How to shoot micro landscapes

Two pros show you how to zoom in on detail in the wider scene to capture close-up images of natural design.

By taking the time to explore the scene in closer detail, you’ll be amazed at how a myriad interesting shapes, textures and natural designs start working as miniature landscapes in their own right.

It would be all too easy to arrange and contrive the image below of a rabbit skull and lichens, but the pleasure was in finding this arrangement deigned by nature. For me, this has always preserved the integrity of this image.

The bright yet overcast conditions were absolutely perfect for capturing the all-important detail. Dull, overcast conditions are not favourable for good close-up work and learning the distinction between the two is important.

Canon EOS 1D MkIIN with 100mm f/2.8 macro lens; ISO 50; 1/8 sec at f/16.

The picture below illustrates how a simple subject such as this algae growing on a maple tree trunk can be turned into an interesting, abstract shot.

Look carefully: you can see an acorn wedged in the trunk by a squirrel. Pattern metering gives you a good exposure for even-toned subjects.

Canon EOS 1 with 100mm macro lens; ISO 50; 2 secs at f/16.

Mermaids Purses are the egg-cases of our most abundant species of sharks, the lesser and greater dogfish.

Variable in colour, these twisted works of art are frequently encountered by beachcombers. The shot could probably have benefited from the use of a polarising filter to reduce the bright reflective surfaces.

Canon EOS 1D MkIIN with 100mm f/2.8 macro lens; ISO 100; 1/30 sec at f/16.

The beautiful blue-grey shades of this metamorphic rock was a perfect complementary background for composing this diagonal arrangement of limpets exposed at low tide.

Taken during bright conditions, I managed to get a passer-by to hold my white diffuser sheet between the sun and the rock to reduce the harsh, midday light.

Canon EOS 1D MkIIN with 100mm f/2.8 macro lens; ISO 100; 1/125 sec at f/16.

Fill the frame

When shooting patterns and textures, its good practice to fill the four corners of the frame, Any gaps or patches of different colour, texture or tone creeping into the picture will be a distraction. If youre using a zoom lens, zoom out slightly to check that you havent missed any bits.

For this shot, I had to work in order to find a composition that I was happy with. I spent some time arranging the seaweed how I wanted it so there were gentle swirls running through the image

Canon EOS 20D with 17-40mm f/4 lens at 36mm; ISO 400; 25 sec at f/16.

The cliffs that tower over Sandymouth Bay near Bude in Cornwall contain patterns and lines that are photogenic when framed tightly.

I composed with the main band of lines running diagonally from corner to corner to make a dynamic, abstract image.

Canon EOS 20D with 17-40mm f/4 lens; ISO 100 at 36mm; 2.5 sec at f/16.

To make this image of moss and grass covered rocks next to a small waterfall more dynamic I composed with the lines in the cliff at an angle. The moisture helps to saturate the greens.

Canon EOS 20D with 17-40mm f/4 lens at 17mm; ISO 100; 4 sec at f/18.

Compositonal tricks: Focus attention

To ensure that every part of this image was in focus I photographed it with the camera sensor parallel to the rock face and used a small aperture of f/16. I checked the histogram to make sure the image was exposed correctly.

Having taken several shots of just the lines in the rock face, I decided to place a small rock in the frame to see if it improved the composition at all. It did. Having the rock in the frame gives the viewer somewhere to rest their eyes when looking at the image.

I thought the subtle shades of colour and textures on this rock in the Peak District would make a great photograph. Around the base of the rock were small snail shells so I cleaned one up on the nearby grass and then placed it on the rock according to the Rule of Thirds.

Canon EOS 20D with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 95mm; ISO100; 1/15 sec at f/11.

I photographed this imprint of an Ammonite fossil at Saltwick Bay on the North Yorkshire Heritage Coast. Rather than composing with the imprint in the centre of the frame I placed it in the lower half so I could include the cracks in the rock above, which helped to make a more interesting image.

Canon EOS 20D with 17-40mm f/4 lens at 25mm; ISO 100; 0.5 sec at f/18.

Rule of Thirds: Using it for creative effect

Newcomers to photography might not be familiar with the Rule of Thirds, but its an incredibly easy way of making your compositions seem balanced.

Draw an imaginary noughts and crosses grid on the frame, place the focal point of the picture at one of the points where the lines cross and bingo, the picture starts to look more interesting.

This knotted timber can be found on the site of an old tile yard. It was taken during the middle of the day and the overhead sun enhanced the patterns in the timber. The knot was placed according to the Rule of Thirds.

The round shape of the lichen contrasts with the straight lines running through the wood. I think the vibrant oranges and yellows of the lichen go well with the more subtle shades of grey.

This is the foreshore at Knockvologan Bay on the Isle of Mull. I liked the contrast between the gentle, round shapes of the pebbles and the harder, straight lines of the rocks. I composed with the large pebble in the bottom right of the frame and with the lines in the rocks running diagonally.

Canon EOS 20D with 17-40mm f/4 lens at 29mm; ISO 100; 1/10 sec at f/16.

I found this circular collection of pebbles in a small hollow formed in the rocks alongside the River Etive in Glen Coe. I composed with the hollow on the intersection of thirds and the lines in the rocks running diagonally. A polariser helped to remove reflections and glare from the river.

Canon EOS 20D with 17-40mm f/4 lens at 32mm; ISO 100; 1/5 sec at f/16.