Macro Photography of Insects and Spiders: How-To Tips

Let’s say you spot a black widow spider perched on one of the derelict logs lying in your yard. Do you scream with fright, dash for your baseball bat and a flamethrower or fetch your camera?
The answer to this simple riddle is, of course, the third option. After you take a couple of magnificent pictures, what you do with the black widow is up to you. This is not to suggest that the baseball bat and the flamethrower are the best or safest extermination methods – this article is all about macro photography.
The world of insects and spiders can be quite intriguing, and exploring this ecosystem with your camera and lens can be a very rewarding experience. Their reputation as pests notwithstanding, the millions of insects and spiders around the world can make some of the most enchanting and spectacular close-up photography subjects. Their tiny environments provide the macro photographer with unlimited options in terms of color, texture, and physical architecture. If you want to know how to take amazing macro photographs of insects and spiders, this guide is for you.

how to photograph insects - Robber Fly - Macro Photography of Insects and Spiders
Robber Fly- image credit: Thomas Shahan

Macro Photography of Insects and Spiders

Safety first
To begin with, the photographer should have a healthy respect for these animals. Not all spiders are dangerous, but some of them are. It is important to take the necessary precautions when photographing black widows, fiddle-back spiders, bees, wasps, and the like. A small dose of insectology won’t hurt, so study the behavior of insects and spiders and know which are aggressive and those that are not. If necessary, wear protective gear such as a bee suit if you are going for the beehive and a pair of gloves if you may need to handle some insects whose behavior you don’t know very well. If you are not sure whether an insect has venom or not, it is best to assume that it does.

Check your equipment
If you want to delve into the world of true macro photography, acquiring dedicated macro equipment is recommended. However, if you will be doing digital point-and-shoot, you will need to sharpen your skills on how to take “closer” close-ups instead of the actual macro photography. A dedicated SLR shooter will need to have a true macro lens for achieving true macro dedication as well as extension tubes that can be positioned between a lens and the body of the camera. The extension tubes play the simple but important role of moving the lens father away from the film which increases the magnification.

Bend the light
In macro photography, there are two great ways of tipping the scales in your favor. The first is to take advantage of the flash. While using flash in a macro may have its negatives such as the possibility of glare or a stark background, the benefits definitely outweigh them. Flash enables you to stop down and increase the shutter speed, and we all know that when you control the light, you will control the shot. Macro photographers are also using the flash to employ special brackets and diffusers which put a single flash on an adjustable arm. This arm can be “bent” so as to point the light directly on the insect.
Another trick that will improve your success rate is to increase the megapixels. When you capture more pixels, you can crop out many of them away (an “after the fact” zoom) and still remain with enough pixels for a great print.

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The art of the shot
If you want to know how to photograph insects and spiders, perfecting the art of the shot is really important. The first thing to do here is to prepare yourself mentally – try to compose the image of the insect in a non-clinical way by approaching each shot as if you are doing a portrait of the insect. The science of the shot may be enhanced by your good equipment, but the art of the shot is all about a unique and dynamic pose. Think about what makes a particular bug exciting and try to highlight that aspect. It may be the moment a butterfly is sinking its proboscis in a flower to draw some nectar or a mosquito is about to get into motion. Some insects are flighty and nervous while others like the spiders and their fellow killer bugs don’t seem to mind being photographed. The bottom line is that you should know the common behavior of insects and spiders in order to get the best shots.

how to photograph spiders- jumping spider
An adult female Jumping Spider- image credit: Thomas Shahan

Once your subject is in a great position, it then comes down to execution. You need to both meter and focus properly. If you fail to execute the two well then all else is fruitless. When it comes to metering, maximize the depth of the field by setting the aperture as far down as you can reasonably get. Most macro lenses will reach f/32. This is the simple part; the hard one is focusing. It is crucial to make sure that the right part of your shot is in focus. Modern autofocus systems (AF) systems are not very reliable in macro photography, more so when it comes to extreme macro. When you rely solely on the camera’s autofocus in high magnifications, you may become disappointed and end up being forced to switch to using manual focus (MF). A lot of things work against your focus such as wind and even your own heart rate and breathing. Sometimes the hands get tired due to the weight of the equipment which can increase the difficulty. One way to overcome these handicaps is to set the lens on manual focus and the highest magnification, and then slowly zooming in towards the spider or insect until it is in sharp focus, after which you can fire the frame.

Let’s see how it looks in action.- one of my favorite macro photographers Thomas Shahan

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Hopefully, these macro photography tips have been of great help to those people who want to perfect the art of how to photograph spiders and insects. With a lot of practice, you will start getting excellent shots almost naturally.

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Blogger, amateur photographer. The best image I will make tomorrow