Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada

Lighting solutions for insect photography

My "light arena"

My idea was to create a well-lit space to contain live insects while I photographed them. After trying several smaller, simpler setups, I constructed a larger version that I've used almost daily for many months now.

The arena consists of four twelve-inch circline flourescent tubes mounted securely inside a cavity consisting of two pastic oil-change pans painted white on the inside and turned face-to-face. I cut a circular opening in the top to mount a clear, frosted, plastic wastebasket, adhereing it with clear plastic packing tape, and made smaller openings in the other end for electric feeds to the lights and a small electronics fan. When I flip a switch, the fan comes on to cool the setup and the circline tubes illuminate the inside of the wastebasket. What I have described so far is all mounted with bolts, nuts and washers atop an upturned, sawed-off plastic bucket with ventilation holes in it, which contains the ballasts and small fan.

A wide funnel-like section of a round plastic deli tray fits down into the wastebasket opening to shade my eyes. Its mouth accepts a quart-size, clear plastic deli container. In the bottom of the wastebasket I placed a disc of colored foamcore art board for background. I eventually found that there was just barely enough space between deli container and wall of wastebasket to put my ring flash turned outward for indirect lighting. This yeilded better color and allowed me to freeze motion better. A final improvement was to coat the inside of the deli container with Insect-a-Slip (available through in order to keep climbers from scaling the walls.

Here are some photos that illustrate what I have attempted to describe. They are all linked and have rudimentary-to-lengthy comments on each one:

I dare say you should market these? I would certainly buy one if it isn't too costly.

I did run a small manufacturing business, now closed in preparation for moving (retiring) to Ecuador. However I apparently missed my big opportunity to mass-produce Light Arenas ;-)

I saw the category as it unfolded.
Neat ideas, Jim, both for the Bug Guide section and your mini-studio. Your solution certainly beats my cut-off-the-bottom Tupperwear bowl concept.

16 photos added
Note new photo category :-)

The set up I use for pinned bugs
can be seen here and on the cited web page:

I recall seeing your system before, Tony.
I was impressed then and remain impressed.

I imagine one of my first projects in Ecuador will be to shoot the beetles in the entomology collection at the Pontificia Universidad Catholica del Ecuador. I will probably build and learn to use a system much like yours before going.

An obliquely related topic
I love Jim's solution - sans hot lights but with ongoing illumination. Seems there may be a way to take these concepts into the field. Today I ordered (take a deep breath) OmegaSatter's Phoenix DRLLED Digital Ringlight after reading a blurb in "Outdoor Photographer". Google for more info. Basically, it's a ring light with a dozen LEDs that stay on for up to 45 minutes. I'm hoping this will help improve focusing as well as exposure. But I'm dreading the possibility of each of a spider's eight eyes having twelve catchlights!

This is what I hav been doing, just using the camera's onboard flash with a homemade suppressor.
-Sean McCann

Sure beats my old technique of two plies of plastic shopping bag and a twistie. I used one white bag and one blue Walmart bag for color correction :-) Now it's all ring flash all the time.

A photo please
Do what I did, bend the rules!

Bless you, Tony!
I'll even *put* a bug in the photos :-) I'll shoot and post several shots showing various features.