Insect Photography for Identification

Someone asked on Facebook for suggestions for insect photography for identification purposes. I usually try to take more artistic shots, but I take ID shots as well since I want to know what I shot when possible. For the ID shots, shoot from multiple sides, top and sides for sure, underside if possible.

Try to be as parallel to the insect as you can so you have more the most in focus as possible. Scale is important for identification and research, a coin or dollar bill is pretty good. Or a multi-tool with a short ruler on your keychain like Keyport or Nite-Ize.

You don’t need a fancy camera for shooting insects for ID purposes. iPhones and many Android phones are surprisingly good at macros. Point & Shoot cameras have advantage of greater depth of field than an DSLR. That is good for macros because more is in focus.

If your camera has a macro mode (flower icon), try it. Sometimes macro mode is turned on automatically when up close. You want to get as close as you can without scaring off the insect. Take a few safety shots from a comfortable distance and then move closer if you can. Zoom can be used, but the details will usually be sharper up close in macro mode.

I usually shoot with flash, but for ID purposes, it is useful for some natural light shots when possible. Flash can change the colors of the insect. But it can also highlight the reflective/iridescent parts (like on a Metalmark butterfly).

Once you have photos of your insect, Bugguide is a good resource for identification. And there are several groups on Facebook that can help such as Insect Identification. Sometimes an insect group specific to your state or area will be the most help since the members will be familiar with the local insects.

If you post asking for ID help, always remember to give a location. Usually county and state is specific enough if you don’t want to give your city name. If you join a global group, the country should be included as well to avoid confusion.

Update 2019: I now post most everything I find to iNaturalist to create a list of what I have seen and where and get help from the Community identifying them. Bugguide is still valuable when I find an unusual insect or spider, but iNaturalist members are pretty good at IDing anything living. You often get very quick answers with popular species like birds and butterflies.

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