Play With Bugs – Budget Macro Insect Photography

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I recently came across a video about macro insect photography that inspired me to try it out. The short video follows Thomas Shahan through the woods as he narrates the technique he uses and the type of insects he photographs. With his calming voice he has been called the Bob Ross of photography.

Youtube – An Introduction to High-Magnification Macro Photography

He explains that expensive equipment is not necessary to achieve this look. In fact you probably already own most of the equipment you need to play around with macro photography. Basic items needed to get started:

Budget Macro Kit used to create the photos on this page

Budget Macro Kit used to create the photos on this page

  1. Digital camera
  2. Lens, preferably with a minimum focal length of 50mm or less (for greater magnification)
  3. Lens reversing ring
  4. Macro extension tubes
  5. Manual flash
  6. Wired flash cable or wireless flash remotes.


In my case all I needed from the above list that I didn’t already own was a lens reversing ring and a set of macro extension tubes. The total cost for both items was $21. I was able to use my existing prime lens, flash, and wireless triggers. I already had a small portable softbox that I used to diffuse the light.


As explained in the video, I mounted the lens backwards using the reversing ring. I experimented with different extension tube combinations. I found that using all three tubes included in the kit I purchased (50mm total extension) worked best and provided the greatest magnification. Since my lens is one of the newer models that does not have an aperture ring, I taped the aperture lever in a position equivalent to about f8, for maximum sharpness and some additional depth of field.


One aspect of using reversing rings that surprised me was that longer focal length lenses, when reversed, become wider angle rather than telephoto. I can understand why this may be the case, since the lens has been mounted reversed. Still, I was surprised to find that my 35mm lens offered greater magnification than my 50mm lens, when mounted reversed for macro.


I set my shutter speed to the maximum flash sync speed of my camera (1/200th), and went out in my backyard to search for insects. The first time I went out I found just ants. Since the depth of field is extremely shallow with this highly magnified macro setup, I tried to stay as still as possible and make tiny movements toward and away from the subject to achieve focus. I took about 250 pictures and ended up with about 5 I liked. With this style of photography expect to throw away most of the pictures you take.


The second day I went out I found a small spider. The pictures were not as clear on this session, but I still like how some of the photos turned out. Ultimately I found the process enjoyable. It was a challenge, yet relaxing. It required focus and persistence to get the best shots. I was surprised at the magnification I was able to achieve without expensive macro lenses or other specialized equipment. I hope you are inspired to give this aspect of photography a shot, and find it rewarding as I have. _DSC9078