An Overview of this Site:
This site is a “How to do
Macro Bug Photography”. It specializes in photographing live
bugs with the belief that if you can shoot a moving object
you can usually shoot a stationery one. Once you learn how
to shoot live bugs you can go on a safari without leaving
your yard. If you want to see the kind of images you will
get by reading this site visit the Gallery. For
me it started when I went out with a Point and Shoot and
captured a good image of a flower that had a bee flying by
At the time I thought it was a
great shot and I knew I was lucky to get it. I wanted to
increase my luck by developing my skill and increasing my
knowledge, which naturally meant reading numerous articles,
watching videos etc. which lead to trials and errors (which
hopefully some of you maybe able to avoid by reading
this). The goal is simple - get consistently good shots.
With some practice it is not hard to come back with 30-40
percent of your images being exceptional. However, you will
end up with a new difficulty - what to keep!
What you will find is that a lot
of what you read on the internet about Macro Photography is not true. I
think people read something on the internet, believe it to
be true and put it in their own words and republish it. Then
the more it is read the more it is believed to be true or they just leave
some important part out. I don't know how many times I have
read flash stops all motion, this is not true at all and I
can easily prove it. Today on three sites I read to
always shoot wide open to blur the background of your macro
shot. At 1:1 magnification there is only 2 hundredths of an
inch in focus to begin with, where do people come up with
this stuff? What they should be talking about is how do you
get the most depth of field without stopping down so much
that diffraction starts to play a role in image quality.
Anyway, on this journey I tried about everything I saw
and read about. I saw a lot of flash rigs
that people had built and so I
tried them as well. When trying
them I really didn't understand completely as to why they
were needed. I never read as to why people were using
them (Remember above, the piece left out). I now know and it is a key
component to consistently capturing a live
insect. So, If you read nothing else on this site, read the
Macro Flash. I have also written a page called
3 Days to
Bug Photography. I assure you that if you
spend three days doing the exercises you will improve all of
What you will learn in those three days is it is you not
your equipment that makes the biggest difference, it is the
operator. The photo on the right was done with a
reversed lens adapter and an old 28-90 lens. The total
cost of both was around $100; click on it to see the file.
This site is primarily geared
macro photography not so much general close up photography
of objects the size of flowers or butterflies. But you
don't have to have a true macro shot to have a great
photograph of a bug.
Most web sites and books on
macro photography seem to agree that a macro photo is one
that is shot at 1:1 magnification or higher. Which means the
object is the same size on the film or image sensor.
Not all agree with this, one site says 1:3 or a third life
size, another 1:10 life size. It is made more difficult by
camera companies that offer specialized macro lenses that
are 1:2. (50mm Macros are usually 1:2) Then lets confuse
everyone a little more by adding a macro mode to a lens. On
this web site a macro photograph is one that is close to
1:1. It needs to be noted that at 1:1 there is a thing many
call the bellows factor that comes into play. It means
that at 1:1 your aperature is really two stops less. Canon
does not show this, Nikon does. So, if you have a Nikon
camera and your display says you are shooting at f/11 you
are, if you are shooing with Canon at 1:1 and it says f/11
you are really at f/22.
The photograph on the left was
shot on a crop sensor camera and the lizard was about twice
the size of the sensor. So it is about 1:2 or half
size. Click on it to see the actual image and when doing so
check out the eye as you can see the pattern of the diffuser
So if you have a photo of a butterfly on a 4 X
5 view camera and the butterfly is the same size on the film
(or larger) it is a macro shot. If you have the same image on a DSLR it would not contain the entire butterfly as the sensor
is smaller. So when you look at a butterfly shot with a DSLR
it is most likely a close up shot (or a very small
butterfly). When you see a shot of a
bee taken with a DSLR it could be a close up cropped or an
actual macro shot as the bee could be as big as the sensor.
On this site the goal is to get a good, large as we can image of a
bug on the sensor where we have good depth of field. So if
you want to be picky many
of the shots on this site are not true macro shots they were
cropped and most of the shots you see out there are actually
not true macro shots. If they were they would most likely be
stacked images to get the depth of field you see. To prove my point, for my macro lens to get
1:1 magnification I have to be focused as close as possible.
If I am anything less than that it is not a true macro shot.
I only bring this up as I just finished watching a YouTube
video where the person said they had a crop sensor so the
bug was magnified more on their sensor - that is not true.
With the same lens it is magnified the same on a full frame DSLR or a crop sensor, it is not sensor size but whether or
not the image is life size or larger on the sensor.
When I first wrote this my go to setup
was shooting with a 100mm macro lens with a 1.4 X tele-converter, so I may or may not have a true macro shot.
(I have the ability to go to 1.4:1 magnification with the
converter) At the end of the day it is about the image
not whether or not it is a true macro shot. What you
will find is with a practice you will automatically know how far
to be away to get the little extra depth of field that comes
with shooting from a distance. You will also not be so far
away as to lose image quality
when you crop the photo. You will also end up with a setup you like and
that is what you will use most of the time.
