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From time to time I’ve posted in-flight images of birds. As you can probably imagine, it is usually far more difficult to get a good photo of a bird in the air than of a perching bird. All sorts of variables come into play with a bird in flight that don’t exist with one that is sitting on a branch.
That said, birds in flight are a piece of cake compared with insects in flight. An insect in flight is extremely difficult to capture in a photograph. It is, for one thing, a tiny target. Focusing on something that small in comparison to the entire field of view can be well-nigh impossible. Furthermore, insects almost never fly in straight lines. They change course constantly, sometimes every few inches or so. Thus, tracking an insect in flight is a major headache.
I have two techniques for capturing an insect in the air: point the camera in the general direction of the insect, pray, and fire away; and, sheer dumb luck.
This first photo is an example of my first technique in practice. I watched this honeybee as it approached a thistle. I focused on the thistle, hoping that the bee would land there. The bee came within an inch or two of the flower, then hovered indecisively for a couple of seconds before flying away. I was able to get my camera’s focusing point on the insect for the two seconds or so that it was hovering and I took a series of five or six photos during that interval. This image is the one that turned out to be the sharpest.
This second photo falls within the sheer dumb luck category. I saw a bee on the thistle and decided to take its picture as it searched for nectar. I made a series of exposures. As I was doing so a second bee flew up to the flower and, at the instant that I took a shot, it aligned itself in the same focal plane as the flower, producing a sharp image. I didn’t realize that I’d photographed it until much later when I was looking at the images that I’d made.
Frequently, I crop my images so that the subject, the bee in this case, appears as large as possible. I did that with the first photo. I decided to post this second photo uncropped, because I like the image of the little bee against the large, dark, background. The uncropped image also emphasizes just how damn hard it is to capture these little insects in the air. What you see in this second photo is exactly what I saw as I was taking the picture.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 125, M setting, f18 @ 1/160.