Expert Techniques for Beautiful Insect Macro Photography

Nature is amazing–and it’s possible to discover so much about the natural world with macro photography. Photographer Thomas Shahan explains that “with relatively modest inexpensive equipment, you can share with others things they previously would not have been able to see with their own eyes.” Check out some of his tips for getting great macro shots:

Shahan loves macro photography of arthropods in particular because his photographs allow him to show the world that they are indeed fantastic creatures, and he aims to “change the culturally bred fear that arthropods are pests or parasitic nightmares–that’s simply not the case.” So how does he get these great shots? (Via PetaPixel)

Macro Photography Gear

"Female Tabanus lineola Horse Fly", copyright Thomas Shahan.

“Female Tabanus lineola Horse Fly”

Shahan emphasizes that it’s important not to get wound up in brands or fancy cameras. He doesn’t think that there’s a magic bullet or perfect lens; the important thing is to get out there and practice.

That said, he mentions that extension tubes are an incredibly useful tool for macro photography. Available for many cameras, extension tubes create a barrel and move the lens farther away from the focal plane, thereby magnifying the image (we’ve written about them here).

A reversing ring can also be a great tool when used with a prime lens–these allow you to mount a lens backward on the camera body to increase magnification. It’s lovely if you can get your hands on a sweet macro lens, but extension tubes and reversing rings are a much more affordable way to get into this kind of photography.

The Setup

Photographer Thomas Shahan with his homemade diffuser. Image by Kathleen Neeley.

A homemade diffuser is a useful tool.

Shahan uses the popup flash on his camera, but he attaches a paper towel sandwiched between plastic to his prime lens, which he mounts on extension tubes to increase magnification. It’s innovative, inexpensive, and effective!

"Walker's Moth (Sosxetra grata) - Belize

“Walker’s Moth (Sosxetra grata) – Belize”

Tips and Techniques for Macro Photography

  • Avoid “boring” black backgrounds by holding your subject at a low angle with the sky as your background. Use the flash to illuminate the foreground subject, and the background will be more interesting.
  • If your camera gives you the option, using the LCD screen as your viewfinder can allow you to get closer to skittish subjects–by doing so, you’re holding the camera closer, but you don’t have to lean your whole body in to get the shot.
  • Focus stacking is a great tool for getting tack-sharp macro photos. Shahan uses Zerene Stacker to combine multiple shots, but notes that you can’t use a lot of images of live subjects when focus stacking–if they shift, the stack won’t work.
  • Consider the role of value contrast in your shots. Shooting a dark subject on a light background will provide more interesting contrast, whereas a dark subject on a dark background can look muddled. Shahan shows us a few examples of how he looks at this by converting photographs from color to black-and-white images:
Robber fly on a light background. Image copyright Thomas Shahan.

Robber fly on a light background

The above photograph, when converted to black and white, shows good value contrast.

The above photograph, when converted to black and white, shows good value contrast.

  • Color contrast also plays an important role in the readability of an image. Shahan recommends placing warm subjects on cool backgrounds, and vice versa.

Shahan thinks that life on earth is beautiful and really deserves a closer look. We hope you’ll be inspired to go find some great little subjects out there in our big world!

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2 responses to “Expert Techniques for Beautiful Insect Macro Photography”

  1. Martha says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful video. Your images are spectacular!

  2. Ashwin says:

    That was a Brilliant video with some of the Best Photographs that i’ve seen!

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