Night insect photography with torch: advice welcome!

Hi, I’ve been going on quite a few night walks and spent a fair bit of time photographing insects.

The flash on my superzoom Nikon camera doesn’t work. Therefore, I’ve used a torch (Nitecore P30) and set it to 70 lumens, and relied on that to take my pictures.

Sometimes, I’m just not able to photograph a spider or a moth properly. The light just takes away all the detail, e.g. on the moth’s wing. Even when I instruct the camera to give -2.0 exposure, the results in some cases are not that good.

Also, I sometimes worry a bit whether holding a torch close to an insect might damage its eyes. Again, I almost always use a 70-lumen setting.

Your advice would be most welcome on nighttime macro photography without a camera flash.

Cheers!

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Is this problem not solved if you try to edit your photos to decrease the exposure/brightness? If so, do you have what I call a lens shade? I have a Canon EOS Rebel t6, and with my camera the lens shade can be screwed onto the lens like a jar lid.
Edit to add: I usually only need to use a lens shade when photographing subjects that are much brighter than their surroundings, like the moon, since my camera automatically adjusts how much light it lets in and isn’t always accurate about it. So sometimes I just use a lens shade to bypass waiting for manual exposure mode to do its thing.

You might try putting a simple diffuser on your flashlight. I used to tape a piece of tissue over my flash to reduce some of the overexposure and washout of details.

I use a Makita LED inspection lamp for all my nighttime photography. It’s more of a flood light than the spot-light effect you can get from a torch. I’ve found that I have to move the light around to get the best detail from reflective surfaces like moth wings but if the camera settings are right then I don’t lose much detail. I have to use manual settings on the camera but after some practice I know pretty much what settings to use. The results aren’t as good as you’d get in daylight but in some respects they can be better because you have more control over where the light falls and can pick subjects out against dark backgrounds like in the photo below.

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I have been out shooting at night for a couple of years now. The majority of those years have been mostly with phone plus clip on lens and a torch (also Nitecore), and only very recently I have changed to a setup with camera, flash, diffuser etc, with torch for focusing purposes. So I’d just like to share my experiences.

With pretty much all flashlights one might notice a super bright spot in the center, with a dimmer ring (the spill) surrounding it. So what I did was to illuminate the subject in the spill, so the glaring center spot doesn’t eliminate the detail. The further away your torch is the larger the spill area, so one might have to adjust that based on the size of your subject, but this will also introduce possible balancing problems and focusing issues.

Here is an example of one of my observations showing the hotspot not aimed at the subject:

The other thing about using a torch is that if the light isn’t diffused then it will always produce some harsh shadow. The way I try to eliminate that is to find some sort of angle that will reduce this as much as possible. This is dependent on the relative positions of your camera lens and the torch but this is mostly a do-it-yourself to find out sort of thing. In the end I still edit my phone photos afterwards to further adjust the lighting etc (in end they are always good enough for iNat).

I don’t know about bright light damaging insect eyes, but certainly they are sensitive and react to it. But my experience is all over the place, sometimes they don’t move at all, and other times they just bolt.

When I switched to my current camera setup, I found the biggest difference is the significantly better diffusion of light and the resultant less harsh shadows. To me that is one of the most important things in terms of the improvement of the quality of my photos. I haven’t tried it but maybe you can try to attach a torch where the light of your flash is located, and then shine it through your diffuser. This is sorta similar for my camera setup, in which I usually put a powerbank with usb led light on top of my flash, and this is secured with my diffuser using a strong elastic band. But I use that mostly for focusing purposes, the main light source is still from my flash.

Overall if you can find a way to diffuse the light then do so, one can always adjust the brightness and exposure etc. of the photo afterwards. Other than that, go get that flash fixed! Hopefully this is helpful.

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The suggestions about making your light source more diffuse seem most helpful. I have a Lumcube Mini for supplemental light. https://lumecube.com/products/panel-mini It has a nice even light and I can adjust the brightness and temp. I’ve thought about getting a 2nd one and using them with my old Lepp flash bracket. But my flash works…

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As others have mentioned you want something to diffuse the torch’s light. With any light you want it to be diffused or you risk over-exposed highlights. You’ll see some macro photographers take 12" circle diffusers in the field to diffuse the sun.

DIY diffuser - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK_eIIkKBD0. Does an amazing job on the P30.

If your camera lens housing will take screw-on filters, etc., try an add-on LED light ring like this. I use this with my Sony RX10 superzoom and it significantly improved the quality of my insect night photography, particularly when using a UV light/lamp to attract insects to a sheet, etc.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00JO64MY6/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Could you post some examples of what you get? Easiest solution is getting a regular ring flash for macro or diffuser.

Thanks for all the great advice!

I use a headlamp instead of a torch. You can direct the beam elsewhere if you don’t want it to interfere with the flash. You can move the spot beam around to get various levels of lighting. The headlamp has several positions and multiple light settings, including bright beam and diffuse beam; I use the one that gets me the best result for a specific subject.

You can get headlamps at outdoor stores (like REI). There are many features to chose from and they start at $25 and go way up. This is the one I use: https://www.rei.com/product/202774/black-diamond-spot-400-headlamp?color=OCTANE

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