
  9. Thanks for all of the responses! Although the "cool" september days you've all talked about don't exist here, it was 100
    degrees yesterday here in Vegas! LoL! But Thanks for letting me know the different lenses and techniques you use, I wlll
    definitely look into each option :)
  10. There's a number of ways you can attract insects. If you have garden space, plant some native plants. Rotting fruit, especially bananas, draws in bees and butterflies, make a setup for little "feeders" amongst the plants. A mix of beer, molasses and brown sugar usually works well. If you don't have your own yard, find a place you can frequent, and put out just a few little dribs and dabs, you don't want large amounts that will draw in a lot of "vermin" or scavengers. Lights at night bring in moths and other insects, be out there in the morning before they move off. Insects are lazier on high pressure days, when there's a low pressure front moving in, everything gets jumpy. Put the camera down on those days and grab the fishing pole. Move slowly around insects, jerky movements scare them off. Bright colours can also make you more obvious. Don't wear perfume, some insects will then try to land on you instead of the plant or perch where you want them. Some insects like dragonflies are territorial, if they fly off when you approach, be patient and hold still, they often return to their favourite perches.

  11. Rose-Marie, thanks for those tips! I'm going to try to lure them with the half rotten bananas I have in the kitchen ;)
  12. Ashley, do you expect us to give away all of our tips and tricks? You need to know the habits of each insect class. Some usually come back to the same perch time and time again like dragon flies and robbber flies. If the perch is not in the right place, what do you do? You move it or you add another one like it closer to you so you can get the shot you want in the right light and background. Try side lighting and back lighting to make them different.

    And you need the right lenses. I use a 200mm macro and a 300mm f 4.0 with extension tubes for most of my insect shots.

    I also attract certain insects with stuff they like. During butterfly season, you mix up stuff that attracts them so they can get their fill. My stuff is a mixture of rotten bannanas and beer placed in envirtonmentally friendly and photogenic location. And you take their pictures while they are drinking. And rotten fruit placed inside of cactus blossoms. Just do not take pictures of the rotten fruit.

    How about a little vial of sugar water. Just add a drop or two to the blossoms that usually attract what you want to shoot. They stay longer.

    Are you geting the idea?

    Joe Smith
  13. I can't find any insects. The only ones I seem to be able to find in this desert are scorpions and black widows. I caught a
    preying mantis once but stupidly was using my kit lens, thinking I was shooting macro! :( Thanks for all the advice though,
    I'm going to try to attract some butterflies with a "sweet" mix as you have suggested.
  14. The desert can be a tough gig for insects in the summertime. Some deserts will have waves of insect births, depending on
    time of year and environment. It can be like photographing flowers; while they are around all the time, they may not appear
    as you want or be plentiful all year round. They're there. You just have to find them.

    Also, don't forget that those scorpions and black widows may look unimportant to locals, but I bet they could be fascinating
    to someone someplace else, who doesn't get much of a chance to see them.
  15. Ashley, it often seems that when you go looking for critters, you never find them. And there's something about a camera that really scares them off! LOL! Up here in Ontario there are some days that the only living things you can find are mosquitoes, deeflies, and blackflies. Take comfort in that you have a much longer season to go looking for them, we have about 6 months of frost and snow. During February the only insects I see are the mosquitoes that have been hiding in the firewood that I bring in from outside, and who come hungrily looking for me when they've defrosted in the basement.

  16. John, there is a scorpion photo in my gallery. It was a dead one, I'm too afraid to get close to those things, they are
    violent! We keep getting them in my house, and they are always in attack mode. But you guys are right, you can't ever
    find anything (especially insects) when you are looking... I guess I'll have to go around "not looking" ;)
  17. I just use my digicam on Super Macro
  18. Great feed back so far. Here are my 2 coins. I just got a 100 MM 2.8 Canon so not much experience so far but I'm loving this lense so far, pretty fast focusing (not super fast) but very sharp though.
    The one thing os provably known by most but not mentioned here that is a must for that kind of magnifications is to use a tripod. When shooting 1:1 any movement will look really bad. The other thing is is if you have a mirror lock up function on your camera make sure you use it, that will also help the quality. Last if possible use an F16 or so.
    Good luck

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