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How to get those macro shots of insects....?

A. J. Jacobs , Sep 17, 2008; 12:51 a.m.

Ok, I really want to know how people get those amazing macro shots of insects, like so close you can see the lenses in their eyes. I have a Canon 60mm f/2.8 USM macro lens, but I can't get anything compared to those shots. I'd like to know how to achieve those shots, and it would be nice if some fellow Canon users who do them could tell me the equipment and techniques that they use.

Also, how do you get so close without the said insect running/flying away? Thanks!


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Dirk Dom , Sep 17, 2008; 07:40 a.m.

Hi. There are several approaches.

One way is to get a 2X extender and put it behind your lens. Then you go up to 2/1 magnification ratio with a macro lens.

Another way is to crop your images.

A third way is to buy an old, manual focus 50mm lens and hold it wide open, inverted before your lens. Then you can get magnification ratio's of up to 10/1. I have friends im my nature photo club who do this with a digital point & shoot, handholding the lens in front of the camera and they get very good results.

My personal approach : I use a 200mm macro lens with a 2X extender and a TTL flash. It gives me 2/1 magnification ratio and a working distance of well over a foot, which makes it easy to approach the insects. I regularly crop, too.

Perhaps other posters can tell you about their methods, too.


Dirk Dom , Sep 17, 2008; 07:49 a.m.

Of course, the ultimate way is to get the Canon EF 65mm F2.8 MP - E macro lens, which goes from 1/1 until 5/1 magnification ratio.

Look at this link:



Edward Ingold , Sep 17, 2008; 08:50 a.m.

Magnification is not the answer. Most of the excellent shots you see on Photo.net are less than 1:2. The trick is patience, a good technique, adequate working distance and luck.

Insects and other living creatures don't like to be closely approached, so a long working distance (objective to subject) is often paramount. Much work is done using a 200mm or longer lens. The Nikkor 200/4 Micro has a working distance of about 16 inches at 1:1. A long lens also controls the background content by virtue of a narrow field of view, for better "isolation" of the subject.

Focus is important, and you never have enough depth of field. A picture won't look sharp unless the eyes are in focus, so start there. Twisting the lens doesn't have much effect closer than about 1:4 magnification, so a focusing rail to move the whole camera fore and aft is a big help. Setting up the shot so key elements in the subject are parallel to the camera is also important.

Insects are ectothermic, so they don't move as much in colder weather. A good technique is to venture forth on a chilly September morning before they have a chance to warm up (and before the wind picks up). Some people keep mantids as pets, and use their refrigerator to get "chilling" effects.

Steve Marcantonio , Sep 17, 2008; 10:11 a.m.

I second Edward's observation. Late August/early September is insect macro season where I live. I look for low lying areas, preferably with a water source nearby. There's often morning mist or heavy dew in those areas. The insects will be dormant in the chill and if you work quickly once the sun comes out you'll be able to get very close, they'll stay very still and you may get them as they're still covered with dew, the small water droplets shining like jewels.

Don't forget a polarizer.

Douglas Stemke , Sep 17, 2008; 11:26 a.m.

One of the most helpful lenses to have for insect photography is a 200mm macro. Not only does it give you more working distance, it also helps you isolate out distracting backgrounds, especially hotspots. However such lenses are pretty expensive. Selecting appropriate f-stops and thinking about the angle you are with your subject are critical to getting what you need in focus. All the other factors associated with good nature photography are critial too, good lighting, good composition, interesting subject, a good eye to spot subjects, and dumb luck all play a factor. I also often carry around a small collapsible reflector (Silver/Gold) and diffuser to help some with the lighting; its amazing what a little well-placed light can do to pop out a subject.

Douglas Stemke , Sep 17, 2008; 11:30 a.m.

PS. If you don't want to buy a reflector you can easily make one yourself. Crumble up some aluminum foill (really crumble it up) and stable it to a small piece of foldable cardboard. I used to do this all the time with my nature photography students, works great especially with dew drops on the subject.

Stephen Lewis , Sep 17, 2008; 12:01 p.m.

A famous studio used to keep CO2 cartridges on hand for some of their insect shots...a blast really cooled them down to a slow crawl.

A. J. Jacobs , Sep 17, 2008; 01:16 p.m.

Thanks for all of the responses! Although the "cool" september days you've all talked about don't exist here, it was 100 degrees yesterday here in Vegas! LoL! But Thanks for letting me know the different lenses and techniques you use, I wlll definitely look into each option :)

Rose-Marie B , Sep 17, 2008; 08:41 p.m.

There's a number of ways you can attract insects. If you have garden space, plant some native plants. Rotting fruit, especially bananas, draws in bees and butterflies, make a setup for little "feeders" amongst the plants. A mix of beer, molasses and brown sugar usually works well. If you don't have your own yard, find a place you can frequent, and put out just a few little dribs and dabs, you don't want large amounts that will draw in a lot of "vermin" or scavengers. Lights at night bring in moths and other insects, be out there in the morning before they move off. Insects are lazier on high pressure days, when there's a low pressure front moving in, everything gets jumpy. Put the camera down on those days and grab the fishing pole. Move slowly around insects, jerky movements scare them off. Bright colours can also make you more obvious. Don't wear perfume, some insects will then try to land on you instead of the plant or perch where you want them. Some insects like dragonflies are territorial, if they fly off when you approach, be patient and hold still, they often return to their favourite perches.


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