When insects are cold or dewy, they are unlikely to fly away and it is possible to set up a tripod and control the lighting and background. However, subjects are hard to find when they are roosting and not everyone wants to get up at crazy o’clock in the morning, or stay out unsociably late. Also, subjects are inanimate at either end of the day and so if you want to capture elements of behaviour – such as flight, courtship, and predation – you will want to take photographs during the heat of the day when insects are active. That’s when the speed, spontaneity, and freedom of shooting handheld is the best choice.
Camera settings for handheld macro photography
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula or set-up that will work for every subject. You will need to vary and tweak your camera settings depending on the subject, the level of magnification, its surroundings, and the result you wish to achieve.
However, it is essential that you are in control of the depth of field, so I would recommend selecting Aperture Priority mode – or Manual if you prefer. I will typically select the largest practical aperture that still allows me to keep my subject acceptably sharp – typically my starting point is f/5.6 or f/8.
Whilst smaller f-stops will provide a larger zone of focus, the corresponding shutter speed will be slower and the subject’s surroundings will be less diffused and more distracting. Therefore, I often find a larger aperture is more viable when working without a tripod and I only select a small f-stop if there is sufficient light (or when I wish to achieve a more environmental feel to my close-ups).