Back to the insect studio

Shot a lot of studio based images over the last year or more.  That is, with controlled light, and human models.  A while ago, I shot some images of flies in a studio set, with basic, “light all around” lighting, even underneath, courtesy of my Lee lens cap/diffuser stand for the insects.   I was wondering how many other light set-ups would translate to the “small stage” and decided to try a classic 3 light set-up:  2 edge lights either side, plus one main light feathered away to give some nice shadows across the face.. er I mean outer wings..


I had seen a similar set-up to the one below used to photograph insects.  The general idea is to create a black strip down the glass between the soft boxes at the back, that will back-light the subject.  Shoot really low and front-light the subject with a another soft-box overhead.  The base (table in my case) should come out black as light not hitting the subject should pass through the glass.

The set-up you can see to the left was made using these items:-

  • 2 x MKStudio soft-boxes for Speedlights on 2 lightweight stands
  • A Lumiquest LTP soft-box for the main light
  • 3 x SB-900 Speedlights
  • Another SB-900 used as the commander.
  • Sigma 105mm macro lens
  • D800E
  • Heavy duty boom stand
  • Glass table
  • The HTPhoto dual axis macro rail and tripod was quickly abandoned when it became apparent I would have to chase the live subject about ….

My 7 year old daughter, Megan always has a few dead insects for looking at under her microscope and I borrowed a dead bee to set up the lights and you can just about see it on the table in the set-up shot to the left.

An ambient light shot at f/16 and 1/200th of s second proved there was no ambient light registering on the shots.  Focus dialled in manually by adjusting the macro rail and we were good to go.  With just the back-lights on, this is what I got.  Not bad!  The glass is doing its job and the light is refracting away and because I’m shooting at such a shallow angle it’s not reflecting into the lens. I’ve got the lens actually below the table edge here for another reason:   glass has 2 reflective surfaces – top and bottom, and so there are 2 reflections of the bee.  By shooting lower though, they become more separated, to the point where you cannot really see the second reflection at all.    Then I added the main light:-

Lots more reflection however its working well.  Time for a live subject!  I despatched bug-hunter-prime into the garden to bring back something nice and within a couple of minutes, Megan had captured a small beetle.  We tried cooling it in the fridge, however they are made of hardier stuff than flies, and this had very little effect after 30 minutes.  It quickly became apparent that this guy wan’t going to stand still, so I abandoned the tripod, and took to nudging the beetle into position under the plastic container it was in, and then moving the container and rocking back and forth whilst shooting, attempting to to get the eyes in focus.  I eventually got a couple of usable shots.  I have now acquired a small glass shelf from B&Q, so should be able to create a more usable set-up and get some more of these.  The beetle looks good, and I was amazed to see just how much you could affect the light by feathering the main light away to get a more edgy look – just like you would in a full sized human studio.  I need hairier subject to really bring out that back-lighting though, and the main light needs turning down.   I shot this on manual flash mode, and had the back-lights in one group and the main light in another.  They are all running pretty much the same power, however the main light is much closer and is overpowering the back-lighting a bit too much.  More to come – a live bee perhaps, or an ant – if Megan can find me a big one 🙂


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.