Best time to shoot insects?

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DannH
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Best time to shoot insects?
10 months ago

Hi all,

Was curious what time of the day people find it best to shoot insects. Usually I shoot on days where there is cloud cover between 9am - 11.30am. The insects are normally active but there's lots about to get a couple of willing subjects. After hearing lot's of people saying it's good to shoot early mornings as they're less active I decided to head out a bit earlier for once in the hope they would still be asleep and also that I may capture some dew drops on them. Although there was lots of subjects, which would have been good at 2:1 - 3:1, I didn't see anything that was large enough to shoot at 1:1 or lower. Was I just unlucky or are early mornings just for extreme macro?

bgD300
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to DannH, 10 months ago

You will find different species at different parts of the day.  They will be a lot more active as the heat goes up but some will wait out the heat of the day.

Of course, here on the coast, as the heat comes in so does the wind.  I don't even try to get to 1:1 outdoors and rely on cropping to get 'closer'

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SteB
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to DannH, 10 months ago

DannH wrote:

Hi all,

Was curious what time of the day people find it best to shoot insects. Usually I shoot on days where there is cloud cover between 9am - 11.30am. The insects are normally active but there's lots about to get a couple of willing subjects. After hearing lot's of people saying it's good to shoot early mornings as they're less active I decided to head out a bit earlier for once in the hope they would still be asleep and also that I may capture some dew drops on them. Although there was lots of subjects, which would have been good at 2:1 - 3:1, I didn't see anything that was large enough to shoot at 1:1 or lower. Was I just unlucky or are early mornings just for extreme macro?

A lot depends what you want to shoot and where. If you are in the UK you need to be aware that after the cold Spring, insect numbers are still well down on normal.

For instance photographing pollinators in flowers often requires some warm weather and direct sun, with no cool breeze for them to actually feed. On days with a cool breeze you won't find many pollinators feeding in flowers.

On the subject of early morning macros. Potentially you can find almost any sized insects early morning. However you need to appreciate that you will only ever find a very small proportion of insects in area, early morning. Most insects are hidden in deep cover and are not easily found. I know this from long experience. You go out at first light and find a moderate amount or very few. As it starts to warm up lots more insects start to appear.

My general impression gained over a lot of years in a UK context is the amount of insects you will find early morning is related to the numbers of them you tend to find in that area. So if there are large populations of a lot of insects, of a wide variety of species you will find more, than if their numbers and variety are lower in a given place. This might sound obvious. However, I've found on many sites that you don't find a great deal at first light. Often you can struggle to find enough to make the trip worthwhile, and I'm very observant.

The false impression that you get from some accounts of macro photography is that you will find all the insects that were flying around during the day sleeping on grass stems and vegetation early morning. This is not my experience. It may be on some particularly rich sites, or in parts of the world with high densities of insects that you will find a lot, but this is not that common across a lot of the UK. Also a lot depends on the evening. If it was warm late in the evening, you will find more, because more get trapped out in the open when the sun suddenly goes down. Whereas if it is not so good in the evening, most insects will have already gone into cover well before the sun goes down, so less are trapped in places where you are likely to find them. Insects don't want to be trapped out in sight as the sun comes up, as they are easily picked off by birds.

Evenings and the last rays of the sun can be good for finding resting insects, because they tend to congregate in the few places the direct sun is catching to catch the last rays. The side of trees etc. Just look for sheltered spots catching the last rays.

Insects are not evenly distributed around sites either. You will find far more in sun traps, and places sheltered from the wind. Early morning insects also seem to be aware of where the sun rises, so you find more in places which catch the first direct sun.

Whilst it did end up being more about dragonflies, you might be interesed in this thread I started about 5 years back on the link below.

