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Macro Photography for Spring Flowers

This time of year presents a wonderful photographic opportunity: longer days and warmer weather, as well as the emergence of spring flowers that bloom full of color and interest. One of my favorite ways to photograph spring flowers is with a macro lens. So here are a handful of tips for photographers who want to try their hand at macro photography of these beautiful little subjects.

Start with a macro lens. It’s all but essential. They allow you to fill the frame with flowers, and they’re helpful in isolating the smallest of subjects, too.

Look for backlight. Sunlight from behind adds drama. Consider shooting at sunrise or sunset, when the low-angled light will also add warmth as well as impact. This is a good time to find artful lens flare as well. Shooting a backlit subject into a low setting sun is a perfect recipe for creative flare.

If you want to emphasize color, backlighting is not ideal. Instead, consider looking for frontal light—whether it’s soft and overcast or strong direct sunlight. Either way, avoid positioning your body so that it casts a dark shadow on your subject. Live view and cable releases can come in handy in situations like this.

Don’t forget the polarizer. It’ll not only make blue skies deeper it’ll help saturate the color from the flower and foliage by eliminating glare and shine on the surface of the plant.

Consider the use of a product like the Wimberley Plamp II. It’s perfect for holding the stem of the subject you’re focused on without damaging it, but helping it to hold steady even in a slight breeze.

Use a tripod that allows you to get very close to the ground—within a foot or so—in order to ensure you can get in position for almost any subject. Legs that release and spread wide are ideal for this, as is a center column that can be reversed to hang the camera below the tripod collar.

Another approach for maximizing bright color is to use a frontal fill flash. The pop of the flash not only increases the appearance of sharpness (and can freeze a flower swaying in the wind) it also boosts the look of saturated colors.

You can add light from the camera position without a strobe, too. A simple white card, or a silver or gold reflector (silver remains neutral, while gold imparts warmth) from near the camera position will provide frontal fill—as well as a wind shield, in many situations.

Try to find a single point of interest—that one flower that stands apart from the crowd, or just a single petal that’s perfectly positioned. Alternatively, if you can’t find that one flower that jumps out alone, use shallow depth of field (which may require shooting in the shade to get to a wide open aperture that will provide shallow DOF) to put the point of focus on the flower you want, while letting everything else disappear into the background blur.

Along those same lines, try to find angles that produce a clean, uncluttered background. Sometimes something as simple as a lower vantage point that places a flower against a clear blue sky is all it takes to isolate the subject against a clean background. In other cases, strategic use of shallow depth of field will be required to keep the image from looking too busy.

Look for bees! These little workers add instant interest to your macro flower photographs, and they’re incredibly interesting and important. Be kind to the bees you meet! You may have to get the camera off the tripod, or loosen the head dramatically, because bees can move quickly. Thankfully, though, those quick movements are usually found between bouts of slow and steady hovering.

Armed with these simple tips, your spring macro flora photography is sure to be fun and successful.

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