Super macros in the field

This is a hand held macro of a mayfly sub-imago made with a 105mm macro lens and about 6" inches of extension tubes.

It’s impossible to hand hold the camera steady and in focus with that much magnification. But if you use manual focus and shoot six frames a second or more…every once in a while you get one properly focused. A monopod helps too. I usually end up discarding 99 out of 100 exposures. Or more.

Tripods and staging stands and light tents just aren’t practical for insect field work, because they so often only stay put for a second or two. You have to act quickly, if at all. Sometimes you just need to get lucky.

This insect is only about 8mm or 9mm long. 5/16" or 3/8" inch.

How do others do it? (more than 1:1 magnification in the field?)


The first image was the female Ephemerella Excrucians. This one is the same species, same day, but this time the slightly smaller, more yellow-colored male (with bulging eyes). It’s interesting this guy has no tail fibers. Sometimes they just break off during the eclosion process.

I made close to 300 exposures that day. And ended up with only two usable images. I’m thinking about trying to make an ultra-light tripod with PVC plumbing pipe.


A difficult subject :blush:. And nice pics.

Sometimes it helps using one or several of this options:

  • hanging a weight to the monopod (adds stability)
  • use a good close-up lens, instead of extension rings, like a Raynox DCR-150
  • prefocus with the desired magnification and get the focus moving the camera forward and backward (quicker than trying to adjust focus ring)

Hope it helps :grin:

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I usually use a flash + diffusers for insect shots in the wild. Gives me a bit more flexabillity, and i can use a smaller aperture. The other things is being aware how the focusplane is related to the subject. With just changing the angle in relation with subject you can really change what is in/not in focus.

And also, don’t be afraid to miss a shot. Sometimes they just want to cooperate.


Nice shots indeed :slight_smile:

Interesting…the mayflies (a.k.a. fishflies or shadflies, depending on where you go) in places where I have seen them are about an inch long, excluding the tail fibers, and are not at all a flight risk…it would have been straightforward to use a tripod with no fear of them leaving. On the other hand, it would have been a challenge to get only one of them in a photo! I’ve seen 6’ deep piles of them under lights.

Yes there are Mayflies big and small. In the Rocky Mountains they tend toward tiny. And seldom stay put for long.

Are the adults very short-lived there as well? Those I’ve encountered go from new adult to fish food in a day or two.