Macro photography is one of the most popular techniques in the world of flower and plant imagery. Keeping focused on your subject is the key to successful close-up photography.
Last month we looked at macro photography and issues such as depth of field and what sort of lens to use. So what else can you do to get the best from your macro photography?
God of Small Things by Sam Kirk; one of the inspiring macro images in this year's International Garden Photographer of the Year exhibition, now open near the Pavilion Restaurant at Kew Gardens.
Attention to detail
When you are concentrating on a tiny part of a flower, small things that you don't normally notice can become very intrusive. So no wandering shadows, twigs, bits of dirt. Don’t expect the viewer of your photograph to do your editing for you! Look at the frame before you press the trigger – is there anything in the shot that shouldn’t be there? Can you move anything you out of the way that you don’t want?
Accurate focus is the key
Think about your focusing strategy. If you want to use autofocus make sure you understand its limitations and the possibility that it will lock focus on to the wrong bit of the picture at the moment you press the shutter. Most pros use manual focusing so make sure your eyes are in good shape! Focusing manually requires more concentration but it is more flexible and offers greater control- especially if the subject is not moving a lot.
Eliminate camera shake
Vibrations of the camera, even if you can’t feel them yourself, will create enough movement for tiny subjects go blurred. Make sure you use a tripod and remote shutter release at all times. The tripod should be a good sturdy one, especially if you are using long - and heavy - lenses. Check out magazines like Amateur Photographer and What Digital Camera who regularly run reviews of tripods.
No really, eliminate camera shake
If your camera supports a 'mirror lockup' function – use this. In your DSLR or SLR light passes through the lens from the scene in front of you. In the camera body you have a mirror that bounces that light up into the viewfinder - so you can see what the lens is seeing. When you press the shutter this mirror flips up out of the way so that light can now get through to the sensor or film. This happens very quickly and normally it makes no difference to the shot; but with macro, the tiny amount of vibration caused can be big enough to move the camera and so blur the subject. With mirror lockup, the mirror flips up a nanosecond (technical term) before the shutter is released, so the vibration has already taken place before the picture is taken. The result: no blur.
Shine a light
We like to take pictures of stamens inside its enclosure of flower petals – a real ‘alien landscape’. This space can be surprisingly dark, and so you may well need to bounce light into this area. Flash is usually too harsh so use a reflector - a piece of bright white card will work - to do this. If it is really dark try a piece of silver foil. But don’t overdo it. You may not see the effect of subtle reflected light with your own eyes – but the camera exaggerates the effect so check it when you review the completed shot.
Shine a brighter light
You can use flash to create highlights and to even out shadows. But even the most subtle flash ‘blips’ can be too harsh for flower subjects; or it can be so subtle it makes no difference!
Horses for courses
Work with the equipment you have, not against it. The importance of a solid tripod in macro photography cannot be overstated. A hand-held camera cannot be held steady enough, especially with a long macro lens. And monopods are not steady enough either.
If you use a modern compact camera you will get great quality images but your closeups may be problematic - for example, maybe a tripod isn't practical for you; if this is the case then just concentrate on ‘normal’ subjects. In the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition(IGPOTY) , we often long for more shots of plants in context – in sunny borders or in groups with other plants. Here the emphasis is on colour and harmony – the beauty of gardening rather than the beauty of plants. Your little camera will work perfectly well for this kind of scene.
But if you do feel the lure of the 'Big Picture' - have a look at some of the winning macro photographs of IGPOTY winners over the years - be inspired and get out there!
- Philip -
- International Garden Photographer of the Year Exhibition 5 opens on the 14 May 2011 near the Pavilion Restaurant at Kew Gardens. Find out more here.
- Next month: The organisers' perspective on this year's show.
About Philip Smith
Philip Smith is a professional photographer specialising in gardens and plants with 15 years’ experience. His photography has featured in many magazines and books including The English Garden, The Garden (RHS) , and Gardeners’ World. His work has also featured in exhibitions at Kew Gardens and the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley and London.
As co-founder and Managing Director of the International Garden Photographer of the Year Philip is responsible for the world’s premier competition in the field, which culminates in an annual exhibition at Kew Gardens and other venues. Philip is the author of Better Plant and Garden Photography.
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