Observing arthropods with a phone camera

This may be too technically complicated to achieve at this point, but it would be great if there could be an “bug mode” in the app for observing insects and arachnids.

Whenever I point my camera at an interesting spider suspended in its web, the camera auto focuses on whatever is behind it, which can be 3-20 feet away. That turns the spider into a blur.

In “bug mode” the camera would automatically focus on what is closest to it, such that the spider is in sharp focus.

There are labor-intensive and semi-effective workarounds, like using a camera app to do manual focusing, or putting an object or a hand behind the spider (which usually spooks it).

Bug Mode would be better.

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Most people taking phone pics are using the Camera app on their phone, which you would then have to take this up with the Apple/Samsung devs. For a DIY “Bug Mode” I’d suggest:


Do you have a macro mode on your camera? I bought a digital camera specifically with a good macro mode (it’s a Ricoh WG-6). Bonus, it’s also waterproof and drop resistant. Your phone camera probably has a macro mode as well.


Just attach a simple, cheap lens to your smartphone camera. It works great. I attach the lens with a rubber band.

I learned this trick somewhere on this forum and it’s changed my iNat life! Now you can focus on very close bugs as if you had a macro mode.

Many thanks to the people who shared this great trick with us!


Many phone cameras also have a “focus lock” feature. I use this all the time for close up bugs. I point my camera at something close up that doesn’t have background noise and isn’t moving, hold my finger on the screen (this is the method on my phone to lock the focus), then point it back to the bug and I don’t have to worry about the camera changing focus. I just have to hold my hands steady!


You can tap the screen (on IOS devices at least) to focus on the particular part of the screen you touch, not sure it would work for something with no background, but it worked for this https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/178452633

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I use my iPhone 13pro as my camera. On mine there is a yellow circle with a flower icon on the screen when in closeup mode. Otherwise it is a white flower icon with a slash. Make sure this is turned on ( tap the icon). Then I ‘guesstimate’ the closest safe distance from phone to subject, and prefocus on a nearby object at that range, by pressing on the screen until autofocus is set. Do not remove the focus finger. Move the camera to the subject and focus on the subject by moving the phone, use finger on free hand to press “shutter” button. Clip-on lenses are fun, too. I use inexpensive ones, I find them easy to lose.
ALL my observations are by iPhone.

I feel like a manual focus slider would solve this? Not sure how hard it’d be to implement on the app though.

I used clip-on macro lenses for my phone for a long time. It’s a cheap and really easy way of getting good photos of small arthropods. I used it for all of these observations (at least all the macro ones), which include some of these images:


amazing images! What is the brand of the lens you use?

Yow , I agree your clip-on lens produces really nice photos. I tried several different ones and none of them gave me that depth of field. Only part of the subject item would be in focus with the ones I tried.

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Unfortunately I lost the the first one I used to use hiking in North Carolina

and I think that original model was discontinued or no longer available (a lot of them are removed due to false advertising/stealing images, etc.), so I purchased a new one (the closest I could find to what I knew worked) from Amazon. I think that’s what I used for those photos. It’s a bit more expensive than a lot of other options but most others only have one lens and can produce some strange artifacts when taking photos. I think this one has more of a converging lens effect so there is less distortion around the edges of the image and the quality is a bit better. Once I discovered the Raynox DCR-250, though, I quickly moved over to that for macro as I already had an DSLR but didn’t want to invest hundreds in a proper macro lens. It might just be the greatest decision I’ve ever made!

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I will second that about the Raynox 250 clip-on lens being the greatest decision I ever made. I got one for Christmas last year, and it has really improved my moth photographs this year. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&taxon_id=47157&user_id=smwhite&without_taxon_id=47224


Like some people have mentioned already, I also use the built in camera (on a Nexus 4A, if that matters) for most photos (sometimes use the iNat app camera for plants), which seems much better at focussing, and allows you to specify what part of the viewport it should focus on (by tapping on it). Occasionally that isn’t good enough, for instance for small spiders in a thin net, and then I use this camera app which has manual focus:


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