Behind the shot: Mosquitoes Emerging is a blog post from the Miscellaneous category.

Behind the shot: Mosquitoes Emerging

Posted by Matt on

Will and I have been thinking about writing a series of blog posts on some of our favourite images and how they were taken. The aim is to provide a little more explanation behind some of the techniques that we use and to highlight the most important things to consider when you’re taking wildlife photos.

So, I’m kicking off with my mosquito emerging series of photos. As is the case with most of my macro photos, the inspiration behind these shots came from getting outside and actively searching for subjects – you can’t always expect to come up with good ideas whilst sitting on your backside!

I noticed the larvae of these mosquitoes living in a stagnant pot of water in my garden. I did a bit of research into their development and discovered that it takes about 1-2 weeks (depending on the temperature) for them to develop into the adult form that we all know and love! This was perfect, since it gave me a good amount of time to try and come up with a set up to photograph them as they emerged.

Set Up

Set up for the mosquito images

Over the course of about 14 days, I maintained a keen eye on their development. I kept the larvae in a glass of distilled water in my room, covering the glass with perforated cling film – I didn’t want my face to suffer any consequences during the night! Once the larvae had turned into pupae, I knew they were close to hatching. As soon as I saw one that had straightened out (normally they are curled up a bit like cooked shrimp), I knew it was about 5 minutes until go-time.

Mosquito Emerging

I transferred the mosquito into a custom made pot of water and made final adjustments to the setup. I was using a Canon EOS 5D with an MP-E 65mm macro lens. For the lighting, I had three flash units – a macro ring lite and two supplementary strobes. Additionally, I had two desktop lamps (one 20 Watt and another 40 Watt) to illuminate the green background. Working at such large magnifications meant that I needed plenty of light to keep the ISO low, the aperture small and shutter speed high.

Mosquito Hatching

In order to obtain a strong reflection, I had to get an extremely shallow angle with the surface of the water. This effect is known as Total Internal Reflection. An aperture of around f/16 provided a sufficient depth of field, however, using a magnification of around 4x meant that I encountered some softness in my images due to small aperture diffraction.

Face on view of a mosquito emerging

After the mosquito had fully emerged from the pupal case, it rested on the surface of the water for a few minutes whilst it pumped fluid into its wings to harden them. I took as many photos as I could, but I was limited by how long it took the flashes to recharge to full power. In total the whole process from start to finish took no more than 5 minutes.

It really was an amazing process to observe through my lens and it actually gave me genuine respect for these insects. Of course, if you have any questions about the set up or anything else then leave a comment below.

Update: We were interviewed about these photos by the BBC. We have embedded the interview below:


  1. Gary Hucka said: March 13, 2009 at 2:09 am

    I very much like reading about the techniques used to achieve the various photographs.

    Since I live in Washington DC and get to the Smithsonian Museum, are you going to outline the set-up used to obtain the leopard cub photograph?

  2. Phill Danze said: March 21, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing; very interesting to read and nicely executed. I think the shots are fascinating to look at and the detail very well captured.

  3. Peter Bryenton said: March 24, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Always pleasing to see the setup included. Good job, thank you.

  4. ant west said: March 29, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    This is so informative and inspiring, thank you. I am nuts about macro photography and am in the early stages of learning to use my DSLR and 10mm macro lens. I aspire to producing something so elegant and beautiful!

  5. Richard T Cagape said: April 1, 2009 at 4:34 am

    Very informative! Amazing shots as well.

  6. Doru Oprisan said: April 14, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Amazing results ! Love the reflection !

  7. rushh said: April 23, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Nice setup.. and great work……
    awesome focus… keep it up….

  8. gillt said: April 24, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Re Desktop lamps

    Specifically that skinny metallic one–what type of light: halogen, LED, high pressure sodium?


  9. Lillian Kelly said: April 25, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    As a photo student, I find this process fascinating. Thank you for sharing the inspiration and thought process behind the idea AND the technical details.

    Now, I must close my laptop and walk outside…

  10. oz said: April 26, 2009 at 12:12 am

    i hope you did not kill them..

  11. Gianna Volpe said: April 29, 2009 at 1:07 am


  12. Fred Tedsen said: April 30, 2009 at 3:02 am

    The images are stunning! Thank you for sharing your techniques.

  13. Matt said: April 30, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Thank you everyone for your comments.

    Gary: The leopard cub isn’t on the list at the moment as it was more spontaneous shot.
    gillt: The metal lamp is a halogen bulb.
    oz: No!! I released them out the window.

  14. Tamara Naftal said: May 3, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing all the details on the technique. I love macro shots to see the details we’re missing in everyday life.

  15. denis said: May 13, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    barcelona, may 2009

    these mosquitoes don t bite.
    it s a chironom (diptera family)
    i do insect macro too, but far from you level.

  16. Tea Neff said: July 24, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    That’s fantastic macro work right there!
    And I so appreciate you sharing of how you did all that! Cheers!!!

  17. Mohamed Fadly said: October 28, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Reading this article was very useful for me. I liked it so much. Many thanks for publishing these helpful information.

    I would be very thankful to you if you gave me an advice about the following..

    I’m still an amateur photographer who only use digital cameras like; Panasonic DMC LZ1 and FujuFilm FinePix A800. My question is: If I wanted to upgrade to an SLR, what is the best SLR camera for me as a start so as not to puzzle myself -as a beginner in SLR photographing- in buying the lenses and other stuff?

  18. SimonB said: May 5, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    wow amazing shots..

    The only thing I want to know is..
    Were any mosquitoes harmed during the production of these pictures ;-P

    hehe jokes. Thanx for sharing these great pics with the world..

  19. FotoAnna said: July 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Amazing… I realy love it !!
    Greatings Anna

  20. Patricia (Pollywog Creek) said: July 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Way cool! Thank you for sharing this!

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