The Jungleamongus: 5 Tips for Great Insect Photography

We are surrounded all the time by insects. There are WAY more of them than there are of us, by many millions. When the Earth recovers after inevitable, mutual self-assured destruction, there will be two things left: smoldering rubble and cockroaches. They outlived the dinosaurs; they’ll be here long after you.

Insects are at once simple and complex: sets of multiple eyes and limbs coordinated for a focused mission, hunting and being hunted in the shadows, in the air. Basic bodies and life mechanisms forming energy into movement for eating, mating, moving in their own world, amid our world. Also, they’re kinda creepy, with they way they… you know, creep.

So, here I’ve gathered here some of my recent encounters with the buggy set. For the record: none of these creatures were harmed in the creation of these images/video. Annoyed? Probably. Harmed? No. All images here link to hi-res originals, pre-editing.

Click for full-size unedited raw images

Moths – who knew they were so hairy?

Click for full-size pre-edit raw image

Camel Cricket

Click for hi-res, unedited similar original (not exact original)

Pentatomidae, or Stink Bug

Take lots of photos? Consider a removable lens like this one by Photojojo.

What brought me to this were some compelling photos I’d been perusing through Instagram (yep, still obsessed) of insect close-ups and other micro-world views. I started asking folks how they wrung such detail from their iPhones, and was eventually steered to Photojojo’s macro/wide angle attachment lens.

Holy crap, is this thing awesome. Basically, it’s a scaled-down jeweler’s loop that magnetically attaches to your iPhone, droid, or other camera phone, giving a magnified, super-clear view of your subject matter.

For the record, I do not work for Photojojo; I’m just an enthusiastic customer. And I’m now enjoying being turned on to a universe of detail I didn’t know existed before getting this gadget. And it’s not just for bugs; this thing opens up a vast dimension of beauty to flowers, textures, or even leaves. There’s a whole new level of minuscule subject matter now available that’s seriously rewarding and enlightening to experience. I had no idea moths were so bushy — now I’m fascinated by them.

Camera phone macro lenses open mini-frontiers with ease, and I encourage anyone with the inclination to pursue some macro photography (and if you or someone you know is of South Asian descent, possibly help out Photojojo founder Amit Gupta, recently diagnosed with acute leukemia). On to the tips…

5 Tips for Great Insect Photos

  1. Get a macro lens. For the price of a good pizza, you’ll get a supremely major upgrade to your gear. They’re easy to use and aren’t just for iPhones. In addition to Photojojo, there are several other possibilities worth considering.
  2. Isolate the subject under a clean glass with a clear sheet of white paper underneath in a well-lit area. But don’t do this so long that you cut off its air supply.
  3. Be at the ready with your finger on the button to snap a photo. Since a bug under a glass generally darts around in a panic, you don’t want to miss out when it finally comes within focus range.
  4. Go hunting in your own yard, sidewalk, or if you’re really brave, the basement. The simple moth I noticed flapping around a light at my door one night turned out to be one of my favorite photo subjects, with fluffy fur and big, deep eyes. Kinda like a teddy bear (OK, maybe that’s a stretch). So grab a glass and get to know your visitors.
  5. Set them free in an advantageous location. If you can return a bug to the wild near something close to its own habitat (dark corner for a spider, bright light for a moth), you’ll be restoring some balance to the universe. Or, at least helping feed the birds. Ah, the cycle of life.
SAVE MONEY: If you purchase one of these lenses from Photojojo, you can save $5 off your order by using this link: http://photojojo.com/r/a389. This also gives me $5 off my next order, too. Thanks. 🙂
What’s your experience with phone camera attachments? Have you ever used a macro lens on a traditional camera? Do bugs creep you out too much to get in their faces for photo ops? What do you think of these (or other) macro photos done with just an iPhone & attached lens? Any tips to share? Tell us in the comments.

18 thoughts on “The Jungleamongus: 5 Tips for Great Insect Photography

  1. Pingback: How to Become Popular on Instagram: 10 tips « rsmithing

      1. rsmithing

        You know, at first I read the previous post and was like, “What do you mean I stink?!?!?! Should I upgrade my laundry detergent?” Haha, thanks for commenting… and clarifying.

        Reply
  2. Liti

    A celebration of bugs, nature and biodiversity – National Moth Week. Get out, find moths, take pictures… the idea is that people all over the world will be looking for moths during the week of July 23-29 2012. Photographing and submitting images to different organizations to add to data bases on moth distribution. It’s all on http://www.nationalmothweek.org.

    Reply
    1. rsmithing

      Awesome – seeing as how you already have tons of great pics, you might be underwhelmed by this, but for adding easy functionality to your phone, it’s a sure bet. Let us know how it goes!

      Reply
  3. LabRat71

    Hey, thanks for the shout out! Macro bug photography is so much fun. A couple of more tips: be patient, get the lighting right, and take LOTS of shots!! 😀

    Reply
  4. Charley Eiseman

    Nice pics! It looks to me like the bug in your first photo is a skipper (Hesperiidae), based on the clubbed antennae. Skippers are technically butterflies, not moths… although in a sense, butterflies are moths (in the sense that birds are reptiles). The one in the video is some kind of paper wasp (Polistes).

    Reply
    1. rsmithing

      Thanks for weighing in, Charley. A butterfly: ha! I encountered that one on the back deck outside, my very first macro-insect moment. Looking forward to more of your posts, sir.

      Reply
  5. Hippie Cahier

    Here’s a sentence I’ve never imagined myself writing: those are spectacular bug pictures, especially the stink bug.

    Was he traumatized? Did he emit an odor? Is it possible to know the gender of a stink bug?

    As you might have guessed, I’m not very skilled at photography, but I do admit to spending an entire evening photographing dead bugs. There *is* something fascinating about it, so maybe these tips will come in handy during my next infestation. #5 is my favorite.

    Reply
    1. rsmithing

      Thanks for commenting, and for braving the closeness of this photo, especially given your experiences with these critters! There was no odor emitted, and although this visitor did crawl around a lot, it didn’t seem overly agitated — I definitely wouldn’t want to put something through that for the sake of my own entertainment. He did seem more at home once set out in the grass, for sure.

      Reply

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