For much of the East coast of the U.S. the Brood II cicadas will be emerging in vast numbers this spring (2013). Whether you love their song or hate the way they attack young trees, cicadas are awesome photo subjects. These tips will help you get great photos of cicadas, be they Brood II or regular annual cicadas. Several of the tips will also help you in other insect photography.
How to Photograph Cicadas
Love them or hate them, cicadas are a fascinating photo subject and with the upcoming Spring 2013 emergence of Brood 2 now is a great time to learn to get great cicada photos.
Suggested Camera Gear Summary
- Macro Lens/Camera
- 100mm Magnification or better
- DSLR or Professional camera not required
- Flashlight, diffused flash, or other additional light source for nighttime shooting
Camera Gear Needed
Even though cicadas are relatively large by insect standards (body plus wings can be over 3 inches), you'll still need to get fairly close to them. You don't need a lot of special camera gear but here are some items that will help a lot.Macro capability lens/camera. Macro technically refers to a photo that is the same size as the original subject (life size) but in practical usage for most of us what you need to know is that it lets you get closer to the subject. A macro setting on your camera/lens tells the lens that you need to get physically close to the subject and changes some of the focal set ups so that you can get a sharp focus much closer to the subject. Without this capability, some of the stronger lenses (like 300mm) may require you to be up to 3 feet away to properly focus on a subject.
Reasonable magnification for a small subject. You don't need a huge lens to photograph these creatures as they are generally easy going and don't care how close you get. 100mm to 250mm should be more than enough.
Where to Find Cicadas
Cicadas are basically nocturnal creatures so other than finding the occasional one hiding in foliage during the day (or the overrun of the insects during brood emergence) you'll be hunting for them as the sun sets. Look on trees and larger shrubs. Use a flashlight or add on flash with diffuser to light the cicada. If you don't have a pre-made diffuser you can place several layers of wax paper over your flash to scatter the light.
Discarded husks from nymphs changing into adult cicadas abound during cicada seasons/emergence and can usually be easily found on tree trunks, telephone poles, or even the sides of houses.
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Getting Cicadas in Focus
When working in macro situations, you are only showing a few inches in the photograph. As such, your depth of field (area of sharp focus) might only be 1/2 inch deep. Because of this you will need to be careful with focus.
A tripod or other stable support (like a beanbag) can be very helpful in maintaining focus where any movement makes a difference. However, if you hand-hold your camera the forward/backward motion of your body will affect the focal point of the image. Use the motion of your body to correct the focus rather than trying to make minute changes to the lens focus.
If you find you can not get the entire insect in focus due to the small depth of field be sure to get the eyes, or at least the majority of the head, in focus.
SDuck via Flickr
Don't be Afraid to be Different
Don't be afraid to try a different style of shot than just a standard portrait of a cicada. Change the angle, backlight a husk, get the kids involved. Different photographs always have more impact than something people have seen a dozen times before.
Boy and Cicada
OakleyOriginals via Flickr
Don't Forget the Basics
Don't forget composition when taking your shots. Think about the rule of thirds, centering, leading lines, and other techniques when composing your photos. A tiny change in how you compose your photo can make a big difference in the final product.