Tiny Praying Mantis

Praying MantisMy wife came in from the garden this morning, poked her head in my home office and said, “Hey, there’s a baby praying mantis on the chile plant. Interested?”

Earlier this month, I’d purchased a set of extension tubes and badly needed practice using them, so I dropped what I was doing, grabbed the camera, slapped on the Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 with the 12mm, 20mm and 36mm tubes (she said the mantis was about 5/8-inch, so if I was going to get a face shot, I knew I’d need as much help as I could get) and followed her outside.

I spent most of the morning experimenting with different exposure modes and techniques. I posted the preliminary shots on my Facebook profile to get my friends to chime in, and a couple gave me some good suggestions on different things to try.

Here are the lessons learned from today’s work:

  1. Use a tripod with the ballhead loose, so you can move around but still have some stability. What I keep telling my students was true again today—no matter how steady your hands are, your tripod is steadier. You still need a fairly fast shutter speed, but the tripod helps set your focus point. A monopod might have been more flexible, but I didn’t feel like moving my ballhead over to it. Next time.
  2. You’ll need a fairly deep depth of field. I started out at f/5.6, went to f/8 and eventually ended up at f/11.
  3. Set the ISO as high as you can tolerate (noise-wise) to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible. I haven’t bent my head around the focal length math with all the extension tubes (anyone want to give it a shot?) but I know the “1/focal length” rule always applies in setting the shutter speed, so I just went as high as I could.
  4. My instincts as a wildlife and portrait photographer told me the goal was to get sharp eyes no matter what, so I sacrificed everything else to get those. I like a lot of bokeh in shots like these anyway.

Here are some of the better ones. Thoughts? Which do you like?
Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis


  1. says

    Seeing him up close like this… I really want to know how those eyes work! He/she is so exquisite. Peter also saw him eating bugs – I’m assuming white flies by the number around!

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