As an increasing number of photographers have surely discovered over the past year, one way to find a whole new world to photograph is to strap on a macro lens and explore the galaxy of close-up nature photography, all without leaving your own backyard. Here are four tips for finding effective macro photography adventures close to home.
The Right Gear
It starts with an ideal camera and a macro lens to match. If you want to photograph flowers and insects and all sorts of things in the outdoors, you’ll quickly find yourself on all fours or, even worse, laid out flat on the ground. One way to make this process a bit easier is to choose a camera with an articulating LCD screen so you can take advantage of live view for composition and focusing from a comfortable position. The Nikon D780, pictured here, is an ideal example. Pair that camera with a macro lens capable of full 1:1 life-size reproduction in the 60mm to 100mm focal range and there’s not much that will escape your capability to shoot extreme close-ups. The Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro was used to photograph the flower and leaf images seen above and below.
Steady The Camera
If you want sharp pictures of tiny objects, you’re going to have to work extra hard at it. Tiny hand movements translate into huge moves across the sensor, so stabilizing the camera with a tripod is the ideal place to start. Tripods limit positioning and composition options, however, so for ground-level subjects, consider something more flexible, such as a Joby GorillaPod or a sandbag that can be easily positioned to create a firm foundation for the camera. If you’re at all relying on handholding, you’ll most definitely want to invest in a lens with effective image stabilization capability.
Boost The Sharpness Even Further
Increase the sharpness in your pictures by increasing the shutter speed first, followed by the aperture and finally the ISO as necessary. In normal circumstances, a fast shutter speed of 1/125th may seem like plenty for handholding. But when you’re using a long focal length at extremely short distances, tiny movements of the hand and the subject combine to make blurry pictures more likely. Crank that shutter speed to 1/500th or even 1/1000th if you’re handholding, and then up the aperture from wide open to something nice and sharp in the middle of the range—around ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/8. These apertures will have the added benefit of expanding the razor-thin depth of field in extreme close-up photos. Even better is ƒ/11 or, if the light is bright enough, ƒ/16 to add depth of field without getting to the smallest aperture on your lens (often ƒ/22). It won’t be nearly as sharp as those ƒ-stops in the middle.
Add Interest With Angles And Light
When working with small subjects, it can be easy to shoot down on them from above. You can take the normal eye-level view to the extreme and shoot straight down onto something for a more interesting bird’s-eye view. Another option is to consider a low angle shooting up, which not only makes for a more unique perspective but it also helps to place things like a nice, bright blue sky into the background. If you’ve got a dark subject, consider moving such that it’s set off against a bright background. Or with a light subject, like the flower image atop this piece, consider moving until a dark shadow provides a contrasting background.