javier aznar sony alpha 7RM4 a single butterfly sitting on a leaf stem

How I Shoot | Insect Photography

Javier Aznar

I have been a nature lover since I was a child, but it was at university studying biology that I began to really take wildlife photos. After university, I decided to become a professional photographer and travelled Ecuador where I spent three years creating my first photography projects. Over the years I’ve shot various species, but recently the majority of my projects have focused on insects.

Learning about your subject

Insects are everywhere, which is why they make great subjects to photograph. You can find them in your garden, on the street, in a park and even in your house. Before you start photographing them, take the time to read about them so you learn about their daily activities and get an idea of when, where and how to find them. There’s a lot of fun out there, you just need to look close enough.

javier aznar sony alpha 7RM3 a dragonfly clings to a plant stem with the city visible in the distance

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R III + FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/160s @ f/16, ISO 800

Insects behave in different ways, so you’ll need to use different techniques to photograph them. For example, the picture of the dragonfly was taken early in the morning when the temperature was low and it was cold and relaxed. Using a tripod and my FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens I was able to get really close without it moving. Once the sun is up, dragonflies get hot and start flying so it would be impossible to get a close shot, which is why it is important to know these small details. All it takes is knowledge and some practice – and a bit of luck of course.

javier aznar sony alpha 7RM3 a larva hangs in an orange net

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R III + FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS | 1/200s @ f/5.6, ISO 6400

Field Work

There is never a typical day, or night, shooting. Everything is dependent on the animal you are capturing. Insects tend to be easier to photograph as there are usually more of them, compared to mammals, so there are many more chances to photograph certain behaviours.

javier aznar sony alpha 7RM3 a grasshopper sits on a curled green shoot against a dark background

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R III + FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/160s @ f/13, ISO 160

My recent insect work has seen me taking my Sony α7R III & α7R IV and lenses into the rainforest, usually at night. I will spend most of the night taking photos and get as little as three hours sleep. I get so excited as there are so many different creatures out that if I sleep, I just feel like I am wasting time.

javier aznar sony alpha 7RM4 a group of green bugs crawling over a mans outstretched hands

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R IV + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/200s @ f/16, ISO 50

The locations of my projects aren’t always extreme, but they still come with their own sets of challenges. For example, the picture below was taken for the Dominical Newspaper in Spain about Asian Hornets which had been causing several problems, including killing thousands of native bees used to make honey. One of the farmers had taken matters into his own hands and constructed electrical fences close to the apiaries to kill the wasps and to save his bees. I had to take photos of the device in a beekeeper’s suit, whilst trying not to touch the electric strings – which was impossible. I was electrocuted a number of times but I stuck through it in order to get the perfect shot.

javier aznar sony alpha 7RM3 close up of a wasp curled up around a thread

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R III + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/80s @ f/16, ISO 50

Shooting at night and day

At night I travel light. Usually I will bring my Sony α7R IV and maybe my α7R III, which I use as a back-up, along with my FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro and FE 90mm Macro lenses. I also bring a flash to light the insects. As I have full control over the power of the flash, I set my camera up completely manually to get the exposure I want. I set the shutter speed to the 1/250th sec maximum speed that I can use with the flash, and then I select the aperture and the power of the flash, and adjust as I need to. Once I have my settings, I can usually keep them fixed for a nights shooting.

javier aznar sony alpha 7RM3 a large bug clinging to a mans arm against a dark background

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R III + FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro | 1/160s @ f/11, ISO 80

In daylight, I will usually be photographing mammals or birds, so it is important to be ready. The animals are much more prone to spotting you and running and hiding compared to insects. However, I will also pack the 90mm F/2.8 macro lens so that I can change lenses should I see a something smaller I want to photograph.

javier aznar sony alpha 7RM4 a group of butterflies relaxing by the side of a pond

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R IV + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/50s @ f/22, ISO 400

As there is more light during the day I am happy to put the α7R IV in to aperture priority mode, so that I can just set an appropriate ISO sensitivity and not have to worry too much about shutter speed. As for focusing, I use Real-time autofocus tracking, which works just perfectly. When you combine that with the 61 megapixel sensor and 10fps shooting rate of the α7R IV, it really is the best camera on the market for wildlife photography.

Creating context

An ideal wildlife image for me is when the photo makes you feel something - there has to be a response. It is not just about capturing a moment. Just like any other type of photography you still need to have great composition and good light, but it is a mix of things that create a great wildlife image.

 javier aznar sony alpha 7RM3 close up of a winged bug hanging upside down under a leaf

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R III + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/160s @ f/14, ISO 100

As my projects often involve an animal’s relationship with people, it is quite common for me to include people in my images to help tell the whole story. I want to show what my idea of conservation is and raise awareness around the insects that are the object of my work right now. The photos of people are important as they raise awareness and connect the human and animal behaviours. I don’t want to just share the beauty of the insects, but also share our relationship with them.

javier aznar sony alpha 7RM3 a bowl full of grubs ready to be cooked

© Javier Aznar | Sony α7R III + FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA | 1/160s @ f/11, ISO 100

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Javier Aznar

Javier Aznar | Spain

"To preserve, we must first know and love what we can lose, and photography is a useful tool to sensitise and show what surrounds us. With my camera I try to show animals in their purest form, from a biological point of view and at the same time, artistic"

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