my macro photos - introduction and stalking (mostly) insects

This is the first of four articles about taking handheld macro photo stacks using just a camera, without the need for a tripod/monopod or any supplemental lighting. Much of the information found here can easily be adapted to suit your own needs and your own equipment. If you ever want to query anything, just leave a comment at the bottom of the page... The four articles cover these topics:

  • Introduction and how to get close to insects
  • Setting the camera and taking the stack
  • Using the stacking software
  • Further studio work

It doesn’t really cover much of the technical side of things as there’s plenty of that information already available on the web. Before I get into any detail, here’s a short list of things you’ll need (and some things you won’t) Equipment you need – a camera that’s capable of fixed focus – ideally a DSLR, but pretty much any camera will do, including smartphones (you’ll probably need to purchase an app to obtain the fixed focus required for stacking) For Higher magnifications you might need some form of adapter, extension tubes or macro lens add-on to suit your camera. So that’s it, no flash, no tripod, nothing else (although it’s always good to have a packet of chocolate biscuits handy) Back at base you’ll need stacking software (I use Zerene Stacker, but there’s a comprehensive list of available software half way down the page Also you'll need some photo editing software (I use a rather antiquated version of Photoshop but again there’s plenty to choose from). One of the most challenging things I find when taking macro photographs of live insects in their natural surroundings is simply being able to get close enough to get a decent stack. For me this is also one of the most satisfying, getting really close to something as small as a hoverfly without annoying it. If I had to say what the most important thing for my style of macro photography is, it would have to be trying to understand the behaviour of the insect (I know that's maybe not too much to do with photography, but it's important if you want to get in close to the beast to take an image stack) "what's the last thing that goes through a fly's mind when it hits the car windscreen? ... its ass" Now, I don't profess to know what a fly thinks about while it's sitting around grooming its toenails, but I'm well aware of the consequences of running up to one to get a better view - it flies away. I've noticed the same thing happens with frogs, butterflies, wasps and many other little furry creatures (okay, so the non-flying creatures don't actually fly, but you get the idea) - and the list goes on. So fast movement invokes a 'flight/flee' response from pretty much anything that can remove itself from the vicinity of a marauding human creature. To be honest I've never tried actively to make a noise when I'm approaching my subject, maybe I'll try singing to them from now on... To actually get close is quite simple - DON'T bash around like a herd of elephants, DO approach slowly and quietly. I was about 4cm away from this hoverfly when I took this stack.


You forgot to mention patience Very interesting blog so far my friend. Looking forward to upcoming posts.

ah yes, and you need a heap of patience, mainly on the approach to the beast...

Really like your macro shots on FB and I've enjoyed reading the 1st artice in the series. Looking forward to the next one..

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