photograghing flies

looking for help on photographing flies with my digital camera. It's a Kodak Easyshare w/a 3.2 mega pixels. i can't seem to get clarity and correct colors. How do you guys do this task?

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
I'm not a camera guru. But first, is there a closeup setting on your camera (macrozoom)? Usually denoted by a flower on most cameras. Next, find your manual for your camera and find out the minimal closeup range on your camera with that setting. Usually you don't want to get too close. Normally I set up no zoom, and bring the camera as close to the fly as I can and still having my autofocus work. Your camera should tell you if something needs to be changed.

Next, you want to work on your lighting. You want a couple sources of light. You do NOT want to use the flash. It'll bleed out your fly and change the colors. You can get away with one good source, but better to have more. This picture is with a good chunk of natural light coming from below, and a good "true light" light bulb coming from the top. You want to try to cast no shadows. But once you get proficient, you can take some really good pics. This was one that was rushed.

I took the picture really quick. But would come out much nicer with multiple lights. In fact a friend of mine in BC has an awesome setup I want to duplicate. Has a tripod with about 4 different lights hitting the fly with preset background (oh yeah, a background is a must, I normally use a shade of blue to really contrast most flies quite well). His setup is cool and produces awesome CONSISTENT pictures. That's my next step
Steelheader69 is right on the money with the macro setting. I also recommend putting your camera on a tripod to avoid any potential blurring.

For lighting, I use a macro light, but if you don't want to spring for one of those, here is a little trick. Put a piece of white paper over your flash when you take the picture. If it is still washed out by the flash, fold the paper in half and so on. The key is to diffuse the flash enough so that it doesn't wash out the color.


Active Member
i think everything said is right. i have trouble focusing so i do 2 things, 1. use the manual focus or 2. have a background the same depth as the fly so it focuses on both as the same object. the little mini tripod does help a lot.

Tim Cottage

Formerly tbc1415
Can you provide some guidelines for scanning to achieve the quality of images that you are getting. DPI etc.
Clearly you are using different backgrounds and are not squashing your flies with the lid of the scanner but is there anything else that might be helpful.

That's a great idea Greg. I was worried that when you put the cover down on the fly the hackle would get swashed but it doesn't appear so. I also like the dark backround on your flies it makes the colors appear very vibrant. good job!:thumb

Don't know that I can offer any "tips" per se; I’m sure many of the more techno-savvy folks here can suggest improvements to my technique for scanning flies and I certainly welcome any constructive input. Here’s process I follow none-the-less; as is often said " works for me..." Hope you're able to gleen something useful from it.

For starters, I have nothing fancy or "high-tech" in the way of hardware or software. My stuff is pretty “low end.” Scanner is an Epson Perfection 1660 Photo Scanner; software is the Epson Smart Panel software that came with the scanner. Microsoft Picture It is used to remove dust spots and compress the final image into a JPEG. All this was bundled with the computer I bought two years ago.

Put the fly on the scanner, adjust its orientation to your liking and leave the scanner top UP - you will crush your fly if you put the top down.

To get a black background (my personal preference)just leave it this way and darken the room (i.e. turn the room lights off) before you scan. To get a different background, you can make a small, white frame out of something (styrofoam, construction paper, small open box white on the inside etc.) and lay your preferred background on top (face down of course so it can be scanned.) Another thing you could do is simply lay an 8.5 x 11 piece of colored paper sideways on the scanner creating an arc over your fly that will more evenly reflect light. You’ll need to experiment a bit to reduce or eliminate any shadows from reflected light from the scanner. The Ferguson's Green & Silver scan shows shadow that resulted from paper used as an arc over the fly.

I set my scanning program to “Scan To File.”

Image source I select is “Flatbed Scanner” and “Image Type” is color photo.

I set the output scanning resolution to 72dpi. You could achieve much greater detail in the final image, especially if you wanted to make the final image into a framed photo, by increasing the scanning resolution but, as I understand it, 72dpi is pretty much the capability limit of most computer monitors. I suppose if you wanted to make a scan to be printed on photo paper for a wall hanging you would want to do that. Increasing the scanning resolution will also result in a much larger file that may or may not be a concern.

I set the mask to automatically sharpen during the scan. Scale is set to 100%. I don’t make any other adjustments to control the image (e.g. exposure, Gamma, tone, color etc.) and just use the default settings.

I then run a “preview scan” which will result in a “Source” and “Target” size somewhere in the neighborhood of 800X600 pixels and the file size somewhere around 1.5 megabytes at this point. Basically, I’ve just run a preview scan of the entire scanner surface. The correlation to photographing with a camera is looking through the viewfinder towards your subject.

I then select the area to be scanned making a “marquee”, or frame, around the image of the fly (in other words, click the mouse and make a box around the fly.) This isolates the area that will be scanned. By making this selection, notice that the “Source” and “Target” size is reduced, as is the overall file size, to something much smaller. What I've essentially done in photographic terms is zoom in on the subject.

