It seems that I’ve been focused on the small world lately.  I’ve taken many more close-up images of invertebrates than I usually do.  All the shots shared in the post were taken recently with one of my macro lenses that allow me to focus on things close to the lens.  And all of these shots, except one, are insects.  I thought it would be interesting to share my lens and lighting choices for these shots.

Many times when I shoot insects, flowers or other small objects, my go-to macro lens is my 105 mm lens.  It is short enough that I can reach into the scene and move grass blades, leaves, etc. out of the way (which doesn’t work most of the time with wild invertebrates like most of those shared here); but it is also long enough that my tripod legs don’t usually bump the plant and scare the bug or shake the dew off the leaves and petals.

For some large, flying bugs that are easily frightened, like some butterflies and dragonflies, I’ve started using a 200 mm macro lens on a crop factor body (for a 300 mm lens equivalent).  It can be a little slow to focus, and I can be so far from the subject that there is a great chance for grass and limbs to be between me and the subject, and I’m so far away that I have to move from behind the camera to bend them to the side.

And, I’ve started using my 60 mm macro more.  It gives me more depth of field IF the subject will allow me approach close enough to fill the frame (and lots of bugs will not do that).  I have to be so close though, that I have to take great care not to accidentally move the plant that my subject is on.

And most of the time when shooting close-up subjects, I choose to use an off-camera flash with a diffuser or reflector of some sort – and if I’m shooting with a friend, we’ll often add a gold reflector for some warmth.  In most of these shots, I used off-camera fill flash, but on one shot I used a ring flash and another was shot in natural light.

The other piece of equipment that I usually use with close-up shots is a tripod.  Once I get so close to your subject, I have to really stop down my aperture, which means my shutter speeds slow down.  So, for all but one of these images, I was using one of my tripods.

So, with that introduction, here are some invertebrate shots from the last several weeks.

The first is a male Halloween pennant dragonfly perched on an old aster seed head in a transmission line right-of-way beside my office.  I noticed several fall flowers that I wanted to photograph as well as several skittish dragonflies, so I spent part of an afternoon and part of a morning out photographing them.  This shot was taken in warm afternoon light, and I was able to maneuver so the light was over my shoulder, so I shot it in natural light.


Nikon D300s, Nikkor 200 mm (300 mm equivalent), f/10, 1/640th second, ISO 900, tripod, existing light, slight crop.

A few days later, I heard a familiar voice out in the vestibule of my office.  Kiss my foot, if my friend Chris Funk (check out some of his great work at: had not accidentally walked into the building where my office is at!  I knew he was coming into the area for a day or three, but we had not touched base yet, and he accidentally found me!  I pointed him in the direction of a few cool dragonflies, but could not join him in the field that afternoon.  The next thing that I know, he is posting pictures of seaside dragonlets, one of the dragonflies that has been on my “want list” for over a year.  He said the boat ramp at the end of the road was swarming with them.  So, I made  a chance a few mornings later to spend some time near the boat ramp at the end of the road, and got a seaside dragonlet shot.  Now, these dragonflies are called dragonlets for a reason – they are SMALL!  This little girl was a delicate 1 and ¼ inches long!  (But oh so colorful!)



Nikon D300s, Nikkor 200 mm (300 mm equivalent), f/13, 1/80th second, ISO 1000, diffused off-camera fill flash at -1 1/3, tripod, slight crop.


As I was maneuvering to photograph the seaside dragonlet, a little bit of nothing floated off a piece of grass.  That little bit of nothing turns out to be the smallest known damselfly – a citrine forktail.  This cute little thing is less than ¾ of an inch long and has a body diameter about the size of a #2 pencil lead!



Nikon D300s, Nikkor 200mm (300 mm equivalent) at near minimum focus distance, f/11, 1/100th second, ISO 360, diffused off-camera fill flash around -2, tripod, cropped to about 2/3 of frame.