Approaching insects to photograph them

A lot of books give the impression that Dragonflies are best photographed early morning when less active. However my experience is that on many sites you simply won't find any, even if you see quite a lot during the day. Even on sites with a lot of dragonflies, you only tend to find a few early morning, even after a lot of searching. This is the other thing, it is a learning curve. The ability to find insects in the early morning requires quite a bit of experience, patient searching, and knowing where to look

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DannH
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to SteB, 10 months ago

SteB wrote:

DannH wrote:

Hi all,

Was curious what time of the day people find it best to shoot insects. Usually I shoot on days where there is cloud cover between 9am - 11.30am. The insects are normally active but there's lots about to get a couple of willing subjects. After hearing lot's of people saying it's good to shoot early mornings as they're less active I decided to head out a bit earlier for once in the hope they would still be asleep and also that I may capture some dew drops on them. Although there was lots of subjects, which would have been good at 2:1 - 3:1, I didn't see anything that was large enough to shoot at 1:1 or lower. Was I just unlucky or are early mornings just for extreme macro?

A lot depends what you want to shoot and where. If you are in the UK you need to be aware that after the cold Spring, insect numbers are still well down on normal.

For instance photographing pollinators in flowers often requires some warm weather and direct sun, with no cool breeze for them to actually feed. On days with a cool breeze you won't find many pollinators feeding in flowers.

On the subject of early morning macros. Potentially you can find almost any sized insects early morning. However you need to appreciate that you will only ever find a very small proportion of insects in area, early morning. Most insects are hidden in deep cover and are not easily found. I know this from long experience. You go out at first light and find a moderate amount or very few. As it starts to warm up lots more insects start to appear.

My general impression gained over a lot of years in a UK context is the amount of insects you will find early morning is related to the numbers of them you tend to find in that area. So if there are large populations of a lot of insects, of a wide variety of species you will find more, than if their numbers and variety are lower in a given place. This might sound obvious. However, I've found on many sites that you don't find a great deal at first light. Often you can struggle to find enough to make the trip worthwhile, and I'm very observant.

The false impression that you get from some accounts of macro photography is that you will find all the insects that were flying around during the day sleeping on grass stems and vegetation early morning. This is not my experience. It may be on some particularly rich sites, or in parts of the world with high densities of insects that you will find a lot, but this is not that common across a lot of the UK. Also a lot depends on the evening. If it was warm late in the evening, you will find more, because more get trapped out in the open when the sun suddenly goes down. Whereas if it is not so good in the evening, most insects will have already gone into cover well before the sun goes down, so less are trapped in places where you are likely to find them. Insects don't want to be trapped out in sight as the sun comes up, as they are easily picked off by birds.

Evenings and the last rays of the sun can be good for finding resting insects, because they tend to congregate in the few places the direct sun is catching to catch the last rays. The side of trees etc. Just look for sheltered spots catching the last rays.

Insects are not evenly distributed around sites either. You will find far more in sun traps, and places sheltered from the wind. Early morning insects also seem to be aware of where the sun rises, so you find more in places which catch the first direct sun.

Whilst it did end up being more about dragonflies, you might be interesed in this thread I started about 5 years back on the link below.

Approaching insects to photograph them

A lot of books give the impression that Dragonflies are best photographed early morning when less active. However my experience is that on many sites you simply won't find any, even if you see quite a lot during the day. Even on sites with a lot of dragonflies, you only tend to find a few early morning, even after a lot of searching. This is the other thing, it is a learning curve. The ability to find insects in the early morning requires quite a bit of experience, patient searching, and knowing where to look

Thanks for the detailed response, I'm also in the UK so a lot of that sounds familiar. Interesting read on your link as well, of course all subjects are different but would you say the approach and stop process relates to most insects or just dragonflies? I've always tried to approach slowly but normally just as 1 movement.

As for what I like to shoot... Mainly different types of flies (hoverfly, robberfly, snipe flies etc), bee's (wasn't expecting these to be out yet) but pretty much any subject really. True about the cold spring, I knew there would be less in the morning but was just a bit surprised to see how little. Could be that the mornings are still very cold in the UK. Like you said in an earlier statement about the false impression, I was expecting to find at least a few subjects sleeping on grass stems... I wonder if this impression comes from photographers shooting in hotter countries? or is it just that the weather has been really bad so far this year.

