4 Tips for Photographing Bugs and Insects

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Sometimes the most interesting things to photograph are right under your nose, even though you might have to look a little harder to see them. Bugs, insects, and other creepy crawlies might not seem like compelling subjects, but if you take a bit of time to examine the smaller creatures who inhabit the world around us, you might not only come away with new and exciting photographic opportunities but a renewed sense of wonder and admiration for the beauty of creation. If you have never tried this type of photography before, you can get started right away without any special equipment and these tips for photographing bugs might give you a few ideas to try out along the way.

butterfly-flower

#1 Keep your eyes open

This might sound obvious, but the first step in learning to take photos of insects is learning how to see them in the first place. Our six and eight-legged counterparts are all around us, but they don’t usually announce their presence with a trumpet blast. You often have to look just a little harder to see them, but you can great shots of bugs and insects on trees, shrubs, rocks, benches, buildings, or almost anywhere if you just keep your eyes peeled. The next time you head outside, whether it’s in a park or just in your own backyard, spend a little time examining the world around you to see if you can spot some of the amazing little critters that often go overlooked by us busy humans.

bee-flower

I wanted to get a closer look at some magnolia flowers, and noticed that they were full of bees. It took a while, but I finally got a shot of one of them on his way to gather some nectar.

Most days I have a fairly predictable routine involving work and home duties, and sometimes I get a little stuck when it comes to scratching my photography itch.  It can seem like there is just nothing new under the sun worth photographing, and it’s times like that when bugs are ideally suited to draw out a bit of creativity.  Sometimes I will find myself crouching down on the ground, straddling a fence, or perched atop a ladder in order to get a better view of these small critters.  It’s fun, challenging, and a great way to get some fascinating photographs.

#2 Be patient

While insects are great at giving you unique photographic opportunities, they aren’t so good at following directions. Most of bugs simply will not listen to perfectly reasonable requests like “Hold still,” or “Turn the other way.” To compensate for their lack of cooperation, you often have to simply wait until a good photo opportunity presents itself. This could mean watching a cicada explore a shrub, keeping your eye on a beetle as it blazes a trail across your lawn, or waiting for dinner to fly into a spider’s web. The slightest sound can disturb our tiny little friends, so take care to move about quietly and not intrude on what they are busy doing. If your camera has a long zoom lens, you can use it to get right up close and personal even if you are far away, but unless you have plenty of light your shutter speed might not be fast enough to capture the action.  In those cases bumping up the ISO is a good way to compensate, though your picture might end up looking a bit grainier or noisier than you prefer.

spider-grub

This garden spider built quite the web next to a fence, and his handiwork was rewarded when another bug wandered over to investigate.

Sometimes you have to keep an eye on a critter for quite a long time, and even after all your waiting they might just decide to scurry off or fly away.  This can be an exercise in frustration as you wait for what seems like hours with nothing to show for it.  Nothing is guaranteed when you set out to take pictures of insects, but if you can find a balance between shooting and waiting, you might be pleasantly surprised at the results you get.

#3 Capture the eyes, not just the insect

This tip might seem a bit strange, and it’s not always easy to accomplish, but if you can capture the eyes of an insect it lends an entirely new dimension to your photographs.  As the saying goes, the eyes are the window to the soul, and while this certainly holds true for humans it also works for animals and even bugs.  When you can get a shot of an insect’s eyes it can be almost like the two of are sharing a moment, watching each other and allowing you to be in the other’s space for a few brief moments.  Even though the insect might not care one bit about you or why you are pointing a rounded lens in its face, capturing its eyes will add an emotional hook to the image that would otherwise be lacking.

I don't know what this wasp was thinking, but judging by the look on his face I imagine it was something like "Leave me alone, and I'll leave you alone."

I don’t know what this wasp was thinking, but judging by his expression I imagine it was something like “Leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.”

katydid

This katydid seems like an inquisitive fellow, or at least that’s what I tell myself based on the expression on his face.

