Composition in insect photography

One topic that came up at BugShot 2011 that resonated with me was trying to control backgrounds to improve the quality of insect images. This is an area I have been trying to improve on this year and one that I am trying to devote some time and thought to. When shooting macro cluttered backgrounds are a problem we all have to deal with. Some tips from Bugshot were to shot up where possible to use the sky as a uniform background. Relocate the insect to a different location such as a different leaf, a different plant, or even into the studio. Hold something behind the insect to provide a uniform background, such as a piece of paper, a photo, or even a leaf. Another technique is to force the background out of focus. This can be an effective technique and can provide additional depth in the image when it is possible. Last week I was wondering around the edge of the field behind my home and came across a bee nectaring on a flower. My first instinct was to go 1:1 and zoom in on the bee. But as I was composing I realized that by lowering my angle on the shot, moving back a bit away from the bee/flower, and shifting slightly I could capture both the bee and and out of focus flower in the background. Here is the result

I like this image for several reasons. By stepping back I manged to grab some great background details, the nice greens, the out of focus flower that balances nicely against the flower the bee is on, increased depth of field around the bee resulting in both the bee and the flower in sharp focus, and with a little flash I got a nice catch light on the bee’s eyes. I also think by stepping back and including more detail the image tells a better story. You can imagine the bee working the flowers collecting nectar vs a close up of the face of the bee.


2 thoughts on “Composition in insect photography”

  1. Lovely!

    When I was starting out in bug photography I kept trying to get closer and closer to show the subject in ever-increasing magnification. But my images all started to look kinda the same, and I’ve been working more on broader compositions like yours here. There’s a lot to be said for context.

    1. I think that’s a big part of it, there is most certainly a place for 1:1 and greater when dealing with very small insects (like your ants) and when trying to highlight a specific feature of an insect like the eyes of dragonflies. But as you and I have both mentioned there is also stepping back and telling a story. There is a lot area to explore between the two approaches and like most things in life there isn’t one right way but some mix of both.

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