6 Tips for Better Insect Photos
Happy August! How did it get to be August already? Yikes! Even though I feel like this summer is flying by (no pun intended based on today's topic), I enjoy August because many of Minnesota's prairie and native flowers are in full bloom. Flowers in full bloom mean lots and lots of insects that are getting ready for fall, and eventually winter. By this time of the year, the caterpillars have all turned into butterflies or moths, the bees are busy gathering pollen, and the grasshoppers are busy serenading and hopping. It's a great time for photographing insects.
Get ready to grab your camera and start photographing those beautiful insects before fall comes. Because it will be here before we know it.
As in other posts, I’m going to assume with this post that you are familiar with using your camera and I'm not spend a lot of time on that aspect. If you are looking for help with certain topics, I will link my other blog posts explaining said topics for you. And as always, if you still have questions, feel free to contact me!
So, without further ado, here are 6 tips for better insect photos.
This seems self explanatory, but find a spot that you know there are normally a lot of butterflies, bees, etc., whatever you are hoping to photograph. For example, if I was looking for bees and butterflies, I would try and find some native flowers (to Minnesota) such as coneflowers and daisies for example, because I love the flowers and I know they are big insect attractors. Insects can be tricky to photograph, so the more options you have of photographing one, the better.
2. Camera settings
ISO: Assuming it’s sunny and/or cloudy, make sure you adjust your ISO setting to a low number (100 or 200).
White balance: The three main white balance settings I use are daylight, cloudy or shade, depending on the conditions I’m shooting in. Remember you can choose to keep your white balance setting on auto, but you’ll have more control by selecting it yourself.
Aperture/Depth of Field:
For my aperture (depth of field), I want to make sure I keep it shallow, meaning I want my background to be blurry. I want to make sure the insect is the main focus and that the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to that subject.
Shutter speed: Because my depth of field is more important to me, I don’t worry about the specific shutter speed setting except to properly expose my picture.
If you’re not quite comfortable shooting completely manual (although I would encourage you to try it!), you can adjust your camera to the macro setting. This mode is usually symbolized by a small flower, and it also means you will have to get close to your subject (see #4 below)! This mode will pre-determine the depth of field and the shutter speed. You should still be able to contorl your ISO and white balance setting.
When I get to an area that I want to photograph insects, I take some time to walk around and get to know the area a bit. I try and find specific flowers or patches of flowers where I see a large number of insects. Once I find a spot I like, I sit or stand patiently for a while (those who know me may not believe this. It’s true, I’m not the most patient person, but it’s easy when you have beautiful scenery around you). The reason I do this is because if I try going up to a butterfly on a flower right away, it will most likely fly away. However, if I spend some time in the area sitting/standing quietly, the insects will get used to me being there and are less likely to fly away when I raise my camera to try and photograph them.
Another patience trick is to have your camera in position and ready to go on the flower/leaf/etc that you're hoping the insect will land on. Once said insect does, you already have the camera ready and just need to focus and shoot. A tripod helps combat your arms getting tired (see #6).
4. Get close
This is and always will be on many of my photography tip and tutorial posts. I can’t stress this one enough. When taking insect photos, your main subject is the insect, so make sure it fills your frame. By getting close, you will also start to notice awesome and beautiful patterns like on the dragonfly's wings below, or the pollen on the bee's legs in the picture above. Details, details, details.
5. Shoot from different angles
Here is another tip that is on many of my tutorial and tip posts. Be creative! I know this is more challenging photographing insects than say, a flower because insects move quickly. I try and combat this by positioning myself at a different angle (versus straight on) right when I start taking pictures. That way, anytime an insect lands on a flower or a leaf I’m already at a unique point of view, and I can just start snapping.
Here are a few examples, however, the possibilities are endless. It has taken me a long time to build up my insect gallery, and even now I don't have as many as I would like. Practice, practice and more practice is what it takes!
Sometimes you can get lucky and have insects that don't mind hanging around you. The dragonfly in the picture above (the second dragonfly) didn't care that I was there at all. Because of this, I was able to take all sorts of pictures at different angles around it.
I also find that some bees don't mind if you're there either. For bees, I try and find an area there are buzzing around in, pick a pretty flower, and wait. Sometimes, they'll stay on a flower for a while and I can get a number of shots. Sometimes they just fly away. It all just depends!
There are certain tools you can use to help you better photograph insects I don’t use these all of the time, but have found that they come in handy from time to time.You may remember this list from the post '5 Tips for Taking a GREAT Nature Photograph’. I find these tools very useful when photographing insects as well.
-Tripod: A tripod can be great in low light situations, or to help steady yourself if you’re at a unique angle (and so your arms don't get tired!). You can buy any different types on Amazon.
-Reflector: A reflector is a tool that can be helpful with, well, reflecting light. It can be as simple as a piece of white tag board, tin foil wrapped around cardboard, or one that you can buy. A reflector is helpful when you’re in low light conditions. You can buy them on Amazon, or Pinterest has a lot of homemade ideas.
-External light (ring flash): This is another tool that can be used in low light situations when photographing insects. The particular external light I have is a disc ring that attaches to my lens. It then lights up and acts as an extra light source. I don’t use this often, but always have it along when I’m photographing insects.
This week’s takeaway:
-Pick out a location where you know insects are common
-Make sure your camera settings are set correctly
-Spend some time in an area so the insects can get used to you being there. This will ideally reduce the chance the insects will fly away while you’re trying to photograph them
-Get close to your subject (the insect)
-Play around with different angels and focal points
-There are certain tools you can use to help further take a great picture
Any tips you’ve tried while photographing insects and have had success? What is your favorite insect to photograph? Or what is your favorite insect? I’d love to hear about it!
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