Here's why you want an SLR instead of a digicam

Ectatomma edentatum, Argentina

Equipment details: Canon EOS 20D, using an MP-E 65mm 1-5x lens (at 5x), lit with an MT-24EX twin flash diffused through tracing paper.

Several years ago, before I became serious about photography, I shot the same species in Paraguay with a little Nikon Coolpix 995. Here's the result:


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One question: how do you set up the insects? Do you set up the camera and wait until they wander into the field of view, or do you actively place them in one way or another? I've heard that at least some insect macro shooters advocate putting insects in the freezer to make them sluggish, then shoot them before they heat up enough to go running away. Not sure how ethical that would be though.

Oh, if I could get those types of shots just with my DSLR. I've coveted that lens for a couple years, but the street price is sadly far outside my equipment budget these days.

Your posts have all been outstanding. I have a closet interest in entomology, especially social insects. Great way to kick off the blog :)


For the stylized (=white background) shots, the ants are set up.

I've got a much better trick than using the freezer. I simply put a petri dish over the ant, and after a few minutes of running around, she usually takes a break and sits still. Then I remove the dish and take the shot. I usually get a couple seconds before the ant takes off running again.

Freezer shots don't work well, in my experience. Not only does the freezer give telltale condensation on the insect, it's also hard to get any kind of normal behavior out of a chilled subject. Legs crimp in a weird way, and so on.

In any case, I've got an article about working with ants here.

Hi Alex, amazing shot that first one. I saw my first ants of the season two days back and tried everything i possibly could to take some macro shots...gosh, are they difficult subjects or what! talking about slrs..i find it hard to look down the viewfinder at something at ground level...thinking of upgrading to a Sony A300 which has a swivel lcd and live view. Do use anything to make this easier? unfortunately Sony doesnt have the equivalent of the MP-E 65 lens. I`m depending on lens stacking for now to get the magnification.

I dream of someday being able to afford a digital SLR. Not just for the image quality, but for the short response time. The camera I'm using has a lag of about a half second between pressing the shutter and getting a picture, and a couple of seconds to recycle to the next shot. Which means that Alex's petri dish trick would probably only give me time for one shot on average. I expect that Alex's camera lets him fire off a dozen or so shots in the same time. So, I still use the refrigerator method, not because I like it particularly, but because it does at least let me get more than one picture at a time.

Of course, as it is I have spent less than $200 on camera equipment, where I expect Alex has spent thousands. You pay your money (or in my case, fail to pay your money), and you take your chances.