How to shoot macro bug photography in your own backyard

Jun 13, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to shoot macro bug photography in your own backyard

Jun 13, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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With the sun in full swing for the Northern Hemisphere, the bugs are out in force. That makes it a perfect time to have a go at shooting macro. It’s a popular topic for many people, but if you’ve never done it before, it can be difficult to know where to start. Well, you can start in your own back yard.

In this video, Gavin Hoey walks through his own back garden to see what bugs he can find. He takes us through the process of photographing them with a range of tips and tricks to make your shots more successful. He also offers some tips to help ensure you can find the bugs in the first place.

Finding bugs in the first place

Often, when we’re looking for subjects to photograph, we keep moving and walking around, trying to find them. With bugs, however, your best bet is usually to sit and wait, then let the bugs come to you. It’s easy to miss bugs when you’re looking for them. They’re just so small that they skip by your vision. But if you just sit and wait in front of a static scene, moving bugs, even small ones, are much easier to spot.

What equipment do you need for macro?

At its simplest, you just need a camera and a lens. Ideally, that lens would be a macro lens. All manufacturers have one. Nikon has the Nikkor Z 105mm f/2.8 VR S Macro (buy here), Canon has the RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM (buy here), Sony has its 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS (buy here), and there are countless third-party options out there for all mounts. Gavin is using the Olympus Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 macro lens (buy here).

You don’t have to go with expensive macro lenses, though. You can also use extension tubes. These will let you shoot extremely close subjects using regular non-macro lenses. They do often come at the disadvantage of speed. Autofocus ones typically focus more slowly than true macro lenses and some break autofocus entirely. If you’re don’t mind the disadvantages and own a 3D printer, you can even have a go at making your own.

Lighting for macro photography

It’s the bright sunny conditions that usually bring out the bugs. The heat of the daytime sunshine lets them keep warm and active. The problem is, direct sunlight isn’t exactly the best kind of light for such subjects. Shade typically works better for lighting, but most bugs you want to photograph don’t generally hang out in the shade. So, you need to bring your own shade. A 5-in-1 reflector works well for this, letting you bring the shade with you. You need to be careful how you use this, though, as most are quite floppy and it’s easy to spook bugs, making them fly away before you shoot them.

You can also use flash to light your subjects. This is the preferred option for many macro photographers because it provides a lot more control. Gavin is using a Godox V850II speedlight (buy here) mounted to his camera via a magic arm to take it off-axis from the lens. He’s also using a MagMod MagSphere (buy here) to help turn the head of the flash into a slightly larger light source. The MagSphere is still quite small as a light source for most subjects, but it’s pretty huge relative to teeny tiny bugs.

Other flash options include dedicated macro ringflashes, including modular ringflashes like the Godox MF12 Macro Flash (buy here). These provide the maximum amount of lighting control on your camera without having to resort to magic arms or flash brackets to get them close to your subject. The next step up from this are studio-style setups, but these are impossible to set up on the fly outdoors.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out in the backyard and start shooting some bugs!

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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