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Department of Entomology

Photographing your Specimens

Photographing Your Specimen to Ensure Proper Identification

Digital photography has become widely accessible in many formats. The improved quality of today’s digital cameras makes digital images useful tools for identifying many organisms.  However, no matter what type of camera you use, there are some things to consider as you take your photos that will ensure our specialists can provide an accurate identification.

When possible, three images should be submitted. For most arthropods an image of the top (dorsal) of the animal is most crucial; many insects can be identified with this image alone. 
Some require other views:

• For most larvae (caterpillars, grubs, maggots) side and bottom (ventral) views are important as well as the head capsule.
• Beetles should be shown with top, bottom, and head (front) views.
• Butterflies and moths should have clear views of wings both above and below.
• Spiders should have top (body) and front (head) views with a visible arrangement of their eyes.

Fill the frame

Aim to get as close to the subject as possible while still ensuring that it is in focus.  Cropping a photo afterwards can be an acceptable way of enlarging your subject depending on the camera you are using. 

In general, specimens that are less than 5 mm (1/4 inch) are too small to be identified from images using common digital equipment even if zooming in or cropping. Use judgment on specimens that are small but larger than 5 mm.


Be sure the subject is well lit.  Avoid casting a shadow over it as you take the photo.  Good lighting is essential for observing true coloration and other important physical aspects of an insect.  Good lighting will also help to get the subject in focus more easily.


Blurry or out of focus subjects usually cannot be identified with certainty.  Active specimens can be slowed down by placing them in a freezer or refrigerator for a short time before taking pictures.  This will reduce the chances of capturing a blurry photo of the specimen due to movement.

Living Subjects

Pictures of live specimens are preferable. Many caterpillars and soft-bodied insects lose their natural color or become dark when they die. Additionally, identification manuals use color patterns to help distinguish different species, colors on adult specimens can fade when they die.

WHAT TO EXPECT:  Responses will be transmitted using the provided contact information.  One to five business days may be required to make an identification. Depending on time of the year and complexity of the problem, more time may be needed.

CONTROL RECOMMENDATIONS: When control measures are requested along with identification, our specialists will refer the client to an appropriate K-State Research and Extension publication where solutions to many common problems can be found. If there is not a publication that addresses the problem, the specialists may be able to suggest a non-chemical or cultural control method. For liability reasons, we are unable to provide chemical control recommendations not listed in a K-State publication. Publications, newsletters and insect images are available on the Department of Entomology Web site at www.entomology.k-state.edu/extension.