These Unexpectedly Fearsome Photos of Ants Will Keep You Up at Night

Macro Ant Photography by Josh Coogler

Most of us don't give it much thought when we see an ant going about its business. But for photographer Josh Coogler, an ant sighting is a new chance to explore the world of macro photography. And, in doing so, Coogler has discovered that these insects are much more complex than they appear from afar. His incredible macro portraits of ants are fascinating—and terrifying—at the same time.

Each ant portrait has the spectacular detail that only macro photography can provide. Coogler captures every nook and cranny of these ants, whose faces almost look like masks from a horror movie. He was originally motivated to photograph ants because they are so easy to find, but it's their rich visual variety has kept him coming back for more.

“What surprised me the most was just how different they are from one another,” Coogler tells My Modern Met. “How a carpenter ant soldier looks compared to a worker, how a fire ant looks compared to them, and so on. They have a lot more going on than most people would assume, and it's nice to be able to photograph them and let people see that.”

“We have so many different species of ants here, and ants have different members in their colony. There are soldiers with big strong heads, and there are workers who are more agile; they are all unique.”

Coogler loves to hear the strong reactions that people have to the images and often posts his portraits on Reddit. His work is the result of meticulously taking a series of photos using a macro rail, which slowly moves his camera as it takes photos. Because the focus of each individual image is very small, Coogler stacks anywhere from 30 to 300 stills to build a final, crisp photo.

The use of focus stacking in macro photography is quite common, as this allows for detailed results that would be impossible to achieve otherwise. And, in Coogler's case, the technique has opened up a whole new world. He hopes that in sharing his work, otherwise will be inspired to learn more about the natural world that surrounds us.

“The world is just as interesting and complex even if you can't see it. Bugs are so cool to see, and I hope people realize that they have a whole world of creatures to see right in their backyard.”

Josh Coogler uses focus stacking to capture incredible—and creepy—portraits of ants.

Macro Portrait of a Carpenter Ant by Josh CooglerMacro Ant Photography by Josh CooglerMacro Portrait of an Ant by Josh CooglerMacro Portrait of a Red Ant by Josh Coogler

“We have so many different species of ants here, and ants have different members in their colony. There are soldiers with big strong heads, and there are workers who are more agile; they are all unique.”

Macro Ant Photography by Josh CooglerMacro Portrait of a Red Ant by Josh CooglerBlack Ant Portrait by Josh Coogler

Josh Coogler: Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Josh Coogler.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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