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SteB
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to DannH, 10 months ago

DannH wrote:

Thanks for the detailed response, I'm also in the UK so a lot of that sounds familiar. Interesting read on your link as well, of course all subjects are different but would you say the approach and stop process relates to most insects or just dragonflies? I've always tried to approach slowly but normally just as 1 movement.

As for what I like to shoot... Mainly different types of flies (hoverfly, robberfly, snipe flies etc), bee's (wasn't expecting these to be out yet) but pretty much any subject really. True about the cold spring, I knew there would be less in the morning but was just a bit surprised to see how little. Could be that the mornings are still very cold in the UK. Like you said in an earlier statement about the false impression, I was expecting to find at least a few subjects sleeping on grass stems... I wonder if this impression comes from photographers shooting in hotter countries? or is it just that the weather has been really bad so far this year.

Yes, the stop start rapid habituation technique works with most insects and invertebrates. It even works with Common Lizards. I've got a trick where I can rest my finger beside a basking but fully active Lizard. Sometimes they will even climb on my finger. Yet there their reactions are so quick, that if you have your hands either side of them, they can move faster than you can close your hands.

For some reason it doesn't fool Bees who always see you as another creature. If Bees let you get close, it's because they know you are there but are ignoring you, or they are too cold to move. Whereas most other invertebrates and some vertebrates just forget about you and see you as part of the surroundings. Habituation is the key trick and I learned about it when studying ethology, animal behaviour, as an undergrad. Basically it is when animals get used to something they would normally regard as a danger, and after they just accept you. Most Wildlife movie camera-people use this trick. Sometimes it can take few years to habituate a wild animal before it starts to ignore them. The spectacular footage we see on TV can take years of preparation to get.

The cold Spring has certainly meant things are unusual. It's funny seeing Bluebells out in near mid-June, with trees leaves out and the canopy closing. I was out in the evening yesterday seeing what was around, as it was a still warm evening and things like to bask. There was much less about than you would normally expect at this time of the year. I'm primarily a naturalist and nature observer than just a photographer, so I take notice of what is going on, rather than just concentrating on getting photos.

I don't travel much so I can't say much about other countries. However, my impression is that it is down to the range and amount of insects present, as to what you find earlier mornings. So other warmer countries have a much greater range of species than we have in the UK, and bigger species can occur in larger numbers. I think early morning you will only find a tiny fraction of the insects present, as if we can find them, so can birds. In other words the ones stuck in the open are an accident, as they prefer to be out of the way at first light so they don't become bird food. Having said that I do regularly find all the groups of species you mention at first light. Just a lot less than you see after it has warmed up and they become more active.

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polizonte
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to DannH, 10 months ago

Here in New Hampshire, I photograph insects and arachnids at night; an LED headlamp to focus manually and SB700 flash.

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bgD300
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I call that 'grazing'
In reply to SteB, 10 months ago

I think like something that is hunting or grazing.  Don't walk directly toward anything, it's OK to look at them as you move in but, don't try sustained eye contact (or look hungry).  Walk slowly on diagonals or in the same direction the critter is moving and eventually you will converge.  Stop occasionally, squat or kneel for a few seconds from time to time.  Move your camera in picture taking motions so that becomes a part of your natural movement to them.

Here is a shot of a wild doe taken with my 70-300mm at 70mm.  It took more than half an hour to make the approach and she was becoming suspicious.  I went to kneel for a better shot and my knee gave out.  When I made that sudden move, she took off.  Running like a deer.

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SteB
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Re: I call that 'grazing'
In reply to bgD300, 10 months ago

@bgD300

You did very well to get that close and you obviously have very good field skills. As you say if you show a none threatening posture, you can get close. The key is being aware of your subject, and seeing how it reacts. I use this a lot when approaching butterflies. For instance I have found butterflies with flick their wings open, even the ones without eyespots. In Butterfly speak, this says I've seen you, don't bother coming any closer or I'll fly off. This is an indication to a predator not to waste it's time.

