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I love macro photography, it gives an insight in the small world around is. Unfortunately, I'm really not good at it. When I came across an artificial beehive, I took a chance to get into the bees and try to snap some bee portraits. Out of the hundreds of pictures, only one or two are to my liking. The main thing that throws me off, is focus.

I shoot with a Canon 700D paired with an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro. Whenever I try to photograph insects from up close, I try to get as close as my lens lets me (so it can still autofocus) and take a bunch of pictures. However, time and time again the subject is only partially in focus. Below are some examples.

red wing

little bugger

bee

As you can see in these examples, it's often the case that a strip, or "band", of the environment is in focus, as one would expect, but this also causes the part of the creature that is a bit further back to be out of focus. I'd rather get rid of that band, and focus solely on the insect. Oftentimes it's things like hind lags or antennae, or the back part of the body that is out of focus but I'd want to be able to have the whole insect into focus. I'm not sure how to approach this.

Two things that I have considered, but I'm not sure if they make sense:

  • take a step back, and take a picture from further away and then crop. But this, in turn, would cause more of surroundings to be 'in focus' and I'd like to have this blur in the environment to single out the insect.
  • post-processing to sharpen the out-of-focus areas (I'd rather not do this)
  • focus manually, but I'm not sure this would have a better result

Any other tips regarding capturing insects are welcome!

marked as duplicate by scottbb, mattdm, Community May 10 '18 at 7:28

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The main problem with macro photography is (lack of) light. The closer you get more light you will need.

Being in the field you probably take the pictures handheld - what gives you the shutter speed ca. 1/200s for sharp pictures. That is possible to achieve with F2.8 or F3.5 but the depth-of-field is very narrow.

On the other hand to have a whole object in focus you will have to go to F8 or F11. But then the shutter speed is 1/15s or longer which makes hard to keep the camera steady, not saying it is impossible to catch anything fast moving - like bees or flies.

So you need more light. There are (at least) two options: Macro Ring Flash or Macro Twin Flash. The ring one is a flash that surrounds the lens; the twin flash are two special flashes (speedlites) attached on both sides of the lens.

I used the ring flash (from Amazon, ca. 70EUR) but I wasn't satisfied with the results (it wasn't bright enough) and then I tried the twin flash.

Basically you can choose between Canon MT-26EX-RT (ca. 1000EUR) and Yongnuo YN-24EX (ca. 200EUR).

Yongnuo will fulfill 90% of your needs due to lack of Highspeed sync (it works up to 1/200s). What I get with this flash is F8-F11 with no problems (all in manual mode, flash power set to 1/16 or 1/32). All the bugs sitting still (even bees on flowers) can be easily photographed sharply. What you won't get are bee's wings in flight (this is the 10% where you pay 800EUR more because Canon is really better).

  • I used the ring flash but I wasn't satisfied with the results and then I tried the twin flash. - May I ask why you were not impressed? – flolilo May 9 '18 at 10:32
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    The "cheap" ring flash didn't give enough light. I didn't try any better than that one so it is just my personal opinion. – Piotr Kepka May 9 '18 at 10:36
  • I am using an Orbis ring flash adapter. Basically a fiber optic thingy that surrounds the lens and emits light pumped into it by a regular, fullsize flash unit that is stuck up its bottom. You do lose a stop or two of light on the way but with a sufficienly powerful flash unit (EX 580 or something like that) feeding it that does not matter so much. It works quite well for macro, assuming that on-axis, uniform, shadeless lighting is what you want - just pump the camera ISO up as needed and stop down as much as you want. Note that even f/16 won't give you that much depth of field though. – Staale S May 9 '18 at 12:32
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Shallow depth of field is a normal problem in macro photography (but with some creativity can also be an opportunity).

  1. If your subject doesn't move, as a first thing I'd suggest you it to use a tripod and to focus manually, maybe though your camera live view display, so you can manually focus on what matters most to you.
  2. If there's enough light, or if you can add light to the scene as @piotr-kepka suggests, you can use a smaller aperture such as f/8 or f/11 to get more depth of field.
  3. A third thing you can try with a mostly static subject is a technique called focus stacking: you take several shots, with different focus points, and then merge them in a sharper picture in post processing. It requires more work, perhaps a tripod also, but can give you greater control on the depth of field of your final image.

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