Are You a Hunter or a Trapper? (considerations for photographing insects)

by Jarvo J July. 09, 2011 3749 views

There have been a lot of discussions on photoblog lately about macro shooting. These have been very interesting, but sadly have tended to be limited to technical issues. And even then a limited band of technical issues, mainly what lenses are best.

This post concerns itself with something different: shooting strategy. And, as I am interested in shooting insects it is about precisely that. There are two main approaches that you can take to shooting insects: You can be a hunter, following your prey everywhere they go; pointing your weapon and shooting every time the enemy appears in your sights. Alternatively, you can be a trapper. Carefully watching where your intended target goes and then laying a trap to snare it as soon as it comes into your field of vision.

I don't think that there is necessarily a single right answer as to whether it is better to be a hunter or a trapper; indeed it probably depends on circumstances. But in order to make the best choice it is best to think through a number of considerations and to think through the pros and cons of each approach.


I can't promise that this is a comprehensive list. If anyone has others, I'd love to know them.

The first thing to think about is, what sort of insect are you shooting? Can you predict where it might go? Some are more predictable than others. There's little point in laying a trap for a creature whose behaviour is totally unpredictable. Then again, there's no point in keep chasing after something that you just can't catch.

How much time do you have? There's no doubt about it, hunting has the potential to be a lot quicker than trapping. There's no need for all that time consuming setting up. Just grab your camera and go.

How fidgety will you feel just sitting and waiting? Your own personality type may well have a large bearing on the choice that you make. Trapping certainly suits the more restful, patient and I would suggest, introvert, personality. Whereas hunting is surely for the more gung-ho, fidgety, can't-wait types.

Finally, how will you feel about the missed opportunities whilst you wait for something to fly into your trap? Whilst you are patiently waiting for a bug to fly into one particular flower, you're almost certain to see others flying into others. Is that ok by you, or will you be frustrated by it?

Advantages of Hunting over Trapping

You are always active. You'll really feel that you are doing something.

You can quickly respond to any situation. If something unexpected happens, you've got your camera in your hand and you finger is already twitching ready to deal with it. If you're quick, you needn't miss a thing

There's no need to predict what might fly where or not, so there's no risk of getting it wrong.

It can be more exciting, not just for you as a photographer, but for your camera as well: If you keep shooting, it won't go to sleep.

Advantages of Trapping over Hunting

You'll have less wasted shots. Hunting can be very wasteful as the chances of framing, focusing and exposing each shot correctly are not very good (though it does become easier with practice). Importantly, this means more space on your memory card and less wear and tear on camera.

There'll be more stability to your shots as you can rely on the tripod for holding your camera steady. It's also easier to pre focus, than trying to focus on a very small moving object.

You have the chance to compose your shots in advance. This has two advantages that are very great indeed. Firstly, if you frame it just right there's no need to crop or trim vital pixels saving definition and allowing shooting at a higher ISO. The second in my opinion is the real killer. By framing the shot in advance, you have the opportunity to choose the background. Every shot in this post was taken using the hunting technique, and everyone of them suffers for that. Whatever the merits or demerits of each, they all fail on (at least) one factor. In every shot the background is terrible. I'm not saying that this will be the case with every hunted shot, but in my experience getting the background right is one of the trickiest things to do when shooting macro. There are so many shadows and light patches that go unnoticed in the view finder, but which show up as horrible blotches and patches on the finished shot. This for me is the biggest advantage of trapping.

What do you think? Do you have a particular style? Or have you got any tips on how to overcome the disadvantages of each strategy? I'd love to know.

  Be the first to like this post
Join the conversation
There are 17 comments , add yours!
Gregg Maretka 9 years, 2 months ago

Holy smokes these are cool, crisp, clear, amazing shots

9 years, 2 months ago Edited
Sandra Vermeulen 9 years, 3 months ago

Wow Jon, such good macro shots! Love the first one quite a lot!

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Christine 9 years, 3 months ago

Thank you so much for all of these informations.
I usually fail my pictures when I hunt :-).
If I have the time I prefer the trapping.
Do you suggest a tripod ? I always end up picking up
the camera and the tripod to shoot ! Not a very good idea !
I don't know how to use it and I might not be patient enough !
Wonferful serie

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Manuele 9 years, 3 months ago

Fantastic captures

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Helen Hooker 9 years, 3 months ago

I really enjoyed your photos and text. I've been a hunter so far but perhaps I'll try trapping having read your post!

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Andrea 9 years, 3 months ago

Superb macros!

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Ann Garratty 9 years, 3 months ago

Brilliant photos, amazing detail, I had no idea that hoverflies were hairy! I am more of an oportunistic photographer, and mostly I get it all wrong... but one day I will get a winner!

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Michael Sakowicz 9 years, 3 months ago

Usually I feel like the 'hunted...' I think I need to turn things around. ;)

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Larry Nelson 9 years, 3 months ago

I think I am an accident with a camera waiting for something wonderful to happen! :)

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Marsha 9 years, 3 months ago

Very interesting comparison, Jon. Personally, I think trapping sounds better - but sometimes in a single shooting session I guess I do both! You made a lot of good points....thanks for sharing!

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Gerd Korts 9 years, 3 months ago

These are outstanding Jon, may be I read it over are they trapped or hunt

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Susan 9 years, 3 months ago

In # 3 especially, the background is so nicely out of focus that I didn't notice it as a distraction. Congratulations on getting your subjects so well in focus while hunting!

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Carolinesimone 9 years, 3 months ago

stunning captures

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Jacki 9 years, 3 months ago

These are all excellent, as is you write up, but since macros aren't my interest I will simply observe and read yours. :)

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Davorka ČEoviä‡ 9 years, 3 months ago

splendid shots !! love # 1 !!

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Eiram Marie 9 years, 3 months ago

I don´t shoot insects but the same you could apply to street photography:) And in that case I am a hunter:)

9 years, 3 months ago Edited
Juhász Imre 9 years, 3 months ago

Fantastic captures!

9 years, 3 months ago Edited