Bugs and Plants: Each One Enhances the Other: Guest Article by Steve Russell

Macro photography of flowers and plants can be beautiful all by itself through the lens of a Tony Rizzuto or an Elizabeth Stone. But to me, the presence of a living creature like a bug or spider adds interest, enhances the aesthetics of the images (okay, maybe that’s just me), provokes a reaction (good or bad), and begs questions (like, “Is THAT how they do it?”). Both plants and bugs play important roles in life and in the image.

Bugs use plants to rest, hunt, mate, stalk prey, eat their meals, clean themselves, and more, so that’s where I usually find them. A plant can be a precipice, a shelter, a blind, a lookout, or a place of respite, and it plays a central role in how the viewer sees and interprets the primary subject, the bug.

It’s the plant and how it compliments the bug that can often make or break the image aesthetically. If I were an entomologist I may not care how prominent the plants are in the picture. But as a photographer I often want the plants to play a useful role or be subtle, sometimes blurred (bokeh), in the background or for the most part absent so as not to compete with the centerpiece of the image, the bug. Flash helps a lot in this regard as it lights well only what’s close to the subject and darkens much of the background eliminating distracting elements. Those prominent background elements that remain can be softened, darkened, or eliminated in post processing and it helps if the lines, shapes, and colors of the surrounding plants help highlight the star attraction.

In my macro shots the bug nearly always gets the top spot in the composition (using light, color, and the rule of thirds), but the plant or flower is equally important in a supportive role to the ultimate appeal and impact of the image. As it’s been said often in photography circles, background is everything, and for that reason I owe a debt of gratitude to plants for their contributions to my images.


Most of these (except the mating butterflies) were shot with my MP-E 65mm lens. I needed a slightly wider view and used the 90mm for the butterfly duet to get them both in the frame.