Insects photography invariably involves close up or macro. Usually they are small, intricate and thus require added attention to technique and details. As in all fields of photography, usage of the appropriate equipment is necessary to achieve the best results, this may includes a 1:1 macro lens which is designed for life-sized close-ups. You will also find other tools useful, like a tripod, ring-light and a reflector.
Types of lens
Insect photography is not the “usual” type of photography and requires much practice. Some general-purpose lens can take great shots of landscapes or vacations and may have a ‘macro’ setting but to get a close up of an insect, normal lenses can’t deliver what true macro is. Many lens makers use the term “macro” somewhat loosely in their products description. Seriously speaking, a lens with “macro” setting doesn’t mean it’s a macro lens. By definition, a macro lens is a lens that can produce an image magnification ratio of 1:1 or higher.
In layman language, image ratio refers to the lens’ ability to record subjects at their actual size. A 1:1 magnification ration means that the lens can record an insect at its actual size while a 1:2 magnification ratio means that a lens can record an insect at half its size. On the other hand, a 2:1 ratio means that a lens can record an image at twice its size.
To shoot insect, it would be ideal know some knowledge of the subject. During daytime, insects are more active and you need to be very mobile, so a monopod makes an ideal support. I like using my Canon EF100mm F2.8 USM macro lens for this endeavour. Most insects have compound eyes which are very alert to movement, so avoid abrupt motion as this will either cause them to change their position or to take flight. Insects are also sensitive to ambience temperature and bask in the sun to warm their body , thus do not cast your shadow over the subject.
When photographing insects, control of depth-of-field is critical as the zone of sharpness is very often just a few centimeters. Very often photographers choose their smallest aperture which is advisable. While a small aperture does ensure a large depth-of-field, this affects the shutter speed and may not always be the best way to portray the subject. The ideal situation would be to make use of bokeh (the blurriness behind and in front of subject) to isolate the subject from its surroundings. Many cameras have depth-of-field preview buttons which stop down the lens aperture to ascertain the area of sharpness. But personally, I prefer to refer to image playback on the camera LCD for more accurate assessment.
So for successful insect macro-photography, do be mindful of these three tips (a) use the right gear (b) shoot at insect’s eye level (c) keep the background clean