Tips for mantids and phasmids (stick insects)
I’ll begin by saying, there are others that take much better mantid shots than I do and so it is definitely worth checking out the following photographers because their work is really stunning: Kurt (Orionmystery),
- An absolutely gorgeous shot from Kurt (Orionmystery) of a flower mantis. Taken with permission from his photostream.
I do take some shots of these fascinating insects as well though, and here’s the little that I do know:
1) These insects are masters of camouflage! So if you can, try and show them in their natural habitat doing what they do best. However, you also want the detail of the insect to come through so don’t go too far.
- A stick insect sprawled across a dead branch. Mulu national park, Borneo.
2) Some of the most cryptic insects can also have a bright surprise, so poke or move them a little and see if they won’t oblige by showing you some colour. The below examples are pretty bad photos but show interesting behaviour and go well together to tell a story.
- Boxer mantis (Hestiasula sp.) seems utterly unremarkable, with its leaf like camouflage. Mulu national park, Borneo.
- This boxer mantis (Hestiasula sp.) is not only aggressive, but has a threatening display if it feels harassed. Mulu national park, Borneo.
3) The best mantid photos that I have seen involve natural light usually with some fill. Otherwise it is easy to wind up with nasty specular reflections like in the above example. Though my shots don’t compare to Kurts’ I’ve taken a few that I am happy with.
- Furry legged mantid Natural light with fill flash shot. The overall background and feeling that I had was of softness, accentuated by the hairy legs, so I added to this effect in post processing by decreasing contrast in midtones. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.
- Praying mantid with complementary soft brown lighting. Kanuku mountains, Guyana.
An exception is dramatic lighting. In this case the flash is used to highlight elements of the insect. Try to make sure that it isn’t against any kind of natural background which will make distracting shadows. I find black or high key backgrounds best since the insect this way really takes centre stage.
- Callibia diana praying mantid. Iwokrama rainforest reserve, Guyana.
4) Don’t be afraid to Get close! Stick insects in particular have some incredible details which can be overlooked when trying to encapsulate the entire organism in a single shot. The devil of the subterfuge is in the details. Look at those false fungi! Crazy leaf venations! Whatever it is, show it to good effect.
- Close up of this stick insect just reveals an even more impressive design. The false fungi on its abdomen are particularly impressive. Manu national park, Peru.
- Fungi growing on a stick. Close, but not quite. This close up of the leg reveals the most intricate details of their camouflage. Manu national park, Peru.
5) A colourful background can often offset the cryptic colouration of these insects quite well. Or simply play with the colours. Below the colours of this mantid were changed from a dull brown to the technicolour display.
- A cryptic mantid (Acanthops falcata) modified in post to be more vibrant. Manu national park, Peru.
6) Portraits are a great style for sticks and mantids. I have been using it a lot recently and so the style has become a little stagnant for me and I’m looking at new ways to improve on it. But this style shows really well the detail and character of the insect.
- Stick insect portraits can look quite lovely. Manu national park, Peru.
7) The more the merrier. Stick insects by nature of their motionless behaviour will often have other insects crawling over them. Usually ants, though flies and other insects will occasionally land on them. Try and get behaviour shots, eating or bubble blowing or defensive displays.
- Stick insect with a fly for a companion. It is also bubble blowing, possibly to clean its mouthparts. Manu national park, Peru.