Photo masterclass part 6: Invertebrates

Many wildlife photographers simply ignore 99.9 per cent of potential subjects – invertebrates. In this masterclass, we show that small can be beautiful.

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Photo masterclass part 6: Invertebrate portraits

Many budding wildlife photographers make the simple error of ignoring 99.9 per cent of potential subjects – our invertebrates. In this masterclass, we show that small can be beautiful – and reveal how to capture the animal in its environment as well as take stunning close-ups.

 
Everyone should be photographing invertebrates. They account for no fewer than 1.20 million of the 1.25 million animal species described around the world, so they offer a phenomenal choice of subjects.
 
Many of them are more approachable than other animals, because they don’t look on people as a direct threat, and some will pose for minutes or even hours at a time.
 
Finding them is often no more complicated than squatting down to ground level and looking under a few leaves, stones and fallen trees, or rummaging around the margins of a garden pond. Best of all, they come in a dazzling variety of shapes, sizes and colours.
 
Getting started
 
But photographing them isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. There are so many potential subjects – where do you start? How do you get in close enough to magnify your subjects greater than life-size? Why is it so difficult to get small-scale wildlife in sharp focus? And how do you take pictures that are sufficiently different from textbook portraits to make them jump out from the crowd?
 
This month, we’ll be delving into the world of close-up photography – taking pictures of animals that many wildlife photographers seem to forget or ignore. We’ll be finding out why invertebrate photography is as exciting and challenging as any other form of nature photography, learning why it’s far more productive to take a few stunning shots of a single subject than many mediocre ones of lots of different subjects, and learning a few invaluable tricks of the trade.
 
 
MEET THE EXPERT: József L Szentpéteri, Hungary
 
József L Szentpéteri is a biologist and award-winning Wildlife Photographer of the Year best known for his work with invertebrates.
 
“There’s one really big difference between shooting small animals and shooting big ones,” says József L Szentpéteri. “When the pictures are printed in magazines, books and exhibitions, the small ones are enlarged many times while the big ones are reduced. A beetle becomes the same size as an elephant – and that’s what makes invertebrate photography so much fun.”
 
Photographing invertebrates takes József into a new world often unseen by the naked eye. It can be more surprising – and more intimate – than other forms of wildlife photography.
 
“When sitting in a hide photographing mammals or birds, I often feel disconnected,” he says. “But photographing invertebrates is more personal. You are at one with your subject.”
 
József plans his pictures in advance (“though nature rarely sticks to the plan”). “When I was photographing mayflies, for example, there were just three perfect swarms in a whole year, lasting a total of nine hours. I had to find the swarms, know exactly what to expect and then get everything I needed in a very short time.”
 
So what makes the perfect invertebrate picture?
 
“Extreme close-ups are still very dramatic, but I think there is a new trend towards more environmental images showing the animals in their natural habitats. Gone are the days of homogenous backgrounds,” he says. “But the real challenge has always been to make animals that many people find scary or ugly much more appealing.”
 
 
József L Szentpéteri’s top invertebrate photography tips
 
  • Read, observe and learn
    Don’t just rush in and shoot anything that moves. Take a more considered approach and learn about your subjects before photographing them. When taking pictures of dragonflies, for example, careful observation will show their exact hovering spots (they normally hover in a few preferred places), their favourite perches and their regular flight pathways.
 
  • Play with the light
    Close-up photography of insects and other invertebrates is ideal for combining artificial flash with daylight. Try not to overdo the flash, which can look very harsh, and aim to make the lighting look as natural as possible. Many species have wonderfully transparent wings, so add a little light from behind to show them at their best.

 

 

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