How to Take Great Insect and Spider Photos

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Insects and spiders are fascinating, but to many, terribly scary. Many photographers would love to take close up photos of such critters, but can not muster enough courage to overcome their fear.

I'm firmly in both camps, fascinated and also very scared. I usually run from spiders and insects with wings (or many legged insects like centipedes), but occasionally I can ignore my fear, grab my camera and get a few shots before I run away!

For me, conquering fear is the most important aspect of insect and spider photography. It is also necessary to hold the camera absolutely still.

However, I have more success when taking photos of flowers than I do with insects, perhaps I shake because I am afraid of the insects and spiders?

Being able to use macro lenses, or a macro function makes it easier to capture detailed photos - you must get up close and personal with the creepy crawlies.

Shield bug, Melbourne Australia.
Shield bug, Melbourne Australia. | Source

Finding camera fodder

A healthy home garden provides the most convenient way to find insects and spiders to photograph. Even containers full of flowering plants encourage pollen-hungry fliers to visit. Plus spiders will love having a steady supply of insects.

City parks and gardens, especially those with flower beds, can also provide good access to subjects. It is best to go when the parks are not full of children - you don't want them chasing bees and making them angry!

Many people avoid looking for things that make them uncomfortable. If you are like me, you will find it difficult to focus and look for spiders and spider webs, or and trails. I usually instead focus on flower hunting, and have found that many insects will photo-bomb my flower snapshots.

Know your subjects

It is important to be able to identify when a spider or an insect is dangerous, and should be kept at a distance, especially if there are children around.

Having a good book to identify insects is a good idea.

Most books will also describe how to encourage (or discourage) such visitors in your garden.

A hoverfly mimicking a wasp, on a daisy, Melbourne, Australia.
A hoverfly mimicking a wasp, on a daisy, Melbourne, Australia. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bee on cherry blossoms, Melbourne, Australia.Beehives in a city park, Leipzig.Native Australian wasp on a daisy.
Bee on cherry blossoms, Melbourne, Australia.
Bee on cherry blossoms, Melbourne, Australia. | Source
Beehives in a city park, Leipzig.
Beehives in a city park, Leipzig. | Source
Native Australian wasp on a daisy.
Native Australian wasp on a daisy. | Source

Bees and wasps

When a bee or a wasp is focused on feeding from flowers, it is easier and safer to get closer to them. If they are flying purposefully I would avoid them, and definitely stay well out of the path of a swarm.

Clear sunlight is the best for bringing out the gold and black colours, and for capturing bees' fur. Dawn and dusk, while good for colour depth, may not provide enough light to capture flying insects. These insects are usually active when flowers are open and displaying their pollen. Many flowers only open after some time in bright sunlight.

Converting a colour photo of a bee or wasp into sepia or black and white, will bring out details that are normally hidden, especially of their delicate wings. Play with the light and shadow settings in your image processing software to find the best level of detail.

An ant on a paper daisy, in spring.
An ant on a paper daisy, in spring. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ant on a native flower, Melbourne, AustraliaAnts dragging their prey away, Iizaka onsen, JapanAnt on a gum tree, Otways, Australia
Ant on a native flower, Melbourne, Australia
Ant on a native flower, Melbourne, Australia | Source
Ants dragging their prey away, Iizaka onsen, Japan
Ants dragging their prey away, Iizaka onsen, Japan | Source
Ant on a gum tree, Otways, Australia
Ant on a gum tree, Otways, Australia | Source

Ants

Ants are scavengers, there are often groups around a food source, and sometimes they will try to pull it in all directions at once.

Some ants will take whole leaves, twigs, or bits and pieces back to their nest as food or to construct a shelter. You can capture some interesting and amusing photos if you have such ants in your area!

Ants are often not in easily accessible places. Sometimes they are wandering up tree trunks, and then being able to zoom to get a closer (still detailed) shot is useful. Unfortunately, my camera is not very good at zoomed macro shots, and I'm not very good at holding the camera still enough.

I'm often reminded when trying to capture an ant in a photo, that humans are so large and have such a big impact on nature. When walking across a grassed area, it is likely that many ants (and other insects) die from being stepped on.

A saw fly lava (probably Pterygophorus cinctus), mimicking a caterpillar,  in my garden.
A saw fly lava (probably Pterygophorus cinctus), mimicking a caterpillar, in my garden. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Moth in the daytime, Korumburra, AustraliaButterfly on a weed, Lysterfield, AustraliaCommon house centipede, Melbourne, AustraliaBeetle, Korumburra, Australia
Moth in the daytime, Korumburra, Australia
Moth in the daytime, Korumburra, Australia | Source
Butterfly on a weed, Lysterfield, Australia
Butterfly on a weed, Lysterfield, Australia | Source
Common house centipede, Melbourne, Australia
Common house centipede, Melbourne, Australia | Source
Beetle, Korumburra, Australia
Beetle, Korumburra, Australia | Source

Moths, caterpillars, and other bugs

The double-life that caterpillars, moths and butterflies have is strange and wonderful to many. Children are almost always fascinated by butterflies, flitting from one flower to another, or by the caterpillar in its cocoon.

A butterfly house or sanctuary provides many opportunities to capture photos of butterflies that you would not see in your local area. Allow some time for the camera to acclimatise to the warm and moist environment before trying to take photos, or your photos will be foggy! Alternatively, you could plant butterfly-attracting plants in your garden.