Birds communicate in a similar way. Lots of them will do a quick dip when you are approaching them. Again it means I have seen you, and I'll fly off if you come any closer. Predators soon learn this, and they break off their stalk. It saves the energy of both prey and predator. If you learn to read these small signs you can use it to your advantage. Wait, and let whatever it is relax, before nudging forward again. Insects, with the possible exception of bees, aren't bothered about eye contact. However they do know when you are pursuing them. I have found that if you continue to follow butterflies, bees and dragonflies around in a certain area, that they will all eventually all leave the area. They seem to regard this behaviour as predatory, and do not stay in an area with an active predator.

I had an incredible experience with a Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus doe a few years back when photographing insects early in the morning. These are the shyest of deer, and true ghosts of the woods. I surprised this doe when I arrived. She watched me from cover as I notice they usually do. I think it is to see if you are pursuing them. I took a few shots with my 150mm macro lens at range. It was still not yet fully light. and then I deliberately turned away to indicate to the doe that I was not following her. We can communicate a lot to animals with bodly language if we understand their body language, and we display gestures they understand.

I never expected to see her again, and I expected her to leave. I got on with looking for insects. Incredibly she reappeared from cover and started to graze in the woodland clearing I was in. I deliberately showed disinterest in her. And she came ever more relaxed. I made no attempt to hide. Eventually she let me get closer and closer. I was then standing up photorgraphing her. Initially she was slightly disturbed by the shutter sound, and then eventually ignored it. She spent over 2 hours with me. I took hundreds of photographs of her with my macro lens, and video with my compact camera. She heard someone several hundred metres/yards away, and just disappeared into cover. They had a dog with them, and I was worried it would find her, it didn't. I thought I would not see her again. The incredibly minutes after they had gone, she reappeared at my side. This happened when 2 more people passed by. Their ears are independely directional. At first she always kept one ear locked on me, then eventually she trusted me so much, she pointed both ears away from me.

The link to the whole set including videos below (not the best video quality as the compact I used then wasn't good wtih video, but it shows how relazed she was with me, as I was standing up in the open).

The full set, includinging videos

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NancyP
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Thanks, SteB.
In reply to SteB, 10 months ago

Thanks for your experience, and for reminding us that the insects aren't just "photographic subjects" but have their own behaviours and habitats.

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Have you had success recording "eyeshine" in hunting spiders?
In reply to polizonte, 10 months ago

I am enamored of the homely wolf spider, in daylight an unprepossessing gray hairy spider, at night the source of "fairy dust" sparkles on the forest floor, if you are hiking with a headlamp on. Tiny eyes, big eyeshine (retinal reflection).

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Steve Balcombe
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to DannH, 10 months ago

On hot summer days, late afternoon can be a good time. As the air gets cooler the flying insects are still active so you can find them, but they settle more often and for longer. And crawling insects seek out sunny spots for warmth so they are out in the open.

Late afternoon sun is good for photography too. It's much less harsh than the middle of the day, but still bright enough for natural light macros.

Here's a good example of insects seeking out the sun. This was a sunny patch of a few square metres in a wooded area. The whole patch had this density of damselflies, which numbered thousands altogether.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebalcombe/8918128048/

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polizonte
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Re: Have you had success recording "eyeshine" in hunting spiders?
In reply to NancyP, 10 months ago

No shine yet, I try to bounce the flash...bring extra DEET, 3 watt LED headlamps will attract mosquitoes like crazy; while the bright light might stop raccoons and some other nocturnal fauna for easier composing & manual focus, skunks react faster than I can focus. I learned, it was not pretty.

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HeinzL
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to DannH, 10 months ago

I like late afternoon when the shadows are longer and light is not so harsh. Also can see the display better in manual focus mode with focus magnification. Got these pictures recently: http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51622494
sun and clouds. Tiny fly on a tiny flower at 1500m altitude. Can anybody answer the question: is this a female that lays an egg or just sh.. ?
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DannH
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to Steve Balcombe, 10 months ago

Steve Balcombe wrote:

On hot summer days, late afternoon can be a good time. As the air gets cooler the flying insects are still active so you can find them, but they settle more often and for longer. And crawling insects seek out sunny spots for warmth so they are out in the open.

Late afternoon sun is good for photography too. It's much less harsh than the middle of the day, but still bright enough for natural light macros.

