How to take photographs of bugs and other small creatures


Remarkable video How to take photographs of bugs and other small creatures by Thomas Shahan. Watched it twice.

Thanks to Burt Humburg for the link.


Not bad, though he concentrated more on what he’s actually taken than how to achieve the same results. Depth-of-field at high magnifications, dropout of background lighting, and closing down the aperture with reversed lenses are all crucial factors in this kind of work, among many others. But yes, I’ll give him credit for avoiding the “biggest and bestest” attitude so prevalent among equipment hounds anymore.

Big recommendations for anyone who wishes to pursue this in earnest:

1. Flash bracket and off-camera cord - let’s you position the flash to aim wherever it’s needed, which for macro work is often only centimeters in front of the lens. It also helps to provide sidelighting for textures and detail, and natural-looking overhead lighting rather than direct, which often makes the subject look unrealistic.

2. Flash capable of manual settings - TTL flash can work well in some circumstances, and poorly in others. Manual settings make it easier to know you have the lighting correct regardless. Some of these types of strobes can be found pretty cheaply if you shop around.

3. The extension tubes work with any lens, magnifying the results past the normal parameters - think of moving the slide projector further from the wall, making the projected image bigger. That’s how they work. But not every lens performs well when this is done, so sometimes it takes some experiments to find the best results.

4. Reversed wide-angle lenses (short focal length, like 24-45mm) also work well for macro, producing very magnified results. The down side is there’s no aperture control or focus, so you have to find ways around this. I just close the aperture manually by the little lever, but this won’t work for those lenses that count on electronics for this, so finding an old manual-focus lens is useful. Medium format lenses are made for professionals and usually produce great results, and they’re much cheaper than they’ve ever been with everyone abandoning film.

5. Focus and depth-of-field drop ridiculously low with high magnifications. Some of the rigs I use require me to be within 1mm or less of the prime focal distance, and I imagine the rig he was using was even worse (28mm on multiple extension tubes.) Obviously, this presents some issues, and a steady hand and lots of attempts are necessary. Get used to ‘just misses.’ A lot.

Shameless plug: More detail can be found in my macro photography posts at[…]p;submit.y=0 (or “” if that doesn’t render correctly.) My work isn’t up to the level Shahan displayed in the video, but the posts may provide some insight into how to tackle stuff like this.

I’ll disagree with something else - you can find subjects every day, if the weather’s right. Arthropods are everywhere, and if you’re open to a broader range of subjects, you’ll get some images. I’ve barely been out of my yard this year, and have added over 6,000 insect images to my stock. Also try such rigs with spider webs and water drops ;-)

Hi Al – And thanks for the detailed comment.

Al Denelsbeck is a wonderful photographer and won the 2010 contest, and was runner-up once or twice.

Good advice. I’ll add another tip: you can put a reversed wide-angle lens on the front of a normally-mounted long zoom, to achieve a magnification of (focal length of zoom)/(focal length of wide lens). Male-male threaded rings are commercially available to make the joining secure. A 24mm lens reversed on a 100-300mm zoom can achieve an astounding magnification twelve times bigger than life-size on a full-frame sensor! Add a teleconverter and you can see details on the scales of a butterfly’s wing. Watch out for diffraction though, so don’t stop down much.

Great video Matt! Thanks! I’ve posted a few of my closeups over at AtBC, but these are great recommendations. And thanks for your recommendations Al!

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on December 7, 2012 9:19 PM.

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