As I was photographing the Halloween pennant, there were some small wasps flying around.  Some of those wasps were true paper wasps, and some of them were small dragonflies (though small Odonates would be re-defined by the seaside dragonlet and citrine forktail).  But at the time, I thought eastern amberwings were small.  I got some cool shots of eastern amberwings while I was shooting the Halloween pennants.  But a few weeks later, I got more chances at eastern amberwings, and got to photograph them doing a pretty cool behavior.  This eastern amberwing is perched in an obelisk posture.  This shot was taken on a warm (okay HOT) Mississippi afternoon.  So this dragonfly was adjusting the shape of its body to minimize solar absorption and maximize cooling as it perched on top of a smartweed inflorescence (note that some bug had been feeding on this particularly tall inflorescence to the point that it wasn’t attractive at all).  I couldn’t move to where the sun was at my back, so I had to photograph this dragonfly while it was backlit by the sun.  To counter that lighting, I did not dim my flash very far so that I could almost match the brightness of the background.


Nikon D300s, Nikkor 200 mm (300 mm equivalent), f/8, 1/800th second, ISO 250, diffused off-camera flash at -1/3, tripod, full frame.


Not too far away, there were flies that looked like little bees (which is to their advantage if a predator thinks they can sting, then they MAY get left alone) feeding on smartweed and partridge pea blossoms.  I photographed a few of them.  This little fly was just under ½” long, which underscores the tiny blossoms on the smartweed spike.


Nikon D300s, Nikkor 200 mm (300 mm equivalent), f/7.1, 1/500th second, ISO 200, diffused off-camera fill flash at -2 1/3, tripod, slight crop.


It turns out that looking like you can sting is no deterrent to robber flies.  These cool aerial predators were snagging bee mimics left and right (I photographed 2 different ones eating bee mimics in less than 20 minutes).  This robber fly had taken his bee mimic to a partridge pea so that it could pierce the abdomen and suck all the good nutrients out.


Nikon D300s, Nikkor 200 mm (300 mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/400th second, ISO 200, diffused off-camera fill flash at -2 1/3, tripod, slight crop.

I was working around the cabin one day, and a particularly colorful eastern lubber grasshopper was crawling along in some crepe myrtle and pear leaves that had dropped because of the lack of rain.  I figured that he would let me get pretty close, so I chose my short macro lens to allow me to get more depth of field easy.  Even with the size of eastern lubber grasshoppers (this guy was 2 ½” long) and my tripods that go to ground level, it is hard to get eye-level with a grasshopper on the ground – so I chose not to use my tripod (depending on fast shutter speed to give me a sharp picture) though I did make sure to brace very carefully and actually put the bottom of the camera lens plate on the ground for this shot.


Nikon D3, Nikkor 60 mm, f/8, 1/160th second, ISO 500, diffused off-camera fill flash at -2 1/3, handheld though braced on ground really well, slight crop.

And for the non-insect shot, I’ve got a polychaete (worm).  Actually, I’ve got the tube the worm used to live in.  And it was the tube the worm used to live in a LOOOOOONG time ago.  This worm lived in the bottom of the warm, shallow ocean during the Cretaceous, when that ocean was up around Starkville and Columbus, Mississippi.  This is a fossil Hamalus worm casting that my daughter collected recently, and I photographed.  This worm casting is about ¾” inch long.  The worm lived in the round part in the center.  I photographed this casting on black velvet.

Worm Casting

Nikon D3, Lester A. Dine 105 mm, f/32, 1/125th second, ISO 200, old ring flash at minimum power, tripod, slight crop.

So, for close-up shots, my normal “go to” is to use my 105 mm macro, use a tripod, and use fill flash… except when I do not.  And in the past little while, I’ve not done my “normal” thing several times – but always for a good reason, and I’m pleased with the result./13, 1/80th second, ISO 1000, flash at -1 1/3, tripod, slight crop./13, 1/80th second, ISO 1000, flash at -1 1/3, tripod, slight crop.

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