I promised pond insects yesterday, so pond insects you shall receive! The theme for my Photography 101 course for the day is “glass” and that’s perfect for the type of aquatic insect photography I do. If you want to photograph things in water, there are a few ways to do it. You can put the subject in a small, shallow bowl and shoot it from above, but then you miss out on a lot of fun angles and interesting behavior shots. You can get a waterproof camera, but none of them are nearly as good at macro work as I need them to be for the sorts of shots I’m after. My way is one I learned from an awesome photographer, Steve Maxson, at an insect photography workshop in 2011. It’s more or less the same technique used by a lot of the people you’ll see posting photos of aquatic insects online. Basically, you fill a transparent vessel (I use a small aquarium) with water, place your subjects in the tank, and you shoot the photos through the side of the tank with whatever camera you favor. It’s a great method and lets you get some great shots using the equipment you already have, no special waterproof housing required!
So, here are a few new shots of aquatic insects underwater using my 2.5 gallon aquarium setup and shooting with my Canon 7D and MP-E 65 lens through the glass. All of these are predators, so they’re among the meat eaters in the pond. First up, a couple of predaceous diving beetles, a small one…
… and a larger one:
And these are true bugs, a giant water bug…
… and a creeping water bug:
The beetles have chewing mouthparts, so they eat smallish things that they can chew up quickly. They eat a lot of insects, aquatic worms, and other invertebrates, though every now and again you’ll see a bunch of them pile onto something like a sickly or injured fish that’s not strong enough to get away. The bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts, so they cannot chew their food. Instead, they grab their prey, jab it with a hypodermic needle-like mouthpart, and inject paralytic chemicals and digestive enzymes. The chemicals both paralyze the prey and liquefy its tissues. Once the tissues are nice and soupy, the bug will suck up the juices through its mouthpart like a straw. Essentially, true bugs are digesting their food outside of their body, which they need the paralytic to accomplish. It takes a LONG time for a true bug to eat anything! However, the paralytic also allows them to eat much larger food, like larger insects, small tadpoles, and fish. It also gives their bite a little extra punch, should you accidentally step on one or grab one without realizing it.
Photographing aquatic insects is totally my happy place – and I hope some of you will give it a try. It’s amazing what you can learn by simply following an insect around a tank with a camera for a few days!
Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.
17 thoughts on “Glass”
Thank you for that amazing tip! I discovered a few water bugs last year, and could only photograph them from above in murky water. I’m definitely going to try this, this year!
Glad I could help! I’ve got blog posts that show my old and current setup. Check them out if you want to see the whole thing with an explanation for how I take the shots.
Love the orange hues.
Thanks! It’s a little piece of wood that fell in the pond. I love the color of it, so it’s a frequent inclusion in my tank.
Every nice photographs!
Thank you so much! That means a lot.
I’ve just been using the same technique for photographing caddis fly larvae, fab pictures
Excellent! Do you have pictures on your blog, because I’d love to see them. Always appreciate a good caddisfly.
Hi, thanks for taking the time to check out & comment on my blog ☺
You’re very welcome!
That last one is a beauty. I’m surprised you don’t get reflections when shooting through the glass.
I diffuse my flashes heavily and it cuts down on the glare almost entirely. Every now and again though I’ll catch it just right and I’ll see a glare in the photo, but it’s a good system for me overall.
I’ll have to keep your system in mind. Thanks for the tip.
We need bug shot the aquatic edition.
I would wholeheartedly support that idea! It’s always a 10 minute presentation at BugShot, but you really need a little more time to play around with it and make it work. I showed a whole bunch of people what I do during the BugShot at Sapelo, but that was during the free time at night, but it barely came up during the regular schedule.
It would be very easy to spend a day on aquatic photography. Just controlling light, reflections , background color shifts, that green glass tint, etc BTW how do you avoid that sickly green glass tint?
Absolutely! It’s fairly complicated, but a ton of fun too.