Insects in flight with a 70-300, how I do it for jimindenver

Started Jul 14, 2010 | Discussions thread
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Trevor Carpenter
Trevor Carpenter Forum Pro • Posts: 15,867
Insects in flight with a 70-300, how I do it for jimindenver

In the recent close ups weekly thread, jimindenver asked for a tutorial on how I
capture flying insects with my 70-300. Not so much a tutorial because I'm a
long way from expert but I thought I could comment on how I got a few of my
pictures. I hope you find it has some use. All pictures E-520 and 70-300

Great light and high shutter speed goes without saying. And some standard 70-300 tricks like if you lose focus don't waste time trying to refocus on the insect instead refocus on a close by easy subject and then move onto the insect. As with other moving subjects such as planes and cars a 2/3s view may give you more time but the unpredictability of the insect means that you don't get the same level of advantage. I only use autofocus , I know people who swear it's easier with manual focus but I don't fimd manual focus with the 70-300 easy even on static easy subjects far less IIFs.

Come back slightly from the long end of the zoom, btter IQ and easier tracking result.

A knowledge of your subject, for example this picture of an Emperor has a helping hand in that Emperors patrol backward and forward over water, very often following the same track. They also do woodland rides but that is much more difficult than a watery backround. A narrow stretch of water will mean that it will come relatively close. The Emperor is a very large insect which obviously helps but it moves at speed and with a certain amount of unpredictabilty. Success rate very low.


This not very good picture of a Downy Emerald is still the best that I have managed, incredibly difficult as they rarely land and fly in very fast short bursts. Just as you think you have focus it is invariably gone. Success rate one up from impossible

This one of a Black-tailed Skimmer is a bit better. It's bit difficult to describe the technique but it's basically keep pointing and pressing the shuter button eventually you will get one. Success rate slightly better than impossible.

One of my successes of the year. Don't be fooled into thinking that
hoverflies are easy although they are easier than Dragonflies because they
hover and have a lot more predictability. This creature is Volucella
pellucans. The first I have ever taken. This was my first and after having
taken a few shots I had an incredible 50+% success rate but I have tried a
few since and had 100% failure. The big advantage of these is they hover at
eye level which believe me gives you a lot more chance just because you can
comfortably position yourself. It's also a reasonable size (small bumble bee)
and if you can get a combination of size and fairly inactive you are halfway
to cracking it.

These small hoverflies are as good as it gets. Nowhere near impossible just damn difficult. The negative side of these is that they are not very big and even if fairly static, focusing on such a small target is very difficult. The upside is they do have some predictability and if you can lock on to your target the camera finds it relatively easy to focus.

Damselflies, I can offer fairly good advice. Find somewhere that they are fairly active. Focus on something easy like this reed, stick the camera on burst and when there are some in the vicinity keep your finger on the button and you will get some half decent results. The problem is that they tend to be small not much of a target and difficult to get really sharp results. Don't even think about trying to focus on a damselfly in flight. I was very pleased with this one which has 3 different species including one in flight.

Finally butterflies my nemesis, I can get on them very occasionally but I have yet to capture anything that I am really proud of. Getting a sharp image I find impossible.

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