9 tips to do better macro photography with insects

Doing macro photography is, for a lot of photographers, pure relaxation. I usually do it during walks when I want to relax a bit. Plants and flowers are beautiful and colorful subjects, but I like to practice macro photography with insects too. Here are 9 macro photography tips based on my experiences.

Get a macro lens

This one is pretty obvious. Macro photography is all about getting really close to your subject. Standard lenses often have a minimum focusing distance of about 30 centimeters. Anything closer than that will be out of focus. With a proper macro lens, you can go as close as a centimeter and still have your subject sharp as a knife.

There are three focal length categories in macro lenses: short, mid-range, and long.

  • Short: 35-60mm
  • Mid-range: 90-106mm
  • Long: 150-200mm

I have a short one but like to upgrade to mid-range or even longer. So if you have the budget and possibility go for those. The longer the lens, the easier it gets to photograph insects.

Don’t go for a wide aperture

I like a good shallow depth of field, and in macro photography, that’s easy to get. Too easy sometimes, because often you only get a couple of millimeters of focus depth to work with. This makes it a lot harder to get the entire insect in focus.

I’ve currently tried f8 and f11, which for landscape is plenty. In macro, however, you can go up to f16 and even f22. So make sure to boost that ISO, or bring an extra light source, like a flash. This is probably the most important one of all these macro photography tips.

On sunny days I like to use a diffuser to use the sun as a great light source without it being too hard. Though you might need a friend to help you out with this technique.

Keep a bit of distance

macro photography tips for wasps

Another trick I do for extra depth of field when doing macro photography with insects is keeping a bit of extra distance to my subject. More distance from the subject to the lens creates a bit of extra depth of field. You can later crop your photo to have the more on-top-of-it feel. Make sure you shoot in a high resolution though. 😉

Focus for the eyes

As with portrait or animal photography, you always focus on the eyes. With insects, it’s no different. Try to focus on their eyes, or at least their head. I know it’s sometimes difficult to determine what their eyes are.

Only recently I learned that a ladybug has a tiny head sticking out and that the 2 black dots on the front of their shields are not their eyes.

Be patient, or create the setting

macro photography tips for ladybirds

Insects aren’t actors you can tell what to do. They move as they please, live to their own rhythm, and will not sit still when you push a lens in their face. However…

You can create an environment where they are comfortable. For example, I hung a little bee-hotel in my garden and planted loads of flowers. This will make sure the number of bees in my garden will grow. Which is good for nature, but also gives me more opportunities to photograph them. Win-win!

Get to know the insects and figure out their habits and where they live. This way you know where to look.

Shoot continuously

If possible, use continuous shooting mode when doing macro photography with insects. I have a Nikon D850 and can shoot 7 photos per second. This helps me capture the perfect image of a flying bee or a crawling ant. The animals are fast, so you have to be too.

Another added bonus of this is your higher chance of getting the right focus. With a short depth of field and you shaking and breathing, the focus constantly shifts a couple of millimeters. Without continuous, you might end up with photos focused on the insect’s butt…

Take a lot of shots

macro photography tips for bugs

In the extent of the shooting continuously trick, it’s better to have too many shots. Keep shooting. You can pick the perfect shot of them when they jump. Or maybe select the best one of a bee approaching a flower. Or even of an ant carrying a bit of food.

Also, regardless of what you do. A lot of shots are for the trashcan. As with any style of photography. So make sure to keep trying and shooting as much as possible.

Practice on macro photography with insects like a snail

If you are beginning with macro, it’s easier to practice on subjects that aren’t too fast. Flowers and plants for example. Or snails and bugs that don’t move too fast. Though I recently tried to photograph a snail and it turned all Kimi Räikkönen on me.

Slowly work your way up to flying insects

macro photography tips for photographing insects

After doing macro photography with insects that aren’t as fast, you can work your way up to ants. They can crawl fast! If you practice a lot you can try to do macro photography with insects that fly, like flies, bees, wasps, and butterflies. It’s all about practice and getting your focus right.

I can’t wait to see your macro photography with insects, so let me know in the comments where I can find your photos!

Disclaimer: There is none, I just really wanted to write this piece of content for you. <3

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