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11.02.2010

Photographing Insects

Summer and early autumn is a great time to photograph insects. They are everywhere! In fact, these diverse invertebrates account for over half of all identified species on Earth. Look around, and you will find all kinds of these six-legged critters—from the beautiful to the bizarre—flying, crawling, hopping, calling, and, of course, laying eggs for next year’s installments in their on-going life cycles.

Rare color morphs of the bush katydid occur occasionally in nature, the result of a highly recessive trait. This brilliantly-colored female was found at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Ohio. I photographed “Pinky”, as she was affectionately named, by creating a studio setup inside a Lastolite Cubelite light tent illuminated by two Paul C. Buff monolights. Setting up my studio inside allowed me to photograph this rare specimen with little chance of her escaping. Sigma 150mm F2.8 EX APO DG HSM Macro. © 2010 David FitzSimmons

 Here are a few pointers for making your insect shots successful:

Get close up. Move your camera in progressively, shooting a few shots and then getting closer. Dedicated macro lenses work great for insect shots. While I use all of the whole range of Sigma macro lenses, I often grab the longer focal lengths for these diminutive arthropods because longer lenses minimize the field of view, thus decreasing distractions. Plus, you can shoot from further away, reducing the chance of wary critters scampering or flying away.

Studio shots of insects often require ingenuity: cardboard, packaging, and a few local plants, all set up inside a light tent. This was the stage for the shot of the pink katydid above. Note the GT2541EX tripod and 468RC head in the lower left, an indication that I wanted the shots of this rare katydid to be super-sharp. Sigma 50mm F2.8 EX DG Macro. © 2010 David

Use a tripod. Because of the high magnifications in macro photography, camera shake can be a big issue. Optical stabilization helps in brightly lit situations where hand-holding is possible, but for most of my shots, which include darker environments and small apertures, I use tripod.

Consider using a flash. For some shots I use natural lighting, but I also use a variety of flashes, including hot shoe flashes, such as the Sigma EF530 DG Super Flash, to provide a bit of fill. I also photograph with the Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Ring Flash, which produces more even lighting on subjects.

Be green. Conscientious photography is good photography. Capturing beetles, true bugs, and many other insects will not harm them, but be careful of fragile specimens, such as butterflies and moths. Always return any captive animals to where you found them.

A Sigma EM-140 DG Ring Flash provided the light needed to capture the details of this cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae) butterfly, which is locally rare in western Ohio. One major benefit of using supplemental lighting when photographing insects is creating enough light for small apertures, which then provide depth-of-field sufficient enough to capture many details on butterflies and other beautifully patterned subjects. Sigma 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro. © 2010 David FitzSimmons

Learn all you can about your subjects. If you love shooting insects, pick up these two books:

Insectsby Herbert S. Zim and Clarence Cottam. This is a great beginner’s tool and the best place to start in identifying any unknown insect.
Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eric Eaton and Kenn Kaufman. The color photographs, Eaton’s engaging prose, and the practical layout of this book make it super-handy for identifying and learning about all kinds of insects.

Also consult bugguide.net, a great web resource with experts who can help you with difficult-to-identify insects.

To see insect photos in my new “Curious Critters” series, check out the slide show on my home page, www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com.

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  1. Amazing pictures and good useful information provided.. Thank you very much Mr.David Fitz Simmons.. I love to capture insects as well and always look forward to explore as much as details possible.. I’am very much inspired by the pictures you’ve posted..
    please type ‘shareeqwm’ on http://www.picasaweb.com to see my album..
    Thank you

  2. I read this some time last summer and thought it was very informative and well done. Thanks. I also like to shoot insects.

  3. Mr. FitzSimmons, Thank you for sharing your expertise photographing the insects. It’s very much appreciated.