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Macro Photography: Insects and Plant Life

Lesson 9 of 15

How To Find And Approach Subjects

Chris McGinnis

Macro Photography: Insects and Plant Life

Chris McGinnis

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Lesson Info

9. How To Find And Approach Subjects


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:01:39
2 Location Scouting Duration:02:59
3 What is Macro Photography Duration:02:09
5 Gear Duration:11:20
6 Preparing for Outdoor Macro Duration:02:00
7 Camera Settings Duration:06:48
10 Textures and Focus Stacking Duration:01:43
11 How to Get the Shot Duration:15:23
12 Using Macro Flash Set Duration:02:44
13 Post-Processing: Crane Fly Duration:10:04
14 Post-Processing: Bee Duration:14:57

Lesson Info

How To Find And Approach Subjects

So we're on location, we're out here, we've got this rock field, we've got a big dead tree here with all kinds of dead bark. Which is a great place to look inside these little nooks and crannies. We have vegetation off to this side. Out beyond we have some water and I'm going to look around, see what I can here I think there's going to be a lot of great stuff. So it's pretty early in the morning here, we've got some I see a long legged fly or maybe a tiny little Robber fly here. I may be able to get a quick shot. So I'm going to take a test shot over here just in case it flies away before I get in. Let's focus on a leaf. And that's pretty good. And it already flew away. So we'll keep looking. So usually when you find insect life on a plant, there's other insect life like that on that same plant. So I already know that that fly was sitting here, sunning itself, drinking a little drop of dew, if I look around here, I'm probably going to find more. Sometimes when you're out in the field, ...

especially at a place like this, we're at a large state park. It can be overwhelming and you might think Oh I need to venture deep off the beaten path to find something, that's not always the case. Whether you're at a huge state or national park or just in your own backyard, slow down, find a bush, find a plant, find something where you've seen other life and stick with it. The more you can slow down mentally and physically, the better chance you have of finding some life. So this big plant here has all kinds of life around it. I see a bee up this way, I see a long legged fly here, I see some hover flies around. So I know there's opportunity. So this is the kind of thing where I would stop and I would probably spend some time here. I'll spend a few minutes seeing if I could find anything cooperative, find any opportunities, if I don't, I'm going to move on. If I do, I might stay here for 10, 20, 30 minutes and shoot away but if not, there's lots of other places where you might find opportunities to shoot. So let's stick around here for a minute and see if I can find anything. When you're looking for insects or spiders, it's good to look for a couple of things. One is contrast. That could be really tough because a lot of insects and spiders are very camouflaged but any contrast to the plant is going to be an indication that there's something there or maybe something that's alive. Also you're going to look for movement. So the plant is going to be pretty stationary other than maybe some wind. But as you're approaching, maybe you scare an insect or a spider. It takes a few steps or flies away and you can kind of zero in on that area and you know that's a good spot to shoot. So I'm really focusing on this area of this bush because the sun is coming from behind and I'm getting light through the leaves. So if I can find something in this area, I think it's going to make for a really interesting photo. And those are the kind of things that, those are the bonuses right? So you can't control where the bugs are but if you find a spot that you think is going to make for a nice composition. Spend a little extra time there, see if you can find anything because if you do then you have a better chance of a really nice shot. It's one thing to get an insect in focus and properly exposed and show a lot of detail, it's even better if you can add an element of the environment to that shot. So I can see the exoskeleton of a small fly here that has malted, that tells me that there are flies around. It's just a matter of finding one that's willing to have it's photo taken today. Before moving on from a location that you think is promising always remember to change levels. So the natural instinct is to look at eye level, we walk through the woods, we walk through the trails and we look at our eye level. But my eye level has nothing to do with where the insects want to be. So look up, look down, so just as I look up I see a bee flying here and get down close to the ground. If you still don't find anything, then it's time to move on. So I found the tiniest little beetle on the underside of this leaf. I'll try to get myself into position where I can maybe get a shot. I don't think it's going to move too much. When I move my diffuser, my secondary diffuser out of the way, because I'm bumping into the leaves. I'm going to bend it around just a little bit to hold that shape that wraps around my subject. And just work my way in. I have the 60 millimeter macro here with no adapter. So that means my working distance is about 3 inches from the end of my lenses. And then as I find my subject, I'm hitting the focus assist button and this is very tiny. And dial my flash power up just a little bit. So we're at one quarter power right now. And that beetle is on the move. Let's just look around this side of this same bush here. And remember the same plant life can offer different opportunities for life, depending on if it's facing the sun, if it's near water or if it's facing the shade. And as we go deeper kind of into the woods, we'll see that. When there's trees with moss on them, the moss side might be different from the bark side of the tree. You'll find all kinds of spiders and beetles and things hiding out or different types of flies that rest in the moss So here I got a tiny beetle of some sort up at the top of this plant. I'm going to try to shoot from underneath, up towards the sky. I think that I can get a straight on shot from this angle, so I'm going to flip my live view LCD out and tilt it up so I can, I don't have to put my face into the plant and disturb anything. But I can shoot upward at my subject. (Camera Shutter Clicking) So since I'm shaking a bit, I'm not sure if I'm in focus, I'm missing focus a little. Sometimes I'll take two or three shots in a row. I'm trying to get it on the first shot but just in case, I'll hold my finger down, maybe I get lucky on that second or third shot. I'm going to take just a couple more, I'm going to reposition myself. I'm going to go up to my eye now. I think I can get into position to do so and I'm going to move the plant gently to hopefully be a little more stable. This is much better. And again, I'm working with my focus assist. I'm magnified to an additional 3x and that lets me really search for the front of the eyes of my subject. Slowly pushing in, I can finally identify what I'm shooting, it's a little tiny black weevil. And now that I got a couple shots I'm going to get a little bit bolder with what I'm doing. Try and control this, do the same thing. So since this subject's pretty cooperative and also pretty tiny, I'm going to add my Raynox DCR-250 adapter to the end of my 60 millimeter macro. That's going to give me even additional zoom or additional magnification rather. But it's important to know when you're using a super macro lens or macro adapter, it makes things a lot harder. It makes it harder because your depth of field is limited and every vibration is magnified or amplified. So I've got some good shots, I'm happy with them, I want to see if I can take to that next level and add some magnification to get some real detail. I've got my Raynox DCR-250. I use a step ring to attach to my 60 macro. This simply screws on to the end. The DCR-250 also comes with a snap on clip ring, which is great for other size lenses, I like using the filter thread and now I'm ready. It's important to remember that when you use an adapter like this, your working distance reduces. So I'm going down to maybe an inch and three quarters or two inches of working distance. You need to get closer to your subject, that could be more difficult because they might fly away or run away and as I said, all of your vibrations, movement, everything is increased but if I can get in a comfortable position, get a good angle, I think we'll get a good shot. So I'm working at a one to one magnification plus my Raynox adapter and then I'm using focus assist to go in, I'm going to look at 3X to really try to find the eyes of my subject. So as I'm trying to get the optimal shot I'm touching the plant, I'm moving things around but I'm really not disturbing nature. I don't wanna break branches or touch the bug or anything like that. You know this insect is allowing me to photograph it, I don't need to ruin his day so he can make mine. We just found this tiny fly in the rocks, it seems to kind of just hanging out so I'm going to see if I can get in real tight for a shot with the Raynox. Again I have that the end of my 60, this is going to add an additional 2.5X magnification. The overall yield is about 3.5X when you combine it with the 60 macro, maybe 3.25X, it doesn't really matter it's getting you closer and that's really what you should worry about. Since this is a fly and it's pretty common, I'm not too worried about scaring it away. If I miss this shot, no big deal. So I'm really focusing on getting exactly what I want and if I miss the shot, I'm going to move on and find something else. So since I know my minimum working distance is about inch and three quarters from the end of my lens when I'm working with the Raynox, I can get myself right to that position and start looking for my subject. Very careful not to go too fast and startle the subject or scare it away. Turned around on me, it's still there. It's pretty cool right now, these rocks are cool. When it's cool outside, insects are pretty inactive, which gives you great opportunities to get your shot. So now I'm able to frame my shot. I hit my focus assist to get that eye nice and big on my LCD So flies, as common as they are, are one of my favorite things to shoot. Because they have really intricate bodies, they have really cool eyes, a lot of times their eyes are bright colors. So you can get really neat shots of a pretty common subject and show it in a way that people aren't really used to seeing them. When shooting a subject that has a compound eye like a fly, I'm setting my focus point or I'm adjusting my focus to point at the front of the eye. So as the eye bends towards you or curves towards you, we want to get that point in focus. The compound eyes are the most interesting part of a photograph, even if everything else is in focus or something else is in focus, you have beautiful composition, your shot can kind of be ruined if you don't have that point in focus.

