Mothography 101

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We all have our cross to bear; mine weighed 23 pounds. Camera on tripod, 4 other lenses, plus all the other stuff a well-prepared nature photographer (landscape & detail) should have on hand. And now, after more than four decades of serious photography, I wanted to ADD to it with the acquisition of a Canon G-9 as a back-up camera? I must be crazy (or so my wife thought).

That was three years ago. Now I’m using a G-11 for ALL my photography and find that it will accomplish approximately 90% of what my weightier, full-fledged system would do without making a bad back worse.

Fooling around with my new point & shoot (I prefer to think of it as “compose & shoot”), I held the camera in one hand and attempted to photograph the finger-tip of my other hand. Lo and Behold, it worked! The finger-tip was in focus so now it occurred to me it could be used to show scale as well as a setting for the proper subject.


When it starts to get dark, I turn on our outside porch lights to attract my subjects; obviously more will show up during the warmer months, but I’ve seen a few even below 32 degrees. I tried a U-V light hung near a white sheet in the woods with no significantly different results, so now just use the porch lights.

During the warmer months, when there’s much more activity, I sometimes tape my sleeves & neck as well as putting cotton in my ears to keep the little buggers out.

Moths get a bad rap: the Gypsy Moth deservedly so and maybe a few others that consume the protein fibers of garments, but the vast majority are as beneficial as butterflies in pollinating plants. Typically the Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies) are photographed to show their wing shapes, colors, and patterns (mainly for identification). My idea was more in terms of “Moth Portraiture” to show their amazing variety and individuality. Like creatures from another planet, only upon close observation are these extraordinary characters revealed.


You get them on your finger-tip much as you would a parakeet: approach from the front and carefully push under it so it really has no place to go except onto your finger. You may need to use your other hand to block it’s retreat and you WILL need a lot of patience: some moths want nothing to do with you and will fly off, others will drop and play dead. Occasionally they’ll get on your hand, but will keep moving: be prepared for many uncooperative subjects. For purposes of scale & continuity I use my finger for a perch, but of course if you’d prefer to use something else (like a twig), feel free to do so.

Sometimes it seems they have to get used to you: when I first go out, no one wants to “play,” but after I’ve been out for awhile, my success rate goes up.

My hand-held camera is prepared in advance: Macro (obviously) and Aperture Priority (f/8) for maximum depth-of-field. I try to position myself so the light is behind me which results in a greater percentage of glowing eyes. If possible, and my subject is cooperating, I’ll take several shots to be edited later. My subject is then encouraged to fly off or is placed back on the wall.

Since I began several years ago, I’ve photographed approximately 100 different species, which I estimate represents about 20% of the different species we have around here in Northern Virginia. So whether you consider them “Jewels of the Night” or “The Poor Man’s Butterfly” or until now haven’t considered them at all, Moths, up-close and personal make for fascinating subjects. Two calendars have been published by Mothography 2009 and Mothography 2010.













More from Warren Krupsaw

Moss is Boss – An Exercise in Observation
Memories of Ansel Adams
16 Fantastic Images of Fungi Fun
Ice is Nice – A Showcase by Warren Krupsaw

Warren KrupsawWarren Krupsaw, a one-time student (and house guest) of Ansel Adams is a nature photographer concentrating on landscape & detail. After participating in the first year of a new graduate program in Photography at M.I.T. with Minor White, he earned his M.F.A. in Photography under Harry Callahan at the R.I.S.D. in 1968.
Book: Portraits of Passion and Other Dalliances

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5 Responses

  1. Joey says:

    Thanks for the tip! I’ve been trying to figure out a good way of photographing all the awesome moths I see here in Louisiana without having a red brick background. Gonna have to give this a try!

  2. Mette says:

    Quite scary pictures!!!!

  3. great articles, love the photos. I capture a Luna moth last year. Didn’t disputed the moth, while I shot away. The photos in my facebook, and . Now I’m waiting for the moth to return. Learn something everytime!

  4. fred says:

    Love your mothographs. I’m envious of the selection of gorgeous little critters that live in your neck of the woods.

  5. Lisa Sells says:

    Incredible job! You’re such an inspiration to a person who is so in love with moths! I hope to be able to learn your technique. I’m so looking forward to sharing my evenings with these gorgeous creatures again! Spring, hurry up!

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