Small Scale Shots: Insect Photography Tips

Insects are so small and complex that they make for interesting photography subjects. We don’t often get to see insects up close. Either we view them as pests and try to remove them as quickly as possible or they are just too small to notice. Insects are everywhere and looking for ways to photograph them can give us a new appreciation for the complexity and beauty of these little creatures.

Here are 6 insect photography tips to get you started.

Butterfly photo

Photo via Shutterstock/CHAINFOTO24


Typically, a basic DSLR and accompanying kit lens will do the trick. The main limiting factor will be the minimum focusing distance on the lens. If you can get in close (within a few inches) and retain focus, you have basically what you need. From there, a macro lens or telephoto lens will give you more options; the macro lens allows you to focus very close and magnify the image to at least the same size as your sensor and the telephoto allows you to zoom in close without being physically close to the insect. A tripod can help with very slow moving bugs, but can be a hindrance if you aren’t fast at adjusting it.

Depth of field

When using a macro lens (or telephoto lens) the depth of field is shallow at wide apertures. This is great for blurring out the background and focusing on your insect. However, it can also mean that the whole bug is not in focus. In this case, you might want to switch to a smaller aperture so more of the creature is in focus.


Most insects have very sensitive senses. They can see in multiple directions, feel the slightest change in the wind, and have very fast flight reflexes. It is important to move slowly and to not be viewed as a threat. Some of the coolest kinds of inset photos require getting very close and this is done with great patience.


Some insects move quickly and some move slowly. You should adjust your shutter speed accordingly. For an insect in flight, you may need to shoot at 1/1000 of a second or faster! Also, when using a macro lens or telephoto lens, you will need a faster shutter speed if you are hand holding your camera. For telephotos, I recommend 1/200 of a second for 200mm, 1/400 sec for 400mm and so on. For macros, the speed depends on the magnification of the lens. I think it is safe to shoot double what you ordinarily would, so 1/200 for 100mm.


You don’t often have control over the light when working with insects in nature. Shooting early in the morning or late afternoon will give you the most access to interesting light, but finding the right angle will be more helpful. Try shooting in such a way that the light is hitting the insect from the side or from behind. Sometimes they have translucent bodies or wings that look really cool with the light coming through them.


Autofocus is your friend with insect photography. Use your focus points to gain focus on the part you want. When an insect is on the move, your autofocus will be your best shot at getting a sharp image. Since the depth of field issues with macro lenses and wide apertures don’t always allow us to get the whole insect in focus, some macro photographers use focus stacking in postproduction. Focus stacking just means taking several photo of the same subject, while focusing on different parts. You can then stack the images in photoshop and combine the sharp parts of each image. There is also software that will automate this process for you, like Helicon Focus. This will only work if the insect is not moving.

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