I’m no entomologist, and I have no idea if these insects were thinking anything at all when I took their pictures, but seeing their eyes and faces lends a significant amount of depth to what would otherwise be just another photo of just another bug. It takes time and patience, but if you try to capture your insect subjects’ eyes you can draw your viewers into your photographs in new and compelling ways you may not have considered before.

#4 Alter your perspective

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when photographing insects is to stand above them and point your camera down. You might get some pictures of spiders, beetles, or giant ants, but they will probably not be nearly as interesting, compelling, or engaging as they could be if you simply tried a different angle. I followed this cottonwood borer for almost a half hour as he climbed all over a pine tree, all because I wanted to get the picture from a more unconventional angle. I could have just taken a photo while he was on a branch or the trunk, but shooting him from a low angle while he was stretching out his front leg made for a much more engrossing photograph.

borer

This technique can also be used to transform almost anything into a more captivating photograph. People, pets, familiar scenery, even common household objects can take on entirely new dimensions if you examine them from new and unfamiliar angles. Of course it works great with bugs and insects, but the next time you pick up your camera try it with almost anything around you.

Of course one of the best ways to get photographs of insects is to invest in a macro lens for your camera, and even though they can be quite pricey the results they produce are absolutely astounding.  All of the photos in this article were taken with either a 35mm or 50mm prime lens, which have minimum focusing distances of about 12 inches. Macro lenses can focus on objects right in front of the lens, which can give you some outstanding pictures of insects, bugs, or anything else for that matter. But even if you only have the kit lens that came with your camera you can still get some amazing images. If you have any to share, leave them in the comments below as well as any other tips you might have for getting pictures of our small little friends.

Some other options for doing macro shots without investing an expensive lens:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as sringsmuth.

  • Steve Benson

    Seing all these great shots everybody has shared has inspired me to post a few more. The spider carrying the egg sac is actually a type of spider called a nursing spider.

  • Manjunath

    This is one of my shot i took using my Canon 55-250 lens….
    Any improvements to my shot?

  • You’re welcome Simon.

  • Bill Reynolds

    Nice fly! Glad to see other snapping shots of these insects. If you don’t mind, here is an image of a Blow fly on Tansy. Sony F717

  • Dan H

    Interesting eyes

  • Guest

    Taken with Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

  • Anuj Agrawal

    Canon1200D 58mm 18-55 normal lens

  • Anuj Agrawal

    1/2″ tiny scorpion shot with canon1200D 58 mm 18-55 kit lens

  • ramrod

    i haven’t read all of the comments. maybe someone has mentioned this, but the bee in the second photo……yeah…that’s a GIRL. the guy bees are back at the hive slaving away while the girls are out flying around.

  • Seriously? Thanks for letting me know! I thought the males were the ones who went out to gather nectar, but you’re right–it’s the females. Sorry for the error!

  • Genevieve Laurin

    Can you spot the 2 spiders? (Ok, so technically, not insects…). Probably not as good as the other pictures here, taken with my little Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot camera.

  • Don H.

    I have always loved being able to catch the detail in insects.

  • Guest

    Here are a couple I was able to capture.

  • Don H.

    I love being able to get the detail in insects.

  • mat c

    I love taking pics of insects they are always a bit of a challenge but can be very rewarding.
    I just use the 18 – 200 mil lens that came with the camera and a $20 set of the extension tubes.
    would kill for a good macro lens but even used they are still pricey 8′-(
    First pic is a lady bug that decided to have a snooze on the dog eared page of a book I left outside to read

  • mat c

    a bee I was stalking at some gardens somewhere ..

  • mat c

    crimson dragon fly ,
    it just flew in the house and landed on a window and decided to stay there awhile 🙂

  • mat c

    and lastly a preying mantis I found wandering in the back yard..
    Thing with insects is that they are always around its not so much about finding them as noticing them 😉

  • mat c

    😎

  • SteveR

    Butterfly. Used a compact bellows with an old Minolta 28-70 zoom.1/30 sec, ISO 1600, f/8.

