Natural History Photographs by Clay Bolt

When I saw these insect photos I had to share them along with Clay Bolt’s tips for how to photograph. He says “As a natural history photographer who specializes in photographing insects and other small creatures, I sometimes wonder why everyone isn’t as obsessed with the little things in life as I am. When I peer through my camera’s viewfinder and look into the eyes of a jumping spider, or marvel at the amazing structure of a bee’s wing, I am transported into an incredible, miniature world that is more marvelous than anything that has crept onto the pages of a science-fiction novel. ”

An immature Widow Skimmer Dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) rests by a creek on a cool morning in the mountains of South Carolina

An immature Widow Skimmer Dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) rests by a creek on a cool morning in the mountains of South Carolina. C Bolt

The process of actually making decent images of these small creatures is quite a challenge. Not only will your subjects object to sitting still for very long, but they were also shiny, or nocturnal, or very shy when approached by a bumbling giant. Clay has some some helpful tips:

1. Become a Better Naturalist

The most important tip that I can give you for improving your insect photography is to spend as much time as possible getting to know your subject. Most species have certain times of the day when they’re most active, seasons where they perform elaborate mating rituals, and preferred habitats. The more you understand these things, the greater the chances are that you’ll have successful images in your future.

2. Capture behavior for more interesting pictures

The wildlife images that capture the public’s imagination above all are those that feature dramatic action and behavior. In many ways, an incredible moment—frozen in time forever—is at the heart of what photography is all about. What’s more, although we all get lucky sometimes, top nature photographers will tell you that to really capture special behavior requires planning and research, along with many failed attempts, to pull off that truly spectacular image.

Halictus sweat bee

Asweat bee (Halictus poeyi) prepares to land on an aster next to a metallic green bee (Agapostemon splendens),  Photo © Clay Bolt |

3. Don’t hit snooze

I’ll confess that I’m definitely NOT a morning person. To all you fellow snoozers: let go of those fading dreams and get outside. Insects are ectothermic, which for many species means they aren’t able to move about very much until after sunrise. A walk along a pond’s edge in early morning will likely reveal beautiful dew-covered dragonflies and other insects that you can walk right up to. To make a nice, sharp photograph,  bring a tripod to take long exposures to compensate for the low levels of morning light. Also, keep in mind that not long after the first rays of the morning sun hit your subject it will be flying or hopping away.

4. Look them in the eye(s)

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

One of the best ways to create an image that your audience will connect with is to make eye contact with your subject through the lens. This forces you to get on your subject’s level, which is essential when photographing small creatures. No one would photograph street musicians in New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, and yet we find it acceptable with small creatures. Getting onto your subject’s level brings an entirely new perspective to the viewer and makes possible to connect with the small species that we share our world with. If you can make it possible for the viewer to lock eyes with an insect or other small animal that they would typically dismiss, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll begin to think twice about using pesticides or other methods that are harmful to invertebrates.

Seepage dancers

Seepage dancers (Argia bipunctulata), laying eggs in cataract bog, Cleveland County, South Carolina. Photo © Clay Bolt

5. Your friend, the flash.

When I first began my journey into the world of nature photography,  I only shot in available light, and that typically meant shooting in the early morning hours and just before sunset. It’s common knowledge that the light during these times of day is beautiful. (The reality is that when you’re trying to capture insects in motion, you’re likely to be shooting all throughout the day and even into the night.) Adding flash photography to my toolkit was a real game-changer. It allowed me to shoot during any time of the day, create dramatic portraits, and freeze the motion of my subjects in mid-flight or mid-action.

Fill flash is the best place to start if you’re interested in taking the plunge. This is the process of adding just enough light into the scene to fill in the shadows and freeze the motion. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by how much flash to add into a shot, think of it like cooking; you start with your basic ingredient—natural light—and from there, add one flash at a time to taste. Once you start shooting with flash, your biggest question will be, why didn’t I do this sooner?


Photo by Clay Bolt

Clay Bolt is a Natural History and Conservation Photographer specializing in macro photography with an emphasis on invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians. He has worked with  National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, The National Wildlife Federation and many others.  In 2015, Clay moved to Bozeman, Montana to take on the position of communications lead for WWF’s Northern Great Plains Program. Visit to learn more.

Clay holds a garter snake Golden Gate Nat’l Recreation Area, California

Thank you Clay! It was time I had another nature post.  For the complete text and more photos see:


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