Strategies for approaching flightly insects

With Spring in full swing in New York I have been trying to take pictures of all of the new winged insects flying around. However, I’ve been having mixed success as I only have an iphone to work with and need to get quite close to be able to get decent photos. Even when I’m super careful and patient with approaching I seem to get detected and the insect flies away before I can even get a single photo. :(

Is there any tips or advice for approaching these insects (especially the flies) without them getting spooked?

  • Go out early in the morning, when it’s cooler out. There may be less insects, but they will be much slower. Some bees will spend the night on or under a flower or leaf, and they don’t move much until the sun warms them a little.
  • Avoid jerky movements.
  • As you move, don’t let your shadow fall across them.That will spook them.
  • Start taking photos sooner. You can take more/better photos as you get closer. But if it flies away, at least you’ll have something you might be able to crop to get an identifiable photo. And if not, no harm done.

You should really try this tip cause it really works!

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Follow the them! I’ve found that many times, insects like to hang out in a certain area. Especially when it’s colder out and insects slow down, it shouldn’t be too hard to track them down.


I’ve noticed that lots of flies like to return to the same perch, so if you sit quietly there and focus on the leaf tip or flower or whatever, you may get another chance to get a couple of shots.


Observe an entire area for insect activity from a distance first. Approach very slowly. I SWEAR that when I have my DSLR camera hiding my eyes (looking through the view finder) that insects don’t flee as they do when they can see my eyes. I take successive photos as I slowly get closer. Even if they fly away, at least I have something from further back I can zoom & crop to upload.


Slow, steady movements is the name of the game. If they seem spooked back up and give them space.

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Related to this main topic but considerably more specific, something I’ve noticed, especially but not exclusively with geometrids: certain moths are extremely skittish when it comes to lighting changes, to the point that getting more than one picture with flash enabled is nearly impossible (I’ve tried other techniques, e.g. using a headlamp but no flash, so there is still lighting but it’s not abrupt, but this has not been especially successful either). Is there any reliable strategy for moths that behave like this?

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re:headlamps I’ve found headlamps to be a little jumpy so I have been wrapping the headband around my hand so the light sits in my palm. This not only lets me brace my phone with my other hand and not cast shadows with it but I can also approach very slowly and light up the insect from whatever angle.


Depending on what you’re using to get pictures, you can also record, rather than just take individual pictures, so that way you can go frame by frame afterwards to see what you got to work with. My son will do this especially when he’s using his lenses that attach to the phone because sometimes he gets juuuuust close enough that there is less than second where a flying tiny thing will be in focus. If it’s in focus at any point, it’ll be accessible through the video so that’s always helpful.


One strategy I use when approaching is to move when the wind blows, as the insect is also accustomed to nearby vegetation swaying in the wind or may just focus on tightening its own grip on the twig or leaf it is on. I’ve also tried swaying very slightly when reaching out, not sure if it works. Stick insects, some mantises and tipulid flies also sway when they move and it might be a way to make them less detectable to other insects, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.


I never thought of this!

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I learned a technique from a friend when I first started to photograph tiger beetles. Lower your body as you approach. The idea is to avoid looming over the subject and hope they have lousy depth perception.

I like the moving when the wind blows too. I’ll end up swaying and slowing creeping lower as I stalk the subject.


I’ve found this quite helpful for pollinators. (Bee flies, hover flies, bees, butterflies …) Rather than chase the insect around, I pick a flower that I think it will visit and focus there instead.


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