Fast moving critters, such as centipedes, are difficult to photograph, and equally difficult to physically capture. You may need to sacrifice some level of detail and use a faster shutter speed. A detailed macro photo of a moving centipede will be very blurry. Be careful if capturing such insects, as some have painful bites or stings, and some are poisonous.

Black and white or sepia photos will bring out many details of beetle shells that would otherwise remain hidden, even to the naked eye. However, there are also many beetle shells that are delightfully opalescent, which can not be seen without colour.

When photographing these insects, I am always reminded that they have such a short life span. They live for the moment, making the most out of their short lives. We could learn a lot from this.

House spider (probably Cryptachaea gigantipes), Melbourne, Australia.
House spider (probably Cryptachaea gigantipes), Melbourne, Australia. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Common spider, Fukushima, JapanCommon huntsman (Isopeda vasta), Melbourne, AustraliaGarden spider, Melbourne, AustraliaSpider on a grass seed head, Melbourne, Australia
Common spider, Fukushima, Japan
Common spider, Fukushima, Japan | Source
Common huntsman (Isopeda vasta), Melbourne, Australia
Common huntsman (Isopeda vasta), Melbourne, Australia | Source
Garden spider, Melbourne, Australia
Garden spider, Melbourne, Australia | Source
Spider on a grass seed head, Melbourne, Australia
Spider on a grass seed head, Melbourne, Australia | Source

Spiders

Spiders are fascinating and incredible - anything that can run on 8 legs and spin such detailed and fine silk webs is amazing. But they are also one of the most feared creatures.

When a spider is sitting still in its web it will rarely become aggressive. It is important to identify a spider to know how it will behave when a camera lens is positioned close to it. Will a spider rear up and attack (huntsmen / tarantula), or will it run away like the lightning-fast jumping spiders?

Coming from a country where many of the spiders are dangerous or deadly, and having lived in houses with nests of an aggressive species (white tails), I am dreadfully afraid of spider. Unless a spider is happily in its web, my camera stays in its bag.

Gear advice

Tripods are useful for slower moving insects, or for capturing a stationary spider in its web. Spider webs look stunning when misted with water drops, and a tripod certainly helps with capturing such details. A camera on a tripod can be focused on a flower, and then with luck, insects will visit, but then you are relying on a lot of luck.

It may be easier to photograph insects in captivity. An ant farm or a terrarium with captured insects, is a closed environment that you can better control. Some insects thrive in captivity, and are sold in pet stores. However, some captured insects and spiders can become very aggressive.

What is your least favourite critter?

  • spiders
  • cockroaches
  • butterflies / moths
  • caterpillars
  • beetles
  • bees / wasps
See results without voting

A DSLR camera with a good quality macro lens will let you capture sharper photos. All of the photos in this article were shot with a point and shoot, which shows you don't need a pro camera and lens.

Photo editing software is more important for cleaning up insect photos than for other types of photographs - you will want to crop carefully, and play with light/shadow, contrast, definition and perhaps even colour settings to get the best level of detail.

Comments

What insects or spiders are you afraid of?

Can you overcome your fear of these critters and photograph them up close?
How do you get past your fear?

Let us know in the comments below!

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13 comments

sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

Interesting hub! Good tips on how to take pictures of insects. I look forward to reading more of your hubs. Voted up and useful. :)


Dexter Yarbrough profile image

Dexter Yarbrough 4 years ago from United States

I really enjoyed reading and learning from your hub. And the photos are wonderful!


snappycanvas profile image

snappycanvas 4 years ago from Tampa, Florida, USA

The world needs such photography so that they won't be afraid of these kinds of insects. They need to see spiders, ants or other insects in a pretty way.


crookedcreekphoto profile image

crookedcreekphoto 4 years ago from Ohio, USA

Fantastic Photographs. I work with a woman who screams every time she sees a spider. I don't understand it. They are really cool looking creatures.

Your macro photography is great. I love your suggestions too.


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

crookedcreekphoto - thank you so much! I'd like to get a better camera and a decent macro lens, but I found one a little too heavy to handle.

Spiders are cool, but to me, terribly scary. Having been bitten by a white tail (a baby one!) and having my finger turn into a balloon, I do tend to overreact to all black spiders now. I definitely screamed at the white tails that decided my washing was cosy, or those that thought I made a good trampoline to jump onto!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Thank you suziecat7! We seem to have many interests in common, and you have so many great hubs for me to get lost in too!


coffeegginmyrice profile image

coffeegginmyrice 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

I love the photos as well as I love insects. I'm glad that I am not afraid of any of them and I can admire them really close. I will remember your tips. Voted up! Thanks!


snappycanvas profile image

snappycanvas 4 years ago from Tampa, Florida, USA

LOL. But you captured it well and it's very effective!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

coffeegginmyrice - You love insects?! Cool! I think you are the first person I have 'met' who isn't scared of them!


coolenconnections profile image

coolenconnections 4 years ago from Toronto

Beautiful pics! I have been playing with the macro lens this week and will use your tip and mist a few webs! I don't mind spiders and insects ....except for June bugs and earwigs. Those send me running!!


Kayla 3 years ago

Nice shots! Insects can be tricky to identify, however...your wasp photo is actually a fly mimicking a wasp! One way to tell the two apart is to look at the eyes: wasp eyes do not take up the entire head the same way fly eyes do. Another way is to count the wings: flies have just one pair (2 total), while wasps and bees have two pairs (4 total).


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 3 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Thanks Kayla - I never would have thought to look it up because it was so convincing! It is indeed a hoverfly (Syrphidae).


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 17 months ago

The hover and saw fly photos are fascinating.

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