What are the best techniques to improve the details of my insects macro shots ? I don't want to kill them, and ideally, would like to use some focus stacking.

I shoot handheld (with a Laowa 2X), with flash, and achieve decent results... but VERY shallow depth of field. I also shoot full frame... And I think it may worsen my results...

  • 2
    If you want to use focus stacking, you will have to shoot with a stand. Insects handheld is already pretty much a lottery.
    – xenoid
    May 17, 2021 at 20:46
  • Anesthetize them with ether, maybe?
    – forest
    May 18, 2021 at 1:03
  • 6
    I've seen some stunning butterfly pictures from someone who goes out in the morning when it's very cold and the butterflies are motionless. May 19, 2021 at 4:06

5 Answers 5


A focus rail + stacking software will help you achieve deeper depth of field.

However, if you don't have a focus rail (or time to set one up), try to pick an optimal angle to capture as much of your subject as you can. This can mean using an interesting angle (e.g. focusing on the eyes), or using an angle that captures a lot of detail despite the shallow depth of field (e.g. from the side).

Capturing a live subject takes patience and knowing your subject's habits. As a bonus, live subjects can be far more interesting than dead (or frozen) ones. The posture of a live insect (leg/antennae/wing placement) is different than a dead one.

I'll show some techniques that I've used.


You can go to a natural habitat where insects are plentiful and likely to be engaged in different activities (including resting). This picture was taken near water.

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Single shot; DOF is shallow but the eyes, front legs, and wing edges are in focus.


You can capture a specimen and put it into an environment where it can't leave but is in no danger (and thus stays still). Let it find a place it likes, and settle down.

enter image description here

Stacked shot with subject inside a clear plastic container.

Choice of Subject

Some insects are very calm (possibly depending on the time of day). All three of these subjects let me take dozens of pictures. They were content to sit still and let me gently move them around.

enter image description here

Stacked from 20 or so exposures.

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Stacked from 20 or so exposures.

enter image description here

Stacked shot, but only 2 exposures needed, since shooting from the side. I could probably have done this with a single exposure.

Artificial Habitats

This picture was taken in a wildlife education center that houses a large number of butterflies in an environment where they thrive. Not only are the subjects plentiful, but they are calm and easy to approach.

enter image description here

Single exposure.


My practical thoughts:

  • Use a tripod
  • Get up before your models
  • Use a macro slider (for you configuration motorized)

The technique I used in the beginning was catching the insects with a glass while they were sitting on a wall or standing on the ground. Quickly slip a piece of paper underneath and bring it to a table where a flashes and reflektor was prepared. Most of them calm down after a while others climb around in the glass. The critical moment is after manual focusing through the glass when you lift the glass to shoot.

Often you have only one shot or in the best case the insect gives you between 2 and 5 seconds before it tries to escape.

For quicker results you could use a camera with smaller sensor (the depth of field increases with the crop factor) and automated focus braketing like some Olympus and others.


When I research, I find some promising techniques, and some dubious ones.


  • Shoot very early, when the bugs are cold
  • Apply a (light) mist of water


  • Freeze the bugs a while, then shoot -> seem to kill many subjects

Anything else ?

  • Shoot to kill?‎
    – dotancohen
    May 20, 2021 at 11:48

Unless there is an ethical purpose to making a new photograph of a particular insect - scientific research for example, the least fraught approach is to use an existing photograph.

I mean if you are deeply concerned about a bug’s well being, then forego using it instrumentally for the sole purpose of your gain and/or pleasure.

Or to put it another way, let the bug go about its bug business and simply watch from a distance that troubles it not. A mark of an ethical act is you don’t get what you want...if it doesn’t cost you anything, there wasn’t an ethical choice to be made. The nature of ethics is their explicitly not being self serving.

Lots of things are fun that might conform to the way you want to live in the world.

  • Ouch. So true... but ouch ! But I want to take pictures because this calms me down !!! You still right... May 19, 2021 at 18:35
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    @GhislainCote There are lots of other things to photograph that might be easier on the mind while you spend energy getting better. Why spend energy convincing yourself? May 19, 2021 at 20:54
  • 6
    I respectfully disagree. New photographs of existing insects can provide not only insight to behaviours that have not been previously observed, but also attract attention to the subject and may foster a sense of caring for them in the impressionable. Children may feel that it is fine to kill an insect because that animal has no detail and is a bit of a pest. But after seeing beautiful, detailed photographs of e.g. the praying mantis, the children many be more inclined to respect and admire it rather than kill it.
    – dotancohen
    May 20, 2021 at 11:51
  • @dotancohen If you don’t find yourself facing an ethical issue, then my answer is not applicable. It addresses the question which is premised upon there being an ethical issue. There are moral systems that consider only human well-being as relevant consideration. Thee are systems that distribute moral considerations differently. The context of the question is the latter. Since you don’t express the same ethical concerns as in the question, there’s nothing for you to disagree over. If you don’t believe ethics is relevant, that’s an answer to the OP. May 21, 2021 at 12:06

Put specimen in the refrigerator for a few hours.

  • 4
    According to the OP's own answer this seems to kill many subjects, so might not pass the best or ethical criterium. May 17, 2021 at 22:34
  • 1
    @SaaruLindestøkke: to be fair fridge temp may be qualitatively different from freezing. I don't know whether that's likely to still kill cold-blooded insects or not, but "chill" != "freeze", and forming ice crystals in cells is the really damaging biological effect. Still this would be a better answer if it described personal (or other) experience with the results, on which types of bugs. May 18, 2021 at 16:32
  • Fair point @PeterCordes! If Alan edits his answer I can retract my downvote. May 18, 2021 at 16:38

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