Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tips for Photographing Insects on Flowers

April 28, 2012 @ 7:25AM 20 Tips for Insects on Flowers Macro Shots of Insects in the Field

Photographing insects on flowers can be hugely rewarding as well as immensely frustrating – especially when the quarry takes flight, just before the shutter is released. Having spent the last four years concentrating on flowers and their pollinators I'm able to share some of the pitfalls which, if overcome, can make insect photography infinitely more rewarding.

No doubt we all have our own little foibles and preferred techniques. If they work out fine, then carry on using them; but hopefully there maybe a few tips here which will help to increase your success rate. Larger insects such as butterflies are easier than solitary bees or hoverflies because you don't have to get so close to fill the frame. I know it is easy to crop an image afterwards, but the aim should be to fill much of the frame with the flower and the insect. There is nothing wrong with slight cropping, but try to avoid anything too drastic, since you will just end up with a much smaller file size – OK for posting on the internet, but not for making a good-sized print or winning a competition!

I can recall a guy I met many years ago who was using a twin reflex camera with film to take his insects. When I queried this, his answer was he could get a frame-filling shot by cutting the 6 x 6 cm film down to 35mm! Quite apart from the extra cost of film and processing, there was the time spent cutting the transparencies and mounting them.

If you are just starting on insect photography, how do you decide where to go to shoot? There are certain flowers, which are particularly attractive to insects – either because they produce copious pollen for pollen feeders or tempting nectar for the nectar feeders.

Nowadays it's possible to do a web search for flowers that attract insects by searching for any of the following so you can look out for them in gardens or in the wild or even plant some in your own garden.
plants for pollinators
butterfly plants
bee plants
Here is a list of pollinator plants compiled by The Royal Horticultural Society for UK gardens and one for US gardens which has 31 regional downloadable guides with relevant native plants listed.
Some of the best insect plants are not always especially attractive to our eyes. I am thinking of the flat-headed umbels such as cow parsley or Queen Anne's lace, which are just coming into flower in southern England. To insects, the umbel is like a big dinner plate on which several insects can dine at the same time.
Insects won't fly if it is raining or windy, but once rain stops and the sun appears it won't be long before insects emerge form their cover to feed. Temperature is also important, as many insects need to warm up their flight muscles before they can take to the air.
It often pays to watch the way each type of insect feeds. Those that make fleeting visits are always tricky to photograph because you hardly have time to focus before they are off to another flower. Once a bee fly decides which flower to visit, it hovers to feed or else rests its long legs on the flower itself and spends some time extracting the nectar with its long proboscis that sticks out in front of the head as it flies low over the ground. Bee flies take a while to warm up and won't take to the wing unless the temperature is around 17ยบ C. Even then, they repeatedly stop feeding to sunbathe

The time of day is another factor, because this not only affects the time when flowers open their petals, but also when they secret nectar. For example, evening primrose produces nectar at dusk to coincide with the time the flower begins to open for its nocturnal pollinators.

Virtually all these shots were taken with either the 105mm micro-Nikkor or the 70-180mm micro- Nikkor zoom lenses.
Here are my main tips.
1. In early spring, with cold nights, it is pointless going out too early as insects won't have warmed up enough to fly.
2. Some insects overnight in flowers and so are easy to take when they are still comatose.
3. Insects are more approachable before they fully warm up, because they are less active and tend to linger longer on flowers.
4. When approaching, avoid sudden jerky movements.
5. Avoid casting a shadow over the flower from either your body or the camera.
6. Try to get the sensor plane parallel with the top of the insect, if looking down on it, or from the side if taking a butterfly with closed wings.

7. Longer macro lenses such as 200mm will give a greater working distance than shorter ones.
8. Forget using a tripod; it is much more flexible to work on the hoof.
9. Switch on VR or IS to reduce the risk of camera shake.
10. To gain a closer viewpoint for low growing flowers, crouch down carefully with one knee on the ground and the other raised to support an elbow.
11.Try to fill a good part of the frame with the insect.
12. For crisp shots of active insects, either use a fast shutter speed or preferably a flash mounted with the camera on a flash bracket.

13. Use a wireless speedlight system such as the Nikon R1C1 SU-800 with two SB-R200 flash units fitted on a ring around the lens (or used one unit off the lens to gain backlighting) for speedy boosting macro lighting.

14. For a butterfly, a bee or hoverfly feeding, a head-on shot shows the structure of the proboscis as it probes the flower for nectar.

15. In poor light and on windy days, increase the ISO to gain a faster shutter speed.
16. Vary the format; remember to shoot some verticals as well as horizontals.
17. To control the depth of field use either use either Aperture Priority or Manual Exposure Mode so you can select the most appropriate aperture.
18. Stop down the lens to gain a greater depth of field or open up the aperture for more creative shots.
19. Locate bumblebees by listening for their distinctive buzz and bee flies from the whine made by their wings.
 20. Don't shoot insect backsides – unless you want to record a diagnostic feature for aiding a correct ID!
Have fun!

1 comment:

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