My dream photo-adventure is an African wildlife safari complete with exotic animals and landscapes. Not gonna happen any time soon for me, but I’ve found something equally thrilling (okay, that’s a stretch), and it’s as close as your back yard or nearby park – insect photography or “bug art.” The subjects you’ll encounter are as strange and awe-inspiring as any you’ll ever see and the potential for learning photography is enormous – and a lot cheaper than a trip to Africa.
I’ve been partial to these minuscule creatures for a while now, but it was a chance encounter with an anthill this spring while chasing a hawk that put me over the edge. While mesmerized by thousands of ants, I began to notice an occasional spider next to the nest. Then beetles. Then a nearby Oregon Grape plant, taller than me, and more ants on the flowers, flies gorging themselves on nectar and pollen right in front of my 90mm macro lens. The jaws. The honeycombed eyes. Antennae. Little feelers scooping food into their mouths. Grooming behavior. Coordinated “log” hauling. Ants attacking beetles. Flies mating. Spiders waiting in their traps. Drama in another dimension. An insect safari.
Photographing these critters can be harder than shooting a Cheetah at full speed (I imagine), but surprisingly there are many similarities. Even when you are focused on something so small you need to consider the same rules as many other genres of photography.
- You don’t always have a choice, but background is hugely important.
- Composition – think Rule of Thirds. Remember, this is art.
- The quality of light makes all the difference, and yes, the “magic hour” generally affords the best results unless you’re using flash.
- Ring flashes are great – nice distribution of light, but no shadows (if you want them for effect).
- Extension tubes – up close and personal, but the shallowest of depth of field. You’ll get those nose hairs on the spider, though.
- Focus on the eyes (all eight of them sometimes) – just like people.
- Position your lens perpendicular to the part of the subject you want in focus. Even at f/16, this is important in macro.
- Be ready for “decisive moments” – species interacting, acts of nurturing, squabbles. Try interesting perspectives.
- Work the scene. Get to know your subjects. Come back for more – go deeper.
Sound familiar? It should if you’ve taken any RMSP workshops or courses. Insect macro photography – bug art – has it all and you don’t need a plane ticket to Africa to shoot it.