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Macro Photography: Insects And Spiders

Updated on November 3, 2014

The Close-Up World of Little Creatures

There is something very different about coming face to face with insects through a macro lens. They no longer look small and innocent, but suddenly take on a different looking persona. Seeing these features at such close quarters is truly amazing - kind of prehistoric in one way, yet so very beautiful.

I can lie in the grass with my camera at the ready for hours, as the subject must be completely still to be properly in focus, with such a shallow depth of field!

A dragonfly in the gentle breeze comes to settle on a twig 5 inches from the end of my camera. It is extraordinary looking at it face to face, it and me as it were, as it tilts its tiny head on hearing the shutter noise. There is definitely a connection between us, as we try to fathom out each other.

So enjoy this brief wander through the undergrowth to see these little creatures close up, and see what I saw through my versatile Nikon D90 and 105mm micro lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached - and sometimes a Nikon Speedlight SB-600 flash unit.

We'll get into some photo jargon later on.

Camera Settings & Equipment

For macro photography

Tips for getting the settings right and what to use

  1. I mostly use aperture priority (Av) mode, as you have better focus control and more options open to you than in auto mode.
  2. Use a small aperture (large F number) to maximize the depth of field (this is the amount of the image that's in focus). The greater the magnification, the less depth of field - the trade-off in macro photography!
  3. Fill flash is usually worthwhile; however, the use of a Speedlight positioned remotely can give more interesting back or side lighting to the subject, especially if you're so close to the ground.
  4. Another helpful addition is to use a teleconverter. This will enable further magnification.

The one I use and absolutely love is the Nikon-TC-14E, which multiplies the effective focal length by 1.4x (14E) of select compatible Nikkor lenses. There are other teleconverters with magnifications of 1.7x and 2x should you wish to get even closer, but remember, image quality will be slightly affected the more you magnify.

Nikon AF-S FX TC-17E II (1.7x) Teleconverter Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
Nikon AF-S FX TC-17E II (1.7x) Teleconverter Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras

I contemplated getting this TC-17E II but settled for the smaller TC-14E II as I only had one lens that could be used with it. When I upgrade lenses I will definitely consider this model.

 
Nikon TC-20E II (2.0x) Teleconverter AF-S for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras
Nikon TC-20E II (2.0x) Teleconverter AF-S for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

When using this teleconverter I highly recommend that you only use it with professional lenses to ensure that you don't suffer from image degradation due to inferior glass.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Great Macro Photography

Composition and lighting are crucial

When it comes to taking macro shots of insects, the true masters of this art are Leon and Peter Baas, who specialise in both macro and landscape photography.

Their photos are beautifully arranged and lit - not an easy task when you are dealing with moving subjects. Like any form of photography, lighting is the absolute key, get it right and the results are simply stunning, get it wrong and you end up with just another snapshot.

Lighting

Often taking shots in darker conditions will mean that you'll need added lighting in order to expose the subject correctly. Whether this comes from the camera's own built-in flash unit or other such light source, really does matter. If you rely on the camera's own flash, results can be dull and washed out, however, if you use a Speedlight which attaches to the camera's hot shoe, results will be greatly improved.

The added advantage of the Speedlight is that it doesn't have to be located on the camera itself, but can be remotely positioned for maximum impact.

Photo credit: http://bb-fotografie.nl/cms/index.php/macro-leon-baas.html

Damselfly

damselfly
damselfly

ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/160
Focal length - 105mm
Subject distance - 0.4m

This picture was taken at f/6.3 which has rendered a very narrow depth of field (DOF). Here, I was aiming to get just the eyes in focus, but in hindsight to get a little more of the insect in focus, I could have used more DOF by setting the aperture at f11 or even higher. This is fine providing your subject is relatively motionless and light conditions are good, as the resulting shutter speed will be slower.

Southern Skimmer (Orthetrum Brunneum)

Dragonfly Male Covered with Dew,

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speedlight
speedlight

Use A Speedlight For Subtle Lighting

Photographic flash units

Nikon uses the brand name Speedlight for their photo flash units. All Nikon standalone Speedlights are prefixed with SB; these units are not built into their cameras. Nikon's Creative Lighting System (CLS) is made up of Speedlights and other Nikon accessories. This Advanced Wireless Lightning enables various Nikon cameras to control several Nikon flash units by sending encoded pre-flash signals to each slave unit.

Canon and Ricoh also use the name Speedlite for their flash units. The name Speedlite indicates that strobe flashes produce very much shorter, and more intense bursts of light, than earlier photographic lighting systems.

Nikon's Creative Lighting System

Butterfly

butterfly
butterfly

ISO 100, f/9, 1/140
Focal length - 105mm
Subject distance - 0.5m

This butterfly did not want to lower its wings for a more colorful shot, but decided to protrude its proboscis a little instead.

butterfly
butterfly

ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/160
Focal length - 105mm
Subject distance - 0.7m

This butterfly shot was taken near a waterfall in the Appalachian mountains in the west of North Carolina. It measured approx 3 inches from wing tip to wing tip.

Happy Bug Day, c.1954

Andy Warhol

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Dragonflies

dragonfly
dragonfly

ISO 200, f/5, 1/250
Focal length - 150mm
Subject distance - 1.3m

dragonfly
dragonfly

ISO 200, f/5, 1/150
Focal length - 150mm
Subject distance - 0.8m

dragonfly
dragonfly

ISO 400, f/5, 1/140
Focal length - 150mm
Subject distance - 0.7m

This dragonfly landed on the side of a garden wall, and was intrigued with the camera lens but would not come closer. It chose to remain half hidden which I liked, as it made me shoot part of the bright wall which contrasted the green bokeh background.

Hover Fly

hover fly
hover fly

ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/100
Focal length - 150mm
Subject distance - 0.7m

Ladybug

ladybug
ladybug

ISO 200, f/10, 1/150
Focal length - 105mm
Subject distance - 0.3m

Spider

spider
spider

ISO 400, f/6.7, 1/250
Focal length - 150mm
Subject distance - 0.3m

This little spider measures only 10mm in length. It stopped to look at the lens while on a small leaf. The metering mode was set to spot, and focusing on small eyes wasn't easy. See how shallow the depth of field is at aperture f/6.7

This is the plant where the spider above was located. By getting down to its level, only a few inches away, it stared directly at the lens.

Look closely at the close up, and you'll see all four eyes, two in the front and two set further back one at each side. This was bizarre when I shot from behind, only to have it still starring head-on at me!

Guestbook Comments

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    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      I love these photos. My favorite insects are dragonflies. I love spiders too, unlike most people.

    • xanthoria24 profile image

      xanthoria24 5 years ago

      I know nothing about photography, but I want to learn more, especially about macro photography, so thank you for this lens. I am amazed at your photograph of a spider. I've only ever been able to see that much detail with a hand lens, not a camera.

    • ellagis profile image

      ellagis 6 years ago

      Beautiful photos! I love the way insects change "looking", when you look at them so closely.

      I love to take close-up photos too, but I´ve just changed my camera, shifting from the classic 35mm reflex to a digital one, and I´m still experimenting it and "knowing" it.

      Great lens!!!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      I've got the photography bug three years ago and have taken thousands of photos since then. Still so much to learn... Your photos are an inspiration.

      Blessed by a squid angel and featured in You've Been Blessed.