That being said, now I go out
with a setup and look for opportunities with what I have.
In other words I will go looking for small spiders or other
insects on something stationary if I am carrying my MPE-65 Macro
Lens. (it goes from 1:1-5:1
magnification). I always hand hold it and usually shoot between
2.5:1 and 3.5:1. When I have it I will also look for hand held focus stacking
If I go out with my 100mm
macro I will be looking for larger bugs such as bees,
beetles, grass hoppers etc.
One thing about taking photos of bugs,
they don't wait on you. If you see a live one you usually
don't have the time to say, hold on there, wait until I
change my lens configuration, so when you go out you look
for things to shoot that will work with what you have
How to take a true handheld macro photo of a live
Set your camera to manual “M”.
Enter a shutter speed that will sync with your
flash such as 1/200th – less if you want a
mixture of ambient light.
Set ISO to 100
Enter an aperture of f/8 or f/11 – if shooting
Nikon and it is a true macro you can increase it
Decide how much magnification you want by
manually pre-focusing on a similar size area.
Turn autofocus off
Set your flash to its automatic or manual mode.
Take a test shot of a similar lighted subject
and adjust the flash manually or by using flash
compensation. When doing this test shot it
should be of a similar reflective area. In other
words if the bug is on a brown fence shoot a
part of the brown fence if it is on a white
flower shoot a white flower.
Move into the insect and adjust your angle to
get the most DOF while keeping the eye(s) the
Take the shot
The above cheat sheet contains
all the steps to get a great handheld macro shot. If
it does not work it is you not the equipment. So it is
helpful to understand each of these steps. If you do the
exersices on the "Three
Days to Better Live Bug Photos" you will prove to
yourself why this works.
I have placed links to sites that I thought were some
of the best for specific topics. Best to me means, easy to
understand where you benefit greatly.
I have also put up a page of them for easy reference.
Anyway, along this journey I have found that it
one of the best ways to understand photography as when you
magnify an object you also magnify all the obstacles of
getting a good photo.
You will learn that the "M" setting on your camera
really stands for "Maximum Quality Photo".
You will also end up understanding depth of field, shutter
speed and camera movement along with using a flash manually.
I have found it to be a great hobby as there are bugs
everywhere. You can just go out in your backyard, or while
you wait for the perfect time to take that
sunrise or sunset photo you will now have something
different to do - photograph bugs.
You don't need tons of expensive equipment to get a good
macro shot you just need
patience, practice more practice and some knowledge.
However, if you have
a really big budget go out and purchase a nice full
frame DSLR, a fixed focal length macro lens (100mm from
Adorama just click on the link on the left) and a dedicated
Flash. Look over the manuals, set your camera to f11, a 200th of a
second, ISO 100, set the flash to E-TTL, pre-focus to the closest
point, and move into a bug and when in focus take the shot.
With technology today you will not be disappointed as about
30 - 40 percent of your shots will be good! not necessarily
great but good. Yes, not
1 or 2 percent like you will get if you follow the advice on
most web sites.
However, if this is not in your budget you can start getting
the same good results for less than a hundred dollars with skill and
knowledge. Actually for as little as ten bucks you can get
On this site there is a lot of redundancy
as very few will read every page so hopefully each page
will bring something new as well as reinforce what is sort
knowledge. This site is not meant to be an all and
everything about macro bug shots or macro theory (lens
design etc), it is meant to be a place where you learn what
some of your options are for hardware and find some tips for
getting that good bug shot on a consistent basis. In some of
the examples on this site I use f/8, f/11, f/14 or f/16 which may
not seem consistent; however it depends on magnification and
the bellows factor (more on that later).
As mentioned above that the knock out drop dead unbelievable shot you
see of a bug was probably staged with multiple shots with
the images focus stacked. You will find by reading this
it cannot have been done any other way as depth of field
does not exist at extremely high magnification. Can you hand hold a
camera and shoot a stack? the answer is yes, in many cases
you can hand hold a camera and shoot a stack. I go over that in my workshops. Once you do it you
will be amazed at the results and it really isn't that hard
once you get it down. When practicing one time I took the
first shot closed my eyes and took five more that were
aligned - it may be sort of a Zen thing, I don't know, I
just know how to do it. Now I frequently close my eyes
when shooting a stack.
On this site there is a little
manual that is sold that will train you how to hand hold
your camera and shoot a series of images for focus stacking.
The sale of this manual is what pays the hosting costs of
I would also like to thank Jeff Carsten a
retired professional photographer who worked as my mentor
along this journey. One thing he taught me that I always do
is once you get back, put the images on a PC, put the card
back in your camera and format it. Now you are ready to go
again and you won't forget your card.