Here's a good example of insects seeking out the sun. This was a sunny patch of a few square metres in a wooded area. The whole patch had this density of damselflies, which numbered thousands altogether.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebalcombe/8918128048/

That's a nice find (beats my find of 1 of them so far this year) i've tried a few sunny days in the morning (about 3 hours after sunrise) but always find it gives horrible glare on the subject and you lose too much detail in the eyes. Is late afternoon light generally better than the mornings?

SteB wrote:

@bgD300

You did very well to get that close and you obviously have very good field skills. As you say if you show a none threatening posture, you can get close. The key is being aware of your subject, and seeing how it reacts. I use this a lot when approaching butterflies. For instance I have found butterflies with flick their wings open, even the ones without eyespots. In Butterfly speak, this says I've seen you, don't bother coming any closer or I'll fly off. This is an indication to a predator not to waste it's time.

Birds communicate in a similar way. Lots of them will do a quick dip when you are approaching them. Again it means I have seen you, and I'll fly off if you come any closer. Predators soon learn this, and they break off their stalk. It saves the energy of both prey and predator. If you learn to read these small signs you can use it to your advantage. Wait, and let whatever it is relax, before nudging forward again. Insects, with the possible exception of bees, aren't bothered about eye contact. However they do know when you are pursuing them. I have found that if you continue to follow butterflies, bees and dragonflies around in a certain area, that they will all eventually all leave the area. They seem to regard this behaviour as predatory, and do not stay in an area with an active predator.

I had an incredible experience with a Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus doe a few years back when photographing insects early in the morning. These are the shyest of deer, and true ghosts of the woods. I surprised this doe when I arrived. She watched me from cover as I notice they usually do. I think it is to see if you are pursuing them. I took a few shots with my 150mm macro lens at range. It was still not yet fully light. and then I deliberately turned away to indicate to the doe that I was not following her. We can communicate a lot to animals with bodly language if we understand their body language, and we display gestures they understand.

I never expected to see her again, and I expected her to leave. I got on with looking for insects. Incredibly she reappeared from cover and started to graze in the woodland clearing I was in. I deliberately showed disinterest in her. And she came ever more relaxed. I made no attempt to hide. Eventually she let me get closer and closer. I was then standing up photorgraphing her. Initially she was slightly disturbed by the shutter sound, and then eventually ignored it. She spent over 2 hours with me. I took hundreds of photographs of her with my macro lens, and video with my compact camera. She heard someone several hundred metres/yards away, and just disappeared into cover. They had a dog with them, and I was worried it would find her, it didn't. I thought I would not see her again. The incredibly minutes after they had gone, she reappeared at my side. This happened when 2 more people passed by. Their ears are independely directional. At first she always kept one ear locked on me, then eventually she trusted me so much, she pointed both ears away from me.

The link to the whole set including videos below (not the best video quality as the compact I used then wasn't good wtih video, but it shows how relazed she was with me, as I was standing up in the open).

The full set, includinging videos

An interesting read there, learnt something new about butterflies, thanks. I never realized bee's reacted that way, they never sit still but from what I have seen they don't seem too bothered about the presence of humans.

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Steve Balcombe
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to DannH, 10 months ago

DannH wrote:

... i've tried a few sunny days in the morning (about 3 hours after sunrise) but always find it gives horrible glare on the subject and you lose too much detail in the eyes. Is late afternoon light generally better than the mornings?

I wouldn't say so, no.

The dilemma with dragonflies and to a lesser extent damselflies is that they are most active in sunshine but very bright sunshine is too harsh.

The amount of glare actually varies from species to species - some are shinier. Sometimes I use diffuse flash and that works very well, but you need to use it in conjunction with good ambient light so the background doesn't go too dark.

With practice you learn to avoid problems such as the sun reflecting on the wings and burning them out. It's like any photography really - knowing your subject, getting the light right, composing rather than just aiming, and so on. The great thing about digital is it costs nothing to just get out there and make the mistakes, and learn from them.

