Tips/tricks taking pictures of bugs that move fast?

Does anyone have any tips or tricks taking pictures of super small, very fast moving things like ants? I’d love to collect some observations of insects & spiders around me, but I can’t get a bead on them with my macro lens. As soon as I find them they skitter out of view again.

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Stay perpendicular to the plane that the insect is on, that way you can just move horizontally and the insect will stay in focus the entire time. For very fast moving things you should have a quick shutter speed, and always use flash. Keep your eyes on the insect all the way until you have it in the viewfinder, and only take a few images before looking again to make sure you can still find it. Hope this helps!

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You could catch it in a jar or baggie, then chill it in the freezer for a few moments until it stills. Then, while it is chilled, take your photos. If you do not over-do the freezing, the ant will warm up and walk off in a few minutes.

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Ants can be paused for a moment with a few crumbs. But, generally, take lots of photos, burst mode if your camera will do it, and pick out the one good one. I tend to focus on a spot and fire away as the critter runs through. Sometimes they turn so all I get is dirt. This why good photos of small active critters are rare.

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Two words, burst mode.

Oh and do everything possible to ensure you do not put your shadow over them. When you spend your life as a prey item, a sudden shadow overhead is a trigger you are about to become dinner so you better move rapidly.

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if you’re trying to take photos with your phone through the iNat app, it’s extra challenging because there’s a slight delay between when you tap the screen and when the camera takes the photo. If you just use your camera on your phone, I find that it takes a photo instantaneously and I can more easily get multiple photos in a short time.

But it does mean that there’s more work to do to process your photos (delete the blurry ones, try to pick out the best in-focus ones) and then upload them, so I end up taking most of my photos through the app anyway. I find it kind of zen to see how close I can get to a fly before it takes off. It can help if you pick a rainy or relatively chilly day to photograph the really small ones. Or you can look for plants that trap insects (e.g. some penstemon sp., cirsium discolor, rhododendron & mt laurel inflorescences) and photograph the insects that have gotten stuck
e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/49763212)

On a hot day with bees and flies buzzing around, I find it really challenging to get good photos with a macro lens.

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Thanks everyone. I’ve run into all of these issues before, so I think I’m on the right track.
Burst mode sounds like the best idea. I tried freezing an insect once & overdid it :(
Moving perpendicular to the surface is all well & good, but so many details are lost. I want to get head-on shots, side shots, etc.

And yes, the Seek app needs a lot of patience. I think my best bet is capture/release, and burst mode.

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To avoid over doing it in the freezer, I often use ice packs (meant for keeping picnic food cold or for treating bruises or aches). I set the ice pack under a saucer or jar lid, add the ant, and then cover it with another jar lid (in my case, one with a clear lens). I watch the insect to see when it stills, then remove the lid and start taking pictures.

When I’m done with my pics, I turn the ant out onto the patio, where it revives in a minute or two, and resumes it’s business.

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I view different organisms but face the same problem in the extreme. This is why I don’t bother taking discreet photos through my microscope. The motile protists are often quite fast and/or spastic and prone to reversing course unpredictably, moving several body lengths directly backwards in less than a frame. Not to mention vertical movement. When you’re zoomed in 680X, your field of view is quite small and there are only a few vertical microns in focus, so that can be very hard to follow. My solution is to just video record the whole session and then go back through to find the good frames.

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A fridge works best for chilling down insects. Most insects can survive a spell at 5 C. I’ve kept some for a week or more. Freezing usually kills most insects. The ice pack idea is very good!

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Feeding them works wonders, even carabids and gnats have sat tamely on my hand to feed.

Taxa that hide under tall objects will also remain motionless for several moments if one raises up the obj they are under.

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A second refrigeration and/or using a flash.

Picking the right time of the day may help too. They may move less during certain times of the day.

I like the burst mode idea. I will have to try it.

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Another option to keep in mind: a blast of CO2 will usually knock out insects for half a minute or so. I’ve used it when marking robber flies in the field for mark-resighting experiments, and I know some entomologists who have used it for photography (they capture the insect, stun it in a vial, and then photograph before it wakes up.) To get CO2, I’ve used both commercial (i.e., CO2 cartridges for paintball guns or whatnot) and homemade options (i.e., good old baking soda plus vinegar, but watch that the foam doesn’t get the bug wet!)

But just chilling the bug (in a refrigerator, or if you’re camping leave it outside your tent and do the photo session in the morning before things warm up) is pretty easy.

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I have had great success with insects that have been trapped on water surfaces (swimming pools, ponds, puddles). Carry a cheap pet store fish net and a neutral, absorbent surface (paper towel, handkerchief, index card). Insects I rescue from the water will often spend a few minutes grooming and drying out before they fly away.

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I’m also experimenting with this at the moment.
Using these cartridges and this valve.

So handy/portable, and really effective.

Though I’ve just been told by a dipterist that it could be worse off for the insect than outright death(?). Not sure what the reasoning is behind that statement, but it certainly feels less invasive at least than putting it in the fridge for hours, given the short lifespans of many insects. With mark recapture do you get any idea of whether it might have long-term impact?

Some insects don’t seem to really quieten down that much after refrigeration also …e.g. Ichneumonidae. It’s also all too easy to forget they’re there…

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I don’t have good data for how our drugged flies survive compared to unmanipulated individuals, but they have lifespans that seem realistic. We’ve observed flies that we’d marked (and therefore knocked out with CO2) still flying around our study area for more than 3 weeks after the fact. Now maybe these were just superhero flies that could shrug off anything, but my sense has been that as long as you don’t give the fly an overdose of CO2 it’ll wear off with no ill effects. Be careful releasing them into hostile environments if they’re still groggy, of course. We had one fly get nabbed by an ant when it was released too early. Now we keep them in the vials until they’re ready to fly again. For photography, you could probably fend off any encroaching predators.

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A good tip for zoomed in photos: Start at 1.0 zoom and focus the camera on the bug. Take a few photos like that. Then slowly start to zoom in so you don’t take so much time finding it on the camera. I used this tip today on this observation. Not really a bug but here is the link anyway: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/78891397

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Ok nice, that´s helpful to know.
How do you gauge what an overdose of CO2 looks like?
Just experience with the species?

I’m getting the sense so far its dependent not just on size but also family(?)
I drugged a tiny chalcidoid <1mm alongside a braconid wasp >5mm and was surprised to see the smaller wasp active and walk away far before the larger one had even found its feet.

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I would recommend photographing insects in the morning or night when it’s a bit cooler. Different insects are roaming at night though.

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