At this point, I change the “Target” size to up to something that will give me a decent image, usually something around 1024 x 768 or so. The correlation to a digital camera is the various resolution settings the camera is capable of producing (i.e. 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480.) These are the pixels we’re going to cram into that 72 dpi output resolution setting. If, for example, you chose 2048 x 1536 as your target size, you would get a very large file equating to 3.2 megapixels. 3.2 megapixels crammed into a 72 dpi output resolution would be one sharp puppy; overkill for displaying something on a website or viewed on a monitor, but handy to keep in mind if you want to hang a photo of your prized fly as an 8 x10 in your den. Notice the relationship of “Target Size” to the effective megapixel capability of your digital camera? 2048 x 1536 = 3,145,728 pixels (3.2 megapixels.) I usually choose 1024 x 768 (786,432 pixels) that results in the image quality you see above. Remember, that final display resolution will only be as good as the monitor can display (again, 72 dpi in most cases.)

I then run the scan, name the file and immediately save the resulting image as a .bmp image. This will give you an uncompressed image to work with for any sort of touch-up (e.g. removing dust, white balancing etc.) or other manipulation you may want to play around with. If you wanted to make a photo print of the image to hang on the wall, you might choose instead to save the scan as a .tiff file which could result in much greater detail.

Next, I retrieve the .bmp image file in Picture It (those more savvy and/or advanced probably use PhotoShop, PhotoImpression or some other software) to remove any dust spots that inevitably appear on the scan. I also adjust the white balance at this point to get a truer color rendition. That’s pretty much the extent of any photo manipulation that I do.

My final step is to compress the .bmp image into a JPEG. Be sure when saving the image you don’t inadvertently save any changes and over-write the scanned .bmp image. That .bmp image is your original “negative.” I send my .bmp images to a CD for archiving.

These are the sizes of the images I posted above:

FLY #1 SST: 600 x 276 JPEG, File Size 35.2 KB
FLY #2 Olive Amphipod: 600 x 341 JPEG, File Size 29.4 KB
FLY #3 Euphausiid: 1022 x 587 JPEG, File Size 128 KB
FLY #4 Ray’s Fly: 440 x 168 JPEG, File Size 15.6 KB
FLY #5 Ferguson’s Green & Silver: 1023 x 798 JPEG, File Size 152 KB
FLY #6 Spey: 600 x 420 JPEG, File Size 51.4 KB

Again, I'm no expert, but I do hope you find something useful in this.

- Greg

Putting the scanner cover down WILL CRUSH YOUR FLY.
Check my reply to TC below for the process I follow.

The set-up alluded to by Steelheader69 above is a standard photocopy setup frequently used by film photographers. Its really not complicated or difficult to set up but will set you back a few bucks for the lights and copy stand. If you really want to go that route I can offer some thoughts on what to look for.

- Greg


Active Member
Awesome images using the scanner! This is definitely the way to go when generating images of wet or streamer flies. Still, when dealing with dries that have profiles in the 3D, I think a tripod for the camera and a backdrop for the vice might have to be the way to go. Mind you, my experience with generating images of flies is still limited.

I had to think about your comment for minute. After doing so, I need to slightly disagree.

First, all flies have 3 dimensions.

Second, all photography through a single lens results in the same thing: transformation of a 3 dimensional object onto a 2 dimensional image plane. That includes all film, digital or scanning. The reason humans "see" in 3-D is because our eyes are set about 1.5 inches apart. The photographic exception to this is 3-D photography, also known as "stereoscopic photography." In this type of photography, two images are recorded slightly apart from each other that when viewed at the same time give the illusion of 3 dimension. Perhaps you remember seeing a 3-D viewer when you were a kid? Maybe one of those antique Stereoscopes?

Anyway, I'm not trying to be contentious and appreciate your comments. I will concede placing the fly on the scanner in the best possible position for scanning can pose a challenge.

- Greg
I use a 35 mm camera and take my photos outside using sunlight and a filler flash held off to one side. You must use a tripod. I have gotten by best result with a gray backgound. Then I scan the photos or have them developed onto a disc to start with. Using digital would be cheaper but I haven't gotten a digital camera yet.

What you see above was done on a flatbed scanner.

Yep, I use a tripod. I do a lot of natural light B&W photography using either a 4X5 Graflex Speedgraphic (1945 version) or a 1950's 4X5 Omega 45E. Rarely do I use any artificial light source outdoors. I use a Pentax 1-degree Spotmeter for my exposure readings and for placement onto the Zone System, develop the ASA 400 Tri-X 4X5 film myself in my home darkroom and then print the negatives using my Omega D-2 Enlarger. Some of those 4X5 B&W prints enlarged to 16x20 are truly awesome in my humble opinion; unfortunately, the galleries don't quite agree. Did I mention I'm an Ansel Adams afficianado?

Most of my 35mm stuff is still done on one of my Canon F-1 cameras(1971 versions) where I shoot mostly color slides and have built quite a nature portfolio over the past 35 years.

My wife just bought me my first digital camera for my birthday; a Canon S1 IS with both wide and tele accessory lenses...max telephoto using both optical (10x) and digital (3.2x)zoom comes to 1,945mm. Hmmmm, focal length range from 38mm to 1,945mm - I guess I'll get some use out of it....where'd you say those eagles were? ;)


- Greg