Early Morning Insects

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated May 13, 2017

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The early morning is a good time to take your extreme macro photographs because insects will be relatively still, enabling you to do a field stack with only the minimum of movement.

It is also relatively easy to find insects at this time of day, as their resting places are somewhat predictable.

Wind Is The Enemy

Nothing ruins the macro photographer's day like the presence of a breeze, enough so that your careful focus stacking goes all to hell. A cheap eBay lightbox is usually used in the studio to soften light but there's no harm in butchering one to take one along as a windbreak, and it gives you nicely diffused light as well.

Insects And Temperature

Insects have traditionally been considered as poikilotherms (body temperature is variable and dependent on ambient temperature) as opposed to being homeothermic (animals which maintain a stable internal body temperature regardless of external influences). In other words, they have a problem moving in the morning.

morning

Early mornings, an excellent time to find insects that don't move around too much.

Insect Torpor

With lower temperatures comes decreased activity, at the extreme, insects enter a type of half alive 'torpor' sleep stage. Insects can and do also freeze, but what science is unsure about is the extent to which they actually sleep or not. An insect in torpor exhibits immobility and distinctly reduced response to stimuli, though it can rouse from torpor in a matter of seconds if the stimulus is strong enough. Among insects that do exhibit torpor, the degree and nature of its expression is somewhat variable.

One of the more dramatic forms is seen in some bees (mostly in the family Apidae, and mostly in males) which will firmly clamp onto a plant with their jaws in the evening, and let go with their legs, which they then fold up. They hold this odd pose all night long, dangling in space, until they rouse the following morning. Many of the species which do this use the same spot every evening, presumably marking it with some chemical that they can detect from a distance, so they can find their way back. This very specific behaviour is about the closest thing any insect has to conventional sleep.

Morning Macro

  • One of the very best times to get a great shot of spring, summer and autumn insects is the first relatively cold morning after a few days of hot weather. The period of hot weather will mean lots of great insects will have come out, and the cool morning means they may not want to go and fly about. Ideal!
  • First morning light early in the morning is colourful and soft. Early morning macro images look bright and bold.
  • Insects cannot fly if they are too cold or when their wings are covered with dew drops. Note this is a generalism - there are moths that do fly in sub zero temperatures. It seems to be species dependant.
  • Insects covered with dew drops first thing in the morning do look absolutely stunning.
  • You can achieve a similar photographic experience by going out at the end of the day rather than the beginning. You could carry a small spray bottle with you to create your own dew whenever and wherever you want it.
  • Bring a tripod, plamp, remote control, reflectors, and be prepared for long exposures as the light intensity may not be very strong.
  • First sunlight is decent for revealing texture in macro shots because it comes from low in the sky and so provides great opportunities for side lighting.
  • Windy mornings are your biggest enemy. If the wind is above 5mph, I wouldn't bother.
  • Overcast mornings are fine, unless it's raining. Overcast conditions give you lovely soft wraparound light.
  • Large white diffusers scare insects more than smaller diffusers. Big is threatening.
  • Direct flash can cause nasty hotspots, so a diffuser dome of some variety is recommended.
  • Cloudy conditions can be problematic, as the light might change during a focus stack sequence.

Early Risers

Some species seem to be very active earlier, and are the early risers. For example, some bumblebees forage very early are seem to be out and about by 0700 hours - perhaps they are hunting for their nectar before the honeybees come along.

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