One of the more frustrating problems in natural light insect photography, particularly with insects with large eyes, is the large specular highlight that is created by the sun. A small catch light in the eyes can be a benefit, adding a bit of sparkle and life to the image, but the large burned-out spot that shows up in dragonfly eyes is, in my view, intrusive, and obscures a great deal about what is fascinating about these predators.
What can we do to deal with this?
- find a different viewpoint that decreases the size of the highlight (may not be possible)
- only photograph these insects when in they are in the shade (they prefer the sun!)
- use software to decrease the highlight, or clone the highlight out. (tricky with large highlights, takes time)
- add diffusion when taking the image. (awkward, may scare away subject.)
I rarely shoot hand-held natural light images of insects. My hands have a slight tremor at the best of times, and raising the ISO so I can have a faster shutter-speed always adds noise to the images taken with my crop sensor camera (currently the Canon 70D with the 100mm non-VR macro lens), so I try to avoid it. This time, I saw the darner come in and land on the balsam poplar, at head-height, so I thought I would attempt a few natural light photos. I managed several shots in full sun, but when I moved in closer to get more detail, it flew away. I stood back and waited, and sure enough, it returned to its’ perch. Seeing as it was being congenial, I decided to try again, this time with an umbrella diffuser. Using my left hand to hold up the diffuser, I moved in slowly, expecting it to be startled by the object looming over it. Thankfully it accepted it, so I could then move in closer holding the camera with the right hand to take a few shots. Depth of field was shallow, not enough to cover the full face of this large insect (I was shooting at ISO 320, 1/100 sec, @ f7.1), so only two photos out of 18 had sufficient depth-of-field and a lack of movement blur to be ranked as acceptable.