  • SteveR

    Common housefly.

  • SteveR

    Hairy fly

  • SteveR

    Spider – bottom side. Minolta 28-70 zoom with compact bellows. 1/100 sec, ISO 200, f/8.

  • Terri Dupell

    I took this with my canon 100mm macro lens.

  • mat c

    that’s awesome 🙂
    I so much want a macro lens 🙁
    preying mantises are cool, when I took a heap a shots of the one I found in the back yard after looking through the pics first thing I noticed was that no matter what it was doing or where it was going you could always tell exactly where I was cause of where the eye was looking ..
    Take yours for example its just caught a snack that must equal its own body weight and tell me its not looking at exactly where you would have been to get the shot

  • SteveR

    Praying Mantis

  • Guest

    Green Sweat Bee

    https://flic.kr/p/dSypKf

  • Russ

    Green Sweat Bee

  • David Mott

    Some fantastic shots here. I like the fly ones so thought I’d add a fly of my own. I focused on the eyes but love the way you can see the suckers on his feet. Taken on a Canon 1200d. EF75-300mm lens with 31mm extension tube.

  • Juan D. Leon

    Pentak K-3 + Raynox DCR-150

  • Juan D. Leon

    Pentax K-3, Pentax 18-250mm + Raynox DCR150

  • And one I have recently read in a Macro book: Go out right after the rain as bugs will not fly around while they are still wet.

  • Debbi Vandy

    Unfortunately some of my favorite insect photos are too large to upload

  • Amy

    Wasp and bee shot with my nikon kit lens
    Dragonfly with a phone camera

  • I’m impressed that you got these shots with a kit lens and a camera, Amy. It just goes to show it’s not always the most expensive gear that matters, but knowing how to use the gear you have. Keep up the good work!

  • Kathy Ashmore

    These are great!

  • Kathy Ashmore

    If I was any good with photoshop that distracting green branch would be gone! 🙂

  • Manuel Alexandre

    “The angry Spider”

    Canon 70D + 18-135mm IS STM (kit lens) + 21mm Extension tube 

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1140468322630703&set=a.991161467561390.1073741842.100000026375718&type=3&theater

  • Manuel Alexandre

    “Fly”

    Canon 70D + 18-135mm IS STM (kit lens) + (21mm+13mm) Extension tubes
    *** Photo resized and uploaded in low resolution for web

  • Rafael Velez

    A Little wasp building its nest…

  • MelodyAnneM

    Praying Mantis shot with 250mm zoom lens and flies shot with 60mm Macro lens all on Canon Rebel T6i camera.

  • peter DENNIS

    hi Kathy
    No doubt someone has removed your green leaves
    attached my editing with PS elements 12 using clone tool 2minutes dead?
    peter

  • Gabriele Cripezzi
  • Gabriele Cripezzi
  • mnstrausbauch

    A couple I like. The opposite of minimalist insect photos I usually strive for: https://flic.kr/p/di5fpG, https://flic.kr/p/deZbMF

  • Kathy Ashmore

    Peter, I can’t believe I’ll just now seeing this! Thank you so much!

  • Gene Flegal

    Ok this was shot on my leg in a van I was driving. But I was parked when I took it. Nikon D-7100 f/5.6.. 1/250.. ISO-200.. AT 55 MM With a 18-55 mm Nikon Len. And I was wondering if I should have done something different. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/db2a2c70aad02cbab2c0de38406de56260ab3947accef3213ac047eae38bf740.jpg

  • Gene Flegal

    It doesn’t look as Sharp here as it really is.

  • Gene Flegal

    Very Nice.

  • Gene Flegal

    When I posted this. All the Photos said that they were only up for a hour or so. But now it’s showing me 3 year’s…

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