Insect or wildlife photography is a lot like fishing. You need to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment, knowledge of your target, and good bait. It also involves a lot of luck. But you can do a lot to improve you luck.
The equipment part is pretty easy these days. Good digital cameras with macro and zoom capabilities are available new and used in all price ranges. The cameras built into cell phones and tablets today are better than many expensive cameras from just a few years ago. Software is readily available to help zoom and crop images once you transfer them to a computer. As with any equipment, there is a learning curve. There are many tutorials available on YouTube and other websites to help you learn the best ways to use cameras and take photos.
How do you put yourself in the right place and time? A big part of that is understanding the habits of your subject. If you want a picture of an elephant you would want to go where there are elephants. You would plan a trip to Asia or Africa to see them in the wild. And then your trip would have to take you to the parts of Asia or Africa where the elephants live. Or you could plan a trip to the zoo. Even when you go to the zoo you might consider weather, the time of day and what times the elephants are active and available for viewing.
Habitat is important. To photograph butterflies or bees you need to go where there are flowers. For dragonflies you will have better luck around water. For predatory bugs you’ll need to find a place with lots of different bugs.
Perhaps you need some bait. It is pretty easy to learn the types of food certain creatures prefer. You can go to the places where that food is found or set up your own feeder. Some species of insects, like walking sticks, are only found on specific plants because that is their food source. Some species of butterflies feed on rotten fruit instead of flowers. I was able to attract a Question Mark butterfly with some overly ripe strawberries and bananas. I’ve also set up a couple of small pots with flowering plants that I can place with consideration to light and background. That gives me the best chance for a good result if a hummingbird, butterfly or some other insect feeds at those flowers. If possible try to control the conditions.
You can do the same thing with bird feeders. I set up a branch cut from one of the trees in the yard near the bird feeder. Birds typically don’t fly directly to the feeder. They approach in steps moving from one perch to another. By placing the branch above the feeder I can focus on that area and get a more interesting shot than just a bird on a feeder. It also allows me to control the background for a more natural looking photo.
So what happens if you find a good habitat, with good bait (food), at the right time of year and right time of day and you still see nothing? Well, sometimes the fish just aren’t biting. Did I mention patience? Patience is good. When the “fish aren’t biting”, I switch to taking pictures of birds or landscapes or flowers. There is always something fun to photograph.
*The term “bug” is used loosely here to refer to the true bugs as well as other insects and arachnids.
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