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Gpruitt54
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to bgD300, 10 months ago

bgD300 wrote:

You will find different species at different parts of the day.  They will be a lot more active as the heat goes up but some will wait out the heat of the day.

Of course, here on the coast, as the heat comes in so does the wind.  I don't even try to get to 1:1 outdoors and rely on cropping to get 'closer'

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So, how much are you cropping? How close are you getting to the insects on order to get good frame filling shots after cropping ofcourse?

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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to SteB, 10 months ago

Thank you SteB, very informative post

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bgD300
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to Gpruitt54, 10 months ago

Wow, only 5 days to get a reply editor to come up.

Here are the original full frame shots from the images above resized for compactness,=.

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M R Padmaraju
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to DannH, 10 months ago

Any time of the day,round the clock . Different insects present themselves at different times. only our interest and attitude matters.

mrp.

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robertorinehart
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Re: Best time to shoot insects?
In reply to SteB, 10 months ago

SteB wrote:

DannH wrote:

Hi all,

Was curious what time of the day people find it best to shoot insects. Usually I shoot on days where there is cloud cover between 9am - 11.30am. The insects are normally active but there's lots about to get a couple of willing subjects. After hearing lot's of people saying it's good to shoot early mornings as they're less active I decided to head out a bit earlier for once in the hope they would still be asleep and also that I may capture some dew drops on them. Although there was lots of subjects, which would have been good at 2:1 - 3:1, I didn't see anything that was large enough to shoot at 1:1 or lower. Was I just unlucky or are early mornings just for extreme macro?

A lot depends what you want to shoot and where. If you are in the UK you need to be aware that after the cold Spring, insect numbers are still well down on normal.

For instance photographing pollinators in flowers often requires some warm weather and direct sun, with no cool breeze for them to actually feed. On days with a cool breeze you won't find many pollinators feeding in flowers.

On the subject of early morning macros. Potentially you can find almost any sized insects early morning. However you need to appreciate that you will only ever find a very small proportion of insects in area, early morning. Most insects are hidden in deep cover and are not easily found. I know this from long experience. You go out at first light and find a moderate amount or very few. As it starts to warm up lots more insects start to appear.

My general impression gained over a lot of years in a UK context is the amount of insects you will find early morning is related to the numbers of them you tend to find in that area. So if there are large populations of a lot of insects, of a wide variety of species you will find more, than if their numbers and variety are lower in a given place. This might sound obvious. However, I've found on many sites that you don't find a great deal at first light. Often you can struggle to find enough to make the trip worthwhile, and I'm very observant.

The false impression that you get from some accounts of macro photography is that you will find all the insects that were flying around during the day sleeping on grass stems and vegetation early morning. This is not my experience. It may be on some particularly rich sites, or in parts of the world with high densities of insects that you will find a lot, but this is not that common across a lot of the UK. Also a lot depends on the evening. If it was warm late in the evening, you will find more, because more get trapped out in the open when the sun suddenly goes down. Whereas if it is not so good in the evening, most insects will have already gone into cover well before the sun goes down, so less are trapped in places where you are likely to find them. Insects don't want to be trapped out in sight as the sun comes up, as they are easily picked off by birds.

Evenings and the last rays of the sun can be good for finding resting insects, because they tend to congregate in the few places the direct sun is catching to catch the last rays. The side of trees etc. Just look for sheltered spots catching the last rays.

Insects are not evenly distributed around sites either. You will find far more in sun traps, and places sheltered from the wind. Early morning insects also seem to be aware of where the sun rises, so you find more in places which catch the first direct sun.

Whilst it did end up being more about dragonflies, you might be interesed in this thread I started about 5 years back on the link below.

Approaching insects to photograph them

A lot of books give the impression that Dragonflies are best photographed early morning when less active. However my experience is that on many sites you simply won't find any, even if you see quite a lot during the day. Even on sites with a lot of dragonflies, you only tend to find a few early morning, even after a lot of searching. This is the other thing, it is a learning curve. The ability to find insects in the early morning requires quite a bit of experience, patient searching, and knowing where to look

Thanks for the advice! and the link...pretty useful stuff.

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