Macro magic casts it’s spell when you also tell a story.
As a wildlife photographer, our natural world is simply amazing. Each season brings with it different subjects and photographic
opportunities in which anyone with a camera can begin to explore. There are none more fascinating and otherworldly than the vast range
of insects that typically go unseen, until we start to look a little closer at the hidden world around us. By photographing these insects in
their environment, we can capture a glimpse into the lives of these awesome mini beasts.
Whatever your budget, there are many accessories, gadgets and lenses available for getting into macro photography. For DSLR owners, I
would recommend using a dedicated macro lens as having the ability to focus at 1:1 magnification through to infinity really does make
life much easier when photographing insects. It is worth bearing in mind that the longer the focal length of the macro lens, the further
away you can be from the subject.
My shooting style is very much responsive to the situation therefore I don’t usually use a tripod, by the time the tripod is placed the key
moment may have already been and gone. However, you may find that a tripod is better suited for your needs so it’s worth
As with all forms of photography, composition is very important. The rule of thirds is a good starting point for balancing a picture but
remember there are no set rules and it really comes down to whether or not an image works. Take your time and really look at the
scene. When telling a story it really does help to think about angles, perspective and direction of light however having said that, nature
is often spontaneous. Whilst this can be quite challenging it also offers us the opportunity to capture truly unique moments.
Filing the frame or not?
Initially our instinct may be to fill the frame with an insect and while there’s
nothing wrong with this (everything is subjective remember!), sometimes a
wider view can dramatically enhance the story, allowing us to see the bigger
picture in a small world. Photographing from a bit further away allows our
imagination to build
a tale about the life
of this tiny soldier
beetle (left), who
appears to be
landscape in which it
travels. Laying on
the ground at eye level shows the world from the viewpoint of the subject.
Mushrooms which seem insignificant in size to us look like mountains in the
eyes of the beetle. An aperture of F5.6 offered a nicely diffused background
that removes any distracting elements from the image and maintains an
adequate shutter speed to stop any movement.
Be mindful when shooting backlit as the camera will expose for the brightest
sections of the image, you may need to add a stop of exposure compensation
to ensure proper lighting on your subject. Photographing common species is a
great way to hone your skills.
Ants are often overlook as photographic subjects but they are in fact wonderful
creatures to observe. Here we see an entire world with one generation taking
care of the next. All of this is taking place upon a single leaf. Directing the lens
straight down onto the subject gives the illusion that we are photographing
from the air. Try looking for textures and tones to add further interest to the
image. Choosing a small aperture such as F18 increases depth of field
therefore most, if not all the image will be in focus. A higher ISO level will be
required to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action.
Slugs are incredibly fun to photograph and much like ants, they are in
abundance and easy to find. During this rain shower, I took shelter under a
tree and it was then that I saw this slug who appeared to be carefree in the
elements. Taking pictures in the rain can be both challenging and highly
rewarding. A decent rain cover for your
camera and lens will help keep
everything dry but do be very careful to
avoid any potential mishaps and
insurance claims. A shutter speed of
around 1/60 will show the movement of
the rain drops as they fall. Selecting an
aperture of around f2.8 isolates the
subject beautifully by rendering the
background completely out of focus.
In what looks like a scene from mission impossible, some species of slug will use their slime as a
means of descending. Composing the photograph in portrait format gives the subject space within
the frame to travel. Despite slugs being notoriously slow moving, if you see this behaviour you will
need a reasonably fast shutter speed of at least 1/250 to freeze the movement. Selecting a wide
aperture of F3.5 will assist in maintaining lower ISO levels but you may sacrifice some depth of
The Golden Hours can be very productive for macro photography.
Insects are far less active during the early mornings and evenings because
ambient temperatures are much cooler. Not only does this assist in getting closer
to our subjects, it also means that the quality of light will be favourable and the
resulting images will be worth the lack of sleep! By being on location when insects
are naturally cold enables us to capture images without resorting to trapping or
refrigerating them. This is an act I actively discourage as these are very delicate
creatures and the risk of damaging one for the sake of a photograph is simply not
(note for the arachnophobes- there are spiders below)
You almost wouldn't notice this spider as it settles in for the evening.
The setting sun and warm tones give are perfect for creating a silhouette, dialling
in a negative value of exposure compensation throws the mid tones and shadows into under exposure. In this case, I didn’t opt for a full
silhouette as I wanted to show the translucency of the spider.
During the summer months, Damselflies can be found along rivers
ponds and lakes. They are quite often perched on tall grass and
hiding amongst the foliage. With perhaps some of the most
beautiful wings and colours I have seen, they are one of my
favourite subjects to photograph.
The strength insect display never fails to surprise me, despite
having enough weight to bend the stem on the grass, this
damselfly is supporting itself with ease.
Bright and sunny days are typically not very good for macro
photography so look for subjects in areas of shade as this will
offer nice diffused lighting. Pay close attention to the
backgrounds to make sure they are free from clutter and
Sometimes, to tell the story of an individual mini beast, we need to get a little
closer than our 1:1 macro lenses will allow. To do this we must be a little
creative with our choice of equipment.
This heather fly with eye damage certainly shows a lot of character and the
image has visual impact that would have been lost in a wider composition. To
achieve this high-level magnification with my Nikon camera, a 24mm prime lens
is reverse mounted to a set of extension tubes. Using this set up greatly reduces
the amount of light and depth of field to the point where they almost non-
existent. Fortunately, this can be remedied with flash and focus stacking
techniques. This image is a focus stack of around five frames with an aperture of
F8. Lighting is provided by an external flashgun which is mounted to a flash
bracket. This is a very technical method of photography that requires a little practice but it's extremely rewarding to see these creatures
in such detail. If you decide to try this method, it is wise to practice with an inanimate object first as the working distance is usually just
a few inches and you may end up with a squished bug on your rear element. (another polite warning for the arachnophobes - there are
The garden can be a wonderful place to find macro subjects. Immediately
after a rain shower the macro world changes dramatically and the
convenience of having of having a house (and kettle) nearby cannot be
understated! I ventured into my garden and found this tiny spider drinking
water from a rain drop. Had this photograph been captured a few minutes
before the rain, the visual impact would not have been quite the same.
Granted the spider would still have a lot of detail and the picture will still be
quite dramatic. Would it have been as informative? would we have the
sense of scale? I don’t think so. I must give thanks to this spider for
remaining still for a focus stack of nine images.
Go and Explore!
Photographic Skills will continue to be developed for as long as we are taking
pictures. Technology seems to advance rapidly and new doors are being opened
constantly. I find it amazing that the smallest of creatures can now be printed and
displayed at many times their actual size and the images are shared around the
world in an instant. Nature is there for everyone to enjoy and no matter what level
of expertise we have as photographers or the equipment we have available to us, it
is the enjoyment of the process and the care for the subjects that must come first.
So head out into the woods, lakes, rivers and your garden because you never know
what you may see.
© Geraint Radford and Rob Cottle - Copying, displaying or redistribution of these images without written permission is prohibited