Photographing Bugs* Part 1

Bee fly on flower

Taken with a macro lens. This bee fly is about the size of George Washington’s nose on the front of a one dollar bill.

Taking photographs of bugs is not hard, but it does require some work.  You do not have to have the most expensive fancy camera to get good results. Even some cell phones have a macro setting allowing you to focus very close.  Many of my insect pictures are taken with a zoom or a telephoto lens.  Sometimes you don’t want to get too close as with wasps and bees.  Other times, the subject doesn’t want you very close. So a zoom or telephoto lens can be handy.



This picture was taken with a telephoto lens from about six feet away


The big trick with macro or zooming into tiny things like bugs is the focus.  If you look at the dragonfly picture you can see that the tail and body are sharply focused, but some parts of the wings and the very front of the head are not sharp.  That is because the depth of field is shallow.  Depth of field is that part of the picture that is in focus.  It varies depending on the amount of light, shutter speed and the lens.

The depth of field is often less than the thickness of a bees body.  A good general rule of photography is to make sure that the eyes are in focus.  That is an important reference point for our brain.  If the eyes are focus, the brain tends to accept fuzziness in other places.Depth_of_field_diagram

Remember that photography is recording light to create a durable image.  Light is your friend when used well.  Light helps increase depth of field. More light on that butterfly means more depth of field. More of the butterfly will be in focus. Usually if you are focusing very close to a subject, flash is not an option. So remember that available light can be a limiting factor.

Grab your camera and a quarter or some other small object.  Place the quarter on a table and try to focus on it.  You may have to move closer or farther away to get at least part of it in focus.  Notice how it is almost impossible to hold the camera still?  Using a tripod or resting your camera on a table or other stable object helps solve that problem.  Most of my pictures are done without a tripod.  I try to take several shots so that one will be in focus.  Why don’t I use a tripod?  I have been able to get good results without one and they are clunky to carry around.  I usually shoot at high shutter speeds, 1/750 second to 1/2000 second which also helps reduce the effect of my movement. Most professional photographers taking photos for major publications are using tripods and much more sophisticated camera equipment.

Practicing with whatever camera is available to you and  learning its capabilities and yours is the best way to improve.  Once you have taken some pictures, look at them on the computer. Do they look sharp?  Do you want to zoom in even closer?  Using simple and free imaging software such as Irfanview or Photoscape, you can zoom and crop to get a better closeup.


*The term “bug” is loosely used here to refer to the true bugs as well as other insects and arachnids.



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