A bug's life: 38 incredible images of insects

Discover a whole new side to invertebrates with these extraordinary photographs of life in miniature.

By Jonathan Manning
Published 3 Nov 2020, 10:58 GMT, Updated 2 Dec 2020, 13:56 GMT

This stunning image of three mayfly hanging from crested dogstail was shot on the River Kennet near Kintbury, UK, and won the ‘Flies, Bees, Wasps and Dragonflies’ category in the Luminar Bug Photography Awards.

Photograph by © Peter Orr/Luminar Bug Photography Awards 2020

Brilliant macro photography skills have captured the multiple eyes, dazzling colours and extraordinary features of invertebrates in the winning images of a new photography competition.

The Luminar Bug Photography Awards celebrate the tiny details of insects that would normally be invisible to the human eye. The judges assessed more than 5,000 images submitted to the awards, which took place in association with Buglife, the invertebrate charity.

The beauty of bugs

This beauty contest of bees, bugs, beetles and butterflies comes at a time when insect numbers and diversity face severe threats. Insects account for more than half the species on Earth, and are essential for the future health of the planet, providing the foundations of many ecosystems.

As Sir David Attenborough said recently, “‘If we and the rest of the backboned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.” 

The overall winner of Luminar Bug Photography Awards was Mofeed Abu Shalwa, who was drawn to photographing invertebrates as a way to overcome his childhood phobia of creepy-crawlies and through his fascination with the ancient history of insects.

“My choice to photograph insects was for several reasons, including curiosity and exploration,” he said in a statement that accompanied his award.

Male jumping spiders (Phidippus insignarius) perform a courtship dance in which they almost form the shape of a heart with their arms.

Photograph by © Raed Ammari/Luminar Bug Photography Awards 2020

Shooting small

Jamie Spensley, the Luminar Young Bug Photographer of the Year 2020, says most photographic genres view the world from a realistic perspective, whereas macro photography offers an entirely different perspective that is incredibly accessible.

“I can go into my garden and create several photographs that look as if they were all shot in several locations. This is unachievable with any other genre of photography,” says Spensley.

All except three of the invertebrates in the 38 images in the gallery were alive; the remaining three were found dead and positioned for the photograph. Of the 38 images, 29 were shot completely naturally, while the remaining nine were temporarily positioned by the photographer.

Five macro photography tips from the winners

Master the lighting, says Mofeed Abu Shalwa. What differentiates a good from an average image is finding light levels that, “highlight the details of the object in the photo without distortion.”

Try different and interesting angles and the right background colours, says Abu Shalwa. Avoid the background being overcrowded, which can distract from the subject. Shooting at the eye-level of the insect adds balance and depth, adds Jamie Spensley.

Study the behaviour of insects before taking photographs, and capture them at night or the cool hours before sunrise when insects are idle and static, says Abu Shalwa. At midday insects are fully active and difficult to capture.

Use a small aperture of about f8, says Spensley. He also recommends using a speedlight and diffuser to ensure the shutter speed is fast enough and the aperture small enough for the bug to be very sharp.

Shoot handheld because insects are very mobile, and be patient, says Spensley.


Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2023 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved