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How I Shoot Insect Macro Photography in My Home Studio


Insects and other animals have fascinated me since I was a small child. I remember well how I used to pick them up and simply stare at them in wonder for hours. The concept of photographing insects indoors had been on my mind for years, even when photography and playing with light was a hobby, and long before I considered photography a profession and way of life.

The Coronavirus lockdown limitations, somewhat ironically, granted me with rare free time to re-ignite the desire to engage in the macro photography of insects. The opportunity to spend time experimenting with this genre in my improvised home studio opened my eyes to the amazing details beyond the normal capabilities of our vision.

I named this photo series: So far, so very close.

My name is Lior Glaichman, and I live in Northern Israel. I am a professional industrial photographer who specializes in photographing manufacturing and industrial processes in the metalworking industry. During my spare time, I teach photography as a private mentor.

I started my career as a product photographer, commissioned by different leading companies. I love the feeling of creating an entire lit world within a dark space and, with this in mind, I recently began gently bringing insects into my home to photograph them.

I started this process by conducting searches for insects in the woodlands near my home, and then struggling with the constraints of changing light, winds, and various improvisations in order to photograph them. I only realized my dream fully after deciding to bring the insects into my home studio, creating a set for each one individually.

Each insect possesses its own unique characteristics; these were emphasized through lighting, patience, and composition.

I start to create every set in my mind from the moment that I discover and observe the insect in nature, after examining its color and characteristics. While searching for insects, I’ve learned that it’s important to slow down my mind and movements and even just to stand and wait. Something will reveal itself.

An early attempt, captured outdoors.

When I go to my local woods, I always carry a container of some kind (with breathing holes) for collecting subjects to photograph.

My first thought on creating a set is to complement the colors between the insect, the background and the supporting object on which it will be positioned. Then I use a “goose neck” arm to hold the flower/stone/moss in place and afterwards mount the background (usually cellophane). The light that is refracted from crumpled cellophane together with using a small aperture will create a beautiful and interesting effect.

The camera is set up on a tripod and connected to a wireless flash trigger and a wireless shutter release to prevent unwanted movements or vibrations. I test different camera exposures to recreate my original vision. I then take one final test shot before bringing in the insect so that I can concentrate fully on the insect shown on my camera’s live view screen, knowing that the technical elements are all in place (hopefully).

The next step is the most challenging and exciting in each set. I carefully place the insect on the object and wait to see the response, the movement, the stares, and once I recognize that the insect is comfortable and standing still, I gently rotate the focusing ring and visually ‘lock-on’ to the correct focus point on its eyes, press the shutter for the first time and examine the image.

From this moment on, everything else is light, patience, composition, and various improvisations throughout the set to ensure sharpness, change object position, hold reflectors, create drops of water, and change background position and wrinkles. All of this in order to reach the moment when everything is in place and the frame is successful in my eyes.

An important thing I learned is that during the set it is critical to work slowly and to avoid sharp, fast movements in order to create a pleasant atmosphere for the insect and not frighten it. It’s also important not to rush to press the shutter—I try to take time to examine and understand the rhythm of the insect’s movement.

Here are a few of the indoor images I’ve captured thus far:

Each insect brings its own unique challenges, but there are many challenges to this kind of macro setup no matter what the subject. It starts with any wrong movement that can drop something in the crowded set, or scare the insect, or move the focus off the desired point.

Continuing to find the focus point takes time when working with a macro lens, and especially when it is attached to extension rings that provide magnification almost up to a 2:1 ratio. Even in a situation where everything looks fine, it is always possible that just a second before I capture the moment, the insect will start to walk or simply look away in another direction.

Another challenge is that working with an open aperture creates an amazing background, but also a very shallow depth of field, which makes it especially difficult when I want to create “focus stacking” to highlight characteristics along the insect body and not just the eye area.

At the end of each session, I always return the insect to its natural habitat and then review and examine the frames in Adobe Bridge, where I mark the interesting frames, the ones that need to be stacked, and the ones that can be studied for the next session.
Photoshop editing is usually quite minimal: crop, contrast and maybe a few slight enhancements the focus area.

Both despite and due to the long process and many challenges in the set, I get excited like a child each time I watch these amazing animals through the camera’s viewfinder. This moment of wonder brings me back to illuminating and photographing the insects every time.

Technical Notes:

  • All photographs were taken with my Canon 6D Mark II, a set of extension tubes, a 100mm Canon macro lens, a wireless remote and a tripod. For lightning, I used two 400w studio flashes with softbox and a snoot. All photographs were edited (contrast, crop and color) in Photoshop.
  • All the insects photographed during this project were alive and were not harmed. They were returned the insects to their natural habitat at the end of each session.

About the author: Lior Glaichman is an industrial photographer based in Northern Israel. To see more of his work, visit his website where you can find many more images from his series “So far, so very close.”.