Class Description


  • Understand Macro Photography and how to begin shooting it
  • Know what gear to bring and how to set up your camera
  • Find and approach your subjects, even the crawling/flying ones
  • Fast post-processing techniques to keep you on the move


Take a closer look in this beginner’s guide to macro photography and insect photography. Chris McGinnis, will dive into the world of macro photography from understanding what it is to how to shoot it. He’ll explain how to search and capture a smaller world with just the use of your camera. He’ll dive into the behaviors of insects and their relationships to plant life so that you can capture amazing images from your backyard to national parks.


  • Macro Photographers
  • Beginners
  • Hikers


Adobe Lightroom CC 2019




Chris McGinnis is a graphic designer, photographer, and macro photography enthusiast based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He obtained his degree in graphic design from Moravian College and, after a stint in the publishing world, joined the creative department at Olympus America. Chris currently works as the Senior Manager of Creative Services and oversees all phases of Olympus’ graphic design, photography, and video production. When he purchased an OM-D E-M10 in 2014, Chris vowed to shoot (and share) at least one photo each day for an entire year. After 365 days shooting, sharing, and learning, he found himself more and more interested in the details. He bought a macro lens and has never looked back. As Chris ventured deeper into the world of macro, he soon shifted his efforts toward featuring the beauty, design, and intricacy of arthropods which often go unnoticed.


Andrew Lamberson

I found the class both very informative and very motivational to get started in Macro photography. It is an entry-level class but it explains what you really need to know to be successful. I especially found the information on the value of using flash and how to modify your flash for it to be more effective especially helpful. I am an experienced wildlife photographer and have done some "Macro" with my telephoto lens, but this class motivated me to purchase a dedicated lens. I am really looking forward to spring and finding some good bugs!

Chris Baudec

Great presentation and great motivation in the post processing. I do wish that the would have been made available. After all, this is a Olympus sponsored event, and Oly settings are always welcomed.... and a tad difficult on the learning curve.

Gary Hook

Chris does a commendable job of explaining his techniques, reasons and potential pitfalls to avoid. Very thorough and much more enthusiastic about little bugs than I will ever be :-) but at the end one has a good concept on how to approach the task at hand. Nice closing with his practical examples of 'post' shoot production. One suggestion for inclusion would be some operating tips/techniques with a tripod/macro rail slider. His Olympus is way smaller/lighter than my Canon 5D so my hand holding will be at a minimum. Well done. Thank you