Friday Foto Talk: Macro & Close-up Photography, Part II   9 comments

Alpine gentian growing at over 12,000 feet elevation in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Alpine gentian growing at over 12,000 feet in elevation, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

(Since I wasn’t going to be on a computer tomorrow – Friday – I meant to schedule this post ahead one day.  But I mistakenly hit Publish!  Haha~so it’s a day early, what’s the harm!)

It’s time for Part II of this little series on macro and close-up photography.  So let’s get right to it.  Following are tips for successful macro and close-up photography:

  • Composition is still king.  Just as with all photography, paying attention to everything in the frame – how it’s arranged and what can be excluded to help simplify things – is the pathway to success.
  • Look for interesting stuff.  I know, duh!  With macro, keeping an eye out for small bits of color, or really anything that stands out, will help you to zoom in (crouching or on your hands and knees) to find fascinating details that weren’t noticeable from afar.  Keep an eye out for small movements in your vision’s periphery; it could lead to cool little critters.
  • Patience is even more important than usual.  With flowers, waiting for the breeze to pause can have even the shy among us cursing like sailors.  Get the picture set up and use LiveView with focus set, then wait for the perfect moment to trip the shutter.  Try using burst mode; one of the images in the burst sequence will usually be in focus.
This pretty lily blooms in very dry, desolate desert areas of southern New Mexico during late summer monsoons.

This pretty lily blooms in very dry, desolate desert areas of southern New Mexico during late summer monsoons.  The wind was trying to keep me from getting the shot.

  • Depth of field will be a challenge.  Macro lenses have an innately narrow depth of field.  And don’t expect close-up filters or extension tubes to do much better in that regard.  Specific techniques for dealing with this are coming in the next post.  The caterpillar below, who was moving surprisingly quickly, I shot hand-held, with fairly shallow depth of field and fast shutter speed.  The fungus below that was stock still on a dark background, so I was able to shoot from the tripod with small aperture (for good depth of field), not worrying about having to blur the background.
Shallow depth of field meant that I couldn't get all of this caterpillar in focus, so I focused on his head.

Shallow depth of field meant that I couldn’t get all of this caterpillar in focus, so I focused on his head.

A strange fungus I found growing on a pine tree in El Malpais, New Mexico.

A strange fungus grows on a charred pine tree in the high country along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

  • A tripod is usually necessary.  With subjects that don’t move, or with flowers & other things that move back and forth (in the breeze), a tripod is really a no-brainer.  In low light a tripod is even more critical.  But even when light is bright and shutter speed is faster, a tripod results in more keepers.  On the other hand, with fast-moving critters, a tripod may be more of a hindrance.  Last point on tripods: never avoid a macro opportunity just because you don’t have a tripod with you.  It’s still worth it, though your skills and patience will certainly be tested.

Western fence lizard, El Malpais, New Mexico. Hand-held and autofocus allowed me to catch him before he scampered off.

  • Focus is a pretty big deal.  You’ll find yourself using manual focus (with or without LiveView) much more often than usual.  It allows much more precise adjustment, especially when using LiveView.  With critters and other subjects that move, autofocus may be best.  Next time we’ll go more into how camera position directly affects both your selective focus and depth of field.

 

  • Work that subject!  Just as with landscapes, portraits and other kinds of image-making, moving around and changing point of view, getting shots from several different distances, and in general trying to exhaust all possibilities is the way to go.  Not only will it increase your chances for more good images, it will also help greatly to tell a story about the subject.

 

  • Related to the above point, try not to obsess about getting as close as possible.  While filling the frame can certainly be effective, it’s just one way of showing your subject.  Just as wildlife photography dominated by close-ups cries out for a few shots showing the animal’s surroundings, macro and close-up photography needs to mix in wider views to show context and help tell the whole story.
Although this butterfly is so beautiful it's tempting to fill the frame, stepping back to show the purple flowers it was alighting on results in an image that communicates more.

Although this butterfly is so beautiful it’s tempting to fill the frame, stepping back to show the purple flowers it was alighting on results in an image that communicates more.

  • Find good light.  Golden hour, with the sun very low, is not just a good time for larger landscapes.  It can also result in dramatic macro and close-up images.  But bright sunlight also presents problems of contrast, and the higher the sun goes the harsher the light.  Next time we’ll look at ways to mitigate these issues.  A high overcast sky, with flat, even light, is good for illuminating all parts of your subject equally.

That’s it for now.  I’m about to cross the border into Mexico for a short visit and a dip in the Sea of Cortez.  Have a super weekend and happy shooting!

And now for a non-macro: sunset over the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming.

And now for a non-macro: sunset over the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming.

 

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9 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Macro & Close-up Photography, Part II

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  1. Great photos. The football season has started, as an aside………..just sayin.’

  2. Thanks again for the tips and insight and have a great swim.

  3. Thanks for the fantastic tips, and enjoy your getaway, Michael!

  4. Your first image had me returning a few times. I particularly was drawn to the composition.

  5. Such wonderful tips! Thanks so much Mike. Your photography always makes me smile.

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