I am wanting to venture into some extreme macro photography, specifically insects, such as this shot. After doing some research I have believe that my 1::25 macro lens will be sufficient if I am to use some extension tubes (which I have bought).

I would like to shoot the in the wild, is this possible/likely? Or is this always a catch, then release style of shooting?

Regarding the link I've posted, would this be possible with a 1:25 macro and extension tubes? I have a set of three (21mm, 31mm and 13mm). How would you go about shoot a blue bottle for example? Surely they are going to fly away? Should I use a tripod or will that cause more of a hindrance than a help? Are there any techniques/tricks I could use to get a sharp focus on my subject?

  • 1
    Are you sure you are using the right magnification term? A 1:25 ratio is actually rather huge. A true macro lens is 1:1. A lens that gets fairly close to macro (closeup) would be 1:2. I think the average lens is closer to 1:5-1:6 in terms of magnification (0.15-0.20x). A 1:25 lens would mean the magnification factor was 0.04x...in which case, extension tubes are not going to help you much at all. If your lens is actually a 1:2.5, then extension tubes will get you pretty close, but probably not as much as the Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Zoom Macro, which will do 5:1! – jrista Aug 7 '13 at 22:05
  • He probably means 0.25x MM. Since each lens has unique characteristics, it would be helpful if we knew the specific lens. Wider angle lenses improve MM with extension tubes much more dramatically than most telephoto lenses. – Michael C Aug 8 '13 at 2:11
  • apologies, for the mix up, I read that setting off my lens and assumed that was the correct terminology, I believe it is...half life size, I add the lens specifics when I get home – tony09uk Aug 8 '13 at 7:51

My advice is as follows (although I have missed way more shots than those with which I am happy):

  • You are going to need lots of light -- I use a couple of flashes triggering on opposite sides of my lens to help with shadows, but I have got good results using a hotshoe flash through a pringle tube with a diffuser at the end.
  • Don't bother with the tripod, keep the shutter duration short (see above about lots of light) and try joining the platform (e.g. the leaf) with your lens hood
  • Shoot early in the morning (when it is cold) and insects are more torpid
  • Spend some time learning about your subjects and their behaviors -- the best shots are when they come to you, rather than you chasing them
  • Even with really small apertures your depth of field is going to be very thin -- if your subject will hold still try doing some focus stacking (magic lantern is great for this)

Good luck


I would like to shoot the in the wild, is this possible/likely? Or is this always a catch, then release style of shooting?

It is very unlikely you'll be able to do anything like this in the wild. Also it's not so much "catch and release" as "find a dead insect and throw it away when you're done" - the shot you linked to is a composite of 50 images (according to a comment by the photographer). The odds of a living insect (even a cold, torpid one) sitting still for long enough for you to shoot 50 carefully aligned images is very low.

my 1::25 macro lens will be sufficient if I am to use some extension tubes (which I have bought).

Not for the type of shot you linked to. The reason that 50 shots were required was due to the extreme magnification, more like 5:1 than the 1:4 (a factor of 20). Extension tubes might get you to 1:2, still a factor of ten out.

Basically the "insect head fills the image" photos are very difficult and require a combination of time, expertise, equipment and post processing.

Less close up environmental images of whole insects, are doable in a single exposure on location. I suggest you start with these before moving into extreme macro. For larger insects you can use your lens with extension tubes. You'll want a macro flash also (either a ring or two bulbs either side of the lens). Set your lens to the minimum focus distance and focus by moving the camera, in live view if possible. Also look out for cold lethargic insects around dawn as Patrick suggests.

  • I wouldn't say that all such shots are of dead insects. If you look around, you can find some good techniques from experts in the field. Most of the time, I think these focus-stacked shots are taken in the early morning hours on colder days, which makes insects rather lethargic. Some extreme insect macro photogs will even have the option of clipping the perch, clamping it, and moving it anywhere they want in order to get better backgrounds. It is also possible to bait insects with sugar water or honey, in which case they will usually sit quite still while drinking. – jrista Aug 14 '13 at 0:50

I think if you want a sharp photo, a focusing rail plus a remote control would help a lot. Shoot it in RAW format, and be careful about windy weather.

By the way, YouTube might help also. Just look for macro photography or similar. I learned a lot just by watching simple tips and tricks.


For extreme macro photography, you're gonna need a bit of speciality equipment. In Canon world,

  • An alternative lens is a wide angle lens mounted in reverse. You need a reverse mount adapter that connects to the front of the lens and to the front of your extension tube. I do this with a Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 reversed in front of a Canon 7D and various extension tubes and other converters in between. – Skaperen Aug 14 '13 at 2:30

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